Monday, April 29, 2013

Right Side Up Down Under

Something we always like to hear:
Nuclear energy has received the thumbs up from a former anti-nuclear environmentalist who co-authored an independent report pitting the advantages of nuclear energy against renewable energy for electricity generation.
Ben Heard told a uranium conference in Adelaide today that nuclear power presented lower start-up costs, lower cost electricity, much smaller land use, no use of fresh water, more reliable generation capacity and other advantages compared to renewable energy.
Lower startup costs? He’s got numbers.
Key takeaways include nuclear power requiring a capital cost of between $3.5 billion and $4.8 billion for a 690* megawatt equivalent plant compared to $8.1 billion for a 1,460MWe equivalent combined renewable energy plant as well as requiring 2 square kilometers of exclusive land compared to 18.1 square kilometers for the renewable option.
I’d like to see those num – oh, wait, I can?
Heard’s comprehensive, self-funded report (Zero Carbon Options – Seeking an Economic Mix for an Environmental Outcome) analyses 13 specific benchmarks to identify the most efficient energy source to replace two small coal-fired power stations at Port Augusta in South Australia.
And wouldn’t you know – the report has its own attractive website – Here’s the direct link to the report. A chart on page 12 sets the baseline – the report uses a CANDU reactor on the nuclear side – and page 24 onward compares nuclear energy with what it calls combined renewable energy – wind and solar.
What motivates the report is the replacement of two coal plants with a combined capacity of about 1460 megawatts. According to the report, the CANDU reactor was chosen because it matches that figure almost exactly. That may seem a little flimsy as a rationale, but there it is.
The report is quite long, and I’m not sure the comparison is completely fair – if I’m not missing it, it ignores the intermittent nature of renewable energy. Comparing the two tends to almost over favor nuclear energy. But that in itself is fair enough – if you’re replacing a lot of baseload energy, it doesn’t hurt to bring in baseload energy.
And the demonstration of cost is interesting, too, though it has a lot of moving parts – in the case of wind, literally a lot of moving parts.
We’ll probably be watching Australia move ever closer to nuclear energy for the rest of our lives. There have always been strong voices there in favor of it, but the Australian dislike for it seems almost a birthright, genetic. But we’ll see: more surprising things have happened.
I was curious about the description of Heard as a former anti-nuclear activist. I looked to see what there was to know of him and found this description of his work at The Conversation:
Ben is also Founder of Decarbonise SA, a not-for-profit collective with the aim of achieving a rapid decarbonization of electricity in South Australia through fostering understanding and acceptance of nuclear power. A former trenchant nuclear opponent, Ben’s growing appreciation of the climate crisis lead him through research and a change of position. His presentation “Nuclear Power: From Opponent to Proponent” has been delivered to over 600 people including the State Conference of the Local Government Association of South Australia.
But wait. If he’s been at this for awhile and even has a “collective” around it, I wonder when he was a “trenchant nuclear opponent.” His self-written biography at Decarbonise SA explains this. Nothing sinister about it, aside from the fact the press stories about him have grabbed at the anti-nuclear turncoat angle quite hard.
The worst though was this: the logical part of my brain was telling me loud and clear that the broadly accepted set of energy solutions for climate change, namely renewable technologies and improvements in energy efficiency, had not a hope in hell of solving this problem on their own. No matter how optimistically my peer group and I talked them up, the reality of the scale of the climate crisis kept crashing the party. Things were getting worse, not better, and there was really no solution on my radar. Well, there was one, but I didn’t like it… nuclear power.
So - he was anti-nuclear when he was younger and chatting up the issue with his friends, but found a professional direction after his climate change epiphany (he also teaches at the University of Adelaide). I’m not tweaking him here – it happens all the time. But unlike, say, Patrick Moore, he doesn’t seem to have made this change during his professional life, which would have had a decided impact. But that’s okay – it’s overstated but not wrong. He did have a change of heart.
I was amused to read that Friends of the Earth has an Australian branch and have had at Heard over this (no link – you can find it easily enough):
A mining industry magazine article says that Mr. Heard was "once a fervent anti-nuclear campaigner". However there is no evidence of Mr. Heard ever having any involvement whatsoever in anti-nuclear campaigning let alone 'fervent' involvement. And no evidence that Mr. Heard has made any effort to correct the error in the magazine article.
No evidence that he hasn’t, either. I love how FOE jumps from the mundane to the diabolic in one short hop – it’s like a sour magic act intended to scare children. But however (and whenever) Ben Heard became pro-nuclear, power to him.

*EDITOR'S NOTE:  Due to a typographical error, this figure was incorrectly transcribed as 6,690 megawatts. We regret the error.


Lakshimi said...

Nuclear energy may be a achievement but the way it destroys and mime generations of human DNA .Should there be a accident at the plant because of natural climate conditions or the easy dumping into the oceans and contamination of food chain of human beings .Is it really worth any recommendation do you really save $$. The leakage of dangerous nuclear waste in deep sea and its chain reaction that kills everything it comes into contact with is totally unjustified Fukushima ,Hiroshima and Bhopal accidents tell us scientist have no knowledge of the physics and chemistry ,including maths of Atoms .Theory is shockingly different from practical bonding including the after effects of radiation

Robert Hargraves said...

$4.8 billion for a 6,690 megawatt equivalent plant ?

That would be pretty affordable; do Candu reactors only cost $1.4/watt of capacity? Ballpark for US PWRs is $5/watt.

Don Kosloff said...

Lakshima be sure to take periodic deep breaths during your hysterical outbursts. However I must commend you on your complete avoidance of facts. On the other hand, your use of fantasy, although extensive, was not particularly adept,

Anonymous said...

Lakshimi, please try to learn English grammar before posting rants on an English-language blog.  I realize that facts and logic are optional in the anti-nuclear ethos, but grammar is a sine qua non.

Matte said...

"Key takeaways include nuclear power requiring a capital cost of between $3.5 billion and $4.8 billion for a 6,690 megawatt equivalent plant compared to $8.1 billion for a 1,460MWe..."

These numbers do not make any sense to me. Renewables are a factor ~6 more expensive than nuclear (using wind as a benchmark as it is the cheapest), of that i can agree, but I would like to see the nuclear plant with an installed capacity of 6.7 GW costing a mere $4.8 billion.

Wind cost in the region of $3 million / MW (excluding grid and maintenance infrastructure) but technical and economic lifespan is about 20 years (onshore, off shore is less). Normalising with a nuclear plants expected lifespan, capacity factor and capital cost should bring you to a fair comparison of the energy cost.

Ben Heard said...

Three clarifications. The nuclear option is 690 MWe. Not 6,690 MWe.

The EC6 also can run on natural uranium, has on-line refuelling and strong load following ability, all of which would suit SA very well.

I changed my mind on nuclear well into my professional career as a climate change and sustainability professional with major consulting firm. This happened for me slowly from about 2007-2010, when I was about 30 years old. I was a paid up member of environmental organisations that opposed nuclear. Media have, in the past, overstated the case about my being a former "anti-nuclear campaigner". This is not correct, and my journey, as linked here, has always been available for everyone to read and judge for themselves.