Demonising Nuclear

Nuclear power has been demonised. This was understandable in the early days, during the time of the Cold War, of “Mutually Assured Destruction” and “the Balance of Terror”, but those days are over and nuclear fuel can be processed in such a way that it cannot be easily weaponized.  Another issue was waste disposal, but, as the  World Nuclear Association points out:

  • Nuclear power is the only large-scale energy-producing technology that takes full responsibility for all its waste and fully costs this into the product.
  • The amount of waste generated by nuclear power is very small relative to other thermal electricity generation technologies.
  • Used nuclear fuel may be treated as a resource or simply as waste.
    Nuclear waste is neither particularly hazardous nor hard to manage relative to other toxic industrial waste.
  • Safe methods for the final disposal of high-level radioactive waste are technically proven; the international consensus is that geological disposal is the best option.

But despite nuclear energy being the safest, cleanest, best managed source of base-load power, it is still a bogey man in the minds of ordinary people. As Michael Shellenberger points out in his book and in this article in Forbes Magazine this could well be due to the funding of the anti-nuclear lobby by Big Oil.

Another reason is the “born again” euphoria which presently surrounds alternative energy. There is a religious quality about this. Evidently we have all sinned by polluting the Earth’s atmosphere with CO2 from fossil fuels and the earth is doomed as a result. However, suddenly we have seen the light; alternative energy will save us!

There is certainly something slightly weird going on when our new Minister for Energy tells us that alternative energy is cheap and nuclear energy is expensive. Really!  Only six months ago South Australia (70 percent alternatives) recorded a spot price of $5000 per MWh, $5.00 per unit, 50 times the average price.

The Minister was confusing two different things, installation cost and price paid by the consumer. In a free market economy they are unrelated because price is determined by supply and demand. In a command economy they may be related (by decree) but this leads to poor products and shortages as in Eastern Europe following WW2. The Energy Regulator is presently switching from the Free Market Model to the more Socialist model with the resulting shortages in NSW already evident. We are told that some energy producers have been “gaming the system”.  Evidently, under a Labor Government power cuts are preferable to condoning immoral behaviour. The heresy, that alternative energy is intermittent and so unsuited to grid distribution, will not be uttered.

The plain fact is that an industrial society can never be powered by solar and wind alone because of their randomly intermittent supply. Some industries cannot tolerate power interruptions. For example, n December 2016 the Portland Aluminium Smelter was damaged when it lost power for more than 5 hours due to fault on the Victorian transmission network. It has been operating below its design capacity since then.

It is time that we as a nation came to grips with our energy problems, put our ideological convictions aside and adopted a common sense, engineering approach. One way of doing this would be to disconnect renewables from the grid and use them instead to generate hydrogen for ammonia synthesis. Another is to install modern nuclear power stations to replace fossil fuel power stations.







15 Replies to “Demonising Nuclear”

  1. Generating anything from intermittent weather energy means you kick the “overbuild” can down the road. You will need a lot of electroliser capacity to avoid the inevitable curtailment scourge. I’m not saying it can’t be done, just that it’s difficult to strike the balance between over building and storage capacity, same problem as RE in the electricity grid.

  2. “ could well be due to the funding of the anti-nuclear lobby by Big Oil”
    I don’t see why big oil wouldn’t just run with the nuclear industry. They’re not mutually exclusive, quite the opposite.

    1. Maybe you are right but that is not what happened. Read the Forbes article by Shellenberger.

    2. In the 1970s Canadian uranium miners were funding the Australian branch of “Friends of the Earth” in order to keep Aussie uranium in the ground

  3. There wasn’t much discussion in the article about the capital behind the nuclear power industry.
    The likes of GE, Seimens, and other large multi Nationals . I just don’t see them as particularly vulnerable nor shrinking violets.
    There are so many contradictions and vested interests everywhere with an enormous number of middle men that it’s about impossible to nail down the politics (quite possibly by design). The Swamp is not a bad descriptor. Davosman my yet be our undoing.

  4. Thanks, RobK. I am sure you are right. We need leadership on this issue, solid, political leadership starting with the removal of the ban on nuclear power. According to The Mineral Council of Australia: The good news is the nuclear ban can be reversed with a single amendment to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Commonwealth). The removal of four words – ‘a nuclear power plant’ – in Section 140A(1)(b) would allow nuclear industries to be considered for development in Australia. Any nuclear projects would still have to meet Australia’s stringent environmental and safety requirements.

  5. Do not expect any movement on nuclear power generation until the lights go out and we have continual blackouts. The public may wake up then.

  6. Regardless of the amount of wind and solar capacity, the East Coast Grid requires 32 GW of non-solar, non-wind generation capacity. This number has been (roughly, within a GW or two) constant since 2007. If you don’t have 32GW of coal, gas, hydro, diesel, woodchips, straw, (hydrogen, when the pipe is lit and I dream on…), pumped hydro, batteries, then blackouts are certain.
    Of these, required pumped hydro and battery capacities are time related and the required capacity is incalculable because we cannot predict future weather or geological/astronomical events. Most backs of envelopes reckon $Trillions for adequate battery capacity…

    1. Well said, Colin. My apologies for the delay in approving your comment.

  7. Big industry, a component of big business, does eventually catch up.

    Usually. But the delay is due to their huge capital investment in whatever industry they are into. So the fossil fuel sector wants to suck as much out of their power stations for as long as possible. During that time, they of course denigrate the competition, alternatives like wind, solar and nuclear. All of this is deceit in my view, because they know that their long term plans are to change and adapt and then dominate what ever the next thing is, and they know that precisely as they denigrate those alternatives.

    Then when they do make the change, it is with huge capital and power and political clout, to whittle away all the first movers.

    I always get a chuckle out of my own joke about everyone lining up to be second.

    1. Allan, you say: “suck as much out of their power stations for as long as possible”. Really?. How then do you account for stations like Hazlewood being allowed to run down and finally to close whilst there was still plenty of brown coal available nearby? You say: “denigrate the competition, alternatives like wind, solar and nuclear. I have seen little denigration of wind and solar by the fossil fuel industry but plenty the other way round. Certainly denigration of nuclear power has been financed by them via the environmental movement because they see it as a very real threat, whereas wind and solar will always require fossil fuel back-up in order to be commercially viable. See:

  8. Hi Admin,

    A quick answer is that this is the tail end of a long haul.

    Eventually and inevitably, the mature industries make that change, as I mentioned, and now we see that (a bit). Initially drives to build new stations, then persistence to keep old ones going, then gradually conceding defeat when the bean counting shows letting them run down is more profitable than keeping them operational.

    Going back some time, (without my researching decades old media statements), I suspect their attitude to alternatives was quite different.

    But a good point to keep on on one’s toes.

    (Just before I hit the send button I remembered my experience in Adelaide about 7 years ago when the power grid failed, in part if I remember correctly due to the antagonism to wind sources from the coal and gas infrastructure sector.)

    1. Well, they would say that wouldn’t they. The fundamental fact is that an industrial society can never be powered by solar and wind alone because of they are intermittent and unpredictable. The renewables lobby and their sycophants can never admit this. Instead they are claiming the exact opposite. Sydney’s recent horrific power outages weren’t due to coal.

  9. The UK plan assumes trees are carbon neutral, though some of these forests are shipped from America (, and probably not via sailing ships. Who can forgot how in 2015 Drax, Britain’s biggest power station, received more than £450 million in subsidies for burning biomass, which was mostly American wood pellets. Who also can forget the remarkable coincidence that Chris Huhne, former UK parliamentarian who poured millions of UK tax money into biomass, later got a job directing a company called Zikka Biomass. He did spend time in jail, but that was for lying about speeding tickets.

    To balance the UK carbon books some extra CO2 now has to be stuffed under the North Sea in a carbon capture project called BECCS (bioenergy with carbon capture and storage). Not only will it be obscenely expensive, and serve no purpose, but no one will know until years later whether the carbon obediently stayed there.

    Ponder that the Greens say that Net Zero will prevent forest fires, and so we arrive at a point where The Science apparently says we have to incinerate 120 million trees a year to stop forests burning. Witches never had it this easy.

  10. It’s like commenting on a horse race being called by a large number of race callers who all have a different agenda and are being paid by the various owners and big time punters while nobody commenting on the race knows the handicaps, which horses are nobbled, which will be allowed to ditch their extra weight when and where along the track and which of the horses will be saddled with extra handicaps.
    There was a time when such debate, with or without input from knowledgeable people, were politically relevant. This has long not been the case with anything that matters at all in politics.
    The western democracies are being railroaded. We have ceased to be democracies, in fact. Whatever we are being told, truth or lie, the game is between the international corporations. Governments do what they are being told and create any amount of spin and fog and confusion to serve as an excuse. Moreover, any excuse will do. Even the political parties have no influence anywhere it matters to the international corporations. Now to nuclear power:
    I was always against it. For one, it is hugely expensive. I never for a moment believe the figures quoted. The mining and its energy requirements alone have never been honestly put under scrutiny. Then the pollution and environmental cost of mining for nuclear. Then there is the true cost of building a nuclear power station and, always forgotten by the proponents, the insurance and end-of-life cost of disposal which are, invariably, paid one way or another by the nation-state. In that regard, and any other for that matter, we cannot believe what we are being told. All these debates, though they give the participants a feeling of being part of a polity, is a waste of time as far as democratic input is concerned. For that we need a different approach. Get the facts first, then cut the waste.
    Before one can even get at the true facts and cut the waste, never mind formulating an energy policy, and naturally, also an economic one, we need political parties or independents in our parliaments who will see to it that governments make this happen. Nothing of the sort will happen. Not before a total collapse of the current crew in power in the West, and possibly not after that either.
    Democratic governance in the West was always a theatre, but for decades now it has been a theatre of the absurd, not least because the electorates make it so. In a way, the majority rules, but if people care about energy policy, economic policy and the environment generally, they must shift their focus and pay attention to geopolitics and how we are ruled. The waste of natural resources is such, if we don’t tackle that, no amount of jiggery-pokery will prevent sociopolitical collapse in the West.

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