Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Nuclear debate: in-depth status report

One of the most thorough reviews I've seen in many months. Pasting in key paragraphs would not do it justice.

Detailed history, numerous references and high quality, objective reporting; it's all there.

See the complete report at Arms Control Today.

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Australian Emissions Trends

A collection of images from the 2008 report from the Australian Department of Climate Change. I put them here for us all to study.

"With Measures" includes the new Rudd Labor Government measures, in particular the 20% Renewable Energy Target, and yet it continues to show an increase.

These show that not only is the stationary energy sector (e.g. electricity generation, etc.) the greatest contributor, it is also by far the fastest growing in absolute terms.

... and here we see that despite the 'measures', stationary energy related emissions are to continue to - in the best case - remain the same.

Above we see the impact of ongoing efficiency and conservation programmes. The economy remains strong, but it's taking less emissions to achieve the related outputs. Those who promote efficiency and conservation as if it were something new are either misled or misleading.

I admit that significant scope remains to be tapped in this area. But we will be lucky if the results are enough to compensate for projected demand/population growth.

Here above, we see that stationary energy is projected to increase by 56% from 1990 to the Kyoto measuring period of 2008-2012. And worse, below they project emissions will further increase 64% beyond 1990 levels by 2020.

Also during this time period the report projects our per-person emissions will decrease from 33 tonnes per person down to 28 in 2008-2012, but then climb back to 29 tonnes per person by 2020.

Realising that these projections include fairly aggressive renewable targets and the 'Australian clause' regarding land use [a one-off perk for us]. I remain convinced that Australia has no hope of achieving anything near 60% reduction without significant nuclear power deployment in parallel with other measures well beyond those currently planned.

The data supports no other path.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Australia's uniqueness

Why am I always going on about climate, when this is supposed to be a discussion about nuclear power in Australia?

Simply put, I see no reason for Australia to adopt nuclear power except as part of a broader set of solutions to address high emissions linked to climate change.

I was reminded of this once again as I perused the slides that will frame the upcoming 2020 summit, of particular relevance to this blog is that of Population, Sustainability, Climate Change, Water And The Future Of Our Cities. Our coal reserves are 9% of the world total (pg.6, slide 5). My understanding is that this coal - particularly for domestic, mouth-of-the-mine applications - is dirt-cheap and enough to last us for quite some time. With the possible exception of some limited hydro applications that have already been exploited, there hasn't been nor isn't now, much economic justification for the deployment of any other power source.

Enter an emissions restrained world.

Now, if we are to meet the emissions targets being discussed, some significant change is required and in all likelihood that change looks to be expensive.

While many technologies are being promoted as such, I see no silver bullet - but I see a role for each.

Solar hot water, home/building insulation, CFLs/natural lighting, improved automobile fuel economy, improved efficiency for major appliances and industry are the no-brainers as far as I am concerned.

Wind has been demonstrated as a credible energy option, but there are related intermittency and overbuild requirements [If you want to generate 100MWe on average over a year, you must construct about 300MWe capacity] that must be factored in to any consideration. I believe many more wind generators will be commissioned in Australia and around the world where it makes economic sense to do so and where locals don't become upset over view obstruction or other impact such as that on birds - arguments that I do not comprehend. Windmills have existed for ages in the Netherlands. Tourists flock there to photograph them with the tulips in the foreground and they still have birds there...

Solar thermal plant construction and operating and maintenance experience is being accumulated and - I understand - looks positive for future applications. However, I do not believe this is certain and again there are the intermittency and overbuild constraints shared with wind. These again will be deployed where it makes sense to do so. However, this technology is behind the curve with respect to wind.

Bio-mass is there, especially for transport, but must be weighed against any possible impact on the global food supply-chain as well as any land use constraints which could partially negate some of the derived value.

Geothermal is in use elsewhere around the world, but some development work remains to be completed for its large/industrial scale use in Australia.

There are other technologies that are very early in the development stage or otherwise have limited deployment in Australia [algae based bio-mass, tidal]. Carbon-capture is the great hope, but there are no assurances the technology will work or most importantly be economically justifiable.

Photovoltaic solar involves toxic heavy metals and is - to date - prohibitively expensive.

Nuclear power is demonstrated around the world. It is safe, reliable and continuous. But it involves an enormous infrastructure, resource and time commitment.

How do 21 million [and increasing] people justify such a commitment?

On this same slide I reference above, the summit topic is framed as follows:

Australia's creativity, strong science base, agile economy and renewable resources, including sunshine, "hot rocks", wind and bio-resources, provide enormous capacity for a shift towards a lower greenhouse footprint.

Clean coal technology could have a profound impact on Australia's emissions and economy. Further development of carbon, capture and storage (CCS) technology will enable us to reduce our carbon footprint and to maintain our significant coal exports in a carbon constrained world.

Many countries are re-thinking the acceptability of nuclear power in light of climate change. Australia has a large share of the world's uranium and a role to play within appropriate safeguards.

I note with some reserved delight that the nuclear related comments are fairly lukewarm. I believe there could be a role for nuclear power in Australia. But many challenges with respect to the resource and infrastructure development prerequisites are uniquely Australian.

Many other countries can back each other up on a regional basis. So when the wind in one country ebbs; nuclear, hydro and unfortunately fossil fuels from neighbours can [and do] back them up. Conversely, when demand drops the nuclear plants can 'dump' power to their neighbours at next-to-nothing prices to avoid shutting down. See the transmission flows from the EU below. The EU has the highest nuclear density [NuclearMWe/squar km] of any region in the world. [Fat arrows mean greater energy flow]

European annual electricity flow (imports and exports)

Australia however must be fully self-sufficient. The references made to France [at least from within Australia] are not completely relevant. While French references do make several good cases for nuclear power in general [safety, closed fuel cycle, more standardised design, etc.] - and France does well with respect to per-capita emissions compared to their peers, Australia would be quite challenged to approach the 80% nuclear electric capacity enjoyed by France.

Nuclear plants are designed to operate at 100%. They are not load following facilities but are suited for baseload applications. They should be started and operated continuously for about 2 years and then shutdown for a month or two for maintenance. There are sometimes unplanned maintenance outages or plant trips during such a cycle that can have a plant down for a few days to a couple of weeks - but these are typical of any generating facility anywhere.

A related danger is that if one country [in the European case above] fails to develop their electricity generation infrastructure, again they have neighbours to come to the rescue [consider Italy above - all the big arrows point IN]. South Africa would be a much better case study for Australia in this regard. They are lacking this backstop option and - having failed to ensure adequate capacity reserves are undergoing considerable strife.

I do not see us achieving France's level of nuclear commitment, but several reactors around each of the major urban centres is feasible. I also believe our elected and industry leaders are fully aware of the events in South Africa and seeking feasible options to avoid an Australian repeat of the situation. So, after all this; is there a role for nuclear in Australia? I still come to yes - provided we are serious about reducing emissions.

I am confident that the discussion above [and much more] was investigated to a significantly more detailed level in the 2007 UPNER report. The results seem fairly consistent. It seems as if similar discussion may take place during the upcoming Summit. I certainly see more uranium mining in Australia's future - but I suspect that's just the start.

Friday, 4 April 2008

Speaking out for nuclear

A few words from recent news articles.

April-4 Herald-Sun

"I am not talking about next year or in five years but long-term energy policy. We have got to think about all these sources of energy and that includes coal and that must include nuclear,'' he [recently-appointed chairman of Qantas, Leigh Clifford] said.

And in an April-3 issue of the Daily Telegraph (no link) Malcolm Farr penned a report titled, 'Please ignore the nuclear elephant in the room'.

OUR two major political parties are in coy agreement over the benefits of nuclear energy. At the same time, however, they both refuse to say it would help Australia.

They recommend that other countries use uranium, preferably the stuff we produce, to fuel power stations which otherwise would be pumping out harmful carbon emissions from incinerated fossils. But, for purely political reasons, they won't say the same for their own country.

This two-faced approach to nuclear energy is one of the starkest instances of policy hypocrisy we have seen.

The logical conflict is increasingly uncomfortable for some senior figures in Labor and the Liberal Party as they contort themselves to avoid saying what they really believe. The strain is starting to tell. Bouts of nuclear frankness may be ahead.

"Around the world nuclear power today reduces global emissions by more than 2 billion tonnes a year.''

Love that metaphor!

And from The Age on April 2 - Labor resurrects Howard's uranium plan

Resources Minister Martin Ferguson, an enthusiastic industry advocate, has reconvened the Uranium Industry Framework, a hand-picked advisory group appointed by the previous government.

But Mr Ferguson says the Government will not pursue an idea the previous government flirted with — over-riding state bans in Western Australia and Queensland that prevent new uranium mines or other nuclear activities.

Mr Ferguson says Canberra will not override those states, but says it is only a matter of time before mining developments occur in those states, which have large uranium deposits.

He predicts substantial growth in nuclear power outside Australia.

"Some countries see nuclear as part of their commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions," Mr Ferguson said.

"Uranium mining has got a bright future and it's going to lead to increased export earnings for Australia and jobs."

If there is a future for nuclear power in Australia, I can't see it coming to fruition without strong bi-partisan support from the beginning. But this is not unique to nuclear power. Serious carbon emissions reductions will require the same collaboration. If one party attempts to milk political capital from rising energy prices, increasing blackout frequencies or perceived threats to the coal industry - that effort will be seriously challenged.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Not enough 'green energy' to meet carbon emission targets

Despite being the fastest growing energy sector, 'green' energy falls short.

Full report from the ABC.
John Mackay, the chief executive of Canberra's power supplier ACTEW AGL, says given the current state of the industry, there is little chance of meeting the [60% by 2050 emissions reduction] target.

Mr Mackay says households should expect dramatic price hikes over coming years.

He says green power is expensive to produce and difficult to source, and that's making the market very volatile.
There is a role for nuclear power.

The projected cost of the German nuclear phase-out

Germany is seeking an increase in their carbon emissions as they ponder their nuclear phase out option.

Full report from the WNN

According to Handlesblatt, the closure of all 17 nuclear reactors in Germany and their replacement with other energy sources would result in 150 million tonnes of CO2 emissions annually.

[Gee, I wonder if the replacement power will come from coal, cole or kowl? Come on guys, where are the big renewable energy deployments? These transitions are supposed to be no-brainers.]

That's about 73% of Australia's total emissions from electricity generation. Who says nuclear power can't make a significant dent in our emissions?

The ACF / Ian Lowe made such claims only 9 short months ago and I did my best to refute them.

"There are few, very few, that will own themselves in a mistake."
- Swift.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Prof. James Hansen, asks for Australia's leadership to save the planet

"Speak out in acts; the time for words has passed, and deeds alone suffice."

"There is only one proof of ability, - action."
- Marie Ebner-Eschenbach.

The below letter may be found at this link.

27 March 2008

The Hon Kevin Rudd, MP
Prime Minister of
Australian Parliament
Canberra, Australian Capital Territory,

Dear Prime Minister,

Your leadership is needed on a matter concerning coal-fired power plants and carbon dioxide emission rates in your country, a matter with ramifications for life on our planet, including all species. Prospects for today's children, and especially the world's poor, hinge upon our success in stabilizing climate.

For the sake of identification, I am a United States citizen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Adjunct Professor at the Columbia University Earth Institute. I am a member of our National Academy of Sciences, have testified before our Senate and House of Representatives on many occasions, have advised our Vice President and Cabinet members on climate change and its relation to energy requirements, and have received numerous awards including the World Wildlife Fund's Duke of Edinburgh Conservation Medal from Prince Philip.

I write, however, as a private citizen, a resident of Kintnersville, Pennsylvania, USA. I was assisted in composing this letter by colleagues, including Australians, Americans, and Europeans, who commented upon a draft letter. Because of the urgency of the matter, I have not collected signatures, but your advisors will verify the authenticity of the science discussion.

I recognize that for years you have been a strong supporter of aggressive forward-looking actions to mitigate dangerous climate change. Also, since your election as Prime Minister of Australia, your government has been active in pressing the international community to take appropriate actions. We are now at a point that bold leadership is needed, leadership that could change the course of human history.

I have read and commend the Interim Report of Professor Ross Garnaut, submitted to your government. The conclusion that net carbon emissions must be cut to a fraction of current emissions must be stunning and sobering to policy-makers. Yet the science is unambiguous: if we burn most of the fossil fuels, releasing the CO2 to the air, we will assuredly destroy much of the fabric of life on the planet. Achievement of required near-zero net emissions by mid-century implies a track with substantial cuts of emissions by 2020. Aggressive near-term fostering of energy efficiency and climate friendly technologies is an imperative for mitigation of the looming climate crisis and optimization of the economic pathway to the eventual clean-energy world.

Global climate is near critical tipping points that could lead to loss of all summer sea ice in the Arctic with detrimental effects on wildlife, initiation of ice sheet disintegration in West Antarctica and Greenland with progressive, unstoppable global sea level rise, shifting of climatic zones with extermination of many animal and plant species, reduction of freshwater supplies for hundreds of millions of people, and a more intense hydrologic cycle with stronger droughts and forest fires, but also heavier rains and floods, and stronger storms driven by latent heat, including tropical storms, tornados and thunderstorms.

Feasible actions now could still point the world onto a course that minimizes climate change. Coal clearly emerges as central to the climate problem from the facts summarized in the attached Fossil Fuel Facts. Coal caused fully half of the fossil fuel increase of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the air today, and on the long run coal has the potential to be an even greater source of CO2. Due to the dominant role of coal, solution to global warming must include phase-out of coal except for uses where the CO2 is captured and sequestered. Failing that, we cannot avoid large climate change, because a substantial fraction of the emitted CO2 will stay in the air more than 1000 years.

Yet there are plans for continuing mining of coal, export of coal, and construction of new coal-fired power plants around the world, including in Australia, plants that would have a lifetime of half a century or more. Your leadership in halting these plans could seed a transition that is needed to solve the global warming problem.

Choices among alternative energy sources - renewable energies, energy efficiency, nuclear power, fossil fuels with carbon capture - these are local matters. But decision to phase out coal use unless the CO2 is captured is a global imperative, if we are to preserve the wonders of nature, our coastlines, and our social and economic well being.

Although coal is the dominant issue, there are many important subsidiary ramifications, including the need for rapid transition from oil-fired energy utilities, industrial facilities and transport systems, to clean (solar, hydrogen, gas, wind, geothermal, hot rocks, tide) energy sources, as well as removal of barriers to increased energy efficiency.

If the West makes a firm commitment to this course, discussion with developing countries can be prompt. Given the potential of technology assistance, realization of adverse impacts of climate change, and leverage and increasing interdependence from global trade, success in cooperation of developed and developing worlds is feasible.

The western world has contributed most to fossil fuel CO2 in the air today, on a per capita basis. This is not an attempt to cast blame. It only recognizes the reality of the early industrial development in these countries, and points to a responsibility to lead in finding a solution to global warming.

A firm choice to halt building of coal-fired power plants that do not capture CO2 would be a major step toward solution of the global warming problem. Australia has strong interest in solving the climate problem. Citizens in the United States are stepping up to block one coal plant after another, and major changes can be anticipated after the upcoming national election.

If Australia halted construction of coal-fired power plants that do not capture and sequester the CO2, it could be a tipping point for the world. There is still time to find that tipping point, but just barely. I hope that you will give these considerations your attention in setting your national policies. You have the potential to influence the future of the planet.

Prime Minister Rudd, we cannot avert our eyes from the basic fossil fuel facts, or the consequences for life on our planet of ignoring these fossil fuel facts. If we continue to build coal-fired power plants without carbon capture, we will lock in future climate disasters associated with passing climate tipping points. We must solve the coal problem now.

For your information, I plan to send a similar letter to the Australian States Premiers.

I commend to you the following Australian climate, paleoclimate and Earth scientists to provide further elaboration of the science reported in my attached paper (Hansen et al., 2008):

Professor Barry Brook, Professor of climate change, University of Adelaide
Dr Andrew Glikson, Australian National University
Professor Janette Lindesay, Australian National University
Dr Graeme Pearman, Monash University
Dr Barrie Pittock, CSIRO
Dr Michael Raupach, CSIRO
Professor Will Steffen, Australian National University


James E. Hansen
United States of America

There is also an 8 page attachment where Hansen briefly explains the science.