Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Nuclear Shake Ups

A few quick articles before I go off and do something more productive.

Some newer articles added at end and then we need a change of topic.

Germany Plans Reunification-Style Speed to Build Grids for Cleaner Energy

Bloomberg, March 21

Germany may accelerate power-line projects to transmit more renewable energy to consumers after Japan’s nuclear disaster rattled voters in Europe’s biggest electricity market.

The Economy Ministry is preparing to use fast-track powers last exercised in 1990 when a newly united Germany had to build transportation infrastructure as fast as possible to replace crumbling roads in the east and improve connections in the country, according to a ministry document obtained by Bloomberg News. Control over power grids would be taken by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government from states and local councils.

“The scale of the challenge is comparable with infrastructure needs after reunification,” according to the document, an outline for a draft to be presented to the cabinet in two days. Power storage sites will be exempted from paying grid fees for 20 years rather than the current 10.

Merkel last year agreed to extend the life of Germany’s nuclear reactors in return for receiving 15 billion euros from their owners to help build the grids. The plan also commits the four main utilities to pay a nuclear tax from this year through 2016 of 2.3 billion euros annually.

Another 5 billion euros was earmarked for offshore wind parks. The steps cumulatively aim to speed Germany’s target of generating 80 percent of energy from renewable means by 2050.

The US and Australia have similar geo-political attributes.

The Political Demise of Nuclear Power in the U.S

Huffington Post, March 21

While there may be good reasons for nuclear power to be used as a bridge fuel to a renewable energy future, I am confident that nuclear power is politically dead in the United States. This makes the research and development of alternative energy and carbon capture and storage that much more important and urgent. It also means that environmentalists who have either reluctantly or enthusiastically embraced nuclear power as a form of carbon free energy should move on to other solutions. The catastrophe in Japan will not soon be forgotten, and it will shape the politics of nuclear power plant siting for decades.

This analysis is based on a few fundamental facts of American political structure. Despite the strength of our national government, this remains a federal system of divided power. States retain sovereignty, and we have a deeply rooted tradition of local control of land use. Our national elected leaders pay a great deal of attention to geography and to opinion leaders at the community level.

The "Not-in-my Backyard" (NIMBY) syndrome is not a passing fad in American politics; it is a central element of land use politics in communities throughout this country. While it is true that the definition of a noxious facility varies from place to place, no one doubts the ability of an American locality to veto a land use they do not like.

The images of earthquake and tsunami damage will be combined with the nuclear accident and form a single image in the public's mindset about nuclear power.

And in a country that has trouble maintaining roads (at least where I am) never mind the drainage system…

Courting Chernobyl in Ring of Fire Is Lunacy: William Pesek

Bloomberg, 20 March

Here a word for Indonesia as it mulls a nuclear future: Don’t!

Yes, that’s easy for me to say. The fourth most-populous nation is a shoo-in to join Brazil, Russia, India and China soon as a BRIC economy. BRIICs, anyone? To keep growing at about 7 percent, Indonesia needs energy, and lots of it. Hence the plan to build nuclear power plants.

If a country as developed, technologically advanced and earthquake-ready as Japan must scramble to avert a nuclear catastrophe, what hope do developing nations have?

No disrespect is meant. No one needs to convince me of Indonesia’s promise or how impressively far it’s come since the dark days of the 1997-1998 Asian crisis. Yet Indonesia’s regulatory environment is poor and its public sector far less tech-savvy than Japan’s; its disaster-response record needs work and it’s a very seismically active place.

If the ongoing drama in Japan tells the world anything, it’s that earthquake-prone nations should be aggressively pursuing non-nuclear options to fuel growth.

Granted, Japan’s drama is unique. At 40, the Fukushima Dai- Ichi power plant is almost as old as the median age of Japan’s 126 million people. The technology going into today’s reactors makes them far safer. The role of age in Japan’s crisis prompted some world leaders, like Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, to shut their oldest reactors.

Still, Japan’s disaster has been decades in the making thanks to falsified safety reports, underestimated risks and plain old corruption.

If ever there were a microcosm of what ails Japan, its nuclear power industry and a legacy of fatal accidents and conflicts of interest provide it. Too often, those writing nuclear-safety rules were also doing surveys and signing off on inspections.

At Fukushima, back-up diesel generators that might’ve averted the disaster were located in a basement and swamped by waves. “This in the country that invented the word Tsunami,” noted Ken Brockman, a former director of nuclear installation safety at the IAEA in Vienna.

One lesson we should remember from events in modern-day Ukraine in 1986 was the role of everything from design flaws to shoddy construction materials to insufficient training of reactor personnel. In other words, the human factor.

Mixed blessings for Australia? Uranium down but coal and LNG up. This is sure to complicate the political wrangling on energy and climate policy.

Japan's coal demand to soar in face of nuclear turn-offs

Courier Mail, March 22

AUSTRALIA should experience significantly increased demand for coal from nuclear-challenged Japan in the next couple of years and longer-term, demand for liquefied natural gas could soar.

But in the medium term, Fitch said "additional gas-fired power generation capacity is the natural substitute for (Japan's) nuclear power."

"Countries non self-sufficient in energy will always want a diversified portfolio and there just aren't that many alternatives," Morningstar analyst Mark Taylor said, holding out hope to Australian uranium companies whose shares have been hammered since Japan's massive earthquake struck.

"Japanese gas-fired electricity generators were operating at high capacity prior to the earthquake and have limited ability to further increase production."

He said, however, that Fitch estimated Japan lost up to 11 gigawatts of nuclear-fired base-load energy after the earthquake."

And the replacement of four of Japan's recently damanged nuclear plants by new gas-fired generation could increase LNG demand by nine million tonnes a year.

Each of Queensland's planned first stage LNG projects envisage capacity of from seven to eight million tonnes of LNG gas that has mostly been pre-sold under contracts.

"But gas-fired generation is the likely choice for new capacity given its relatively low carbon emission intensity and speed of construction.

"Moreover, the Japanese LNG import network appears to have spare capacity for additional imports and was reported as undamaged by the International Energy Agency after the earthquake and subsequent tsunami."

And in SA, centre of installed wind energy  in Australia… the Premier thinks he has already detected the direction.

Key MPs back expansion of nuclear industry in South Australia

Adelaide Now, March 22

Former treasurer Kevin Foley yesterday said Australia should embrace nuclear power.

Mineral Resources Development Minister Tom Koutsantonis, while falling short of advocating nuclear power to be used in Australia, called for uranium enrichment plants in South Australia.

Mr Foley said: "I believe Australia should embrace nuclear power."

Both ministers said the Australian Labor Party should not be frightened of a vigorous public debate, but Premier Mike Rann distanced himself from their views.

"I won't be engaging in this debate," Mr Rann said.

"The old adage of digging something out the ground and sending it offshore has to change," he said.

"We've got to value-add here in SA. South Australians expect us to exploit our natural resources to the maximum potential.

"Down the track, I would like to see some form of enrichment, some sort of value-add. We have to go out and passionately support the uranium industry."

Personally, I don’t think the authors of the phrase “value add” had this in mind. When your thinking process has been infected by jaded PR sound bites, this is the kind of almost circular argument you get.


The Oz fly's Barry Brooks only option flag: I think the reason is obvious.

Atomic energy the only solution, says scientist
The Australian, 23 March

The University of Adelaide's Barry Brook said yesterday nuclear power was the only rational alternative to fossil fuel and was necessary if Australia adopted a carbon tax.

"Nuclear energy is inevitable . . . it's a matter of when," Professor Brook told the annual Paydirt uranium conference in Adelaide. "The risk is that if there is a global price on carbon in the future, then Australia will become uncompetitive."
While the struggle to control the reactor appears to be in its final phase;
Battle to cool Japan plant
The Age, 23 March

n another small step towards regaining control of the plant, the lights came back on in the control centre of the number three reactor, making it easier for workers toiling to get the vital cooling systems working again.

"As of 10.43pm (local time) the control centre for reactor number three had its lighting on," an official from plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) told reporters late on Tuesday.

The number three reactor is a particular concern because it contains a potentially volatile mixture of uranium and plutonium.

The health ministry advised residents in five towns or cities in Fukushima prefecture not to use tap water to make formula milk and other drinks for babies due to abnormally high radiation levels.

The government also ordered increased inspections of seafood after radioactive elements were detected in the Pacific Ocean near the Fukushima plant.

France's Nuclear Safety Authority warned that local contamination from the Japanese plant would last "for decades and decades".
The message from the world regulator is clear;
World must learn from crisis, says atomic chief
Sydney Morning Herald, 22 March

Yukiya Amano, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, also told a 35-nation agency board meeting on Monday that while the situation at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear site remained serious, ''we are starting to see some positive developments''.

Pressed by reporters on whether his agency should be authorised to make its safety standards mandatory instead of voluntary as at present, he said ''there are some arguments'' from board nations in favour - but others were against.
The Huffington Post has an interesting link filled article (despite the use of the word "only") by a former nuclear researcher and current Director (Emeritus) Hawaii Natural Energy Institute. See the original for the expanded details in the points below.

Renewable Electricity Is Our Only Viable Option: Part 2

Huffington Post, 21 March

This is thus no knee-jerk reaction: Nuclear fission is now no longer an option for our society. Mind you, I have a pro-nuclear stance, and even penned "There is Something About Thorium," for The Huffington Post. But I'm afraid even this cleaner fission option now no longer has any real chance.

I still hold long-term hopes for fusion, but my experience working at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory on laser fusion, and my knowledge of the ITER magnetic confinement experiment in France, convinces me that we are at least a generation away, and more likely two or more, before any kind of commercialization will occur.

Here are the reasons why nuclear fission is dead:
1. Economics.
2. Liability.
3. The attitude of the public.
4. Freshwater. ... half of the water consumption in France is utilized by their 58 nuclear generation facilities...
5. Worst case scenario. This is hyperbole, but ...
The problem, though, is at least two-fold: time, or the lack of it, and the incapability of our decision-makers to make command decisions with our democratic form of government heavily influenced by lobbyists. China just did it, but I'm afraid the USA will mostly dawdle.
In Australia there is a final rush to install solar panels (sarcasm: surely they should just wait for nuclear?) before the solar bonus expires. I've quoted heavily as there is some interesting detail.
Race to cash in on solar bonus
The Age, 22 March

There is a last-minute rush from homeowners wanting to buy solar panels before the solar credits rebate is slashed by up to $1200 from July.

For the first 1.5 kilowatts of a home solar system, the federal government multiplies the number of small-scale technology certificates that are attached by five. This multiplier will drop to four in July.

Most people are opting for a 1.5 kilowatt system, which would generally produce 5-7 kilowatt hours per day and supply about one-quarter of the average household's energy needs.

A typical Australian house consumes about 18 kilowatt hours (kWh) per day.

The whole solar credits thing can be a tad confusing. Basically, when you install solar panels you are eligible for certificates from what is now known as small scale renewable energy scheme (SRES).

You may also hear the credits being called RECS, or renewable energy certificates, which is what they were known as until the beginning of year.

The reason for the name change was a glut in the market of RECS was pushing their price down, and potentially putting back projects such as wind farms because the companies creating wind farms need the certificates to be worth $45 or more to attract investment. At the end of last year RECS were worth about $30 - $32.

Now the government has split RECS into two – certificates for big installations, and certificates for small installations.

For systems up to 1.5 kilowatts, though, the federal government multiplies the number of certificates you get. Until July they will times them by five. On a 1.5 kilowatt system, that makes the certificates worth $5200 - $6800.

After July the multiplier will fall to four, and each successive July after that it will drop by one until no multiplier applies.

The current rush could be in vain with at least one provider saying that, after July, the amount consumers buying solar panels will be out of pocket for potentially won't change that much. "We predict that our pricing will not alter greatly at July 2011 due to a reduction in the cost of the goods, as forecast,"

And finally, IF you wanted to build a large scale solar voltaic facility, where do you build it? One criticism has been that the vast area takes up valuable acreage we need for other purposes.
Tata Power Ties Up With Australia’s Sunenergy For solar project
liveMint.com, 22 March

India’s Tata Power Ltd. Tuesday said it has entered into a partnership with Australia’s Sunengy Pty Ltd. for a pilot project to build a low-cost, solar powered plant that will float on water.

“Liquid Solar Array effectively turns a dam into a very large battery, offering free solar storage and opportunity for improved water resource management. If India uses just one percent of its 30,000 square kilometres of captured water with our system, we can generate power equivalent to 15 large coal-fired power stations,” Phil Connor, Sunengy’s executive director and chief technology officer said in a joint statement.

Floating the liquid solar array on water reduces the need for supporting structures and offers protection from high winds. In bad weather, the lenses submerge in water and also cools the cells increasing their life span and efficiency.

Plans for pilot power plant in India and the Hunter

ABC, 22 March

Sunengy will partner with Indian power giant, Tata Power to build the $1 million plant.

Chairman, Peter Wakeman says the solar panels float on water, which then cools the photo-voltaic cells under extreme heat from the sun rays.

Mr Wakeman says it is not only environmentally-friendly, but maximises the efficiency of expensive solar panels.

"To capture the interest of industry and the general public it's got to be cheap," he said.

"If it's not cheap they won't use it and so cost has always been the driver to get it down.

Large shallow water bodies... hmmm... I think The Hume for one could be a good dual use candidate, unless we value water skiing more?
The sacrifices we might have to make ;-)

[I have no financial interest in any of the companies touted above]

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