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Nuclear energy: the debate Australia has to have

anuevents 22 July 2014 51

ABC 666’s Genevieve Jacobs will talk with three of the nation’s most compelling experts on an issue we cannot continue to ignore.

The world is hungry for low cost, low emissions energy, but in Australia nuclear energy is still off the agenda. Will other low emissions technology be enough? Why do we keep avoiding the nuclear power option? How dangerous is nuclear energy? How long before our entire region is powered by nuclear energy, leaving us as the odd one out?

These and other pressing issues will be addressed at the fifth STA Topical Science Forum. Make sure you don’t miss it.

Where: Theatre, lower ground floor, National Library of Australia, Parkes Place, Canberra
When: Monday 28 July 1-2.30pm
Register: here.

Read the speaker biographies here.

This Inspiring Australia initiative is supported by the Australian Government through the Department of Industry, in partnership with Science & Technology Australia and Research Training at The Australian National University.


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51 Responses to Nuclear energy: the debate Australia has to have
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gasman gasman 7:45 am 28 Jul 14

Deaths per year per trillion kW hours of energy produced:

Energy Source – Mortality Rate (deaths/trillionkWhr)

Coal – global average 170,000 (50% global electricity)

Coal – China 280,000 (75% China’s electricity)

Coal – U.S. 15,000 (44% U.S. electricity)

Oil 36,000 (36% of energy, 8% of electricity)

Natural Gas 4,000 (20% global electricity)

Biofuel/Biomass 24,000 (21% global energy)

Solar (rooftop) 440 (< 1% global electricity)

Wind 150 (~ 1% global electricity)

Hydro – global average 1,400 (15% global electricity)

Nuclear – global average 90 (17% global electricity including Chernobyl & Fukushima)

Source: http://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2012/06/10/energys-deathprint-a-price-always-paid/

So still not accounting for climate change, coal is by far the biggest killer per unit of energy produced.

Once we take into account the future costs of climate change, coal is truly evil.

gasman gasman 7:39 am 28 Jul 14

It is a little-known fact that coal-fired power plants release far more radioactivity, as uranium and thorium, than do nuclear power plants.

Read that again – Coal is more radioactive than nuclear.

Coal is typically 1ppm (part per million) uranium and 2ppm radioactive thorium. We then burn the coal and the uranium and thorium are released as fly ash into the atmosphere.

Source: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/202/4372/1045.short

Furthermore, that radioactive waste from burning coal is not contained and stored as in a properly run nuclear plant, but simply released to wherever the wind blows it.

So not even considering the climate change effects of burning coal, or then thousands of dead coal miners per year, coal is worse in terms if radioactivity release.

Note to climate change deniers: climate change is now well-established science. There are 14,000 peer-reviewed scientific papers supporting hunan carbon release climate change. If you wish to deny climate change, you will need to quote which scientific paper you disagree with, and why.

dungfungus dungfungus 10:55 pm 27 Jul 14

gazket said :

Canberroid said :

will only get worse as climate change effects intensify.

The climate has been constantly changing since the earth was formed . Climate never has or will constant . Weather we get power from coal, gas, nuclear, wind or sun, Australia will not make a touch of difference to worlds climate.

My peer review endorses your statement and a computer model was not needed to do that.

dungfungus dungfungus 10:51 pm 27 Jul 14

wildturkeycanoe said :

dungfungus said :

So, if you or a loved one had cancer and radiothereapy was the only chance there was for survival you would say “no”?

Producing radiation for radiotherapy treatment does not contribute to millions of cubic meters of waste.
Your argument is like saying I would prevent people using Vaseline for chapped lips because of the rates of cancer from oil refineries. Totally lost the point.

When was the last time someone died from terminal chapped lips?
And I think your estimate of “millions of cubic meteres of (radioactive) waste” is a bit exaggerated.
The nuclear facilities that produce the isotopes for nuclear medicine still produce nuclear waste.

OpenYourMind OpenYourMind 9:36 pm 27 Jul 14

Canberroid said :

There is no need for debate here. Coal causes many orders of magnitude more deaths than nuclear power, and will only get worse as climate change effects intensify. Nuclear power plant designs have advanced a long way since those designed in the 50’s and 60’s such as those built in Chernobyl and Fukushima, including designs that can consume current nuclear waste.

Please educate yourselves before suggesting that nuclear bombs are a good reason to not commission modern nuclear plants – http://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2012/06/10/energys-deathprint-a-price-always-paid/

Nuclear plants may have moved forward since the 50s, but their cost has increased at a phenomenal rate. The kinds of costs associated with new nuclear in Western countries are in the 10s of billions of dollars. Worse still, they have a very long lead time to build, therefore will not be backed without significant Government funding. Plants such as the Olkiluoto Finish reactor (not even a greenfields site) have run over cost, taken years longer than expected and has the undesirable feature of being in the top 10 most expensive structures in the World. This project was started before Fukushima. It’s safe to say that any new nuclear proposal will be much tougher and take longer than previous nuclear construction as safety standards will be lifted even higher and public opposition is sure to cause greater delays.

Nuclear’s biggest problem isn’t waste, contamination, meltdowns etc. Nuclear biggest problem is it is a high project risk and holds a ridiculous price ticket.

gazket gazket 7:43 pm 27 Jul 14

Canberroid said :

will only get worse as climate change effects intensify.

The climate has been constantly changing since the earth was formed . Climate never has or will constant . Weather we get power from coal, gas, nuclear, wind or sun, Australia will not make a touch of difference to worlds climate.

wildturkeycanoe wildturkeycanoe 7:05 pm 27 Jul 14

dungfungus said :

So, if you or a loved one had cancer and radiothereapy was the only chance there was for survival you would say “no”?

Producing radiation for radiotherapy treatment does not contribute to millions of cubic meters of waste.
Your argument is like saying I would prevent people using Vaseline for chapped lips because of the rates of cancer from oil refineries. Totally lost the point.

Masquara Masquara 6:20 pm 27 Jul 14

Canberroid said :

There is no need for debate here. Coal causes many orders of magnitude more deaths than nuclear power, and will only get worse as climate change effects intensify. Nuclear power plant designs have advanced a long way since those designed in the 50’s and 60’s such as those built in Chernobyl and Fukushima, including designs that can consume current nuclear waste.

Please educate yourselves before suggesting that nuclear bombs are a good reason to not commission modern nuclear plants – http://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2012/06/10/energys-deathprint-a-price-always-paid/

Fukushima.

Canberroid Canberroid 5:29 pm 27 Jul 14

There is no need for debate here. Coal causes many orders of magnitude more deaths than nuclear power, and will only get worse as climate change effects intensify. Nuclear power plant designs have advanced a long way since those designed in the 50’s and 60’s such as those built in Chernobyl and Fukushima, including designs that can consume current nuclear waste.

Please educate yourselves before suggesting that nuclear bombs are a good reason to not commission modern nuclear plants – http://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2012/06/10/energys-deathprint-a-price-always-paid/

dungfungus dungfungus 9:11 am 27 Jul 14

wildturkeycanoe said :

We, Australia, should avoid nuclear power with even more intensity than we have recently begun to do with the asbestos problem. The lessons learned now from using a product thought decades ago to be safe and cost effective, should be raising alarm bells with a product that we already know is a health hazard. Like asbestos, once we’ve mined it out of the ground and processed it, there is no way to make it safe again so we simply bury it back underground. Unlike asbestos though if it leaks from its containment it goes straight through the soil into water courses, into the air and into the surrounds. As difficult as radiation is to contain, the problem of long term storage will raise its ugly head in perhaps centuries, due to natural conditions such as erosion, earthquakes and such. Who knows, in 100 years there may be a drastic change in climatic or economical conditions that make these remote storage areas viable again for human life, but remain uninhabitable due to the radiation.

Environmental risks aside, you’d have to have some very strict security in place, 24 hours a day. Just think about this scenario, years have passed with debate over the location of the dump, it gets approved and contaminated drums of poison are buried. Extremists with their own ideologies drive out in the middle of the night, dig up just one barrel and make a few hundred dirty bombs. The whole country could be held to ransom with a threat such as this, a threat that didn’t exist until we provided the criminals with a weapon as lethal as radioactive waste. This stuff has to be guarded just as well as any of our defense sites and who is going to pay for all that? Out of sight does not mean out of mind and the problem will not just go away, it never goes away.

Instead of spending money on trying to make a dangerous product, an ingredient for disaster, into an energy crisis solution, we as a planet should be looking for other ways. Further more, just because we have vast areas of unused and uninhabited land, there is no excuse to justify turning it into a rubbish dump for the rest of the world. We might sell the uranium to them, but it does not mean we are responsible for disposing of the waste when they are finished with it. By that logic we should be able to take our weekly household rubbish back to the supermarket and let them deal with it.

This article refers to a “debate” about nuclear energy. Usually debates have people who are in favor of and opposed to an idea. It seems the numbers have been stacked on this one, as the speakers are all profiting from nuclear technologies through their lucrative government funded university projects and scientific publications on the subject. Where are the opponents’ voices? Where are the victims of nuclear disasters, the people who would be affected by the dumping of waste on their homeland and the taxpayers who will have to pay to subsidize these costly installations? Unfortunately I can’t make this event, but I’d like to know if audience participation is encouraged.

In this instance, relating to nuclear energy and it’s disposal, I am proud to be called a NIMBY and it is a big 7,692,024 square kilometre block.

So, if you or a loved one had cancer and radiothereapy was the only chance there was for survival you would say “no”?

wildturkeycanoe wildturkeycanoe 8:34 am 27 Jul 14

We, Australia, should avoid nuclear power with even more intensity than we have recently begun to do with the asbestos problem. The lessons learned now from using a product thought decades ago to be safe and cost effective, should be raising alarm bells with a product that we already know is a health hazard. Like asbestos, once we’ve mined it out of the ground and processed it, there is no way to make it safe again so we simply bury it back underground. Unlike asbestos though if it leaks from its containment it goes straight through the soil into water courses, into the air and into the surrounds. As difficult as radiation is to contain, the problem of long term storage will raise its ugly head in perhaps centuries, due to natural conditions such as erosion, earthquakes and such. Who knows, in 100 years there may be a drastic change in climatic or economical conditions that make these remote storage areas viable again for human life, but remain uninhabitable due to the radiation.

Environmental risks aside, you’d have to have some very strict security in place, 24 hours a day. Just think about this scenario, years have passed with debate over the location of the dump, it gets approved and contaminated drums of poison are buried. Extremists with their own ideologies drive out in the middle of the night, dig up just one barrel and make a few hundred dirty bombs. The whole country could be held to ransom with a threat such as this, a threat that didn’t exist until we provided the criminals with a weapon as lethal as radioactive waste. This stuff has to be guarded just as well as any of our defense sites and who is going to pay for all that? Out of sight does not mean out of mind and the problem will not just go away, it never goes away.

Instead of spending money on trying to make a dangerous product, an ingredient for disaster, into an energy crisis solution, we as a planet should be looking for other ways. Further more, just because we have vast areas of unused and uninhabited land, there is no excuse to justify turning it into a rubbish dump for the rest of the world. We might sell the uranium to them, but it does not mean we are responsible for disposing of the waste when they are finished with it. By that logic we should be able to take our weekly household rubbish back to the supermarket and let them deal with it.

This article refers to a “debate” about nuclear energy. Usually debates have people who are in favor of and opposed to an idea. It seems the numbers have been stacked on this one, as the speakers are all profiting from nuclear technologies through their lucrative government funded university projects and scientific publications on the subject. Where are the opponents’ voices? Where are the victims of nuclear disasters, the people who would be affected by the dumping of waste on their homeland and the taxpayers who will have to pay to subsidize these costly installations? Unfortunately I can’t make this event, but I’d like to know if audience participation is encouraged.

In this instance, relating to nuclear energy and it’s disposal, I am proud to be called a NIMBY and it is a big 7,692,024 square kilometre block.

jasmine jasmine 12:45 pm 26 Jul 14

It is not really a discussion that needs to be had. It has been had before and generally most Australians are concerned about clean ups and risks of contamination especially with examples like Fukushima and Chernobyl to learn from. When the Howard government had this discussion the map that was produced marking possible sites for nuclear power reactors, many across the Eastern seaboard (and some other areas) including those in high natural disaster areas. Unfortunately human beings faced with a strong profit motive, often outweighs the cost of risk management and public safety.

There is some great work being done on renewable energy such as solar, geothermal, wind and wave. Much safer and a never-ending supply

justin heywood justin heywood 10:55 pm 25 Jul 14

dungfungus said :

Nuclear power was invented by scientists. Somehow, these scientists are untrusworthy unlike the climate scientists that have the same academic status. I wish someone would explain why this is so.

I’ll have a stab dungers.

1.Scientists are people. Like any other group of people, they will have different views, based on their personal history and resulting prejudices and what scientific work has taught them. Thus no two scientists would ever agree on everything.

2. ‘Science’ isn’t a set of facts – we should think of science as a set of theories, some of which have been tested thoroughly enough to be accepted generally as facts. But most theories are in various states of being either accepted, modified or disproved.

Thus unfortunately, for those looking for scientific ‘facts’ , there will almost always be a level of uncertainty. The way a layman can overcome this is by looking to see if a strong ‘consensus’ has emerged on any one topic.

I would argue that in the case of anthropogenic climate change, a clear consensus has emerged, and that, for political reasons the minority views of the small number of dissenting scientists have been amplified significantly.

I would also argue that there is no scientific consensus on the benefit/risk of nuclear energy. The debate is not usually a scientific one, but is divided generally along political lines, with both sides cherry picking the science that supports their views.

I know you will disagree with some of this and I hope I don’t sound too patronising. I do appreciate the fact that although you hold some minority views and post here frequently, you almost never sink to name calling or abuse and thus have generally raised the tone of the place.

dungfungus dungfungus 7:26 pm 25 Jul 14

watto23 said :

I realise that waste and catastrophes are the major reasons not to go nuclear. Its a shame that the same line of thinking doesn’t apply to coal and gas. The number of people who die per annum due to mining, the number of people affected by waste and pollution. Thing is its usually in poorer third world countries, so according to most politicians they don’t count that much and they don’t get to vote for them either.

Debate and argument is always driven by personal and political ideologies and you can twist the facts to convince your constituents quite easily! Pro nuclear would find it hard, because catastrophes usually make for news and people make decisions based on the media.

Thousands of coal miners have died from “black lung” and silceousis. Still more die from underground mishaps. There have been large losses of life when trains carrying gas have derailed and pipelines have ruptured.
Nuclear power was invented by scientists. Somehow, these scientists are untrusworthy unlike the climate scientists that have the same academic status. I wish someone would explain why this is so.

HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 6:09 pm 25 Jul 14

OpenYourMind said :

The 1950s called and it wants its “so cheap you can’t bill for it” energy back. This is 2014, Nuclear isn’t even in the race. In fact, it doesn’t even have a race entry. Nuclear is mind bogglingly expensive. It simply will not happen in Australia and people proposing it are simply wasting their breath.

Even if we were stupid enough to decide to build a plant and it somehow magically escaped rampant opposition and political bounce arounds, it would take an absolute minimum of 10 years to build and probably closer to 20. In that time frame, solar will be practically free and potentially battery storage will have improved by a factor of up to 10.

Well, that sounds fairly good. People who take a closer interest in the technical details of the various non-nuclear technologies can have their debates (straw man and otherwise), and I’ll take comfort in the fact that alternatives which might cost more to begin with, but which are much less risky, in a number of ways, should eventually do the job.

Provided we don’t have blackouts/brownouts because cranks, zealots and idealists kill off reliable sources before the alternatives are truly up to the task (in cost and reliability terms), that will be fine by me.

HenryBG HenryBG 5:21 pm 25 Jul 14

dungfungus said :

I am not receptive to paying more and more for electricty either and the move to “clean energy” is not welcome because this is what is driving the price increases. My electricty consumption has dropped 10% but my bills have gone up 10% in the past 12 months. This isn’t acceptable.

Why on earth would you want to believe that progress towards modern technologies is behind the spike in electricity prices since 2000?
(Have you been reading The Australian?)
http://electionwatch.edu.au/sites/default/files/pictures/Screen%20Shot%202013-07-15%20at%204.17.38%20PM.png

OpenYourMind OpenYourMind 4:04 pm 25 Jul 14

dungfungus said :

HenryBG said :

dungfungus said :

The only “short notice baseload” power available can only be from emergency diesel generators of the types installed at hospitals and the like.

Weirdly, your use of the word “only” appears to contradict reality:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peaking_power_plant
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Load_following_power_plant

Not to mention 21st-Century developments such as :
http://entelios.com/demand-response/

As far as I can ascertain there is only one (gas fired)peaking plant in Australia and it is used an average of 20 days a year. This is a very expensive and inefficient way of providing a solution to the problem. Correct me if I am wrong but Entelios isn’t a peaking power generator but merely a computerised management system for optimising generation capabilities to meet demands.
I don’t have a problem with existing diesel emergecy generators by the way. They are cheaper in all respects and don’t need fuel from a remote source like gas fired peakers.
I am not receptive to paying more and more for electricty either and the move to “clean energy” is not welcome because this is what is driving the price increases. My electricty consumption has dropped 10% but my bills have gone up 10% in the past 12 months. This isn’t acceptable.

You may wish to read this article:
http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jul/07/solar-has-won-even-if-coal-were-free-to-burn-power-stations-couldnt-compete

Solar is getting so cheap that people don’t need subsidies anymore. It’s viable on its own and is threatening the business model of coal. Now jump forward a few years to when battery tech has made the odd leap and the entire energy game will be changed for good. Already you can buy a home inverter with lithium battery storage from SMA that will store power for times when you need it (or to shape against off/on peak costs).

It’s thought that Tesla is now buying battery storage at less than $200US per kWh for its cars and is about to spend $5billion building a ‘Gigafactory’ to make batteries for 500,000cars a year. Compare this with Nuclear construction cost of up to $8k per kW. http://www.synapse-energy.com/Downloads/SynapsePaper.2008-07.0.Nuclear-Plant-Construction-Costs.A0022.pdf

watto23 watto23 3:07 pm 25 Jul 14

I realise that waste and catastrophes are the major reasons not to go nuclear. Its a shame that the same line of thinking doesn’t apply to coal and gas. The number of people who die per annum due to mining, the number of people affected by waste and pollution. Thing is its usually in poorer third world countries, so according to most politicians they don’t count that much and they don’t get to vote for them either.

Debate and argument is always driven by personal and political ideologies and you can twist the facts to convince your constituents quite easily! Pro nuclear would find it hard, because catastrophes usually make for news and people make decisions based on the media.

dungfungus dungfungus 2:11 pm 25 Jul 14

HenryBG said :

dungfungus said :

The only “short notice baseload” power available can only be from emergency diesel generators of the types installed at hospitals and the like.

Weirdly, your use of the word “only” appears to contradict reality:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peaking_power_plant
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Load_following_power_plant

Not to mention 21st-Century developments such as :
http://entelios.com/demand-response/

As far as I can ascertain there is only one (gas fired)peaking plant in Australia and it is used an average of 20 days a year. This is a very expensive and inefficient way of providing a solution to the problem. Correct me if I am wrong but Entelios isn’t a peaking power generator but merely a computerised management system for optimising generation capabilities to meet demands.
I don’t have a problem with existing diesel emergecy generators by the way. They are cheaper in all respects and don’t need fuel from a remote source like gas fired peakers.
I am not receptive to paying more and more for electricty either and the move to “clean energy” is not welcome because this is what is driving the price increases. My electricty consumption has dropped 10% but my bills have gone up 10% in the past 12 months. This isn’t acceptable.

HenryBG HenryBG 11:00 am 25 Jul 14

dungfungus said :

The only “short notice baseload” power available can only be from emergency diesel generators of the types installed at hospitals and the like.

Weirdly, your use of the word “only” appears to contradict reality:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peaking_power_plant
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Load_following_power_plant

Not to mention 21st-Century developments such as :
http://entelios.com/demand-response/

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