Climate failures Part II – Eliding towards policy incoherence

I have not been so angry in my five years in Parliament.

Yesterday I wrote about the obscene policy failure of this Government in forecasting an increase in net emissions of greenhouse gases from 56 million tonnes in 2011 to around 98 m.t. in 2028.  It was, I suggested, perhaps the biggest policy failure in New Zealand history.

I quoted the Prime Minister from his post-cabinet press conference, to the effect that – not to worry, he was feeling pretty relaxed – science would come to the rescue.

With leaders like this, we have no need for enemies.  We are our own worst enemy.

Thursday, the Prime Minister was at it again.  At Question Time, I asked the Climate Minister how, in the name of Mammon, New Zealand could reach this Government’s (modest) target of 30 m.t. in 2050 when its projected level for 2040 is now 90 m.t..

Acting Minister Bridges, well-known for his work as Energy Minister, thought it would be easy.  “We will meet our targets” he responded breezily, through the ETS, other domestic initiatives and ‘reductions from overseas’.  The ETS, you have to understand, is ‘a long-term tool’.

Yes, Minister, it is.  But it also has to be a near-term one, as well – ever since Marrakesh 2001.    

Yet, Mr Bridges did not find it hard to imagine that, with a new global legal agreement and leadership from the new major economies, New Zealand would need to adjust its domestic policy response.

This competes for the prize of parliamentary understatement of the year. 

But, is he responsible for a projected 50% increase rather than a 50% decrease?

No. Because the projections are limited since they are based on a very low carbon price.  “We know that, as we make progress in international negotiations, that carbon price will surely rise.”

Just to be sure, I asked, with respect: “was it his weakening of the ETS that resulted in the low carbon price, and had that been occurring since 2009, by chance?

Mr Bridges began to lose patience.  “As I have just said, and it was implicit in my answer, it is a product at the moment of a low carbon price right around the world.  But what is of course very true is that as we make progress internationally, it is highly likely that the price will rise, and with that the projections and the progress that we will make around this world.”

Thus: progress in reducing emissions, globally and nationally, depends on a carbon price rise, coterminous with successful international negotiations.

So far, so good.  Until the Prime Minister intervenes, riding to the Acting Minister’s rescue.  Mr Key, believing he needs to assist his young protégé, put his relaxed foot in it: “What”, he said, is the likely impact of a much higher carbon price and much more fulsome [sic] emissions trading scheme on residential consumers when they pay their electricity bill, if one was to be promoted?”

Mr Bridges lifted the chalice: “Well, of course, prices will rise exponentially and it will be a terrible thing for consumers all around New Zealand”.

It will dawn, sooner or later, on Mr Key and Mr Bridges that, in their joint enthusiasm, they contradict themselves.

–          Progress in reducing emissions depends on a rise in the price of carbon.

–          A rise in the price of carbon will be a terrible thing.

It is policy incoherence of this breath-taking dimension that wins us fossil awards at the UN conferences – with Warsaw beckoning next month.

144 Comments Posted

  1. The bit about mining for uranium is interesting. Sometimes the uranium is a byproduct of mining for other minerals, but if that is a forbidden activity, we lose the right to mine for those other minerals as well. Personally if someone wants to export our uranium to a country with an established, safe nuclear power industry, I don’t see any reason to oppose it, providing it is done safely.


  2. Bj

    It’s good that we have different views and opinions and that we sometimes disagree as this makes us thinking and reviewing or own mindsets and positions.

    However. I just feel that neither of us can really comment on the safety of nuclear plants, and given the fact that we can neither feel radiation nor that we fully understand the impact on our health it’s not something we’d promote or support (not to mention the historical incidents and consequences), especially as Greens.

    When it comes to nuclear power plants we’d be aware that their lobby might be even more powerful and misleading, and their budgets even bigger than those of the fossil fuel lobby, and given the fact that uranium won’t last for centuries it wouldn’t be ethical to shift our problems to the next two or three generations.

    Note: According to the Australian Uranium Association, yet another industry group, assuming the world’s current rate of consumption at 66,500 tonnes of Uranium per year and the world’s present measured resources of uranium (4.7 Mt) are enough to last for just 70 years.

  3. Yup… quite true Christian. As a party member I may still have some disagreements with the party. This is one of those places. Given however, that NZ doesn’t actually need the things, it is moot with respect to any impact on my actions.

  4. Just as a refresher – Green Party’s Energy Policy:

    See – Specific Policy Points / 6. The future of other energy sources / B. Nuclear power:

    New Zealand has clear policy against the use of nuclear power. Nuclear energy is expensive, hazardous, and unnecessary.

    The Green Party will:

    Oppose the use of nuclear power.

    Make mining for uranium a prohibited activity.

  5. Well.. I didn’t say I really want them, or that we really need them, but a pair of SMRs would be really convenient for Auckland and for shutting down the coal use entirely. I don’t perceive a risk of a shortage of technical people, so much as an opportunity to develop more of them… but…

    …I’d rather have a plant that makes bearings in Invercargill, a drydock in Dunedin and the ability to make rail cars again. We can deal with our power needs without messing with nukes. I simply would not object to them.


  6. bj – while you and I agree on most things here, I do disagree with the idea of New Zealand getting a pair of nuclear power stations.

    I believe New Zealand is too small to have one or two nukes, as each one would generate too much of our electricity at any one time to be safe. If there were any problems, there would be too much pressure to keep them going rather than address the problem. This was one of the factors at Chernobyl.

    New Zealand is too far away from other nuclear powers to get assistance in a timely manner. I would prefer to see additional nukes built closer to existing nukes so that experienced personnel and equipment is close at hand if there should be a problem, not just with the nukes but with the whole nuclear fuel handling chain.

    New Zealand doesn’t need nukes. There is a limited supply of fuel for the current generation of nukes, and it would be better to save it for countries with a more restricted supply of renewable energy resources for their populations. The North Island can harness more of its geothermal resources to meet more of its energy needs and we might need a second set of HVDC cables running further than our current HVDC link.


  7. dbuckley – the cost of electricity on the open market is set by the highest accepted offer. The profit is determined by the difference between that price and the company’s cost of generation. If the price is increased by a charge on CO2 emissions, then renewable generation is more profitable and therefore more attractive to the generators. A generator that sticks with fossil-fueled generation may be undercut by renewable generation so that the price difference drops and they lose profit and/or sell less electricity. If they try to keep their profit margin by increasing their prices more than the other gentailers, they will lose market share. To retain their profit, they need to emit less CO2, whether by becoming more efficient or by switching to renewables. Either way, the CO2 emissions fall.


  8. So how much would a $4500 solar water heating system reduce the electricity bill? 16% seems reasonable. Heat pumps can be installed for less than that. There may be other measures that would reduce consumption that would have a similar effect and price. Remember that this only has to be implemented by some of the electricity consumers.


  9. That’s a rhetorical question, of course, to which the answer is they will pay the extra charges.

    Too simple I think.

    1. They will pay the first month.

    2. They will look for things to turn off the second.

    3. They will reduce their “heating” bill by turning down the thermostat even more.

    4. They will consider borrowing for installation of insulation, heat pumps or anything else useful to reduce their consumption. You think 16% is hard and that this is the only action that gets taken. Not so fast.

    5. They will look for a cheaper supplier. A company that has renewable generation will be able to charge less.

    6. They will vote for people who support the building of CO2 free, and thus cheaper, power generation. After all, the charge is NOT on the electricity, it is on the CO2.


    The price goes up the consumption goes down. It isn’t as elastic as jujubes but it IS elastic enough for the market to honor the change in price.

    you cant have a “green” energy supplier under the current arrangements.

    Actually you can. I think that you misunderestimate the way the energy market got broken up here. You aren’t paying (tis true) for electricity that got fed into the system that somehow acquires your name and directs itself to your address. True dat. However, you ARE paying for Meridian or whoever your “green” supplier is, to supply an increased proportion of the power mix going INTO the grid. The other companies do not get your money and have less demand that they generate power.

  10. If there is more than one electricity generator, then competition should ensure that prices reflect the cost of generation.

    In a free market with competition, that would indeed be the case. But the New Zealand electricity market (like many other countries) isn’t anything like a free market; there are rules that decide if, and how much a generator gets paid for electricity they supply, and this leads to a number of really important constraints

    a) The price paid to the generator has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with their costs, they get the market rate for that half hour.

    b) Because most generators are in fact genetailers, for retail electricity (ie consumers) they really don’t care what the market rate is, because what their retail arm pays with their left hand the generation arm gets back in the right.

    c) Retail consumers have no realistic market choice. Because the energy mix is determined by the wholesale market, and that is the only real way that electricity is available, you cant have a “green” energy supplier under the current arrangements.

    Thus, I repeat, for Mr Joe Average, carbon charges on electricity are just something he gets to pay; he cant respond to the price signal by choosing a more (or all) green supply of electricity, other than doing it himself.

    Now if the electricity marketplace were to be fixed, and there were genuine competition in the marketplace, then the possibility of a price signal working makes it a useful possibility.

  11. Lets assume for a moment, for a household surviving on the median wage, that carbon charges put the leccy bill up $10 a month. Perhaps $20 a month. Or even $30 a month. What are they realistically going to do? That’s a rhetorical question, of course, to which the answer is they will pay the extra charges.

    But lets play the game, and assume that instead of paying the extra charges, they get a loan based on that extra (say) $30/month, over ten years, added on to the mortgage. Lets assume this gives them capital of $4,500 to spend on energy saving improvements.

    Otago Uni (link quote BRANZ as reckoning that the average NZ house uses 11,400KWh of juice per annum. Working with that, this means that for that $4,500 capital, you need to reduce consumption by about 16% to break even.

    Tall order. Especially bearing in mind that many consumers cant even read a power bill…

  12. dbuckley we have explained this before. A price on CO2 emissions affects both consumers and producers of electricity.

    Consumers have a choice of whether they buy more electricity, or pay for solar water heating, insulation improvements, efficiency improvements, double glazing, wood burners, etc – anything that reduces their electricity demand without adding (too much) to CO2 emissions. Even renters have a choice – by moving to properties with lower electricity usage, which encourages landlords to upgrade the properties that they offer else they risk losing their tenants.

    Industrial and commercial users of electricity and fossil fuels may also find direct use of renewables attractive, such as using geothermal heat.

    If there is more than one electricity generator, then competition should ensure that prices reflect the cost of generation. Increase the CO2 costs and generators using fossil fuels will become less competitive than those using renewables, so installing renewable generation becomes more attractive. This might be as simple as co-firing biomass with their coal.


  13. Consider DBuckley, that we vote AND we control the utilities. The price we pay is ultimately to be paid no matter what, the only difference being which generation of us is currently around when the bill comes due. WE make the decisions about what sort of energy generation and storage and smart usage we implement to reduce our energy costs… but we will NOT do that until we see the cost.

    If you don’t change the price the money will equalize things by SOMEHOW cheating the regulations. Like heat in thermodyamics, money can be slowed but it still follows its own rules.

    Changing the monetary equations is most useful but the end of the Fractional Reserve Banking system is a hard sell.


  14. If the CO2 price goes high enough we’ll see nukes AND wind farms AND solar being built quite quickly.

    How on earth (at least in New Zealand) could you reach that conclusion?

    At the domestic level, for the vast majority of consumers, any CO2 pricing added to electricity will simply be passed on to consumers, who will simply have to pay more for electricity.

    Price signals only work when the receiver of the price signal has choices that can realistically be made. Under the electricity supply arrangements that exist in New Zealand, both currently, and those proposed by the leftist parties, consumers don’t have a realistic set of choices that a price signal could motivate them to make a change.

  15. Nukes also don’t get built because their risk is overestimated or overstated, and the risks associated with fossil fuels are underestimated if stated at all. Towns have been wiped off the map because of gas explosions. Quebec has recently had a train disaster while transporting fossil fuels. Other accidents happen every year. And toxic and carcinogenic materials are regularly released by the fossil fuel industries, but the only leaks that attract media attention are the miniscule leaks from the nuclear industry.


  16. Tony – The actual expense of nuclear means that the only way it CAN come in in quantities that are meaningful, is at the expense of the fossil fuel industry.

    If the CO2 price goes high enough we’ll see nukes AND wind farms AND solar being built quite quickly. Probably not quickly enough, because that price isn’t going to go up until Mother Nature convinces governments and ordinary people to tell the Fossil Fuel burners to take a flying leap.

    Until then it isn’t particularly meaningful… except in this key way.

    We look like idiots.

    Civilization is not “the system”. The capitalism that is raping the planet is a part of our society, but it is not particularly civilized. I think you understand the truth of that 🙂

    You think it’s alright to do whatever it takes to slow or halt climate change (regardless of the actual motives of those actions)

    Dead right.

    I expect the climate will change over time in such ways that a lot of people will be convinced to put a big price on the release of CO2… and do so well before we run out of the fossil fuels. Anything and everything we have that can be used to make non-CO2 electricity is going to be important to future generations trying desperately to retain knowledge and abilities in the face of global and multilateral collapse of most of the overburden of “the system” and a decimation of the human population.

    Their motives are irrelevant as a result. In the end they are dead. If they are still around to be punished the society then will certainly punish them but if they built solar power stations, nukes wind farms or biofuel plants those things will still be there no matter what they’ve done with the money they’ve been stealing.

    I don’t expect to us to “win”, my objective is to ensure that we do not lose. The more “stuff” they’ve got to work with, the better off we are, and that includes the nukes.

    We’ve got to get through the next 300 years without emitting a lot more CO2 and what is on our side is that Mother Nature is going to kick the crap out of us before we can burn it all… at least that is what I expect to happen… and the denial will stop and a real price will go on the CO2.

    Even if “the system” is currently “irredeemably corrupt”.

    I agree with that assessment btw, but there isn’t much to be done about it except to try to get Greens elected and cause a revolution at the ballot box or by other means… and getting them to do as little damage or build as much needed infrastructure, as possible until they can be forced off the stage.

    Which means that “opposing nuclear power everywhere” is not a winning proposition for us.

    We here in NZ do not need it but the world needs more power that doesn’t make CO2 and needs to use less power and more efficiently, than it ever has done. We have to make the point that the CO2 is the largest threat, get elected as soon as we can to limit the damages done by Key…

    The nuclear issue, when we protest as though we are a movement instead of a political party, makes the clear points that

    1. We don’t think that CO2 is as dangerous as nuclear power.
    2. We don’t really understand the actual risks of nuclear power.
    3. We are using the CO2 to advance an “anti business” agenda.

    That isn’t what we want to do.

    Yes we DO have a fairly progressive social agenda and a clear understanding of the problems of Capitalism and the downside of the current state of economic understanding, but we have to separate that from the CO2 issue.

    We have to make as credible a case as possible that CO2 is a massive risk to our civilization… and we can’t do that if we overstate and misunderstand nuclear risks vocally. Nor does our vocal opposition help anyone decide to build RELATIVELY safe CO2 free nuclear power plants… but to be sure, mostly we get labeled as flakes on account of it, and we don’t actually stop anything.

    Nukes don’t get built because they aren’t cost competitive with Gas and Coal and Oil, not because we’re against them.

  17. bj,

    I have no illusions about the danger or about what we will lose.

    Perhaps the main difference between us is that you believe that one can work inside the system to eventually obtain a better outcome (a habitable planet), whilst I think the system is irredeemably corrupt with no chance of its ever doing the right thing. You think it’s alright to do whatever it takes to slow or halt climate change 9regardless of the actual motives of those actions) whilst I think that those actions will never slow or halt climate change because almost everyone doesn’t believe it is a problem, so any build out of nuclear or renewables will not be at the expense of fossil fuels, until fossil fuels become completely uneconomic (in energy and money terms) or are depleted.

    Perhaps you may understand my viewpoint better now?

  18. BJ- Chernobyl official death toll: less than 50

    ..unofficial death toll:

    At 16 sites in Germany, where nuclear power plants are operated, children under 5 years of age have a higher risk to develop cancer, particularly leukaemia, the closer they live to the plant. The risk for them was most increased in a 5 km range around the plant, namely 60%. There were 77 children diseased instead of 48 expected statistically. For the subdivision of leukaemia the risk increase was even 120%: 37 cases instead of the expected 17. In other words, in the 5km range, 29 children suffered from cancer (thereof 20 from leukaemia), just because they lived in these areas.

    Supporting nuclear energy is basically killing millions, but hard to prove as we can’t feel it, we can’t see, we can’t smell it and mutations and cancer causes are almost impossible to prove.

  19. Noting that Uranium and Thorium put it off by a lot longer than 150 years, particularly with the waste burning reactions available. Can’t let that one stand.

    We’ve been around this bush a few times now. I understand what you mean and I quite simply reject it. Your fear of nuclear and lack of acceptance of the depth of the problem of getting enough CO2 free power for our society to survive, are between them driving you to a substantial error. “We don’t need it” is (for most of the developed world) as much an error as the denialists “its not happening”. The real world doesn’t forgive errors on that scale.

  20. France – Fatalities = 0
    Germany – Fatalities = 0
    Canada – Fatalities = 0
    USA – Fatalities = 3 at an experimental reactor in 1961

    Judging the safety of the newer designs… now that we have had experience with the problems and we’re FAR better able to make the things safe, one can only conclude that they ARE safe. The question I have is why you think that this list indicates anything else?

    In England, there were 163 wind turbine accidents that killed 14 people in 2011. Wind produced about 15 billion kWhrs that year, so using a capacity factor of 25%, that translates to about 1,000 deaths per trillion kWhrs produced (the world produces 15 trillion kWhrs per year from all sources).

    These are pretty low numbers. By contrast, in 2011 coal produced about 180 billion kWhrs in England with about 3,000 related deaths. Nuclear energy produced over 90 billion kWhrs in England with no deaths. In that same year, America produced about 800 billion kWhrs from nuclear with no deaths.

    The problem we have is that we have to produce electricity without producing CO2, and we have to do it in quantities that allow us to keep the decline in available power for our civilization in a manageable range even as we are reducing the portion that coal and oil and gas provide… meaning we will need electricity to displace those as well.

  21. Yes, there is broad support in Germany – but they have increased their CO2 emissions. Why would Germany have the lowest energy cost? Especially if they are pursuing renewables? It isn’t exactly sun-baked or windy or amply supplied with geothermal.

    Describing the operation and building of nuclear power plants as “insanity” betrays a single minded agenda. You aren’t asking German engineers either. Popular sentiments in Germany are, as most people’s are, poorly informed as to the actual choices they are making. I’d be very surprised if their Engineers have the same views.

    Have a look at France. Oh, well they aren’t “German” engineers, but they aren’t struggling to meet CO2 targets either OR with high electricity prices. Their electricity industry IS nuclear… standardized… reliable.

    Funny how that works.

    It IS obvious that you do not like the fact that I am a Green AND I understand why we need nuclear power (even if NZ does not). You probably don’t like Hansen, or Monbiot either, or the fact that the power from nukes is going to be the province of larger corporations… but at the same time it also obvious that you do not really understand the scale of the problems, the DANGERS, that our civilization faces over the next 300-500 years.

  22. Responsible energy costs to support renewables (e.g. feed in tariffs) are only for some “skyrocketing” (maybe coal or nuclear power lobbyist?)

    Anyway, polls in Germany show broad public support for the shift from nuclear to renewables, announced by Merkel after Japan’s Fukushima disaster in 2011.

    BTW. Energy cost in Europe can be seen here:

    Given the fact that Germany is the largest economy of Europe and that it is one of the wealthiest European countries not to mention that it is a highly industrialised nation, with one of the best service sectors, which had to rebuilt the whole country after 1945 and half of their country after 1990 (East Germany) would we expect them to have the lowest energy cost too?

    I’d rather say they are aware of the European leadership role and take responsibility in supporting renewable energy without the insanity in operating or building new new nuclear power plants.

    If the best engineers in the world (Airbus with the most fuel efficient plane A350, Audi with the most fuel efficient hybrid car, etc. – you name it) obviously don’t trust nuclear energy enough to even continue operating them I was wondering why some New Zealand “experts” think they are safe?

    …knowing the Germans well, there is a reason to that?

    New Zealand has clear policy against the use of nuclear power.

    Nuclear energy is expensive, hazardous, and simply unnecessary.

    It should be obvious that you’re not “green” if you support nuclear energy as you wouldn’t be a vegetarian if you eat lamb would you? …although there are many in NZ, it’s not pork or beef, and they eat grass too…

  23. For the one who is busy downticking the last few post,

    Germany has also been struggling with skyrocketing energy costs due to government support of renewable energy. the country now has some of the highest energy bills in Europe and the government is grappling with how to cut back their green agenda without imperiling their global warming goals.

    my emphasis.

    So is safe nuclear reactors still not an option? Miss,Mr,Mrs dowticker?

  24. Worthy of note

    The U.S. Navy has accumulated over 5,400 “reactor years” of accident-free experience, and operates more than 80 nuclear-powered ships.

    It is possible to have nuclear power plants that are safe. Maybe if we were to think say 20 small plants versus one big one we can manage the safety a lot better?

    Interesting that the lost nuclear submarines Thresher and Scorpion have been on the sea bottom without leaking for decades.

  25. Actually Tony, with the new plants you don’t actually HAVE to turn them off. Whatever part ultimately fails will cause the reaction to stop… safely. The unreasoned (and ultimately self-annihilating) fear that some people have of nuclear, when compared to the danger of the CO2 emissions is quite remarkable. It IS noticed too.

    If you want to perpetuate the notion of Green “irrationality” you can’t do much better than to oppose hydro dams, oppose nuclear and then tell people that CO2 is the worst problem there is so we have to all live off the wind farms we aren’t allowed to build or the solar plants that our current economic system forbids.

    That I have these arguments here isn’t accidental. I am a Green primarily because the economic system (NOT “civilization” Christian), is encouraging the destruction of the planet. I am not a technophobe and I am serious about saving as much of “civilization” as I can. Mozart and Monet are civilization. Being warm while the wind howls outside, or cool in the library as the sun bakes the street, is civilization. Mostly though civilization is about our collective memory and knowledge base.

    Now written largely in electrons and magnetic fields that need refreshing lest they disappear.

    The risks are larger than you appear to imagine in your worst nightmares, and you cavil over controllable and limited risks due to nuclear power and loss of some “wild” rivers. Something does not fit and to my thinking it is the appreciation of how much we as a society stand to lose if the lights go off.

  26. Trevor – we all want to replace coal with renewable energy as soon as we can (if not we’ll run to of coal in 150 to 250 years anyway).

    At least in Europe (and to a certain degree in the US) coal power plants have to meet strictest emission limits (not like in New Zealand) – The combination of current and impeding legislation in the EU is posing a major challenge for the existing fleet of coal-fired plants.

    These plants now have three options:
    – comply with emission limits by installing FGD (flue gas desulphurisation) and low NOx burners and/or SCR (selective catalytic reduction);
    – reduce emissions to contribute towards a national emission reduction target; or
    – run for limited hours between now and 2016 and then either close or undergo major rebuild and/or retrofitting.

    To replace these plans now with nuclear would be irresponsible due to the risk and the environmental impact, not to mention that these plants would just postpone the problem by a couple of decades.

    Sorry, yes I admit, I’m one-sided – renewables instead of coal not nuclear. – renewables and nuclear instead of coal is not an option for me.

  27. Christian – your arguments seem to be very one-sided. You overemphasise the dangers of nuclear power but you are blind to the dangers of fossil fuels especially coal. You don’t appear to recognise the radioactive material released through the use of fossil fuels, nor the toxic and carcinogenic materials left in the coal ash. If I had a choice, would I choose to live next to a nuclear power station? No. If I had to choose between living next to a nuclear power station or a coal-fired power station, I would choose the nuclear power station. If I had to choose between living next to a nuclear power station or downriver of a hydro dam, again I would choose the nuclear power station.

    And don’t keep going on about Chernobyl and Fukushima – the dangers of those plants were recognised years before their respective accidents. They are examples of how not to build and operate a nuclear power station – or an oil refinery or an industrial plant or a drilling rig.


  28. bj,

    You don’t just “turn the plants off”, whether there are sane enough people or not. And in a destabilizing society, even trying to “turn them off” becomes harder.

    Evolution happens over time scales far less than the time it takes for those plants to become cold.

    As you are so wedded to civilisation, it’s hard to envisage you as “green”. Civilisation has always destroyed its environment. If it happens really slowly, it might give the impression of near sustainability. Our present civilisation is intent on destroying our environment as fast as it can.

    We need a different vision from the typical green one. Right now, we need environmental recovery, not just slower degradation. Nuclear build up is simply madness as humans definitely don’t need to make vast swathes uninhabitable to humans, as our civilisation inevitably enters its final phase.

  29. bjchip:

    Thankfully most counties are responsible enough not to built nuclear power plants (fuel transport, maintenance, decommissioning, etc.), so that it doesn’t become parents decision to expose there children to radiation.

    As an eye-opener I’d recommend to visit hospitals near Fukushima and Chernobyl.

    Anyway, uranium just postpones the problem by 100 to 150 years, but doesn’t solve it.

    As en engineer I’m always curious why experienced and capable engineers couldn’t make their plants save when it’s not a problem according to laymen (…or do you think that an engineer signs off a risky design due too budget constraints?)

    But I’m sure they’re keen to understand what they need to change so that it can be done safely – …maybe a well paid job opportunity for you in the future?

    …and I’m sure that you don’t want me to comment on your nuclear power plants near Auckland idea when numerous other options are viable and economic.

    …and yes nuclear energy is evil as it malforms innocent children and people and kills hundreds of thousands over decades (I’ve given the source for those numbers weeks ago), …and yes New Zealand could be 100% renewable within 20 to 30 years from now.

    Let’s get New Zealand done first and help other Nations later if they haven’t solved it themselves.

  30. Yes Christian, I WOULD have my kids living next to one of them. I recommend it for other countries because THEY need the damned things more than we do… though I would not object to a pair of them North of Auckland because we have such a difficult time getting power from where it is on South Island to where it is needed on North Island.

    Smarter for us to de-emphasize the growth of Auckland though, because when the tide actually rises it is just going to become another “Strait” between North and South North Islands… or maybe we’ll rename the South North to be Middle… but we won’t have a lot of earth to spare for it.


    Thing is, we are mal-adapting to the future we see coming. Working HARD at wasting effort and money in the process.

    Nuclear is not evil; it can be quite safe and it is clean of CO2.


  31. True, you didn’t advocate doing nothing, you compared it with doing nothing.

    My assumptions however, are fairly conservative in terms of there being people sane enough to turn the plants off if they can no longer be maintained and only localized failures of that principle.

    Being forced to turn off the electricity and being unable to turn it back on, is a defeat of civilization and the human race as a whole.

    For me in that case it does not matter “what comes after” because by the time anything evolves sufficiently to replace us those plants will be cold and dead, and we’ll be long gone.

    Hell, a release of radiation might speed up the process by creating more mutations … but I don’t really care. Failure on that scale is something to be avoided… which is one reason why I am so combative with denialists, luke-warmers and other do-nothing-dummies.


  32. bj,

    I didn’t say do nothing. However, given that societies will collapse (they always do), what strategies we undertake should take that into account. Your strategies don’t do that; they assume that societies won’t fail. We could either assume that societies will fail and make sure we don’t do anything that would make that failure more painful, or we could simplify our societies to ensure a much lower level of disruption when they do fail.

    Of course, neither my strategy nor your strategy will be carried out. The almost certain route is much the same as we’ve been doing and under an assumption that somehow, the market will sort it all out, with nudges from intelligent governments, and we can all get back on the up escalator for the rest of time.

  33. Trevor – Would be interesting to understand how your “safe” nuclear pore plant works? And would you like to have your children growing up next to them? Or do you recommend this to other countries knowing that it can’t effect you in New Zealand in case they’re not as safe as you thought?

  34. In New Zealand about 6 Gigawatthours of industrial heat are produced via fossil fuels. At he beginning of this century Austria (¾ the size of NZ North Island) installed about 1500 GWh per year. A similar commitment in NZ would make NZ’s industry fossil energy free and probably create over 10,000 new jobs. In Germany 350,000,000 cubimicmetre of timber is utilized in biomass boilers (in Austria over 23,000,000m3) and in NZ we harvest about 26,000,000 and ship the logs to Asia. So New Zealand would be in the unique position to have a fossil energy free industry within years is we want. …not with the current Government of course.

  35. Typhoons/cyclones/hurricanes get their energy from the temperature difference between warm sea water and the colder upper atmosphere, so increasing the ocean temperature gives them more energy. I am certain that the death toll and devastation from Typhoon Haiyan would not have been so great if AGW hadn’t increased the heat in the sea waters around the Philippines. We can take measures to make nuclear power safer. We can’t take measures to make typhoons safer other than by reducing the heat source that drives them.


  36. The Europeans were trying something like that, but it didn’t work out…

    It looks as though there are some errors of optimism about the ability of the Europeans to do the renewables… and the prices for energy aren’t as high as they are going to wind up. There is no French market as France has gone the nuclear route and has pretty much CO2 free energy… which IT exports.

    then it is just as mad a strategy/tactic as doing nothing

    No… you GUARANTEE societal collapse by doing nothing, and that IS mad. Fatalism makes the certainty. The presence of even barely adequate electrical power makes some level of societal continuity and civilization possible. More is better, and gives better results as long as we don’t make CO2. It is the basis on which most of our advanced abilities rely. Stop TRYING to drive society back to tribalism and ignorance, it is NOT an acceptable solution.

  37. “People move from dry zones into fertile zones, they move from poor countries to wealthy Nations (at least if they can) and they move from rural areas into the large cities, etc.

    I’m just wondering why can’t they move to area’s and countries where 100% renewable energy is possible.”

    Perhaps because the countries and areas that they are moving out of are the ones that can achieve 100% renewable energy – the hot, dry, low population density countries and areas.

    A more likely solution involves some really long, really high voltage DC transmission lines from those hot, dry areas to the cooler areas where people can live more comfortably.


  38. Despite replies from bj and Trevor, I still have not seen how building nuclear can avoid societal collapses, primarily through climate change (though there are potentially other drivers). If societies that choose nuclear cannot guarantee to remain stable for as long as needed to ensure safety (and that could include the time for premature decommissioning and safe storage as societies start to destabilise), then it is just as mad a strategy/tactic as doing nothing. Even if societies can somehow be guaranteed to remain stable, even if warming can’t be stopped, then Trevor has to ensure that at least additional nuclear reactors are built away from the coast (and, I’d suggest, that any existing reactors near the coast are decommissioned).

    Advocating something like nuclear without these guarantees is simply piling another burden on future generations. Sheer madness but, as most humans appear to be mad, I don’t rule it out.

  39. One plausible estimate that I have seen of the death toll from cancers from the radiation released by Chernobyl is 30,000. That is around 1000 deaths per year over the roughly 30 years of nuclear power between major accidents. The radioactive materials and toxic (including carcinogenic) materials released into the environment from burning coal in coal powered power stations would probably kill that many people too. The smoke from those power stations kills more. The death rate from mining coal is thousands of people per year. Are these deaths somehow more acceptable than those from nuclear power?

    We can ensure that reactors are built to be safer than those at Chernobyl and Fukushima. This is easier that trying to ensure that coal mines are built safely as mines are always changing.


  40. you have to be absolutely certain that building up nuclear will actually stop the warming and the ongoing effects of warming so far

    No… but you have to stop doing the most convenient thing to make money.

    Nuclear Power can be done safely, or it can be done for profit.

    There is no “AND” in the preceding sentence.

    If the price for carbon goes up enough to make a difference, and it would have to rise a lot from the risible levels supported by this government, then it might be possible to do both with an adequate regulatory structure. Rickover showed us how.

    Chernobyl was an obsolete design in the West before it was built in the Ukraine. It had inherently unstable operational characteristics and some fool (who apparently died for that folly) actually authorized testing of new operational parameters on the live plant, to save the cost and time of doing a proper set of tests in a safe environment.

    Fukushima was a very old plant built in an active earthquake zone with inadequate consideration of the threat environment. People who brought up the Tsunami risk (and it was brought up after the Boxing day event), were not able to overcome the corporate profit-seeking culture and the Japanese ethos of non-confrontation. Any graduate of Rickover’s training would have had that plant shut down within weeks of the Boxing day event no matter what it took to do that, and would never have permitted it to be built in the first instance, had they been present when it was designed. Not for profit doesn’t mean “safe”, just that safety concerns are not shoved under a shovelful of money.

    Yet for all that it was old and overwhelmed by a circumstance that it was not designed for, it still did not suffer as catastrophic a calamity as Chernobyl… and both of them together are simply wet firecrackers considered against the calamity of CO2 based warming.

    It CAN be done safely as the designs have improved to the point where several of them are fail-safe.

    Yet Nuclear is not a “preferred” option, because there are NO options.

    Every erg of available energy that does not produce CO2 has to be obtained.

    There is no way in the time we have to build enough nukes to replace even half our consumption of oil gas and coal. There is no way in the time we have to build enough of all the other sources we can think of. Not thinking conventionally at any rate ( *We won’t go to space just now Tony 🙂 ). So we are going to have large and largely involuntary reductions of available energy.

    Future generations WILL BE POORER as a result.

    The only question is how bad it gets and who goes to war and where on account of it.

    Lets be clear here. I am not tolerant of people whose knee jerk response to the word “nuclear” is “no”. They have either an entirely inadequate understanding of just how hard this problem is, or they have an entirely inadequate understanding of nuclear technologies and risks… or both.

    A lot of people who are studying warming are telling us we need to be building the things. Distasteful as that seems to be to some here, it is NECESSARY. The climate threat is on a par with global thermonuclear WAR, and far more certain to become a reality. Nuclear power is a scarcely measurable risk in comparison.

    We have no real need of them because we CAN manage more than half our power demand using renewables Solar, Wind, Geothermal, Hydro, Bio and Tidal Flow.


  41. Tony – I think that we can find enough ground more than 10-20m above sea level to locate any new nuclear power plants so that sea level rise shouldn’t be a major problem for them. And remember that the nuclear power is only part of the solution – we still need to build wind farms, solar photovoltaic arrays and concentrated solar power stations and work on efficiency improvements.


  42. But, Trevor, you have to be absolutely certain that building up nuclear will actually stop the warming and the ongoing effects of warming so far. If it doesn’t what is the destiny of nuclear power plants as sea levels rise and as climate change affects food production and (since it seems to be important for many people) economic growth?

  43. Trevor

    People move from dry zones into fertile zones, they move from poor countries to wealthy Nations (at least if they can) and they move from rural areas into the large cities, etc.

    I’m just wondering why can’t they move to area’s and countries were 100% renewable energy is possible.

    Maybe all those who are so confident that nuclear is the preferred option should go to Chernobyl and Fukoshima to discuss their worldly-wise ideas and solutions with those effected.

    Sitting in New Zealand and accepting nuclear power as the best option for others is not my thing.
    If those people vote for their own destiny so be it.

    BTW. Australia also fights carbon tax at the same time whole provides are burning (or in a couple of months drowning) due to Global Warming.

  44. I would rather give the next generation the problem of decommissioning some nuclear reactors and finding alternative sources of renewable energy that give them the problem of finding enough food as temperatures climb to 4-5 degrees higher than at present.
    Note that I think all countries should be investing heavily in renewable energy and efficiency improvements, but I am also realistic enough to know that not all countries and areas have enough resources to harness at present to meet their energy needs without using coal, oil, gas or nuclear. Given that choice, I would prefer that some of them used nuclear.


  45. Agree Trevor

    I just don’t think that nuclear should be a considered option.

    Fortunately higher developed countries like the USA and most of the European States seem to have a very moderate population growth rate (if they grow at all) which will allows them to reduce their energy demand maybe as fast as they out phase nuclear power and coal and install renewable energy systems?

    Last week I’ve got an email from Audi promoting their 1.5 litre A3 (just as an example) not to mention the that whole towns an villages in e.g. Austria decide to replace all their street lights with LEDs,
    …and their zero energy houses (they mean heating), …etc.

    Let me repeat one of my comments I made weeks ago:

    …all the energy on the Globe origins from only three (3) sources:
    – sun/solar (which is responsible for wind, hydro, solar, biomass, etc.)
    – geothermal (energy stored in the center of the planet)
    – and tidal energy (energy coming from the orbiting of the moon)

    If we ignore this and slow our efforts down in consoling ourselves with high energy demand, no economic options and safe nuclear energy we shift the problem only to future generations don’t we?

  46. Christian – you did not the bit about nuclear power being PART of the solution. Countries like New Zealand, Australia, SW USA, and Canada have enough renewable resources and low enough population densities not to need nuclear and IMHO should not build nuclear. Japan, India, NE USA and much of Europe have higher population densities and in many cases higher latitudes so less renewable resources per person and would struggle to achieve enough renewable generation, and these are the countries that I think should look at nuclear power rather than more gas and coal-fired power stations over the next 50-100 years. Eventually they will also need something else, but we need an acceptable solution for this century.


  47. Trevor – One of the best oxymorons – nuclear power done safely, almost like environmental friendly intensive dairy farming.
    Anyway, probably important to understand is, that with the current consumption we’ll have enough uranium for about 200 years which means that if irresponsible countries would built (much) more NPPs we’d probably have just 100 years of fuel. However, a convenient idea shifting the problems to the next generations – incl. the 40 odd years decommissioning of those plants, but certainly not a sustainable and safe form of energy.

  48. Responsible Governments & successful economies like are demonstrating that sustainability and investment in a cleaner and greener economy pays off. The ignorance and populism of the Key “circus” is hard to bear hence I do hope that we can end that farce in 2014 – for the sake and future of our children.

  49. The South Island has not been close to 100% renewables for stationary energy for a long time now. Too much burning coal, oil and LPG for heating, water heating and drying, and a cement works. That doesn’t stop making 100% renewables a good goal, but it does make it a bigger goal than some might think.

    It also gives us plenty of things to work on to reduce CO2 emissions.


  50. 100% renewable for stationary energy is a good immediate goal.

    Time was when that was almost true. It could be true again. The South Island is close enough to all renewable generation anyway. The North Island has lots of coal and gas plant…

    Be interesting if the smelter shuts…

  51. “aluminum smelting…requires an uninterrupted power supply.”

    Actually that isn’t totally accurate.

    (Hopefully the link will work.) Smelters can load shed with little notice and for significant periods. However they can’t be switched off completely for long (more than a few hours) otherwise the pots freeze up.

    Seasonal usage has been done in New Zealand, by ramping down a pot line over a few months and ramping it back up again. This has happened in a few dry years. Essentially pots that have finished being smelted are pulled out of the line and not replaced. The ramping up is a staggered reconnection of new pots.


  52. Actually I CAN imagine smelting to the season. Controlled shutdowns aren’t so impossible as to be wrong to do once a year though along with the periodic shutdown one also gets periodic unemployment.

    We have answers to that too though.

    It would be a lot MORE viable to smelt Al when the CO2 gets priced properly and the imports that aren’t carrying that price get a realistic tariff.

    It could resolve a number of issues.

  53. AndyS – New Zealand does have a world-class wind resource, due to our location on the roaring forties. Some wind farm sites have enough wind to generate 90% of the time, and capacity factors exceed 40% at most wind farm sites. Spend some time up around the wind farms and experience it for yourself – just dress warmly.

    The synergy between wind farms and hydro generation isn’t so much backing up the wind farms with hydro but more extending the output of the hydro systems with the wind generation. This allows the hydro generation to replace more of the fossil fuel based generation.

    And so what if the wind generation peaks in spring when the hydro lakes are filling? Their output can still be used to reduce the amount of fossil fuel used. Once we have enough renewable generation to not need fossil fuel generation in spring, then we may end up wasting some of the excess renewable generation, but it will be used the rest of the year. That is when we can start investing in electrolysis plants to generate hydrogen and cut back on our natural gas usage. Or we can use the excess generation to smelt aluminium seasonally.


  54. Kerry,

    A much more local existence is in our future. It’s inevitable. I like your thoughts on modifying our current living arrangements but it’s nowhere near a complete rethink and nowhere near enough to avoid environmental collapse.

    Horse and cart is probably a possibility in NZ, not so much other countries. Not that horse and cart is better than feet, but some might think so.

  55. Tony. If you have read my postings you would know that I have been advocating solutions both on the supply and consumption side of resources use. Behavior changes in resource use as well as more sustainable energy supply.

    More sustainable energy supplies, and consumption side measures like more energy efficient transport, better insulated and energy efficient buildings, substituting public transport etc.

    We will however need many more mega watts of electricity from renewable resources to have any chance of substituting renewables, instead of fossil fuels, for transport fuels and industry.

    I agree we need to change our thinking. For just one example; why are we making electric cars to match petrol ones. Most cars travel less than 50k a day at least than 50km/hr. Why do city commuter cars, and short haul trucks, need to be capable of 150km/hr for 300k’s. Think golf carts, bicycles,electric scooters, the British electric milk trucks and trolley buses.
    From Sweden. Trains of electric cars from a rendezvous point.
    From Britain. Golf cart type electric cars hired at the city boundary and bans on open road cars and trucks within urban limits.

    I’ve had a bit to do with research into energy from biomass and energy efficiency when I was at Waikato.

    Going back to a horsed and cart economy is not an option. It actually requires more energy, But a more village style of consumption and resource use is.

    NZ is fortunate in that we have both a small population and a large variety of options.

  56. Kerry,

    I’m not after perfection. That’s impossible. I’m after a recognition that there is no solution to our overall predicament but there are responses. Some of your comments imply that if we just do A or B, or A and B, then everything will be fine. We have degraded our environment so much and with a lot of inertia that guarantees it will get worse, that we really need to be thinking in terms of the bigger picture, not just focusing on each issue separately.

    A good start would be “what can we do without” or “are there ways of living, that we can move to over time, which are as close to sustainable as we’re likely to get”. Unfortunately, a lot of these posts eventually come down to commenting on a small fragment of our predicament. So what happens after we’ve put in gigawatts of wind and solar? Is that it?

    So, sorry to be negative but we really need to rethink everything we do, not just this or that element.

  57. So Tony. We shouldn’t bother with trying to do some good, because we cannot be perfect!

    Perfection is not possible in the real world.

    Something I understand. I have struggled most of my life with being compulsively perfectionist.
    Eventually you just have to get with reality. “The man is waiting for his boat”.

  58. I think a true environmentalist would be seeking/promoting sustainable ways of living, not just assuming that what we have is best, if only it could be powered more sustainably.

    All true. But back in the real world, reducing the rate at which the planet is trashed is a more important target. The trashers outnumber both the trash-rate-reducers, and those who somehow are living the environmental dream.

  59. … require diesel generators to kick in with 15 minutes notice when the wind gets too strong. This isn’t spin, this is information that is directly sourced from the UK National Grid

    There is certainly truth in this, several forms of renewable generation are intermittent, and it is certainly true that traditionally, electricity generation utilities have used not very pretty means to shore up generation when the sun goes behind a cloud or the wind stops blowing. Possibly the least bad conventional method is hydro backup, run in tail water depressed mode.

    But the real problem here is this is the 19th (yes 19th) century way to manage generation balance, we now have the technology where we can manage the load so that when the renewables suffer output reduction, we can manage the load in real time. But it isn’t a popular option, yet… Mainly because it suits the electricity companies to keep operating the 18th century way, with coal and gas (hydro in NZ) as primary energy sources…

  60. I think a true environmentalist would be seeking/promoting sustainable ways of living, not just assuming that what we have is best, if only it could be powered more sustainably.

  61. Yes I do think myself as part of an environmental movement. It is the enviromental movement that potects the countryside and the wilderness areas from indiscriminate development of wind farms.

    Well, sadly, you are deluding yourself. Sure, you’re an environmentalist, of sorts, but to protect the environment you apparently hold so dear you are willing to toast the planet. You care about the environment, but not the Environment.

    Why do I say this? Because the simple fact is that the power companies are going to build the generation necessary to provide power to the people, and they will do it whatever way they can. The governments will ensure this is the case, no government wants rolling blackouts on their watch.

    We the people get some influence, we can help select which of the options on the table get built. Those are the only options available, unless, of course, you and your mates are willing to raise the cash to build some sort of environmentally-acceptable (to you) plant.

    So if the use of wind is unacceptable to you, and you win, then you block the building of the less environmentally bad plant, then the power companies will simply burn coal or gas.

    And burning more coal or gas is good for the Environment, yes?

  62. AndyS,

    Yes, but large hydro is also unsustainable. It starts out by flooding habitats (and prevents free flow of fish) and needs continual maintenance of its parts. I think I read that the design life is usually only measured in decades (50 years?), except for the truly enormous ones.

  63. Kerry,

    No, we don’t have to all commit suicide to live sustainably.

    Really, my point about sustainable renewable power was to emphasise that only the energy source is likely sustainable. The rest of the infrastructure is probably not. Nor is that power necessarily used in a sustainable way. We need to look at the big picture when strategising about our futures.

  64. bj,

    I’m sorry but most of your post (November 4, 2013 at 7:09 AM) makes no sense in a crumbling society. And that is the crux of my concern over nuclear.

    Still, it’s nice that we can advocate nuclear elsewhere, confident that our own country, far away from the madding crowd, will not build any reactors. However, I’m not sure that’s exactly “responsible”.

  65. Yes I do think myself as part of an environmental movement. It is the enviromental movement that potects the countryside and the wilderness areas from indiscriminate development of wind farms. It is the movement that protects the lives of millions of birds and bats that get mascerated by wind turbines.
    It is the movement that spoke out when wind company NextEra chopped down the tree containing a Bald Eagle nest in Canada, and not a single enviromental NGO spoke out.
    It is the movement that is protecting the pristine Scottish High;ands from industrialisation by wind turbines (the SW of Scotland is almost lost now)

    It is the movement that speaks up for people whose homes have been made unsaleable because of proximity to turbines, whose lives are unbearable because of the noise.
    It is the movement that speaks up because wind energy does not reduce Co2 emissions, or do anything whatsoever to protect the enviroment.
    It is the movement that tries to stop windspread slaughter of Gloden Eagles by wind turbines in the USA and Europe.

    My contempt for the pro-wind lobby knows no bounds. Having dealt with and witnessed the corruption and the self-interest, I feel nothing but hatred towards them.

  66. I am 100% anti wind. I write to every planning application that comes my way from the UK, and object to it.

    You may think you are 100% anti-wind, but what you actually are is 100% pro-coal, pro-gas, pro-nuclear.

    I do hope you don’t consider yourself part of some environmental movement.

  67. Can someone explain to me why backing up wind energy with hydro is a good idea? Presumably, the only point of this is to “save water”. That might be of marginal benefit given that the wind blows most when we have most water, namely in the sping.

    I keep hearing this quite that NZ has a better wind resource than the UK, but I don’t believe i. Wind has to be not too low and not too high. If it is too high, the turbines have to shut down.

    NZ has a fairly wide range of wind speeds which makes me suspicious of these claims.

    I am 100% anti wind. I write to every planning application that comes my way from the UK, and object to it.

    James Lovelock, creater of the Gaia theory, described wind turbines as a “monument to a failed civilisation”. It does, therefore, make a perfect fit for the modern Green movement.

  68. In New Zealand it works more like 30-35% of the time with some sites getting over 50. We have a lot better wind resource than Great Britain due to where we are and the way our mountains sit across the prevailing wind… and until we have more wind than hydro, the only backup the wind needs is the hydro. Great Britain needs diesel or gas turbines due to their lack of any perceptible hydro resource.

    That’s two of the problems with taking data from their failures and I can probably think of a few others. Great Britain can justify using Nukes far more readily than we can. They already have the basics. They have FAR less in the way of renewable resources. Geothermal (nope), Solar(you’re kidding right?), wind (not a lot of anything but NIMBYs). A tidal power system might work for them in some places… but that’s about it, and they’re working on “offshore” wind which will be economically viable when pigs are flying in formation because THERE you do in fact have to work through the rebuilding of the entire structure every 20-30 years, because the ocean is an actively hostile environment for man-made structures.


  69. require massive amounts of concrete and steel for construction, services roads etc.

    1. Replacing the blades or bearings is not the same as having to replace the structure that holds the turbine up. Vastly different scale of things. The way your response was structured, there was an implication that the whole installation gets replaced.

    2. The “rare earth” magnets used aren’t required, just most efficient for the price. There is AFAIK. no real impediment to using other materials apart from the economics of the design.

    3. The non-sustainable blades are another “not quite” real requirement.

    Wind done “sustainably” will be somewhat less “efficient” on EROEI than it is with the rare-earth magnets and fancy composite blades. It may be a bit more expensive, but it is also a very accessible technology that we are capable of manufacturing here without a great deal of difficulty.

    Why aren’t we building our jobs market here?

  70. Hydro power requires backup but it doesn’t require diesel generators to kick in with 15 minutes notice when the wind gets too strong. This isn’t spin, this is information that is directly sourced from the UK National Grid

  71. Amazing how people still buy into anti wind power spin.
    Life span of hydro individual hydro turbines or gas plants is 20 to 25 years also.

    All generation sources require backup. Even gas has turbine down time for repairs.

    Hydro and wind work well together as wind power can be used to save lake levels, for backup on windless days.

  72. Embracing diesel generators as a “feature”.
    Hmm, OK, so we have something that only works 20-30% of the time, requires diesel generators to kick in to cover the short term needs (15 mins) to give the CCGT gas generators time to come online

    This is sustainable, how?

  73. Furthermore, wind energy requires backup from other sources, because of its indeterminacy. The UK are using diesel generators for this.

    Or you can accept that some power sources are non-continuous, and have smart loads that react to the generation capacity of the grid, so you don’t try and paper over the intermittent-cy, you embrace it as a feature.

  74. By the definitions above, there is no such thing as “sustainable” energy. Hydro in NZ probably comes closest

    Wind energy is probably the worst offender of the so-called “sustainable” energy sources. Industrial turbines don’t actually last that long (20 years max?) require massive amounts of concrete and steel for construction, services roads etc. The thousands of turbines required to generate a relatively small amount of energy will require service trucks etc.

    The turbine blades are made from non-recyclable composites. The magnets generally use neodymium which is mined mainly in China, and is causing a lot of environmental degradation.
    Furthermore, wind energy requires backup from other sources, because of its indeterminacy. The UK are using diesel generators for this.

  75. You know what I mean Tony.

    What most of us think of as sustainable. Using resources that are renewable and sustainable for a long period in the future.

    We are all aware that nothing is sustainable forever. Eventually the suns energy will run out.

    If you want to semantically split hairs, then, by a strict definition nothing is sustainable, including human and animal life.

    To meet your definition of sustainable, we would all have to commit suicide.

  76. By the way, you don’t have a responsibility to keep civilisation going, or even Homo sapiens going. That’s something you choose to impose on yourself.

    “Responsibility is something you TAKE” – one of my favorite notions and one I made up myself. The fact is that if you can’t see how this responsibility belongs to you, you can’t have it. Those of us as understand it, must shoulder it. I see Kennedy as one of us. You… not so much, but for the odd reason that seeing it you refuse it, most simply do not see. It is there to be picked up.

    There are a lot of members of the “nuclear club” at this point, that I would not trust with bombs (all of them). Their stability and their bombs are sufficient. People don’t muck about with waste as long as they have a collective memory of what it is. That’s true despite the government’s continuity of existence or lack. All that is required is remembering what it is and why not to use it for nightlights.

    Most people aren’t that stupid, just uneducated.

    Some of course, aren’t willing to learn which is why we have National as our government today.

    The people and societies that need the nukes MOST already have them, just not enough of them, so their building more is not really more problem. Their power demand however, is massive and their CO2 emissions are tragic.

    New Zealand does not need nukes. Correct Chistian, and I do agree with that. The transmission lines and renewables are a better investment (though we’d best design those lines with a mind to protect them from future Carrington events).


  77. Kerry,

    “100% sustainable”? Did you mean “100%”? Does power (electricity) generation not require consumption of non-renewable resources? Would they never damage the environment? Are they operated by humans?

  78. Trevor,

    I think that is quite naive. TMI is not the maximum sort of accident we can expect if humans are involved in the construction, operation and decommissioning of it, as well as in the storage of spent fuels. Of course, humans are, and always will be, involved in these things (even if it making/programming computers and robots to do the work). Accidents happen. Sometimes it takes many things to go wrong for the accident to be serious but, sometimes, many things go wrong.

    However, the main issue I’ve been raising is not whether something can go wrong IF “sensible safety precautions are taken” but when societies destabilise and collapse, as they are bound to do.

  79. Tony – Three Mile Island (TMI) is an example of an accident at a nuclear power plant where unexpected things went wrong, but there were enough safety features to ensure no catastrophe. The accident was caused by a stuck valve, and exacerbated by there being no obvious indications to the control room operators that the valve was stuck. There was also a fundamental design issue – essentially an air lock in the plumbing of the reactor itself – which could be traced in large part to the rushed modifications to the original design required to fit a second reactor on the site, and this lead operators to take incorrect actions. A lot was learned from the TMI accident, but there were no immediate fatalities and only one employee exposed to significant levels of radiation.

    That is the maximum sort of scale of accident that we can expect if sensible safety precautions are taken, not the scale of Chernobyl or Fukushima.


  80. Tony – Heat is even easier than power.

    Power is completely covered in Greenpeace’s “The Future is here” Report

    …and heat: Better insulated houses (EECA has/had a very good programme there) and heating with heat pumps would mean that we’d heat all our houses with renewable energy (assuming all power is green by then), and all larger Industries could use woody biomass – natures green solar panels.

    BTW. Trees in New Zealand grow twice as fast as in Europe and special Eucalyptus trees grow between 2 and 3 metres a year.

    Biomass boilers in Europe for industrial clients are as normal as gas and coal boilers in New Zealand. In New Zealand we’d need to replace only 4,000 to 5,000 MW which equals to the amount of what tiny Austria installed in 4 to 5 years at the beginning of the century. Just put carbon tax on fossil fuels, use the tax for bioenergy subsidies and ask companies to comply with European SOx limits and no one in NZ would buy a coal boilers in NZ anymore – easy once we’ve got a responsible Government again – hopefully in 2014.

  81. Sustainable power is likely to make power prices lower, not higher, long term if we replace imported fuel, which is going to become much more expensive as the EROE becomes much higher and we compete with developing economies for fossil fuels.

    There are good economic reasons for replacing fossil fuel use with renewables, as well as environmental ones.

  82. If, we still owned all our stationery power supplies, we could simply tell generators to become 100% sustainable.

    Another reason against power infrastructure asset sales.

    Instead of having the accountants trying continue to use present and near future coal and gas plants to amortize the, often accounting fictions, accounting cost of the plants.

    The short term cost is not that huge for NZ seeing as we were almost 80% sustainable in stationary power supplies not long ago.

  83. Christian,

    100% renewable would not be easy, even if you meant just electricity. But presumably we’d still be exporting, importing, flying and driving ICEs?


    The world’s population will reduce on its own. I don’t have to do a thing.

  84. Trevor,

    Yes, an ultimate cause for every accident can always be found. We will still have accidents, though. More reactors, more accidents.


    No, I don’t think anything would change (significantly) if the Greens were in power. I can but hope, though.


    Of course, nuclear can supplant new coal fired build but, in practice, both will be built. As I understand it, even the US regulations allow capacity to increase at existing power plants and I don’t think the new regulations have actually been signed in. But I wish them well. However, the illusion of cheap natural gas for ever is probably helping there and, when that illusion is shattered, who knows what will happen.

    You have a lot of faith in civilisation. I hope that all nuclear countries remain stable for the next few thousand years but history is against that.

    By the way, you don’t have a responsibility to keep civilisation going, or even Homo sapiens going. That’s something you choose to impose on yourself. Me? I’m just realistic. I haven’t given up and hope for rapid disintegration of civilisation as the most likely way to salvage some semblance of a liveable planet. I don’t think humans do civilisation very well, maybe the next dominant species will make a better go of it, if they see it as something worthwhile.

    Good luck in Wellington. It’ll have Auckland’s temperatures before too long, methinks 🙂

  85. “Keep the managers with tight schedules, tight budgets and rose-tinted glasses away and listen to the engineers who have real world experience with Murphy’s Law. And don’t forget Mrs Murphy’s observation – Murphy was an optimist!”

    In other words do the opposite of SOP in Neo-liberal NZ.

    I can see that happening!

    Just as well we are lucky enough to have sufficient sustainable energy possibilities, in NZ, to make nuclear unnecessary.

  86. Christian – the point is that we knew what could have been done better BEFORE Chernobyl and Fukushima were constructed, but they went ahead anyway.

    Chernobyl used a fundamentally unsafe design. Fukushima was in an area known to be vulnerable to tsunami.


  87. Concentrated solar thermal power with heat storage is one form of despatchable solar power that can generate when the sun has gone down and therefore can smooth out the variations in the electricity supply caused by wind or solar photovoltaic generation.

    Another way of dealing with surplus morning generation from photovoltaic arrays is to use it to run air conditioning systems that generate and store ice, so the ice is available for evening cooling after the sun has gone down, dropping the solar photovoltaic output to zero. This will become increasingly important as global temperatures rise and more and more people need air conditioning to have a reasonable level of comfort.

    There are a lot of groups working on electricity storage options, including improved battery technology. At the utility scale, there are flow batteries (where all the reactive material is dissolved in solutions and the electrodes are inert), and even “gravel batteries” where gravel is used to store heat or cold for later use in a heat engine.

    We have the technology or are developing it, but we don’t have the right economic conditions to suit an explosive growth in renewable energy and the reason for that is that we don’t have a suitable price charged for CO2 emissions. For that, we can blame all the groups who are spreading disinformation about AGW, many of which are being supported by the fossil fuel industries – the very industries with the most to lose from an increased charge on CO2 emissions.


  88. bjchip – All I’d like to add is that it wouldn’t be difficult at all to replace ALL fossil fuelled heat and power plants in New Zealand with renewable energy (solar, wind, geothermal, biomass,etc.), but it would take about 15 to 25 years under a committed and responsible government. Power prices would be 15 to 30% higher and heat about 20% – so what’s the big deal? Whoever thinks that nuclear energy is safe should live next to those plants (obviously not Fukushima and Chernobyl anymore) and promote them from there, sitting in NZ and philosophising about “safe” nuclear energy somewhere else is not really convincing, is it?
    So no excuses for New Zealand, and now National scaremongering with high energy costs (at least not as long as we drop off our children at school, sports grounds, etc. using SUVs which need between 12 and 18 litre per 100km).

  89. Tony – Nukes already displace fossil fuel energy. You can see the proof of this in both Japan and Germany where the nukes were shut down. Where new coal and gas fired generation is going in because those countries have NO OTHER WORKABLE CHOICE.

    Obama pushed into place regulations that make it impossible for new coal plants to be built in the USA. That progress is being made where politically we have the strength to make it happen.

    Here we haven’t yet toppled Key and the advocates of BAU. Climate problems are getting increasingly obvious. Can we shut down Fonterra’s mine? Only if we are in government…. or when someone publicizes and protests their “dirty milk” (a campaign that should not originate with us if we want to ever be elected – the damage to the “clean-green” brand that ensues will make the botulism thing look like a wet firecracker).

    What makes you think that 450 or a thousand reactors will melt down? We have over 12,000 reactor-years (a reactor operating for one year) of experience now and 4 meltdowns of older and seriously defective designs that resulted in significant problems outside the reactor cores. Three at Fukushima and Chernobyl.

    Our safety capabilities are improving over the experimental designs and if we aren’t doing it “for profit” there is no impediment to making nukes even safer. They are already pretty damned safe. Several of the new designs could have survived Fukushima without burping.

    and the spent fuel has to be monitored for thousands of years
    …or until it gets re-purposed as fuel so the monitoring is only needed for a few hundred years and mostly to ensure someone doesn’t try to do something stupid with it (get your perpetual bedwarmers and nightlights right here folks).

    Advocating for meaningful actions on reducing emissions has produced almost exactly no actions.

    Almost true and that is one of the reasons I don’t buy into the no-nukes meme. The other reason is that I don’t have an unreasoned fear of the things. Nuclear plants are one of the two areas in which we have made some small progress in preventing CO2 emissions (The other is insulation and efficiency). There is no process imaginable in which we can give up both fossil fuels AND nukes and retain our civilization and our collective memory anywhere. Solar and Wind are 1% of power at present and we STILL have no realistic energy storage capabilities to make them really useful all the time.

    Safe nuclear is not hard at all, as long as we have a civilization and our collective memory and history is not lost. Even a thousand years of monitoring isn’t that tough if we manage to stick around.

    I don’t concede that game Tony. I AM a “naked ape”, and I have a responsibility to preserve our survival, and to preserve the advantages that lead to us surviving in the future.

    So nukes get built, coal fired power plants get extended and other coal and gas fired power plants get built in some places

    Globally the problem is that some places are shutting down safe nuclear plants because they can’t admit to themselves the severity of the CO2 problem being handed to the future. Something that makes the Fukushima problem or Chernobyl or both together look like a love tap.

    Globally the problem is that Greens look entirely stupid when they assert that THAT is a real disaster bearing down on us and then say “you can’t build nukes”. We know how NOW, largely because engineers made mistakes 40 years ago.

    Greens have to examine the relative scale of the problems more carefully and make sure that they themselves are actually admitting TO THEMSELVES the consequences of the CO2. I am quite sure that anyone who claims to be a Green and is also unrelentingly hostile towards nuclear power has failed that latter requirement. They don’t believe in “Global Warming” except as it is convenient to demonize big business.

    Then there’s you, and you’re an exception to any rule… just so pessimistic that you’d give up. I respect that in a way, it contains the honesty necessary with respect to the CO2 thing, but I can’t agree with it because I am not ready to give up on my species. No matter how stupid most of us are.

    (stupid enough to elect Key a SECOND time?… yeah… there’s a reason gumboots and jandals are the favored footgear here… no complicated shoelaces to learn how to tie).

    I gotta go. Houses to sell and buy. We’re moving back to Wellington and “civilization”. A few more wind farms in the hills and THAT city will last until “the big one”. Which will become an opportunity to pull back up the shoreline if we’re smart enough to take it. Sea is coming up more than 10 meters. Best get started with the moving. 🙂

  90. In terms of safety cultures etc, we should remind ourselves that Fukishima was built when engineers used slide rules. The technology is much more advanced now.

    I’m not sure what went wrong on the Deep Water Horizon. However, it is not true that oil companies do not have a safety culture. Most oil companies.have very stringent health and safety regulations. In BP, it is against employee rules to walk down stairwells without holding onto the handrail, and you will get reported if found doing this.

  91. Trevor – after Fukushima and Chrnobyl we all know what they could have done better and what they shouldn’t have done and of course we’ll have to learn from the next incident which might happen in high populated areas in Europe or the States (but now doubt it will happen). Baesd on a decommissioning budget of 11 billion dollars for Fukushima and an unknown amount of money which went into Chernobyl I was wondering how many renewable energy projects we’d subsidies or fund with over 20 billion dollars (not considered are the cost of hundred of thousands deaths, the proberty and land value of contaminated provinces, cancer treatment costs, etc.).

    Tony – Fonterra as well as any other large corporate will get approval to mine coal and to use it in their energy plants as we don’t have responsible environmental standards in NZ. Air quality in winter in populated areas is as bad as in the large European cities (exceeding WHO limits), 60% of the lakes and rivers have poor (not pure) water quality, and we’re starting to deforest parts of the country (dairy conversion) almost as much as when the first European arrived, which by the way mostly come from GB which at that time polluted and killed hundreds of thousands of people with their coal boilers and heavy industry (Industrial Revolution). So unless we’re voting for a more responsible Government in 2014 nothing will change. Or do you think it would be likely that Fonterra could start coal mining in the Waikato if we’d have the Green Party in Government?

  92. Tony – the Fukushima spend fuel pools drained because it didn’t occur to the engineers that the concrete pools might crack. If they had conducted a decent risk analysis, they would have looked at additional measures to ensure the safety of the fuel rods if the concrete did crack – either an extra layer of a more flexible waterproof material, or simply including overhead sprinklers which could be used to cool the rods without anyone having to enter that area.

    The problem was they didn’t have the right safety culture. This isn’t a problem confined to the nuclear power industry. History is punctuated by examples of similar problems, including the BP well.


  93. bj,

    I think the problem is that you actually seem to think that nukes would be built to replace fossil fuel energy. I understand what you’re saying, though I haven’t researched what happens when 450 (now) or a few thousand (later) nuclear reactors go critical or melt down, or when the spent fuel pools drain. We may get hints to the answer when Fukushima reaches its end game.

    Advocating nukes will, if successful, get nukes built (which have to be manned until decommissioning, and the spent fuel has to be monitored for thousands of years). Advocating nukes as replacements for fossil fuel energy will be seen as advocating nukes. Period. So nukes get built, coal fired power plants get extended and other coal and gas fired power plants get built in some places. So we will probably amplify the problems in all areas.

    Of course, a decline in living standards can’t be agreed to. That’s why I can’t see anything serious being done about our climate change predicament, or our more general environmental predicament. So I might as well advocate for no nukes. If successful, at least that part of the predicament won’t grow and I only need to think about 450 reactors going critical. Advocating for meaningful actions on reducing emissions has produced almost exactly no actions. Yet you keep beating your head against a brick wall. Why is that?

    Oh, yeah, because you think we’re making progress at making “coal” a swear word. Hmm, I wonder how Fonterra managed to get the green light for their open cast coal mine. Is China still building a new coal fired plant each week?

  94. In the long run Trevor, the US can build solar in the Southwest and harness hydro and wind and geo enough to do it. It’ll take a long time for them to get there.

    The coal plant we want to shut down as soon as possible will burn coal for that same long time because it’s just a LOT of demand and the coal supplies a hell of a lot of the electricity there. Pushing a nuke into the same physical slot lets the existing grid work for them for a lot longer and can be done using the current “economic structure” that sees the US dependent on big companies, big banks and the resulting mess.

    If they were prepared to take over their power industry, commission thousands of wind turbines, simultaneously building new high voltage links to pumped storage and other electrical storage tech and basically spending 50 billion/year on a real (not privatized) renewable build out they might get away without another nuke plant provided they don’t rejig their transport to electric cars, buses and trains.

    They would still have to keep what they’ve got running though. They need to change their transport and they are going to need nukes or they’re going to burn even more carbon.

    Basically, they have the tech and every nuke they build displaces a pile of coal… and they don’t have any real way of controlling themselves.

    They need the nukes. It isn’t a pure steady state engineering problem. If it were I’d agree with you, but there are timing, political and social dimensions.

  95. I disagree that the US needs nukes when taken as a whole, as they have plenty of natural resources and open sunny areas to suit solar thermal generation. However the US electricity distribution system is fragmented, and the population mostly around the coasts, so I am prepared to concede that the NE states could need nuclear to replace their coal. Germany, Japan, South Korea and other countries with high population densities and high latitudes are also good candidates for nuclear power, but only if it is done right.


  96. bjchip –
    Not only since Greenpeace’s report we know that it would be easy to generate 100% of NZ power out of renewables. Furthermore we’d easily replace all large fossil fuel boilers (heat) against biomass boilers.
    The amount of timber which NZ harvests a year is the same amount as Austria feeds there biomass boilers (BTW. NZ is almost 4 times bigger than Austria). As long as we continue to ship water to Asia (note: logs contain 55 to 58% water) we shouldn’t be surprised that we’ve got a problem in the Timber Industry.
    To become 100% renewable would be easy, at least in NZ, not with a National Government of course.

  97. Tony, you cannot get people to voluntarily reduce living standards, numbers and energy use for the same reasons you can’t easily get them to give up coal. Moreover, we want electric cars and trains and bicycles and those are going to drive demand for electricity UP, even as we reduce our petrol use.

    Here in NZ we can work on a Cook-Strait generator, more wind turbines and geo and solar (in the North only) and actual insulation and double glazing and the like. WE can do without nukes, even in the short term. Germany can’t. Japan can’t. The US can’t. They need the nukes just to bridge to the more built up renewables and storage.

    Telling us to “get on with it” is even more useless than trying to slip in some alternative energy that doesn’t make CO2 and does make power on scales that are useful to us. Even if it DOES make you feel good to tell us so 🙂

    We humans SUCK when it comes to acting collectively in groups of more than 200. Greens have to keep their own expectations reasonably within the realms of the possible.

    1. The naked apes aren’t giving up the “comforts of civilization” without a fight

    2. They are incapable of collectively agreeing to voluntary reductions in their energy consumption and the resulting standard of living.

    3. They are incapable of collectively agreeing to voluntary reductions in fishing quotas, depleting the oceans instead.

    4. They are incapable of controlling their reproductive urges and have filled all the habitable regions of the earth, and New Jersey.

    For all these reasons the need for more energy that doesn’t generate CO2 is critical. Ruling out NO alternatives. Not even nukes.

    I’m a naked ape and it is my responsibility to see to it that we survive in spite of our shortcomings, that we overcome our limitations and that we build infrastructure that my children’s children can use.

  98. Do you actually believe the threat from the continued emission of CO2 is real? Or is it just a convenient cudgel you can use to beat up big business?

    The economic distortions they create and enjoy are enough for me to take them on, but that IS a different fight.

    The CO2 is an existential threat to human civilization and possibly all life on the planet. That has to stop even if we wind up as slaves for generations. Something we Greens seem to forget too often is that the FIRST priority is to survive. You can’t do ANYTHING else unless you succeed at that. There are political dimensions to that statement as well.

    Please apologise but I’m a bit lost here, with Chernobyl and Fukoshima contaminating millions, killing hundreds of thousands over decades, etc. I’m not sure what you mean with the safest form of electricity? Maybe you were referring to Russian statistics of 32 casualties in Chernobyl?

    The problem with CO2 is real, and the death toll from burning coal will be several orders of magnitude higher!!! That’s Billions (with a ‘B’)

    Nuclear Power done “for profit” has always been a bad thing. Done safely it not very profitable. The example of the US Navy is instructive but it is one damned expensive bunch of reactors and operators by commercial standards.

    Rickover would probably have court-martialed an officer who approved the Fukushima or Chernobyl designs, and shot out of hand one who was in charge of Chernobyl and approved experimenting with the operations envelope of a live reactor of that design.

    Too cheap to do the tests with a mock-up they instead fucked up a large chunk of the oblast.

    …and yet it was STILL only a fraction of what the CO2 will kill, and the simple mining of coal kills more people faster than any nuclear calamity in history apart from the bombs themselves. The excess deaths from burning coal are millions per year, far more than the worst possible numbers that Greenpeace could find about Chernobyl.

    Coal as it is normally used (not a result of accidents) is far more dangerous to humans than the worst nuclear accidents in history and has the potential to trump global thermonuclear war in terms of total casualties.


    once the nuclear reactor is fired up, there is no choice. We have to keep manning and monitoring it.

    Not forever – only until it is decommissioned.

    The waste is a tractable problem. It is not a civilization ending problem. You are still overly concerned with the waste compared with the CO2. The scales are very very different.

    This fact means that the nuclear issue is largely irrelevant. We won’t be building nuclear reactors to supplant coal or any other fossil fuel.

    I don’t think you are on such solid ground here. We ARE making progress at making coal anathema, and as that pushes the availability of coal-electricity down both utilities and governments are going to re-think their power budgets.

    We could mess up big time with the nukes and render half the planet uninhabitable, but if we mess up by simply continuing to burn carbon we render two halves of the planet uninhabitable. I’d rather sleep in the bathtub after wrecking the living area than have no house at all after burning the whole thing down.

  99. AndyS,

    A low energy and low (relative to today) population future is inevitable. Let’s get on with it instead of trying to sustain the unsustainable.

  100. AndyS,

    There has also been a lot of R&D into fusion. So far, like Thorium reactors, there are no commercial scale facilities and no plans for one. However, we can always keep our fingers crossed. You never know.


    Yes, if something can go wrong, it will go wrong. Although I think going down the nuclear route is wrong for the reason I’ve given previously, it is statistically certain that if there were more nuclear reactors, there would be more nuclear accidents. This is especially so if the build-out, globally, was commensurate with a target of drastically reducing CO2 emissions but without drastically scaling back our energy desires.

  101. AndyS –

    As far as I know all the energy on the Globe origins from only 3* sources:
    – sun/solar (which is responsible for wind, hydro, solar, biomass, etc.)
    – geothermal (energy stored in the center of the planet)
    – and tidal energy (energy coming from the orbiting of the moon)

    *) not sure about atomic fusion?

    …and the required liquid or gaseous transport fuels like hydrogen can be produced via renewable energy (sun, tidal, geothermal).

    One of the reasons I don’t “like” fossil and nuclear fuels is because it just shifts the problem to future generations which, due to the rapidly growing populations, will more and more struggle to make a change. ..not to mention the lack of environmental standards which allows them (corporates and big industries) to contaminate the planet with CO2, particulates, SOX, NOx radioactivity, etc. which BTW kills millions every year (see Wikipedia premature deaths due to air pollution). – BTW. So far no national standards or emissions limits for NOx, SOX, CO, particulates, etc. in New Zealand! – might be unique for a high developed country?

    Anyway, at some stage in the future (maybe in centuries) humans will only have these three sources left and the more we’re replacing limited fuels (fossils, nuclear,etc.) these the less likely is it that our children and grandchildren (and their children, etc.) will end up in an apocalyptic collapse of the carbon age.

    To me it’s not a question if we like fossil and/or nuclear fuels it’s a question of when we’ll start to accept our responsibility for future generations.

  102. Chernobyl is a great example of how NOT to do it right. Take a design whose fundamental principle (carbon moderated, water cooled) had already been rejected by three of the world’s nuclear powers as unsafe (because hot carbon reacts with hot water), put it into a reactor building that doesn’t have the ability to contain any sort of explosion (the first explosion at Chernobyl was a simple steam explosion but that let the air in), top the roof off with flammable tar (violating the building codes of the time), and protect it all with a scram system that takes 20 seconds rather than 0.5 seconds to get the control rods in after the panicked operators hit the scram button. (The reactor blew up 4 seconds later with the control rods still mostly out, allowing the nuclear reactions to continue even after the first explosions.) Then plan on shutting down the reactor on the day with the highest expected power demand, but delay the shutdown until those trained in the process have gone home leaving the night staff to do it instead. Then when they get it slightly wrong, start a safety test even though the reactor is now in an unstable state. Finally when it all turns inside out, don’t bother telling the local fire brigade that the building that is on fire is a nuclear power plant but instead have the local troops do drill practice to show everyone that it is all safe! And don’t seek advice from outside, just do what seems to be best even though it might keep the heat in and let out even more of the radioactive material. And don’t tell the Western powers even though they can see it on their satellite photos and have already detected the radiation plume.

    The lessons from Chernobyl are not so much that nuclear power is dangerous but that complacency and isolation are dangerous. All forms of energy are dangerous, just some more than others. They all need to be treated with the proper respect, and all designs reviewed with a critical mindset not just a rubber stamp, with as many different competent reviewers as practical, whether the designs are for a nuclear power plant, a coal or gas fired power plant, an oil rig, a mine, a hydro dam or a wind turbine.

    Keep the managers with tight schedules, tight budgets and rose-tinted glasses away and listen to the engineers who have real world experience with Murphy’s Law. And don’t forget Mrs Murphy’s observation – Murphy was an optimist!


  103. AndyS,

    I’ve been reading about thorium being our saviour for quite a few years. However, as far as I’m aware, no commercial scale thorium reactors are currently planned. The latest one given the green light (almost) in the UK, isn’t one. I wonder why that is.

    China and India are putting R&D into commercial Thorium reactors.
    The USA had a working prototype at Oak Ridge in the 1950s. It is thought that the decision to follow the Uranium path was a political one based around Cold War politics.

    Fusion may eventually work too.

  104. bj,

    Also, once the nuclear reactor is fired up, there is no choice. We have to keep manning and monitoring it. Of course it’s different to or GHG predicament but trying (without a guarantee of success, I might add) to replace one predicament with another just doesn’t seem sensible. It’s not just an engineering problem, it’s a social problem. It is almost guaranteed that every one of the societies that currently exist will not exist within the lifetime of the radioactive waste produced by nuclear reactors.

    I’m sure that those who think nuclear is an “answer” will not be swayed by such arguments. But that doesn’t negate those arguments. I think every single nuclear reactor should commence decommissioning as soon as possible with as secure and permanent place to store the waste as we can manage. That’s the only way I can think of to minimise the future threat of nuclear reactors as societies start to struggle to remain coherent.

    Yes, nuclear weapons are a problem too and they need to be dealt with. I’m really not sure what your point is there.

    You’re damned right I’m pessimistic. No political party and no population appear concerned about climate change or environmental degradation (if they were, there would be no more coal fired power stations and coal mining would be fazed out, at a minimum). This fact means that the nuclear issue is largely irrelevant. We won’t be building nuclear reactors to supplant coal or any other fossil fuel. I think that much is certain. At least not until it is far too late to stop at least a limited runaway change. There really is no prospect whatsoever of meaningful action. I think that’s true even if the Greens got a majority at the next election.


    I’ve been reading about thorium being our saviour for quite a few years. However, as far as I’m aware, no commercial scale thorium reactors are currently planned. The latest one given the green light (almost) in the UK, isn’t one. I wonder why that is.

  105. I can’t really argue with Wikipedia

    Anyway, I have presented options with Thorium.
    If you don’t want nuclear and you don’t want fossil fuels then we are pretty short on ideas. Solar and wind don’t really work on any kind of scale, so we are looking at a low energy/low population future going down this track.

    I guess a lot of people would like to see that happen though.

  106. AndyS – I took the numbers from “Chernobyl Disaster” out of Wikipedia: “…For this broader group, the 2006 TORCH report, commissioned by the European Greens political party, predicts 30,000 to 60,000 excess cancer deaths.[17] In terms of non-scientific publications, two affiliated with the anti-nuclear advocacy group Greenpeace, have been released, one of which reports the figure at 200,000 or more.[18]”

    Note: this doesn’t consider the cancer deaths in Japan, and I remember too well siting next to a woman in Tokyo a couple of weeks ago (at a bioenergy event) who used to live near Fukoshima and who’s currently undergoing a chemo therapy and hardly any hair left.

  107. Please apologise but I’m a bit lost here, with Chernobyl and Fukoshima contaminating millions, killing hundreds of thousands over decades, etc. I’m not sure what you mean with the safest form of electricity?

    I am referring to data pertaining to deaths and injuries in the respective forms of electricity generation.

    If you have some data to support your claim that “killing hundreds of thousands over decades” then I’d be interested to see it.

    The nuclear industry has a statistically better track record than any other form of electricity generation including wind and solar. A single nuclear power station is equivalent in Mw terms to 250,000 hectares of offshore wind turbines, for example.

  108. Where it is feasible, and where the alternative is burning fossil fuels, nuclear power is – today – the least bad option.

    There’s just one really, really important thing though, which is, put simply, you need to keep the fuckwits out of it. Fuckwits who somehow forgot that diesel engines really don’t like ingesting salt water. Fuckwits who think that its OK to let a reactor run away. The Windscale “disaster” reads like a who’s who of fuckwitology.

    Perhaps the most remarkable thing is that despite the (best? worst?) efforts of these fuckwits, deaths and injuries relating to nuclear power are still a tiny, tiny fraction of those attributable to coal.

    It’d be great to rid the planet of every last nuclear reactor, but this is one of those occasions where the medicine is worse than the disease. Sometimes, being pro-environment is a difficult path to tread…

  109. If the nuclear waste is “burnable” as the high level waste mostly is, there is an economic issue that will drive it to be burned. The current tech relies on the less abundant isotopes, expensive separation and the supply of the fuel WILL run out in relatively short order compared to the half-life of the useful waste. So the reactors to burn it will certainly be built.

    As for the rest, Pakistan has the bomb. North Korea has the bomb. Yet you are worrying about waste and stability? My point has to be clear enough. The people who can and will build the most power reactors and have the largest waste “problem”/”opportunity” will be the ones at the top of the heap, with the largest power use per capita. That’s where the need will justify the cost most closely.

    What I said was that we already have the problem of unstable countries with nuclear technology, nuclear weapons and nuclear waste. Those aren’t going away and the problem is not greatly worsened if Germany turns its back on the lunatics and turns its reactors back on.

    foisting nukes on future generations seems as irresponsible as current generations continuing to build coal fired powerstations and dig fossil fuels out of the ground to burn.

    That is where you go astray IMO. The two are in NO way comparable. The one is a clear engineering challenge with localized problems and known engineering solutions. The price of doing it right is the only impediment to safely providing power from atoms and future generations can quite easily (compared with a CO2 surplus), manage the problems. The CO2 however, goes in and it takes millenia for it to be pulled out. It is damned expensive to pull it out in terms of energy, it kills the oceans as it gets pushed into them, and it can effectively terminate most life on this planet before it can be removed.

    We CAN do that with the weapons, but we have the choice not to. Once the CO2 is emitted, there IS NO CHOICE LEFT!

    Worse, there is a huge upside to NOT using nuclear weapons (very little temptation to use the things), but there is a huge DOWNSIDE to curtailing the use of cheap fossil fuels. The society and the economy are addicted to the stuff and we don’t know how to stop ourselves. The nukes at least displace SOME of that.

    So the CO2 is a vastly more dangerous threat to us and our civilization and our children’s future.

    You are the only person I know of more pessimistic than I am 🙂

  110. Trevor, I’m not in favour of coal fired power stations.

    I think “after a while” is a bit of an understatement.

  111. AndyS – regarding “Yes I am aware that Germany is phasing out its nuclear fleet. They are replacing the safest (statistically speaking) form of electricity, with lowest CO2 emissions,…”

    Please apologise but I’m a bit lost here, with Chernobyl and Fukoshima contaminating millions, killing hundreds of thousands over decades, etc. I’m not sure what you mean with the safest form of electricity? Maybe you were referring to Russian statistics of 32 casualties in Chernobyl?

    BTW. The decommissioning process for the Fukushima plant forecast is that it will take about 40 years and cost $11 billion and the containing radiation equivalent to 14,000 times the amount released in the atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima 68 years ago.

    I know that it’s frustrating that we can’t phase out coal boiler plants fast enough but we’d need to be realistic too.

    Our economies are (too) carbon-intensive and unless we’re prepared to pay more for energy (at least initially) and provide incentives for low carbon business and punish high carbon users is unlikely to change.
    …teres’s a reason why the Norther Hemisphere “dumps” most of the uneconomic car models to Australia and New Zealand, isn’t it? …with petrol prices like in Europe you rather buy a more economic car.

    Note: Just a first sensible step towards a lower carbon industry has costed Julia Gillard her job, voted out of Government by us, the voters.

    Let’s see what will happen in NZ in 2014 and watch New Zealand’s Dairy Industries next energy plants (all coal or gas, ..on a big scale).

  112. Tony – fossil fueled power stations also release radioactive material. In addition, the fossil fuels also contain trace amounts of a range of toxic minerals. Since the power stations use a lot of fossil fuels, these trace amounts add up to a significant risk. However, unlike radioactive material that decays after a while, the toxic minerals remain toxic forever.


  113. bj,

    So, because you think the more stable societies (now) are the ones in most need of them, therefore there is a fair chance that they will remain stable long enough to make nukes a viable option (and we can ignore those in societies more prone to destabilisation)? That sounds like wishful thinking. Also because we CAN (reasonably quickly?) make the waste and surplus fuel less harmful, then it’s reasonable to assume that, as societies begin to destabilise, governments will somehow collect the fuel and process it in the way you describe? Hmm, more wishful thinking there but I wonder why they aren’t doing that now, in stable societies (especially after decades of, mostly unsuccessfully, trying to figure out how to deal with the waste).

    Yes, it’s a serious problem, a very serious problem, but foisting nukes on future generations seems as irresponsible as current generations continuing to build coal fired powerstations and dig fossil fuels out of the ground to burn.

    Please don’t assume that we should take ANY steps that may help. Some steps may end up making the predicament worse.

    Thanks for the BTW. I think this is an issue that requires very, very careful thought and honesty about the likelihood of societal destabilisation, which, of course may be made worse as the environment degrades because we can’t take enough of the right actions (even including nukes, if that’s your view), quickly enough.

  114. When talking about nuclear power, it is worth distinguishing between current Uranium LWR design versus a proposed Thorium LFTR design.

    The latter has several advantages over Uranium – passive safety (power failure shuts down the reactor), no materials produced that can be used in nuclear weapons, and a relatively minor waste problem (in fact, many of the by-products of the Thorium cycle are useful materials).

    Many countries are investing R&D effort into Thorium and the material is very abundant. We have thousands of years of known reserves.

  115. Tony – That’s a problem we already have with nuclear weapons, never mind the power stations 🙂

    Moreover, the nukes are most likely needed and used mostly in the more stable societies on this planet. Which admittedly isn’t saying much as many nations have had serious alterations in their political environment over the last hundred years. Several of them with serious arsenals all through their “interesting” years.

    Since the tech exists to make the waste burnable and render it into shorter lived and less serious problems we CAN deal with this sensibly.

    I don’t oppose nukes because the looming problem is far, far less tractable. We really do not govern ourselves well enough to easily unite in an effort to reduce CO2. The things we can do to supplant the CO2 generating power generation are few, and nukes are a part of that answer.

    Not even the “most” important part but all parts are important because as I said, we are going to need every erg.

    BTW… that is a darned good question.


  116. dbuckley – I agree that not everyone will be in a position to add solar water heating, double glazing or better insulation. However some people will, and some commercial/industrial companies will also see a positive return on such investments. Renters may not be in a position to add such features, but they may be able to vote with their feet and wallets, boosting rents on low energy cost housing and forcing down rents on poorly insulated or poorly heated housing.

    The power generation companies can also respond to the CO2 charges. Generation from hydro, wind, solar, tidal, wave or geothermal is free of such charges (except geothermal may face a low charge due to its release of trapped CO2), so companies using these forms of generation will be able to compete with those using fossil fuels and hold the electricity prices down at least some of the time. The fossil fueled generation will become uncompetitive except for peaking plants which will only run when there is insufficient generation available from the renewable energy plants.

    However these changes will take some time, and nothing will happen quickly if CO2 doesn’t have a price on it.


  117. One of the main issues with nukes is that they require stable societies for the duration of their operation, decommissioning and waste storage to even have the potential to be safe.

    Do you think stable societies are likely in all nuclear states (or future nuclear states) for centuries (or millennia)? What is the likelihood of that being true?

  118. Yes I am aware that Germany is phasing out its nuclear fleet. They are replacing the safest (statistically speaking) form of electricity, with lowest CO2 emissions, with the most dangerous (compared with all other forms of electricity generation) and highest CO2 emissions, namely coal and lignite.

    It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

    Britain, on the other hand, is deploying thousands of diesel generators (Short Term Operational Reserve) to back up its wind fleet when the turbines cut out.

  119. There is a point here. German Greens have absolutely lost the plot with respect to Nuclear and its very NECESSARY role in keeping the CO2 emissions down and providing reliable power until the renewable build out is large enough to allow the renewables to replace the nukes.

    Instead they’ve shut off the nuclear option and this has caused the power system to revert to coal, and coal use has been rising there.

    I am pointing this out AS a Green. Greens in California have shot their credibility in the OTHER foot by playing the “no big hydro storage” game after working hard to shut down the CA nukes. It doesn’t suit their goal of “market shift”. Which has absolutely NOTHING to do with getting the CO2 reduced.

    I apologize if I offend here, but both groups of “Greens” are nothing of the sort. They are without a shred of remaining credibility on the CO2 issue.

    Our civilization needs every possible ERG of non-CO2-emitting power if it is to avert catastrophe while they might just as well be denialists, given the damage that they do to real efforts to stem the outpouring CO2 and the easy target they present for ridicule.


  120. Andy, you might not be aware that Germany is phasing out their nuclear power plants and that they are working on high efficiency coal boiler plants too (incl. Oxyfuel technology). It would be a big ask to replace all nuclear power plants with renewable energy within 20 years given the fact that that they’re Europe’s biggest economy. BTW. They’re currently using about 340,000,000m3 of wood and wood residues for energy already which is about 13 to 14 times the amount of timer harvested in New Zealand (per annum) – Not bad, is it?
    Not to mention wind, hydro and solar.

  121. Responsible Governments and successful economies like Austria, Germany, Sweden, etc. are demonstrating that sustainability and investment in a cleaner and greener economy pays off.

    Germany is building 24 new coal-fired power stations.

  122. Britain is probably where NZ should be following, where electricity prices are skyrocketing thanks to green tarrifs.

    This is where NZ needs to go if it wants to reduce emissions. It’s not a vote winner though.

  123. Trevor29 notes:

    As the price of CO2 emissions goes up, the alternatives to burning fossil fuels become increasingly attractive. Conservation will be more attractive, so double glazing and other forms of insulation improvements will become cost-effective. Solar water heating will increase.

    I suspect (but that is all it is, I have no evidence) you are going to be disappointed here.

    If we charge for CO2 emissions then those charges will largely appear on peoples bills, electricity, food, petrol, gas or whatever, and will simply be a cost of staying alive.

    On the other hand, things like double glazing, solar panels etc are capital expenditures and require someone to pony up a lot of money in one go, or get a loan, assuming they are credit-worthy, and all this assumes that they are able to make such changes, which renters are not.

    This is why in another thread I argue passionately (hopefully, rather than coming across as an arse) for people to be able to legally get into solar PV for as little as $1000 to start reducing their electricity bills.

    Back in 2008, in a hoary old thread entitled Carbon emitters please queue here it was argued (by Kevyn, of the now dead website, preserved on the Waaaayback machine) that perhaps petrol breaking the $2/Litre would significantly affect petrol consumption, with him then posing the question will it need an order of magnitude increase [in the price of petrol] to reduce consumption by one-third or two-thirds within a ten or twenty years? That would make petrol in the order of $20/L…

  124. One of the problems with the climate model programs is the unpredictability of some of the external drivers, such as the solar radiance, the amount of aerosols in the atmosphere reflecting the sunlight away and how successful or not we have been at controlling CO2 and other GHG emissions. Add to that the Southern Oscillation (El Nino vs La Lina) and it is almost impossible to get agreement between the models and the climate behaviour after the models have been run. However the models can provide a useful baseline. If the effects of the variations in solar radiance, aerosols and the Southern Oscillation are estimated and subtracted off the temperature measurements, then the results are actually in reasonably good agreement with the models, and show that temperatures are increasing.

    The bottom line is that if AGW were not occurring, temperatures should have dropped and they haven’t.


  125. It is indeed very difficult to predict the development of the climate and models often fail. It is quite alarming how the latest models seem to show lots of shortcomings and that is hindering the international talks on climate change. I work in biological sciences and already it is so hard to come up with valid models. It must be difficult to encompass the entire planet in predictions …

  126. Responsible Governments and successful economies like Austria, Germany, Sweden, etc. are demonstrating that sustainability and investment in a cleaner and greener economy pays off. The ignorance and populism of the Key “circus” is hard to bear hence I do hope that we can end that farce in 2014 – for the sake and future of our children.

  127. Tony – I never said it would be smooth going. I’m just pointing out that there are factors that MP Bridges seems to have overlooked, so he is qualitatively wrong.


  128. Trevor, that sounds great. Somehow I don’t think it would be quite as smooth as that, but it’s nice to dream.

  129. National are happy to give payouts to Rio Tinto to keep their smelter operating, leading to higher electricity prices for residential consumers. But they’re ideologically unwilling to consider anything that carries cost to tackle climate change. Never mind that under a properly functioning ETS the carbon charge would be redeployed into the NZ economy to pay people for tree planting etc.

    Instead, National are doing nothing to reduce domestic emissions, which means in 2020 we’ll have to buy a bunch of international carbon credits to meet our target (or default on our commitment like Canada did with Kyoto). What will be the cost of that to the average NZer? The Government doesn’t seem to care and most likely won’t be in power then to have to deal with the consequences. Irresponsible and stupid in the extreme.

  130. “Well, of course, prices will rise exponentially…”

    What nonsense. As the price of CO2 emissions goes up, the alternatives to burning fossil fuels become increasingly attractive. Conservation will be more attractive, so double glazing and other forms of insulation improvements will become cost-effective. Solar water heating will increase. Geothermal projects and wind farms will proceed. Burning coal will become more expensive, so anyone currently burning coal will consider co-firing biomass or switching to biomass entirely. There will be increasing periods when the price of electricity will not be set by the cost of operating fossil fuel generation. The price of electricity will become increasingly disconnected from the cost of operating fossil fuel generation, at which point the price increases level off.

    I wonder if MP Bridges even knows what an exponential price rise looks like, if he is under the mistaken impression that that is what will occur?


  131. Fee and dividend is worth a try but it is highly unlikely to be enough, if it did have an impact, due to the rebound effect. Some would gt back more than the extra they’d pay, so they’d spend it on something else. Some would hardly notice the extra, so may not cut back. The rest would have to cut back on something. If anyone cuts back and saves more money, they will spend it on something else.

  132. Fee and dividend. The fee on carbon is returned to citizens, on a per capita basis. It’s damn well worth a try and sounds like the fairest way to try and deal with this oncoming climate change disaster. Kennedy, thank you for your effort and hard work. Kia kaha in your continual battle with the dumb, greedy bastards who seem determined to drive us off the cliff.

  133. As I said in another post, there is no acceptable policy that will drastically lower emissions. There is no point in being angry about humans being humans. We’re going to be up shit creek without a paddle. Key and Bridges can’t see that because they are human (amazing though that seems).

  134. * Progress in reducing emissions depends on a rise in the price of carbon.

    * A rise in the price of carbon will be a terrible thing.

    The sad thing is, Kennedy, that this (alleged) contradiction is, for those who think that any form of carbon pricing is the solution to global warming, about the size of it.

    Lets just assume for a moment that rather than all this prodding of JK with long stick from the other end of the house (and in some cases, being chucked out of the house for one’s trouble), the Green Party were to just be honest, and say what they mean: “If you vote in the Green Party in 2014 we will raise your electricity bills by (lets say) 10% every year. Eventually you will not be able to pay for the amount of electricity you use today, and thus you will use less, thus there will be less emissions, and as a result the planet will be a tiny bit better off”

    A: How the heck does this square with the Labour / Greens pact to reduce electricity prices?

    B: Just how electable will this make the Green Party? Will there be any Green MPs in Parliament next term??

  135. I guess methane doesn’t come into their carbon tax scheme either. to quote from Graham’s frogblog yesterday, “Mr Key warned against focusing too much on long term projections when half of New Zealand’s emissions come from farm-produced nitrate and methane.”

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