Winning a debate in Sydney – We have seen the future and it’s nuclear
Ben Heard of Decarbonise SA shared a teaser video clip from a recent Big Ideas debate titled We’ve seen the future and it’s nuclear. In this clip, Ben spends his allotted 9 minutes telling people how he became convinced that the only path to an abundant, reliable future energy supply system that minimizes CO2 and all other air pollution is one where nuclear provides most of the energy. Ben started his journey of discovery from a position where he was ideologically opposed to the use of nuclear energy and he describes how his feelings about the topic were almost on the level of a phobia.
You can view the entire show at the Big Ideas page devoted to the debate. You can also download an audio or video file.
Before heading out for a morning walk, I downloaded the audio file and put it on my old iPod nano. Since I tend to be an early riser, I started my workout at 4:00 am.
As I listened to the renewables advocates trying to tell us that their favored sources would power us in some distant utopia, I noticed a few things about my surroundings.
- It was steamy – even starting at 4:00 am and walking, not running, I am still dripping with sweat.
- It was dark – I finished my walk at 6:00 am, about 45 minutes before sunrise. (
- It was still – not a single leaf moved during my entire walk.
- There were lots of lights burning on porches and on poles along the street.
- I could hear air conditioners humming in the background during the debate.
- All but one of the houses that I passed in the 5+ mile walk was built within the past five years.
During the debate, Professor Daniela Stehlik, speaking in favor of the motion, described how nuclear advocates need to work harder to better educate the population about our technology. Professor Ian Lowe, speaking in opposition to the motion, teased her about that prescription, saying “I educate, she propagandizes, they indoctrinate” implying that education is often used as a tool of control.
It seems so obvious to me that there should be no need for education to teach people that the sun and wind are unreliable power sources. It should be impossible to live on this planet without noticing that the sun is not available for at least half of every day and that the wind blows with almost constant variability and often does not blow at all.
Perhaps I am more conscious of the wind because I have been a sailor since I was a little boy. I notice when there is a good breeze and I notice when it is so still than sitting on a sailboat, listening to the thwacking of unfilled sails, would be a very boring way to spend a day. I’ve spent quite a few days sailing out on the ocean in the very places where the off-shore wind advocates work hard to sell the notion that the wind is more regular. I can provide personal testimony that there are many still days on the ocean, often occurring in stretches that last for several days at a time.
The antinuclear side of the Sydney debate universally focused on energy efficiency, conservation and lifestyle changes. There should also be little or no sympathy for any energy policy debaters who start their arguments with telling people that they use too much power already and that they will have to change their way of life. Most of us LIKE the things that happen when we consume energy.
One of the most forceful arguments for nuclear energy came from Dr Fumihiko Yoshida, even though he was speaking in opposition to nuclear energy and probably did not realize how his argument might sound. He said that Japan will be able to live without nuclear in a couple of decades because the island nation’s population is declining anyway. With a smaller population, they will not need as much power. So there you have it, if you accept a declining population – perhaps by encouraging people to die – you can live without nuclear energy. I choose life for future generations as a more positive outcome.
Ben did what I would have done by counting the number of times that Dominique la Fontaine, an Australian wind industry leader, mentioned natural gas as a fundamental ingredient in her future energy supply prescription. (In her 9 minute talk, she mentioned natural gas SIX times.)
During her summation, she stated that she would much rather accept the disadvantages and dangers of gas than those associated with nuclear. She sounds a lot like Denise Bode, the head of the American Wind Energy Association. I wonder how the relatives of the people killed at Middletown, CT, the Upper Big Branch Mine, the Macondo oil well, and the San Bruno neighborhood feel about the safety of natural gas?
All of those fatal events occurred in a single year, resulting in a total of 7 + 29 + 11 + 7 = 54 deaths. Each event was covered by the news media, but none received anything like the attention paid to the non-fatal accident at Fukushima.
Before the debate started, the organizers took a poll. The audience was split almost evenly into three camps 35.1% in favor of nuclear, 30.6% opposed and 34.3% undecided. After the debate, the results were substantially different: 51.4% in favor of nuclear, 31.6% opposed to nuclear, and 16.8% undecided. The host declared that Ben Heard, Michael Angwin, and Professor Daniela Stehlik had won a resounding victory on the question of the night and that the audience now agreed that the future of energy is nuclear.
Way to go, Ben and team.
Rod – thanks for the post and being so on top of this story. I really value your assessment of the debate and its importance.
I check Atomic Insights first thing in my day, so I saw the announcement of the video post here before I got the notification email from Decarbonise South Australia that the video and audio were online. I’ve got the video downloading now and intend to remix it. This is a debate recording that needs to go viral, and be in everybody’s “posting kit” for commenting on nuclear related blog posts.
Ben’s 9-minute Intro was excellent. Who doesn’t enjoy listening to an Australian accent? I look forward to listening to the whole debate.
Rod, I bet your Lynchburg humidity is nothing compared to down here in South Florida. There is no way too manypeople would have chosen to live down here prior to Air Conditioning (particularly the dehumidification part of the conditioning).
Terrific post, and great of you to introduce me to MICHAEL Angwin, pro-nuclear debater!
MEREDITH Angwin, pro-nuclear debater, also.
I noticed that same last nameness. Angwin isn’t quite Smith or Jones or Patel.
Good news, that comment showed up within 5 minutes. Perhaps the commenting delay bug is fading away.
New Nuclear has a chance in Australia. Australians work very hard to make a better tomorrow and are open minded to the energy debate. However, soon survival from climate change which we have helped create will consume all of our time. The debate will be over along with lives of countless millions of people because wealth is the driving priority and not the lives of nameless masses in underdeveloped countries.
In Australia there is a chance to meet the climate change challenges with new nuclear. The time is short to meet the challenge but the science is now and so too is the Aussie “Can Do” spirit. Australia is a bright island of hope in a sea of political debate, banking industry control and ignorance about new nuclear power.
I say its about time that the 2 regions that produce the most uranium on this planet (Saskatchewan and Australia) each get a reactor running.
Its one thing to reap the benefits, now is the time to walk the walk.
Makes sense to me.
Michael, there is certainly a lot to admire about the way Australia does many things. It has been a relative OECD rock of stability through the financial crisis.
I think that when we do nuclear, which I am certain we will, we will do it very well indeed. We have some hurdles to kick over first, staring with the fact that NP is prohibited in Australia under the Environmental Biodiversity and Conservation Act. The responsible Minister literally CANNOT consider a NPP for approval, no matter how strong the argument is for the environment or, say, biodiversity conservation…
Very good show. Mr. Heard, and all the power to you FUD-busting and getting people in that region to see the light! Google as I might, I just can’t find any logical or rational reason for nuclear energy to be banned under this “Environmental Biodiversity and Conversation Act”. Huh?? Am I missing just how nuclear energy crimps that party? Does it give fossil fuels a pass? If so, that’s one hypocritical piece of legislation!
Keep up the great (and it is, because you’re trying to improve the fortune of a whole nation!) work!
As it happens a colleague has just unearthed the Hansard debate records from 1998 of when that absurd piece of law happened. I’m very much looking forward to having a read and seeing the arguments that won the day and how they look all this time later, with Australia having the highest GHG emissions per capita in the OECD, and beginning to gut our farmland for fossil fuels. Should be fun! Watch the space, I’ll be sharing what I learn.
Ben Heard, your speech was brilliant!
I just wanted to say that the visible ‘gulp’ of the Japanese anti-nuke participant, after you mentioned the millions of deaths due to air polution, was priceless. I imagine he might have been thinking “Why the heck did I let myself get involved with this crazy anti-nuke crowd!?”
Good luck to you sir!
I thought the one of the best comments / questions of the evening was the Electrical Engineering student’s statement that he had done his thesis on the addition of renewable resources to the Australian grid and found that it was almost impossible to achieve more than a 30% penetration of renewable energy. (I actually think that you would have major grid instability once you get above 10% but that’s just my gut telling me to look closer)
Then the response from the Negative team was to not address the question but to say other renewable energy experts say you can. Then she tossed out some buzz words like load management (ie remotely turning things off), energy efficiency (forgetting then Jevons Paradox) and geographic diverse renewables (without talking about the transmission lines).
The UK Climate Change Committee in it’s “Renewable Energy Review”, investigated the potential sources and magnitude of movable demand (aka load management). It found that by 2030 the only serious contenders are heating (heat pumps) and transport (EVs). All the rest is pretty much just fluff. And then the time frame is over a matter of hours, not days.
Desirable as both heat pumps and EVs may be, the rate of future deployment is unknown and overly optimistic assumptions would surely be folly in making decisions about electricity supply.
The important message is that for load management to have any real significance not only is a “smart grid” needed, but large scale and expensive changes in the nature of stuff that plugs into the “smart grid” is also needed. That’s going to take time. It’s also likely to increase electricity demand. Just buying an internet enabled washing machine is not going to cut it.
In South Australia we have accomodated wind to just over 20%. Now we are getting strong messages from the market operator that things are getting very tricky.
Wind, among other issues, at what expense to Australia’s sweeping scenic natural beauty and heritage? (take clue, Vermont!)
I was wondering whether they was any data on how many Open Cycle gas turbines are running on standby (ie Zero load) to help load balance when the wind power varies.
In addition to that does the carbon mitigation provided by wind power start to get worse per kwh of installed wind base.
I seem to remember it gets significantly worse (in terms of cost per tonne of carbon) as the installed base get above 10%.
This is probably due to a lack of attention to dump loads and storage (for instance, Iowa in the USA has a great deal of wind power but is not using its abundant ethanol plants and their demand for process heat as dump loads in periods of excess generation). Even given something as simple as a heap of small stones, you could use them as a heat-storage element in a combined-cycle generating plant to achieve close to 60% recovery of the input energy using nothing more sophisticated than resistance heaters (and enclosing them in a pressure tank, but I won’t belabor this comment with details). 60% isn’t as good as pumped storage or good batteries, but it’s really hard to beat stone for $/MJ; Earth is lousy with the stuff.
Of course, the same stone that works to dump excess wind power for later input as air pre-heat to a CCGT powerplant also works as a dump load for overnight nuclear generation to supply the next day’s peaking demand. It’s not the sort of investment that loses utility as other technologies change.
The audio for this Big Ideas show is also available free for download on the iTunes store.
On the geographic diverse renewables point; the southern and south eastern Australian Grid has a large dispersed wind generation with large farms in key areas of South Australia, Victoria, and NSW. When we get big High pressure zones that cover entire states (1,000,000+ km2) wind output is negligible from a geographic spread of approx 1000-1500km. The energy market operator (AEMO) noted that in summer and winter wind provided 5% and 3% of peak demand respectively when the penetration of installed is up to 26% (SA), average capacity factor is around 28-31%. Then again this grid also has a lot of gas peakers and main baseload plants integrated into it, funny that.
That aside, Ben and Prof. Barry Brook have made large strides in reigniting the Nuclear discussion in Australia. Australia does have a very vocal anti-nuclear movement, however it is only representative of a minority that has to motivate the masses (as do the pro-nuclear movement) to garner support. Once the anti-nuclear arguments are exposed for their FUD it is by just presenting some objective unbiased facts it evaporates very quickly.
Nuclear polling in Australia is like what was presented at the beginning of the debate ~30% split across all three categories, it is only when prompted that the support/oppose polling becomes apparent. I suppose it is our laid back attitude to life, “She’ll be right mate”, that makes initial polling appear so apathetic.
Also for those beginning to watch this debate, Michael Angwin’s closing statement to rebut Prof. Lowe’s argument style is pure excellence. He is the head of the Australian Uranium Association (Uranium/Nuclear industry advocacy group in Aus.).
Also I know Rod isn’t a fan of anonymity, however I’m new in the industry and unlike many who have more experience or time and can afford to put a name to the opinion I cannot take that risk. Previous experiences have taught me to be cautious. But I am happy to contact Rod to verify who I am and such if he so wishes.
I’m happy to have your perspective here. I recognize the need for people who are still building their careers and reputations to be cautious.
As you noted, however, once people are established or retired, it is often better to take off the masks so that people can determine more about the credibility of statements. Unlike some on the web, I strongly believe that written or spoken words mean more from some people than from others. It is not so much the academic and business credentials that matter to me, but demonstrated competence and integrity.
Work hard my young friend; we need people like you who can see the world around them as it is, not as they wish it would be.
IC: I cannot help but notice that Australia’s opposition to nuclear weapons only requires a refusal to enrich or reprocess. Nuclear energy requires neither of these things. For that matter, Australia’s 485,000 tons of thorium resources at very reasonable prices plus the Shipingport reactor’s final run as a light-water breeder with a 1.01 breeding ratio suggests a two-prong approach:
1. Provide Australia’s energy needs with CANDU reactors burning natural uranium (NU) to breed Th-232 to U-233 at a considerably greater ratio than 1.01. Perhaps add NU to denature the resulting U-233 in addition to the inevitable production of U-232; the resulting isotope mix would be unusable for military purposes.
2. Sell the resulting thorium/uranium rods as fuel to nations not considered trustworthy for weapons development. They couldn’t even be shipped without massive shielding, so theft or other diversion would be effectively impossible. Production of weapons would be far easier by other routes, and those other routes could no longer be concealed under the label of “peaceful nuclear programs”.
I’m willing to discuss this here or offline.
CANDU reactors have been suggested previously, since we tend to have very close relations with our Commonwealth allies in Canada. Also their smaller capacity is a benefit to integrate into grids where there is a base demand of around a GWe on average. Also resource ministers in particular States (NB: AUS is a federation of States) have a liking to value adding onto resource exports.
With regards to the NPT and Australian foreign affairs, it is a key element in foreign policy. Not only do we ensure States have agreements with the IAEA and UN we also institute bilateral safeguard agreements with countries to whom we sell Uranium to with some fairly stringent clauses in them. Basically a zero tolerance to any amount being diverted from it’s contracted purpose. If you want to have a look into how Australia handles it’s Uranium exports and bilateral treaties the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation office has all the details there (http://www.dfat.gov.au/asno/). Other agencies are ANSTO (Nuclear Science and Tech org.), ARPANSA (Radiation Safety and Regulator). Australia has been rather involved in the whole NPT process, IIRC it was Gareth Evans who championed it.
All the regulatory pieces are there, it’s just the political will and gumption to get it moving. Maybe Australia can be a lead example of setting up a Nuclear fuel cycle with technology and safeguards that are the pinnacle of what the IAEA and NPT stand for, lead by example…
Next Big Future recently reported on an agreement between Canada and China regarding CANDU reactor technology that could use thorium based fuels.
Your suggestion does not address the issue that motivates much of the antinuclear activism in Australia. Nuclear energy in any form still threatens the prosperity of the coal and railroad coalition.
It also poses a threat to the growing coalition of natural gas suppliers. Australia is benefitting immensely from the fossil fuel funded Fukushima frenzy; its large gas fields are doing a bang up business by shipping LNG to Japan and selling it for 4-6 times as much per unit heat as what we are paying here in the US.
But Rod, how would providing nuclear power domestically have any negative effect on their LNG to Japan export business?
Not all of the gas is exported. The domestic demand is an important part of the customer base that keeps the unit cost of production under control.
Besides, if Australia started using nuclear domestically, the antinuclear movement in the Far East would lose an important pillar.
All the more reason for them to go the way of the UAE, using nuclear energy at home so the gas and whatnot can be sold to
suckerscustomers overseas (who can also be charged carbon taxes with little political resistance if it does not affect the polity).
Firstly, there are two factors in the Australian domestic gas market.
1) There are three separate domestic markets, Western Australian market, Eastern Australia market and the Northern Territory market.
2) The WA market has the most exposure to a LNG export market and as such domestic prices have risen from their traditional low level (~$4-6/GJ AUD). The Eastern market interconnects NSW, Victoria, SA, and Queensland together. Here we have the Bass Strait gas fields, Otway Basin and the main source in the Cooper basin. These prices have not been exposed to a LNG export market, however that is soon to change with the Gladstone LNG project in Queensland.
Secondly, it comes down to availability. Depending on what cheap fossil fuel was available in the 1960’s the respective State would use that for their electricity generation; Eastern States coal, SA gas, WA gas etc.. It is a well know fact that there has been very little investment in large electricity generation projects in Australia. There has been a surge in wind and gas peakers, but that is generally it besides the odd upgrade to an existing 1960’s plant.
Another factor is the Coal industry in Eastern Australia that is getting hammered with the newly introduced Carbon Tax at $23/t (AUD), and Mineral Resources Rent Tax at 22.5% of Mineral profits (only aplies to Coal and Iron Ore). Having Nuclear coming in and taking market share, especially for the vertically integrated coal operations, may be the final straw and cause significant opposition. There is hope in the Coal to Liquids industry that is emerging and the CSG industry, however the latter is under some significant pressure too due to land access and impact problems. LNG exports are there but this is going to require some massive investment in the future. What will happen next is anyones guess.
I hope you are not an irregular reader. Just in case you missed it, the below article talks about how nuclear energy can help an embattled coal industry – this applies to Australia as well as to the United States where I initially focused the discussion:
I also hope that you have discovered the Atomic Show podcasts. You might want to listen to Cal Abel, Bob Apthorpe and me talk about nuclear process heat and its application to the coal industry.
The world would be a more stable, clean and secure place if we would start using nuclear heat to turn abundant coal from places like the United States and Australia into liquid fuels to compete with the current suppliers of liquid fuels. (Wouldn’t you rather put fuel from WA or WV into your car than fuel from Russia, Nigeria or Saudi Arabia?)
The demand can be transferred to the transportation sector, displacing imported oil.
Natural gas cannot supply vehicles without a very large infrastructure investment plus an investment by consumers in different kinds of automobiles.
Sure, there are CNG cars available; they are just not the cars that Australians already own.
The natural gas industry LOVES selling to power companies because they are relatively insensitive to price. They buy almost as much gas after a dramatic price increase as before that increase.
I’m not sure about that. Any diesel vehicle can take carbureted LPG as a supplemental fuel; I’m sure carbureted CNG would work as well. Adding carbureted CNG to a gasoline vehicle is a matter of a kit; I’ve interviewed with a company which sold them. With modern controls, starting on liquid fuel and switching seamlessly to CNG and back ought to be able to replace the bulk of gasoline demand for short and medium trips.
The infrastructure investment isn’t going to be much in a few short years; liquid-piston compressors look to slash the price of filling equipment. One $500 compressor can pay for itself in mere months.
They’ll love selling to drivers even more, because $6/mmBTU is equivalent to about 70¢/gallon. Drivers would happily pay three times that and call it a bargain.
Pickens had the right general idea, just substitute nuclear for wind.
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