Tuesday, March 15, 2011

It could have been worse!

Amid the tragedy of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, another tragic drama continues to unfold.

Updated at end - it is worse

In a nut shell, the phrase “it could have been worse” seems to be the defense adopted (in the press at least) by those still willing to defend the almost certainly critically tarnished PR sheen of nuclear power. Yes, it is remarkable that the six reactors located on the coastline facing a geologically active tectonic plate survived the initial earthquake and impact – and it was probably lucky that three of them were temporarily shut down prior to the event for maintenance. But this does not “prove” the inherent safety of the technology. It does prove that concrete of sufficient thickness and mass does not get washed away by a 5-7 meter tsunami.

The Sydney Morning Herald has a useful graphic.

The ever ready Ziggy (Neutron) Switkowski hit the press early:

Threat from meltdown only minor: Ziggy Switkowski (13th)

The impact of any meltdown in Japanese nuclear reactors damaged by the recent earthquake will be small compared to the devastation caused by the quake itself and the subsequent tsunami, Australia's best-known nuclear power expert says.

Talk about shifting the Overton Window

"The contribution, if any, to this [disaster] from the nuclear fleet, I expect even under worst case scenarios is going to be small," he told Fairfax Radio Network today.

"That's not to deny that people are always concerned and justly concerned about the integrity of the nuclear reactor network," Dr Switkowski said.

"The Japanese reactors are probably as good as you can find around the world, but this magnitude 9 earthquake may well have tested the limits of their design."

"It could then over time just settle in and the reactor would be irreversibly damaged, or if there was an explosion - and it would be a chemical explosion, nuclear reactors can't have atomic explosions - then there would be both physical damage and the release of radiation."

The risk of an uncontrolled loss of containment of the core, releasing large amounts of radiation, was very, very small, and the radiation would probably not spread very far, he said.

Noting that people had been evacuated from a 20-kilometre exclusion zone around the reactors, he said, "I would think that the possibility that there would be significant build-up of radiation outside the zone would still remain low."

And the next day…

Japan nuclear health risks low, won't blow abroad, experts say (14th)

Health risks from Japan's quake-hit nuclear power reactors seem fairly low and winds are likely to carry any contamination out to the Pacific without threatening other nations, experts say.

"But there are obviously serious concerns about ensuring that the core of one of these reactors where the cooling isn't working remains under control and does not melt and does not create radiation leaks."

Describing this as the worst case scenario, he said the melting would effectively destroy the core of the reactor.

"It could then over time just settle in and the reactor would be irreversibly damaged, or if there was an explosion - and it would be a chemical explosion, nuclear reactors can't have atomic explosions - then there would be both physical damage and the release of radiation."

And the next day…

Ziggy predicts nuclear Australia (15th)

The immediate past chairman of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation said he anticipated Australians would be apprehensive about adopting nuclear power after the unfolding crisis in Japan but he believed Australia would eventually use it as an energy source.

"I remain convinced that in our future we will see nuclear power," he said on ABC-TV last night.

"We do need clean energy, we are an energy-hungry nation."

The lack of thought in that throw away line beggars belief.

Dr Switkowski, who is a nuclear physicist, said what was happening in Japan was unlikely to occur in Australia.

"We are not geologically active, we aren't in the path of typhoons and hurricanes and tsunamis," he said.

But environmentalists said the problems in Japan proved nuclear power was never safe.

"Japan's nuclear plants were built with the latest technology, specifically to withstand natural disasters, yet we still face potential meltdown," Greenpeace spokesman Steve Campbell said.

I'm sure this face time with the press is all out of a dear love of his subject, but we already have other opinions;

Japan nuclear mishap 'among worst ever'

March 13, 2011

A US nuclear expert says the accident at a Japanese nuclear reactor is one of the three worst in history, and could become a "complete disaster" if it goes to a full meltdown.

"This is going to go down in history as one of the three greatest nuclear incidents if it stops now," Joseph Cirincione, the head of the Ploughsares Fund, said in an interview on CNN on Saturday.

"If it continues, if they don't get control of this and ... we go from a partial meltdown of the core to a full meltdown, this will be a complete disaster," he said.

"The big unanswered question here is whether there's structural damage to this facility now. We saw the explosion early this morning. Are there other structural damages that may make a meltdown all but inevitable? We don't have any information from the power company on that. That's what we need."

Mr Cirincione said the presence of radioactive cesium in the atmosphere after the plant was vented indicated that a partial meltdown was under way.

"That told the operators that the fuel rods had been exposed, that the water level had dropped below the fuel rods and the fuel rods were starting to burn, releasing cesium," he said.

"That's when people really started paying attention to this crisis," he said.

Meanwhile, at least three residents evacuated from a Japanese town near the nuclear plant have been exposed to radiation, media reports say.

Meltdown fear after nuclear plant blast

March 13, 2011

''If the fuel rods are melting and this continues, a reactor meltdown is possible,'' Kakizaki said.

A meltdown refers to a heat build-up of such intensity in the core it melts the floor of the reactor containment housing.

A Japanese cabinet minister confirmed radiation was leaking from the plant and there were reports that the cooling system to a second reactor had also failed.

''You don't want to have that containment pressurized. When the pressure starts building up, the emergency procedure is to start venting,'' said Dave Lochbaum, director of the nuclear safety project at the Union for Concerned Scientists.

''They've essentially entered a beat-the-clock game. As long as there is no fuel damage, there will be radioactivity, but it will be very low.''

TEPCO said it had lost control of pressure building up in three reactors at the No. 1 plant after the quake struck. Temperatures in the plant's control room rose to higher than 100 degrees, a company spokesman said.

Greenpeace maintains its stance that nuclear can never by (totally) safe;

Nuclear power is always unsafe: Greenpeace

March 14, 2011

"This proves once and for all that nuclear power cannot ever be safe," Greenpeace campaigns head Steve Campbell said today.

"Japan's nuclear plants were built with the latest technology, specifically to withstand natural disasters, yet we still face potential meltdown," he said in a statement.

Greenpeace was also concerned at the lack of information about the total amount of radiation already released, and whether the ponds for spent radioactive fuel - outside the containment area of the reactor - were secure.

And the news could continue for months;

Nuclear crisis may last months

FEARS of a nuclear disaster at Japan's crippled Fukushima power complex have grown after a second major explosion yesterday and as authorities continued desperate efforts to cool reactors with seawater.

Millions of people last night spent a fourth night without running water, fresh food or heating in near-freezing temperatures along the devastated north-east coast. People were surviving on instant noodles and rice balls while dealing with their losses.

The nuclear emergency was on a knife-edge last night after the second explosion at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, 250 kilometres north-east of Tokyo, yesterday. It blew the roof off the building and injured 11 workers.

The explosion occurred in a building housing the No. 3 reactor, and followed an explosion at the No. 1 reactor on Saturday. Both involved built-up hydrogen gas exploding.

The Yomiuri newspaper also reported that the cooling system at the No. 2 reactor had stopped working yesterday.

The use of seawater is a last-resort because it will permanently disable the reactors.

And the repercussions of relying on large centralised sources of power may become the focus of discussions on energy;

Japan's economy, the world's third largest, is also threatened with partial paralysis as big industries are forced to shut down or cut production due to power shortages. Electronics, car and steel makers are expected to be most affected.

Rail services, including the Tokyo subway, have also been cut by as much as 50 per cent to conserve electricity.

Faced with cuts to their power supplies, major Japanese manufacturing industries have begun shutdowns. Car and electronics manufacturers and steel plants were expected to be most affected.

Updated: Japan nuke plants still unstable

According to one estimate, 30 percent of the power Tokyo Electric Power Co. is supplying to Tokyo and its surrounding areas – one of the most densely populated urban centers in the world -- are generated by the Fukushima nuclear plants.
Rolling blackouts in the Tokyo area are planned Monday morning, local time. The cutbacks are expected to be in effect until the end of April, according to the power company’s announcement.

Even though Japan is a first world nation with resources to spare to (you would think) nearly ensure the safety of there nuclear plants, it has a long history of major and minor accidents.

Nuclear crisis highlights history of 'cover-ups'

Tony Barrell told PM while it appears authorities are being transparent in this latest crisis, their record is tarnished.

"It's not been good. This recent occasion is an example of the new regime if you like, of actually telling people in a blow-by-blow way of what's going on," he said.

"Well they had to really, because that wave and the earthquake were so obviously threatening nuclear power plants on the east coast of Japan that they couldn't very well pretend they weren't.

"Whereas that has been the case on many occasions, including [by] the company that operates those plants."

He says in 2003 reactors across the country had to be shut down after it emerged the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) had hid accidents.

"They had to shut down 17 plants in 2003 because they'd been falsifying the records about what had been happening at them," he said.

"Now the accidents weren't of a major nature. They weren't anything like what's going on in Fukushima.

"But they were serious in the sense that lives were threatened, systems broke down, there were failures to report and there were cover-ups. People pretended things hadn't happened."

Mr Barrell says the latest crisis will continue to fuel local opposition to the plants.

"I think because the proliferation of nuclear power plants has been sort of so gradual and extensive that it's taken a long time for people to realise just how many of these places there are," he said.

"They're all built in remote areas, often in multiples as in Fukushima. There's six in one complex and four in another.

But Mr Barrell says whatever happens in the future, it is clear several plants will have to be closed as a direct result of the crisis.

"I suppose it depends on how many of them actually do go down, because although they're saying there's no explosion and no danger of a really huge disaster, the plants that are affected could be terminally - I mean one of them is definitely finished once it starts melting down," he said.

"It should have been shut down years ago because it's 40 years old this month."

My personal “favourite” nuclear accident in Japan is the tragic piece of “bucket chemistry” where workers mixed a critical mass of Uranium (as nitrate) in a precipitation tank. Two workers died and thousands exposed as a result of the ensuing criticality event. 

The ripples from this nuclear crisis have already spread internationally, with stock prices of various companies affected and speculation globally of the future nuclear power.

Europe split over nuclear safety amid Japan crisis

Nuclear power has been poised for a revival as Europe strives to cut climate-warming carbon emissions and gas imports, but public mistrust still runs high, with the Chernobyl accident in 1986 still strong in many Europeans' minds.

Public confidence in the industry looked set to fall as Japan scrambled on Monday to avert a meltdown at a stricken nuclear plant, days after an earthquake and tsunami.

Nowhere is the issue more controversial than in Germany, where demonstrators have taken to the streets after the government extended the lifespan of Germany's 17 nuclear power stations.

Germany is on the brink of suspending the unpopular extension plan, government sources said on Monday.

Uranium miners hit by nuclear crisis

More than a billion dollars has been wiped from the value of Australian uranium miner stocks in the wake of Japan’s nuclear crisis.

Paladin Energy shares fell 78 cents, or 16.5 per cent, to close at $3.95, while the Rio Tinto-controlled Energy Resources Australia took a hit of $1.15, or 12.2 per cent, to $8.25.

The damage was even more severe for junior explorers, with companies like Peninsula Energy, Energia Minerals and UEQ taking hits of more than 20 per cent.

Japan consumes just over 10 per cent of the world’s uranium, but analysts said the bigger concern would be whether this incident dampens enthusiasm for new nuclear power projects in other countries.

Australian companies supply uranium to Japan, including the crisis-hit Tokyo Electric Power company.

GE hopes Japan disaster won't impact global nuclear plans

The nuclear disaster in Japan’s quake-hit Fukushima nuclear power plant could not have come at a worse time for the U.S.-based General Electric Co (GE), which is holding its Corporate Executive Council (CEC) meet in the Capital as part of its plans to seek a major share in the $150 billion expansion of India’s nuclear industry over the next decade.

The Fukushima NPP, which has seen two explosions in the last four days after being hit by a massive earthquake and Tsunami, has a reactor installed by GE.

To repeated questions on what the disaster in Japan holds for the future of the company, Mr. Immelt said: “It is early days. Let people do exploration of what happened and let the process take its course. Our first priority is to support the government and people of Japan and be transparent,” he remarked.

GE announced a donation of $5 million to the relief effort and is also offering technical assistance to Japanese clients, the government and its partner there, he said.

A provision in India’s nuclear liability law that gives NPP operators the right to seek damages from plant suppliers if there is an accident, has raised concerns among companies.

Uranium shares off, solar up on Japan nuclear crisis

In morning trading on the New York Stock Exchange, uranium miners Cameco and USEC Inc were two of the four biggest losers. Cameco slumped 15.8 percent to $31.48, and USEC fell 14.1 percent to $4.43.

Shares of utilities that use nuclear power plants also fell, with Entergy dropping 4.2 percent to $70.56, Exelon Corp falling 1.4 percent to $42.56, and Southern Co down 1.5 percent at $37.70.

General Electric, which manufactures nuclear power plant equipment, declined 2.2 percent to $19.91.

In contrast, shares of solar companies gained, as the nuclear disturbance in Japan opened the door to alternative energy sources.

"The potential for the nuclear plant meltdown in Japan may over time add more thrust for the country's long-term diversification into solar to serve part of the country's demand," Credit Suisse analysts said.

Natural Gas Rallies Worldwide as Japan's Quake Puts Nuclear Plants Offline

Natural gas rose around the world on speculation Japan will buy more of the fuel, intensifying competition for liquefied natural gas, after the country’s worst earthquake halted 11 nuclear reactors.

Gas for next winter in the U.K., Europe’s biggest consumer, gained as much as 7.4 percent, to 74 pence a therm, the highest since November 2008, according to broker prices. The contract was at 73.50 pence as of 2:25 p.m. in London, equal to $11.86 per million British thermal units. U.S. gas for April delivery rallied 3.8 percent to $4.037 a million Btu in New York.

“The prolonged risk of nuclear outages could divert spot LNG cargoes to Japan and incrementally tighten LNG supply,” Barclays Plc analysts including London-based Kerri Maddock said in a note today.

Further ripples are sure to follow.

There appear to be multiple (cascading) failures at the site now.

Japan nuke crisis 'worst since Chernobyl'

Two more reactors at the troubled nuclear power plant appear to have lost cooling functions as the plant's operators struggle to contain what threatens to become a meltdown.

Explosions at the four other reactors at the plant followed the losses of their cooling systems after Friday's massive earthquake and tsunami.

But Andre-Claude Lacoste of France's Nuclear Safety Authority said: "The order of gravity has changed."

"The incident has taken on a completely different dimension compared to yesterday. It is clear that we are at level six."

Mr Lacoste also said the concrete vessel around reactor No.2 at the plant, designed to contain radioactive debris, was "no longer sealed".

The confinement vessel, made out of reinforced concrete, surrounds the steel vessel that houses the nuclear reactor. It is designed to contain radioactive gas or dust, preventing them from being expelled into the air.

The agency said two "successive explosions, at 6:10am and 10:00am local time probably caused damage to the confinement vessel which is the source of the significant increase in detected radioactive releases".

Explosions at the four other reactors at the plant followed the losses of their cooling systems.

A official from the plant operator, TEPCO, said water in the pool storing spent nuclear fuel rods at the No.4 reactor that caught fire yesterday morning may be boiling, causing the water level to drop.

TEPCO said it may pour water to cool the spent nuclear fuel pool within two or three days

Mr Edano says the explosion at the No. 4 reactor was caused by a build-up of hydrogen.

"Spent nuclear fuel in the reactor heated up, creating hydrogen and triggered a hydrogen explosion," he said.

A nation holds its breath
Following yesterday's incidents, the government warned for the first time that radiation levels near the quake-stricken nuclear plant were now harmful to human health.

In an address to the nation, Mr Kan said there was "a very high risk" of further leakages. "Although this incident is of great concern, I ask you to react very calmly," Mr Kan said.

Experts said that if the containment vessel at the No. 2 reactor had been breached — as feared — it could be difficult to continue seawater cooling operations because of the threat to the health of workers.

"We can assume that the containment vessel at reactor No. 2 is already breached. If there is heavy melting inside the reactor, large amounts of radiation will most definitely be released."


Other links

Major Nuclear Power Plant Accidents-Japan

List of civilian nuclear accidents

Japan Energy Profile: 54 Operating Reactors, World’s Third Largest Nuclear Power Generator


Big Gav said...

Dave - I'm not sure where that latest comment of yours went - you should probably keep replying on the original thread.

I could imagine Professor Brook was an example of SP was referring to - there is something extremely dodgy about BNC - it reads like a PR organ of the nuclear industry.

Anyway - its too expensive as well as too dangerous - stopping flogging the dead (and radioactive) horse...

SP said...

In the interest of reassuring potential posters that comments are not just deleted, the following is the comment from Ecipse Now as it appeared in my inbox. I don't know what happened.

Eclipse Now
Thanks for your reply (in the other thread where I mistakenly placed it).

I just wanted to reply to one phrase of yours.

There also appear to be enough industry supported bloggers doing just that.///

What about the likes of Professor Barry Brook, head of climate at Adelaide University, who out of frustration with how slow we were moving to alternative technologies went on a huge quest to investigate energy systems and came up with the answer that renewables just can't do the job?


He has embraced Nuclear power with passion because it is the only reliable, cheap, baseload power source that could run the world for millions of years.

EG: Gen4 reactors that burn nuclear waste could run the world for 500 years JUST on today's nuclear 'waste' alone. It would solve the nuclear waste problem, solve climate change and peak oil, and give us the time to explore other options like those super-batteries that renewables would need.

He's not against renewables, and draws up scenarios where they will unfold 40 fold over the next few decades to make up about 15% of world energy by 2060. But nuclear power 'only' has to increase 20 fold to hit about 75% of the world market for energy, and this can be done when GenIV reactors like GE's S-PRISM (in approval stages and about to be built) are eventually commercialised and modularised and whacked up on the assembly line.

Instead of being individual hand built projects a bit like a Rolls Royce, nukes would then be more like assembly-line factory built Hyundai's, except with the parts trucked to site and clipped together like oversized lego.

So, in short, when committed environmentalists like Barry Brook are poking holes in renewables, surely it's time to stop 'hoping for the best' with this strategy and set up a peer-reviewed mechanism by which energy claims can be scientifically tested, and cut the ideology out of it?

SP said...

And my answer.

I used the word "supported" and not sponsored.

Dr Barry Brook has made it clear that he is supported by people in the nuclear industry. Not financially but by having access to information. He also publishes guest posts. So he does fall into that category.

Perhaps in one sense his website may be compared to the movie Top Gun (or any Hollywood Military Caper): access (to the military hardware, footage etc) so long as the message is good.

Operation Hollywood at Amazon (reviews)"
Review at About dot com

SP said...

Also in response to your other comments I offer two curiously similarish wikipedia biographies.

Barry Brook

Mark Diesendorf

Two well educated prominent environmentalists - on opposite sides of the nuclear debate.

Anonymous said...

Hi Big Gav and SP,
First, commenting has probably been weird because I’m trying Open ID and Wordpress commenting ever since I migrated my blog to wordpress.

Second, BNC has read a bit 'funny' — I'll grant that. One of the main protagonists there was quite dodgy, and that was Peter Lang. He's been ranting against a Carbon Tax so vociferously and personally insulting anyone that disagrees, so Barry banned him for 6 months.

Third, on Mark V Barry.
BNC readers report back that when Mark and Barry go head to head at public forums, and the forum votes, the anti-nuclear vote usually decreases by the end of the debate.

Fourth, you know you are both far more technically educated than I am, but I can't escape Barry's many questions. They are the questions that I have long fought in trying to deny doomerism; and struggled with.

Anonymous said...

EG: Can molten salt storage tanks really provide electricity in a fortnight of intense rain? What about seasonal fluctuations? If they don't provide the energy we need, are we then assuming another 50% to 100% capacity over-build by wind? What about quiet, wet weeks with little sunshine or wind? Apparently we'll just borrow from Queensland ... on and on the argument goes. It just assumes exponential overbuild that we just can't afford.

What about the history of Denmark V France in reducing Co2? 20 years of wind in Denmark and they are still at 650g Co2 per KWH, where after a 10 year nuke build-out France is at 90g.

Let alone that, what about severe weather events as global warming picks up a bit? How would they go in a severe hail storm or cyclone? The one thing I kept thinking during cyclone Yasi is how many wind turbines and solar PV's were being trashed. Only nukes would survive that. They have to. Then it's just a matter of rewiring after the Cyclone.

Big Gav, you know I'm only a recent convert to nukes. I fought it for the longest time. But eventually those Ted Trainer questions get to you. Eventually, I just looked at our society and wondered which sector had ever reduced energy consumption in the way Mark Diesendorf assumes we will. I looked at peak oil and the new demand for electricity from electric cars, and suddenly found myself wondering why people assumed we'd all be happy to have our cars run our house when the wind and solar stopped. Why? Don't we want our cars to be full in the morning?

Ian Lowe is another environmentalist I really respect, but on nukes I disagree with him. He's said that we just don't need baseload power! It's a myth! We don't really need much electricity at night! Hello, when are we going to be charging all our electric cars? Won't there be such a demand on electricity from them we'll *still* have to have an internet connected 'smart car' system for *staggering* when they all charge throughout the night or we'll crash the grid if they all plug in at the same time?

What's so efficient about having VTG cars anyway — once those electrons have charged the car, aren't they actually meant to drive? Wouldn't it be better if we stopped pretending, looked at the history of Denmark V France, and got real?

Nukes today have passive safety systems old Gen2 nukes at Japan just don't. (Like "Neutron Leak" which shuts down the fuel rods the moment they overheat).

Nukes today are built as individual hand-crafted projects like a Rolls Royce, but in future components will come off a production line like more regular family cars — like Hyundai's for example. The cost of nuclear power will crash!

And the new nukes will BURN the waste! We could shut down uranium mining, the fuel is free! It's already there, sitting in 'waste' storage dumps around the world. By the time we've finished burning all the waste in 500 years time we should have fusion, or 'super-batteries' 100 times cheaper and 100 times more powerful that make renewables a real option. Or space solar. Who knows? That's 500 years away.

But we've got to get there first, and I'm not convinced we can do that on a power source that makes us dance to the weather.

Big Gav said...

Dave - people have been making these misguided and incorrect predictions for decades - "clean", "safe", "cheap" nuclear power is an unattainable mirage.

As I've explained many times before, an expanded grid with a diverse range of renewables (geographically and with a mix of wind, solar - CSP and PV, tidal, geothermal, hydro, biogas) coupled with demand management / smart grids and energy storage is both practical and affordable compared to an expensive and risky nuclear build out.

When I was younger I used to believe the hype put out by the nuclear spin merchants - those days are long gone now and I view nuclear as a dirty and dangerous dead end.

Big Gav said...

Interesting article from Giles Parkinson - note how new renewable construction was dominating new nuclear construction even before the Fukushima disaster :


Amid the carnage on the Japanese stock market last week caused by the combined impacts of the earthquake, the tsunami and the nuclear crisis, one stock shone bright green in a sea of red.

The share price of Japan Wind Development Co Ltd – a small, loss making wind farm operator – jumped sharply from ¥31,500 on March 11 to ¥47,000 three trading days later, as the overall market slumped more than 15 per cent.

The contribution of Japan’s wind sector (274MW) to the country’s electricity grid is paltry, but at least it emerged unscathed from the natural disasters, while 10GW of nuclear and 8GW of coal-fired power were disabled. And as we noted on Friday, global green stocks have been well supported by investors in the past week, mostly on the belief that governments will turn increasingly to renewables (and energy efficiency) as their clean energy option.

In reality, it is still too early to say how the crisis at Fukushima will play out, beyond the immediate reactions of government, but given the experience post Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, and the indelible images of exploding reactors in Japan that will be left in the public and political mind, it seems fair to assume that the rollout of nuclear facilities will be stalled and downgraded, at least for the next decade, and there will be a renewed focus on renewables and energy efficiency. ...

But some pro-nuclear activists are insistent, even to the point of arguing that excessive amounts of radiation is actually good for you, as the prominent Fox News columnist Ann Coulter did late last week. "With the terrible earthquake and resulting tsunami that have devastated Japan, the only good news is that anyone exposed to excess radiation from the nuclear power plants is now probably much less likely to get cancer,” she wrote.

Big Gav said...

Sorry - Im issed the key quotes :

It is interesting to note that the rollout of nuclear, even with the dawn of its much-touted renaissance, was likely to be dwarfed by the investment in renewables in the coming decade. In a report released over the weekend, analysts at HSBC forecast the nuclear rollout – even before the Fuskushima incident – would be around 16GW a year over the next decade. That’s considerably more than has been installed over the past decade, but it pales in comparison with the 92GW of renewables that HSBC estimates will be installed each year over the same period. ...

As this site also noted last week, the most predictable impact of Fukushima will be on nuclear costs, as extra layers of safety are nevitably added to new and current reactors. HSBC says this could add a 25 per cent uplift on capital costs for nuclear, lifting its estimates for the levelised cost of energy for nuclear to more than €60 per MWh of electricity produced, not including decommissioning costs.

This compares, says HSBC, to an LCOE of €56-83/MHw for traditional fossil fuel technologies (an average of €68/MWh) and and €58-70/MHw for wind. “We estimate nuclear decommissioning costs of around €45/MWh, giving a total LCOE for nuclear at €106/MWh, which is considerably more expensive than wind,” it says.

Anonymous said...

But the HSBC assumption that new nukes will cost 25% more for more safety ignores the fact that these Japanese reactors are GEN2 REACTORS, not today's state of the art GEN3 reactors. Gen3 is exponentially safer than Gen2, a real quantum leap.

They've demonstrated Neutron Leak in tests as far back as the late 80's!

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I meant to say:

"Gen3 is ALREADY exponentially safer than Gen2, a real quantum leap."

Those markets that are currently buying Gen3 reactors like the AP-1000 and CANDU's already have exponentially more safety than Gen2 Japanese reactors.

In other words, the HSBC article is misleading.

The other thing is the dollar investment in renewables is also misleading. We can throw heaps of money into stuff like solar PV which only works 1/4 the day, and goes off-line for whole MONTHS in this La Nina weather we have, or we can put far less money into baseload Nukes that generate more BASELOAD power.

What's not being factored into those 'levelised costs' of wind is what it takes to make it work. Or are we just going to ignore that it's not baseload?

I'm sorry, but I just find 'levelised costs' of wind quoted at me insulting unless they address the baseload question. I'd LOVE them to be truly baseload, but I have to deal with reality. They're not. Leaving the baseload COSTS out of the equation is like coal not factoring its real costs on our health and environment. Wind stats just 'externalise' the baseload question in exactly the same way.

Big Gav said...

The Baseload Fallacy :


And you know full well that demand management / smart grids make the idea of "baseload" power irrelevant.

As for the "months of no solar PV due to La Nina" nonsense - you can't be serious ?

Are you saying the sun hasn't shone at all for 2 months ? Where ? Sydney has been bone dry for starters - it was the driest start to the year since 1965.

And as solar PV output matches peak demand really well (ie. it generates on hot, sunny days), you are just showing that you are obsessed with the idea of "baseload", not with actual demand from the real world...

SP said...

Hi EclipseNow.
For some reason your comments are turning up in the spam bin. I've unspammed one of your comments, the content of the other I already posted above.

I have thought that using Nuclear to replace say Hazelwood etc in Vic for example might be acceptable, on the proviso (among others) that there was no future expansion. But where are you going to put it?

Like Hydro, there are only so many acceptable sites technically: water, transport, grid. One [nearly] optimal site is Portland where you could place it right next to Victorias largest single electricity customer (ALCOA ~ 20%) BUT the company that proposed that idea fell over and politically I don't think it will fly.

Barrys site concentrates on the technical aspects - and as far as I recall starts with the premise that (to paraphrase) "we cant run 'our' culture on renewables".

Every rational argument starts with a set of premises... and those at BNC lead to certain conclusions.

So from that start point perhaps he is right. My question is why can't we change?

I am trying to cultivate (or maintain) a sense of caution to any argument that seems to be saying "the only solution is" - no matter how many footnotes.

I am currently experiencing what it is like to live a different life. The house connection has a limit of 1500W. Our naughty indulgence (in the tropics) is an air conditioner in our bedroom set at 28C.

Anonymous said...

Just look at this list of 'externalised costs' Big Gav quoted.

"expanded grid with a diverse range of renewables (geographically and with a mix of wind, solar - CSP and PV, tidal, geothermal, hydro, biogas) coupled with demand management / smart grids and energy storage"

expanded grid = supergrid. Expensive, enormous grid lines covering thousands of km's to attempt to capture electricity from 'somewhere' on a reliable basis. I used to rave about super-grids. But how much will they cost?

diverse range = overbuild of capacity in the quest for a little bit more reliability; but no guarantees.

demand management = hoping it will all work out somehow.

smart grids = more expense

energy storage = more expense.

With GenIV nukes, you just plug them in and it is fixed! No 'smart grid' costs, no super-grid costs. Indeed, the S-PRISM is proposed to be a 300 MW reactor that operates at 90% capacity enabling smaller, African village scaled grids.

Order 4 nukes and get free fries! ;-)

Yes the GenIV reactor has been promised for decades. But remember the Clinton administration banned them because of the 'p' word. Plutonium freaked them out. But it's not weapons grade, indeed, the plutonium in these reactors almost CAN'T be made into weapons!

That is, if you were going to build bombs there are cheaper and easier and more direct ways to do it.

Big Gav said...

That all sounds great except they don't actually exist and no one wants them near where they live or their watershed.

Whereas my suggestions are practical.

but don't let that (or the disaster in Japan, or the huge cost overruns on reactors actually being built today, or reports from bank analysts who don't appear to have any particular bias) deter you...

Anonymous said...

"I am currently experiencing what it is like to live a different life. The house connection has a limit of 1500W. Our naughty indulgence (in the tropics) is an air conditioner in our bedroom set at 28C."
Good luck with that. I'm a fan of New Urbanism and Earthships and all that hippie stuff, I really am if you check out my blog.

But 20 years in Denmark and have they shut down a single coal fired power plant yet? But 10 years after deploying nukes in France and they are supplying 90% of their electricity.

Anonymous said...

Hi Big Gav,

"That all sounds great except they don't actually exist and no one wants them near where they live or their watershed."
Except those watersheds are currently being fouled by coal mining and supply systems and power stations that dump 16 tons of uranium and 4 tons of thorium into the atmosphere each year, far more than nukes do. All I can say is the public need education? They want energy, and lots of it, they don't want it to bankrupt them with smart grids and super grids and 3005 capacity overbuilds to ensure that when the sun ain't shining and the wind ain't blowing, there's something coming from somewhere ...

Safe Gen3 reactors do exist, they're the AP1000 and Candu's. But Gen4 has had largely political setbacks due to a misunderstanding of the type of plutonium involved, and it looks like the General Electric are finally about to build their prototype S-PRISM Gen4 reactor in the USA. But I doubt it will be the first, as China and Russia are playing with Gen4 technology as well.


We could *hypothetically* close uranium mining for half a millennia as that is how long just today's waste will take to burn up.

But because it will take a few decades to 'breed' the waste — with the 'waste' from one reactor eventually doubling to supply fuel for another separate reactor (as the uranium is converted gradually into non-bomb plutonium) — we'll still need to mine uranium for a generation or so yet as we build out today's Gen3 reactors. These will burn the uranium up into starter fuel kits for the Gen4 reactors. Look on the bright side. After our generation all the Gen3 reactors can be closed down, all the uranium mines can be closed down, and we'll just burn the waste for a thousand years or so!

SP said...

Closing comments for me...
"and all that hippie stuff,"
I'm in a developing nation at the moment... and what I've got is a luxury, not a "hippie" lifestyle choice :-).

You are right about one thing, Eclipse, the public needs information so they can choose. When you say "They want energy, and lots of it," I must have missed that survey. What if, after your education program they still say no? Re-education?

People love what they don't have to pay for... will they pay for nuclear - because I don't think industry is going stump up the dosh for purely altruistic reasons.

And after Fukushima (in addition to the climate change premium already felt) these things are not insurable privately.

So long as we hold out this promise that in 20+ years time we will have all the power we could ever squander there will be no change.

We should implement all other measures in the meantime. We can lay those best laid plutonium plans (and that's a real non starter I think) and see if the public still wants it.

Its not going to be an easy choice because alternatives will mean some lifestyle indulgences will not be possible. But that doesn't have to mean we will be unhappy cave dwellers.

I remember way back in the 70s, must have been a little after the oil shocks, stagflation was the crazy dance we moved to and my little country school received a visit from a nice man (smart casual with tie) telling us about the wonders and safety of nuclear power (was it a Govt. program?). Back then I was sold. But around the same time (wish I could remember exactly) 3 Mile happened and that was that.

Dr Tainter made a comment at BNC about Fukushima that the point wasn't solely the marvel of the technology. It was the system - and one of the weakest links in that system is people. If news reports are to be believed, Fukushima got worse because of some poor deciscions, like venting an explosive gas into a hot confined space (which knocked out some pumps when it exploded). I'm sure there are going to be some questions asked about the loading of that pool.

The weather vane for other nations will be what happens in Japan. Japan (like France) may have no choice... but if a population that has had Nuclear for 40 years expresses distrust? Lets see.

BlueRock said...


> [Barry Brook is] not against renewables...


'Renewable power does not work'

Barry Brook is an ideologue.
A dangerous one. He is a pro-nuke, anti-renewable propagandist.

Ironically, he's as trustworthy on energy as Anthony Watts is on climate science. That is to say: not at all.

SP said...

Hi BlueRock.

Just to clarify:
I realised later that for some reason EclipseNows first few comments got spam binned. Thus

> [Barry Brook is] not against renewables...

is actually ENs quote which I pasted (thus it appears under my name) from my email notification version.

As I said, BB works from a particular set of premises and his argument develops from there.

Anonymous said...

Hi BlueRock,
Barry started off as a pro-renewable energy advocate. Then he started reading Mackay's "Renewable Energy without the hot air" and Ted Trainer and started asking the top 20 questions one should ask about a power supply and was simply won over.

I used to point people to the Diesendorf PDF that Gav quoted above.

But now I point people to the debates between Barry and Diesendorf, and Barry's making headway. There are questions that need answering, and we don't have much time because peak oil is ticking away and the price keeps rising. Soon our means of building out thousands of km's of solar will be reduced. About 50 reactors in Australia would give us pretty much most of the clean electricity and transport energy we needed.

I'm not convinced by Diesendorf, I wish I were. The world would be a friendly, easier place.