Thursday, December 22, 2005

Advancing The Nuclear Energy Debate Down Under

That group of professors at the University of Melbourne who put together a wiki on nuclear energy that we told you about yesterday are starting to draw some attention to their efforts.

Earlier today, Professor Martin Sevior, one of the authors of the document, was interviewed on the country's national radio network about the effort:

NICK MCKENZIE: Associate Professor Sevior says his research into nuclear waste disposal should help dispel many environmentalists' fears.

MARTIN SEVIOR: One thing that's perhaps not always realised is that the amount of waste that comes out of a typical plant is around 30 tonnes a year. The amount of waste that comes out of a coal-fired power plant is around 1,000 tonnes a day.

So the actual volume of waste that comes out of a nuclear power plant is actually rather small. And there have been very well-developed proposals to bury it deep underground in the Nordic countries. I think it's entirely feasible to bury it very safely.

NICK MCKENZIE: Associate Professor Sevior says his study has exposed serious flaws in an often-quoted European study into the limits of the uranium industry.

But while he says nuclear energy investment would be more beneficial than investment in sustainable energy sources, he also acknowledges that debate about nuclear energy has some way to go.

MARTIN SEVIOR: Part of the reason I'm not … we're not all-out saying yes, we must do this, is that part of that credible case depends on nuclear power industry living up to its promises, and one of the promises it makes is that the next generation of power plants that it has on the boards and are touting around the world, live up to their expectations.
That sounds like a message that the nuclear energy industry ought to be listening to. For more on some of the challenges that the industry has to face in order to be successful, read this speech that our CEO, Skip Bowman, gave earlier this year to the World Association of Nuclear Operators:
The U.S. Energy Information Administration projects that global electricity consumption will increase by 57 percent by 2025. Ninety percent of that growth will come in emerging economies, as our industry works to bring electricity to more than 1.5 billion people for the first time.

There are ambitious plans to expand nuclear energy production around the world. And that means we'’re going to lean heavily on the companies that provide and bend the metal, pour the concrete and supply nuclear-quality components.

NEI is taking a close look at the global nuclear infrastructure, evaluating the administrative, personnel, financial and manufacturing resources to enable new-plant construction.
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4 comments:

Rod Adams said...

It will be very interesting to watch how this debate shapes up in Australia.

In the 1970s, the anti-nuclear movement down under was visibly led by the railroad unions. Coal represents an even larger portion of the rail freight there than it does here in the US where coal is more than 40% of the bulk rail freight by mass.

In Australia, not only does coal supply 85% of the domestic electricity market, but it is also represents a huge source of income from exports.

Perhaps the domestic Australian nuclear power industry will have a chance for success since coal producers and their railroad partners might see that there are bigger profits to be made by selling coal to Asian markets than continuing to burn so much domestically.

Matthew66 said...

I agree Rod. It was interesting to read on the ABC Australia website when the current debate first got going that Queensland's Labor Premier, Peter Beatty, had dismissed the possibility of nuclear power in Queensland because it would have an adverse affect on the state's coal industry. I have never read such a fallacious argument in my life. If Queensland generated all its electricity from nuclear power, it would still have a ready market for every scrap of coal it could dig out of the ground and ship to China. I have never understood why Australia doesn't spend AUD at home on nuclear power, while earning heaps of Forex by selling as much of its coal and natural gas overseas as it possibly can - it does after all have very large current account and trade deficits.

Robert Merkel said...

Um, no, guys, it's not that simple.

One point you're overlooking is that he overwhelming majority of coal exported from Australia is black coal. However, in certain parts of Australia (notably the southern state of Victoria) energy production is from brown coal, which is uneconomic for export but a very cheap source of domestic power.

As to the reason why Australia doesn't use nuclear power, the tacit connivance of green groups and the coal industry has successfully convinced Australians that nuclear power is the spawn of Satan.

Robert Merkel said...

MARTIN SEVIOR: Part of the reason I'm not we're not all-out saying yes, we must do this, is that part of that credible case depends on nuclear power industry living up to its promises, and one of the promises it makes is that the next generation of power plants that it has on the boards and are touting around the world, live up to their expectations.

With regards to this very point, far be it for some random software engineering postdoc to be giving advice to the nuclear industry, but perhaps the biggest unanswered question about whether nuclear power is going to take off again in the Western world is whether the construction cost claims advanced by the nuclear industry are realistic.

In the short term, it might do the industry good to place more of the basis for its estimated construction costs for new-generation plants out in the open; secondly, when the first of these new plants are built, it might be wise to conduct costings and the like under more public scrutiny than a narrow commercial perspective might otherwise suggest.