Exploding Australia's nuclear delusion

France has been producing most of its electricity using nuclear power stations for an average carbon dioxide intensity of about 80 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour (gm-CO2/kWh) for two decades. In that time, Australia's electricity has just gotten dirtier, rising from 817 in 1990 to 841 gm-CO2/kWh in 2010.

Germany, the poster child for solar and wind advocates, has dropped only modestly from 581 gm-CO2/kWh in 1990 to 461 in 2010. Switzerland and Sweden have been using a mix of hydro and nuclear to achieve even lower carbon dioxide intensity than France.

Had the rest of the world continued the nuclear energy roll-out begun during the 1970s in response to the oil crisis, we'd face a far less urgent climate change challenge than we do now. So why have we not embraced nuclear electricity and effectively wasted 20 years in the fight to stop the destabilisation of the climate?

Imagine the headlines if a poll discovered that only 10 per cent of Australians were definitely sure that the earth was roughly spherical while 65 per cent believed that it was "definitely" or "probably" flat? Note that this wouldn't be mere ignorance, but unfounded belief in something utterly false. It would be a scandal. There would be tough questions from outraged journalists in tell-all investigative revelations of incompetence from education ministers through to primary school teachers.

Now new independent polling company Virulent Ideas has probed Australian knowledge of nuclear energy and uncovered precisely the same kind of unfounded belief in the utterly false.

The poll found that 65 per cent of Australians believe that a nuclear electricity plant has the potential to explode "like an atomic warhead or bomb" in the event of a "catastrophic meltdown".

No, it can't.

Not ... "it's highly unlikely" or "hasn't happened so far", but it's simply impossible. Nevertheless, 24 per cent thought this impossibility "definitely true" and 41 per cent thought it "probably true". Only 10 per cent understood it to be definitely false.

You can't make a bomb without 'bomb stuff'

To make a bomb you start with specific amounts of "weapons grade" uranium or plutonium and then crash it together at incredibly high speed which requires really special equipment. This isn't like mixing Araldite. Electricity generation reactors don't use weapons grade material and don't have the machinery to do the crashing together. Potting soil may look a little like gun powder but it can't explode. It's the wrong stuff. End of story.

It's only been a couple of years since we had saturation media coverage of a catastrophic meltdown in three reactors at Fukushima in Japan. We had news stories, pictures, diagrams, feature articles, background pieces, aerial shots, satellite shots, nightly live crosses. Every kind of wanna-be expert was put before a camera, but somehow this most basic of facts isn't crystal clear in 90 per cent of Australian brains.

The explosions at Fukushima were not atomic explosions and could never have been atomic explosions.

What about the explosions?

The Fukushima explosions were hydrogen explosions. Spectacular, yes, and potentially deadly for the workers, but not really players in the public death and destruction big league. There are more deaths and injuries on any long weekend on Australian roads.

Natural gas explosions kill and injure people regularly, but how many nuclear reactor hydrogen explosions have you heard of? Three Mile Island? No deaths, no injuries, no cancers, zip other than unfounded fear mongering and China Syndrome Hollywood film myths. Hydrogen explosions at nukes have been extremely rare events and modern designs should make them merely historical memories.

The Fukushima explosions ripped apart the outer structure of buildings designed to keep the rain out and damaged temporary equipment that had been keeping the reactors cool. But they did nothing to the 1.8 metre thick concrete and steel reinforced containment building around the reactor vessel. This containment building is designed to keep the fuel in during all manner of possible but obviously very rare accidents and can also, as it happens, keep a fully loaded jet passenger aircraft out. If Al-Qaeda had targeted a nuclear plant instead of the Twin Towers, the death toll would have been far smaller.

And the meltdowns?

So what is a "catastrophic meltdown" if it isn't something atomically explosive?

Put simply, imagine a nuclear reactor like jug with a heating element which takes rather a long time to cool down after you switch off the jug. Think weeks, not minutes. As long as you keep adding water as it boils off, everything is fine. But if you stop with the water, then the element can get so hot that it melts and forms a slaggy mess on the bottom of your jug. Once the element (the reactor fuel) is uncovered, it becomes damaged and releases both hydrogen and radioactive material. These get mixed with steam as the pressure rises in the jug.

The jug in nuke-speak is called the reactor vessel and it's a thick sealed steel container inside the much thicker reinforced concrete containment building which is inside the outer building that got ripped apart at Fukushima.

The radiation came mainly from the vessel when they opened valves to reduce the pressure as the temperature rose and the fuel melted. In a worst case scenario, the still hot slag could even melt through the reactor vessel.

Even if this happens, the slag can't melt through the containment concrete underneath the reactor. This is "can't" meaning impossible, not "can't" meaning very unlikely.

Why impossible? Because engineers can both calculate and measure the maximum possible energy that can be generated by the slag and it is a relatively simple exercise to ensure that the concrete is sufficient to absorb it, even in the worst case scenario.

Meltdowns are mainly catastrophic for nuclear plant owners because they totally bugger the reactor. However some modern reactor designs feature special ‘slag catcher’ chambers under the reactor. The intent here is obviously to render meltdowns less catastrophic for owners and allow reactor re-use.

What about the radiation?

But are meltdowns dangerous? The biggest danger is radiation leaks which can cause cancer.

The hydrogen explosions at Fukushima wouldn't happen with a modern design, but even these don't make meltdowns anything like as dangerous as motor cars or more mundane things like ladders. Meltdowns are rare dangerous events compared to common dangerous events.

There are almost 1000 people taken to casualty from ladder falls every year in Victoria alone with over 30 major traumas and 3-4 deaths. The triple Fukushima meltdowns injured just 3 workers with minor radiation burns with several more receiving minor injuries during the explosions. World Health Organisation experts en-masse have recently determined that while there may be a ripple in rates of cancer and other diseases, it will be so small as to be undetectable in the general population.

And the workers?

But what about the workers? Those on duty at the time the tsunami hit owe their lives to working at the nuclear plant rather almost anywhere else on the coast. So this gives the nuclear plants some hundreds of lives saved on the credit side of the ledger. So let's just consider the general population.

An undetectable impact or a rise in cancers?

What does it mean to say there might be a ripple (ie., increase) in cancers but that it will be undetectable? This sounds like a contradiction and was misreported by journalists all over the planet, so requires careful explanation.

Here's why the contradiction isn't a contradiction at all. First let's see the crucial quote concerning the general population (p.92) from the actual report:

The present results suggest that the increases in the incidence of human disease attributable to the additional radiation exposure from the Fukushima Daiichi NPP accident are likely to remain below detectable levels.

The WHO press release opened with a similar statement but then, just a few paragraphs latter, presented estimates of cancer risk increases for various groups. How come?

Imagine you drop a rock in a nice flat pond. If your physics is good, you can calculate the maximum height of the ripple as it expands across the water. The results might vary for different shapes of the same weight of rock, but you could get a reasonable approximation. Standing on the banks of the pond, you'll be able to detect the ripple and check your calculations. This all works nicely when the water is calm.

Now drop the same rock in the ocean. You can still run the calculation. No worries. But can you detect the wave's arrival standing on the beach watching the pounding waves? Only if the rock is absolutely huge. It isn't.

What's a detectable cancer increase?

The Fukushima cancer estimates are like those ripple estimates. And the rock is tiny.

How tiny? Let's consider ‘rocks’ which give detectable cancer increases. Lung cancer increases due to air pollution in Japan are detectable, so the Fukushima rock is smaller than that. The deaths and disease from wood smoke generated from cooking indoors with wood or cattle dung are detectable in countries where this happens. This is a 3.5 million death a year problem in places without enough electricity. So the Fukushima rock is way smaller than that.

Greenpeace in India is currently fighting against a huge nuclear plant which would bring electricity to hundreds of thousands, who currently cook with wood. This is anti-nuclear ideology gone crazy. Nuclear electricity after even a worst case triple meltdown is way safer than wood and cattle dung.

I could produce a very, very long list of things far more dangerous than a triple meltdown, but let's just consider one last very relevant example. The Fukushima cancer rock is much smaller than the 500 per cent rise in bowel cancers which occurred in Japan over recent decades after they added red and processed meat to their diet. That's a detectable increase of about 80,000 bowel cancers every single year. Now, that's one mother of a rock!

There's one last wrinkle to iron out of the story. The ripple calculations assume you lob a rock into the pond. One rock, one ripple. That's how radiation models work, because they are based around the exposure of people during the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II, where all the radiation was received in one burst ... one rock.

But the Fukushima radiation wasn't like that. It wasn't one burst, one rock, it was more like a handful of gravel and the ripple calculations were done as if it was a rock. The WHO did it this way so that nobody can accuse them of underestimating the risks. They were obviously not worried about scaring the hell out of anybody by overestimating the risks. They should have been.

The other explosion

Compare the Chiba refinery fire with Fukushima.

Never heard of it?

The same quake and tsunami which crippled the Fukushima reactors caused a massive explosive fireball at the Chiba oil refinery. It was a far more spectacular explosion than those at Fukushima, but it appeared once on the evening it happened and then vanished.

The heroism of the firefighters who battled for almost a fortnight to extinguish the blaze went unnoticed. The fire blanketed a vast but unmapped area with carcinogens and otherwise toxic compounds which will send a ripple of future disease and deaths through a huge area.

How big a ripple? Maybe some academic somewhere will start collecting data, but probably not. It was just another accident in the wave of carnage that swamped that part of Japan.

There was no mass evacuation and people just got on with rebuilding their lives.

Was the refinery company to blame? Did they fail to design for such an event? There may well be enquiries and plant redesigns, as there should be, nobody wants events like this. But the global media circus won't report any of it, they'll have moved on. That's just boring techo stuff. Not exciting, mysterious and scary like radiation.

Nuclear ignorance

In summary, while nuclear meltdowns can kill, neither they, nor anything else, can cause atomic explosions at nuclear electricity plants.

Australian nuclear ignorance becomes even more disturbing when you look at the breakdowns. Among younger people 18 to 34, only 7 per cent are sure of the truth. By voting intention, Coalition voters score best of a bad bunch with 14 per cent being certain of the truth, then follow the Greens, Labor and "Other" at 11 per cent, 10 per cent and 7 per cent respectively. Tasmania topped the states for the highest level of the deepest ignorance with 41 per cent being definitely certain that reactors can explode like atomic bombs, with the ACT not far behind on 38 per cent.

Not understanding nuclear energy isn't, in itself a problem. More than likely 90 per cent of Australians probably don't understand the basic principles behind microwave ovens or global positioning satellite systems. But it becomes a problem when false beliefs drive a palpable fear which influences national policy and scuttles an effective response to climate change.

If you think that nuclear electricity plants can explode like atom bombs, then it's not unreasonable to think that numerous plants means occasional atomic explosions and that this might even be a bigger risk than climate change and this is exactly what the Virulent Ideas poll found. One false belief can ripple like a domino of ignorance though a group.

You could have Fukushima style meltdowns on an annual basis and still not come remotely close to matching the devastation of a single climate induced food shortage or cyclone. Cyclone Nargis killed 140,000 people in 2008 and the Pakistan floods of 2010 displaced 20 million. These are the scale of event that should be driving our climate policy, not tiny ripples in the pond.

If you are interested in the full poll results please contact Ben Irvine at Virulent Ideas

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More safe / less catastrophic ? An article claiming to be informative, that doesn't mention Chernobyl or the waste issue? An article that holds France up as a shining light when France intentionally polluted the Pacific ocean, our backyard, with it's nuclear testing. Cherry picking data isn't ignorance, it is outright deception. What about including the NUCLEAR WASTE ISSUE in your next enlightening article for all the ignoramuses Geoff ? That is a genuine ripple effect for you to investigate. Write about it as if you were apologising to your great, great , great,.... grandkids who will inherit this poisonous legacy long after the uranium fuel has been consumed. They will be the ones who will have to maintain the leaking waste storage facilities buried in and on the earths ever moving ( definitely not flat ) crust many generations from now. Keep in mind that your contribution will be retrievable on some form of data storage system in the future so the future Russell generations can decide if you were an ancestor they would care to be associated with.

With modern reactors, "waste" can be recycled/reprocessed so that it only needs to be stored for ~300 years (after which time it is less radioactive than natural uranium). http://www.monbiot.com/2012/02/02/nuclear-vs-nuclear-vs-nuclear/ . The waste products are solid (vitrified glass or synroc) and buried hundreds of metres beneath the ground in stable rock formations with very slow groundwater flow rates. The idea that it will "leak" and endanger anybody doesn't really hold up.

Oh.. and Sellafield ..thanks Ziggy ..sorry Tom.. How are those Paladin shares going ?

Hi Geoff - interesting but why is it that the proponents of nuclear power ignore the waste issue? As I understand it there is no truly safe waste burial site on our whole planet - and that's after 60 years of producing the stuff. Finland is working on one. It makes France's 80 grams of Co2 per KWh look like a fudged figure - it doesn't include decommissioning of power plants and storage of waste for the next 10,000 years or so

The problem with the nuclear power industry is that it's business model is to make a profit while shifting all the risk and problems onto the taxpayer.The harsh reality is that nuclear power stations are uneconomic, if you include all of the costs, and price in a risk liability. If someone can -
1: Find and purchase a site and compensate all of the property owners within the risk zone,
2: Afford to build the plant with it's horrific cost overuns which are endemic to the nuclear industry,
3.Find a public liability insurer willing to insure against a meltdown,(around 200 billion),
4.Place a cash deposit with the government to cover the total decommissioning cost,
5.Locate and pay for the permanent waste storage facility,
6.Make a profit after all this!!.
Not the sort of investment I'd be interested in.
Oh, and about the exclusion in every household insurance policy for radioactivity............

Bill lastName,

Your economics argument raises some issues that are at the very least relevant. The large upfront capital is a genuine barrier. However:
1. Seriously? No one compensates everyone merely for being there. If so we would certainly not have coal that pollutes as a matter of normal operation
2. You are letting the tail wag the dog. There are some good examples of what you are saying, then dozens that are the opposite. There are 400+ reactors and about 60 under construction now with many more in planning
3. They are privately insured in the US and Europe. If you want to find an insurer, try Google
4. No, they pay a loading per MWh sold, a couple of buck per MWh. The Government holds it, then taxes them on it at a reduced rate. That reduced rate is called by some "A subsidy for nuclear power!!!" . Err...no.
5. It's typically stored on or close to site for the life of the plant, 60 years http://decarbonisesa.com/2012/07/22/waste-expectations/
6. They are profitable. Reliable electricity provision at reliable prices with minimal marginal cost and no greenhouse gas emissions

Perhaps you would invest if you understood it a little better? It's great when people ask questions about nuclear. It's destructive when ignorance is paraded as knowledge

Chris Wild, your understanding is wrong. Nuclear waste is not a big issue in any technical sense. The volumes of waste produced are minuscule on industrial scales, you could put the entire world's complement in as backfill at Olympic Dam (stable crust for the last 1500 million years, will remain so), and the operation would barely notice. The only obstacles are political (for which read, 'driven by ignorant fear').

But in any case, there are far better things to do with nuclear waste, like use it to supply civilisation with energy for the next several centuries: http://bravenewclimate.com/2008/12/13/integral-fast-reactor-ifr-nuclear-...

The volumes of CFCs, Freons,Halons, 245 T and Zyklon B were all miniscule on an industrial scale. Researched the eastward migration of Radon gas ? No future Duffets in the pipeline or not likely to be residents of Australia, east of Roxby Downs, or consumers of produce from the Murray basin.. no problem..barely noticeable.. no kids.. no problem..no big issue .. Nuclear waste doesn't appear to be treated as a valuable energy resource .. when will we see it it traded like hydrocarbons ?

Technical sense? Technical is not how the real world works. You still have to find a place to store it and the Fins or the Swedes may have the practical means but the rest of the planet seems to be incapable. Does the US have a site yet after decades of bickering?

Thanks Geoff. It is such a concern that people will eschew an outstandingly effective, zero-carbon, fossil fuel alternative like nuclear power based on hearsay and misinformation.

Regarding radiation and Chernobyl. A couple of years ago I was surprised to discover that the people of Belarus (an area directly impacted by the Chernobyl accident) had a lower cancer rate (~40%) than we in Australia do (we're @ 50%)! I went on to discover that according to UNSCEAR - the UN body of scientists who have been collating and reporting on the effects of Chernobyl for the last 20 years - among the 100 million potentially effected inhabitants, 6000 developed thyroid cancer, of these cancers a "substantial fraction" are attributable to Chernobyl. 15 of these cancer cases were fatal. That's a rise in cancer of less than 0.006%.

You know what? I've stopped worrying about Chernobyl...

Why ignore waste? Two reasons: 1) Climate change is a MUCH bigger concern. Frankly, to put waste storage above climate change is akin to climate denial. 2)Because the waste issue has been solved. We can recycle the waste through Gen IV reactors - and simultaneously replace coal, gas and oil.

Climate change is a MUCH bigger problem to you, fine. Now jump on a plane and move your family into one of those abandoned houses in the Chernobyl or Fukushima exclusion zones and type your reply from there and see if you start worrying again. Have a big fat lettuce out of the back garden or some milk from that cow that is munching on some nice Chernobyl / Fukushima paddocks. Enjoy !

Phillip Kyle said: "Climate change is a MUCH bigger problem to you, fine. Now jump on a plane and move your family into one of those abandoned houses in the Chernobyl or Fukushima exclusion zones"

I live in Central Victoria. At the end of the last record breaking drought, on our, then, hottest record breaking day of our, then, record breaking heatwave, we watched in horror as the sky around us turned an apocalyptic shade of orange, brown. Winds were high and furnace hot. We could all smell the smoke but we had no idea where it was coming from. Black Saturday was upon us.

Mercifully, no-one I knew personally suffered any direct loss - but some came wickedly close - and as we soon learnt, too many other people around us were not so lucky. It was a day of death and destruction. For many it has been followed by long-term dislocation, trauma and grief.

But it didn't end there. 18mths later our community, along with many others in Eastern Australia, experienced a so called "1 in 100 hundred year" flood. More loss. A year or so later we experienced another flood of similar size and then another. 3 in 3 years. Disaster after disaster.

Now we are back to record breaking heatwaves, wave after wave of them and barely a drop of rain in 4 months.

Black Saturday, inland tsunamis, loss, death and anxiety. This is what climate change looks like. And every year it's going to get a little bit worse.

Where do I move to escape the death and dislocation of a climate related disaster? Sinking Islands, melting glaciers, devastating, record breaking droughts, fires, storm surges, floods all on the increase, all across the globe.

Please, don't beat up a 0.something % additional risk of cancer over a persons lifetime into something equivalent to being burnt to death in a fire storm. Please don't support the fear mongers who are making it so difficult for people to return to their Fukushima communities when their houses are still standing (It is not radiation that is stopping most of them, it is excessive fear and the related stigma). Please don't pretend that the tiny possibility of a non-deadly accident is a reason not to deploy a technology that could help prevent worsening climate change and all the associated global disasters that will follow.

Just remember Phillip, you don't have to move to experience a climate related disaster, just stick where you are and keep obstructing our best zero-carbon technology... It'll come.

Marion Marion said " the tiny possibility of a non - deadly accident is a reason not to deploy a technology".

Frustrating when your words are taken out of context isn't it ?

Reading all your reply and putting it into context.

I believe the issues need to considered separately.

I totally agree with you that the climate appears to be changing. Increased ferocity of our weather warrants research to provide conclusive proof strong enough to convince the majority of Aussie voters that their habits are to blame.

My own research on the present "attitude" to anthropogenic climate change, leads me to believe that most voting Australians are not convinced that their own CO2 output is to blame and they will continue to burn hydrocarbons at the current rate while it remains at the current price. The election this year will reveal Aussie priorities.

I believe that adopting current nuclear power technology overseen by the independent watchdogs we have available presents a significant risk to my children's future.

The attempt by vested interests to push the building of nuclear power plants by frightening Aussies with climate change catastrophes, spinning Fukushima and diluting the data on health effects is deceptive.

The solution to pollution is dilution in the industrial world.

If a safe nuclear technology is being developed, I vote to wait for it to be proven on it's own merits.

This latest flare up seems to over interpretation of cancer studies. What level of cancer increase are you happy to accept ? Are you happy to have the nuclear power plant built next door ? Are you concerned about the contaminated site when the plant is decommissioned ? Do you have kids ? Do you care about contaminating their environment and future, so that you can maintain your present lifestyle ? If a scientist told you that the Earth would continue to warm even if we adopted nuclear power would you still push for it ?

The cancer data that convinces you of the insignificance of the risk is referenced to which baseline ?

Pre Hahn / Straussman or mid Cold War nuclear deterrent testing ?


How do they accurately determine which cancer was a result of radiation exposure ?

Phillip Kyle,I was never in favour of Gonkski, however I now understand
Why we need it same.

Oh dear ," why we need same".I need Gonski as well.

Phillip Kyle. If you are worried about cancer risks move to France, Switzerland, or better still, Belarus. Your children will have less chance of developing cancer there than if you had let them grow-up in Australia.

See the table in the link below.

Australia: 314 cancer cases per 100,000 people.
France : 300 per 100,000
Switzerland : 269 per 100,000

Belarus : 213 per 100,000.


Hmm 30km exclusion zones around Chernobyl and Fukushima, ignoring the cost of this are we? The lost homes and lost business, agriculture, forestry production, are obviously of no consequence? Then the ongoing cost of keeping Chernobyl safe with new sarcophagus to be completed by 2016 is of course no consequence either. Cost of over a billion US $. What will be the ongoing costs of Fukushima, nobody knows, but sure to be in the billions? These costs will last for generations. The cost of the lost power in the short term would have cost business plenty. Some of the commentary here says there is safe means of disposing nuclear waste and there possibly is. However this industry does have a history of storage and disposal issues. In the sixties and seventies, the British nuclear industry dumped radioactive material into the North Sea. There was a recent case in Italy, where a firm supposedly owned by the Mafia, took a load of waste and was supposedly shipping to some storage or waste site, and the ship (tub). It’s claimed this was deliberate, to avoid the costs of storage and reprocessing.
Decommissioning is another story as well. In the good old US of A, nuclear plant owners avoid decommissioning as it costs into the billions. So we the have land the plant sits on and its surrounding buffer zone sitting idle, another economic cost. Then of course they are security risks, in that they are natural terrorist targets. Large point sources of power, nuclear coal etc, present us with the problem, when they go out, its lights out.

Hi Phillip. Is the so-called nuclear waste issue bigger than a single climate related event exacerbated by climate change? No. Not even close. And it's a total irrelevancy compared to the impacts of 4 degrees on the future of the planet. In any event, the nuclear industry has known for decades the best use for "waste" ... fuel. Hitachi has plans to build a "fast" reactor in the UK. These can run on nuclear waste, reducing the need for mining and also getting rid of weapons grade material from decommissioned weapons all in one hit. The Russians may be selling these fast reactors by 2019 with the US, China and South Korea not far behind.

I envy your optimism, that the nuclear waste problem will ultimately be removed, by being used as a " clean " fuel , but personally believe we should not be using nuclear energy, until this technology is proven, perfected and tested, not merely mooted by vested interests. I believe Chevron would be buying up all nuclear waste, if this were even a remote possibility. Nuclear energy is a long way from being clean and environmentally friendly, at this point in time, as the residents of Honshu and those who experienced the radiation cloud in Europe in 1986 will testify. Either way, all nuclear "fuel" will ultimately be consumed in the short term, in human species terms.
Any negative short term consequences of nuclear energy, are clearly less significant in comparison to the predicted short term negative effects of climate change, in your estimation. The vast majority of humans will poison themselves long term, by unsustainable growth and pollution, like bacteria in a petri dish, in my estimation, no matter what mined energy source we use to power our lifestyles. I sincerely hope that your vision of a clean energy future will be the one realised and a smarter human race will use it to sustain themselves while they develop an energy budget that is sustainable.
Your belief that climate change can somehow be reduced in the short term by turning nuclear energy into readily distributable and consumable energy may be feasible, despite its pitfalls, but your belief in climate change is clearly not shared by the majority, including the next Australian Prime Minister and most Australians voters , be they, climate change deniers, employees or beneficiaries of the hydrocarbon industry, conservative voters or nuclear energy sceptics. Climate change does not exist in the minds of the majority who reside on a flat or spherical Earth. If and when climate change is accepted by the majority, sustainable energy in some form will hopefully be available.
Your vision of a clean, safe, non weapons producing nuclear future as a solution to climate change is wonderful, but nuclear fission was secretly developed as an overwhelming source of power to win wars by super powers by scaring the enemy with its ferocity, not as a clean friendly energy source. August 6th, stands as testimony alongside 9/11 as an example of what humans dream to do with powers discovered by physicists.
The remaining future humans will ultimately need to balance their energy budget like any other organism on the planet.
Energy in ..equals.. energy out , like any other budget.

The debate around waste is frustrating. Yes there is waste. Yes it is highly toxic. But reality is there is not much of it and with improving reactors will be less and less as efficiencies improve and we will get better and better at dealing with it. The simple fact over looked by the "what about the waste" crew is the alternative. Coal generates enormous amounts of waste with massive ash dams at all power stations - and what is CO2 if not a waste with damaging consequences. And guess what - we don't know what to do with that even more than nuclear waste.

If you have children, Craig, ask them to explain the "carbon" cycle to you. You are actually made of a lot of carbon, in fact, but very little plutonium 239, unless you came from a Marvel comic, of course. Kids learn it at school in science. CO2 is a natural part of the planets operation. The amount of CO2 apparently changes the temperature of the atmosphere through effects like the "green house " effect. If we can balance the release of CO2 with the take up as in the form of "trees"and other forms of sequestration, we can balance the books. It isn't rocket science , but nuclear physics actually is. If you are happy to store the waste at your place, as there is not much of it you reckon, it may fit in your garden shed, I promise to stop mentioning nuclear waste and frustrating the debate.

Thanks to those making a positive contribution in favour of nuclear power and debunking the myths that surround it..........exposing the untruths that anti-nukes repeat endlessly.

There are two types of "deniers" in the Climate Change debate: Climate Change Deniers and Nuclear Deniers. Both have an entrenched and prejudiced position to defend: both refuse to listen to reasoned arguments. Neither can be persuaded by expert opinion nor facts as their philosophical starting point will not permit them to acknowledge the facts nor to acknowledge the large body of informed opinion that exists.

Actually, acceptance of the arguments in favour of nuclear power is an easier intellectual task as it involves collating verifiable technical data and statistics: climate change arguments are less certain as they involve acceptance of computer generated predictions as to the future and extrapolation of observations. Nuclear science is "settled": climate science is not as the data are not all in.

I am somewhat persuaded that there is sufficient strength in the climate change argument to give the planet the benefit of the doubt, and am totally persuaded that nuclear power is a large part of the solution.

The exquisite irony is that your Climate Change Believer is also in many cases your Nuclear Denier who refuses to see the hypocrisy of his/her position.

There may be a number of reasons associated with cost and relative size of nuclear power stations that make them unsuitable or uneconomic for Australian use at this point in time, but there are no technical issues with either the equipment nor waste disposal that would render nuclear power unsuitable. Indeed the next generation of nuclear plants greatly improve their suitability for Australian use.

There are of course deeply embedded political issues and rabid opinions and nuclear deniers. Maybe we should prevent them having or expressing an opinion?

"Maybe we should prevent them having or expressing an opinion ?" I think you may have been exposed to too much Plutonium, Kim . Are you still running North Korea ?

What is most frustrating about this conversation is not so much about Nuclear, it is that ignorance of the alternatives within Nuclear technology options. The traditional (ie uranium based) Nuclear cycle is unstable, and there are numerous redundant systems required, just to keep it from going "Fukushima" or "Chernobyl" or "3 Mile Island"; yet the accidents still happen, people are dislocated, some are ill, some die.

From the tenor of article above, all of these things are acceptable if you get energy out. (Just like some Government found it acceptable to flood the Franklin River, for an energy demand that wasn't there! However I digress)

What if you had a nuclear technology that was the reverse? That you actually had to 'provoke' to keep going, that was "walk away safe". Consider Thorium. Thorium offers these benefits, but was dropped from further development during the Nixon administration.
Why is it not considered? Well there are the existing vested interests; Governments that wanted the by products for armaments, there are miners of Uranium. (Thorium is basically abundant, and not many will get rich extracting it). And then there are the dumb public, bureaucrats, and politicians, together with lazy journalists that don't know any better, that hear Nuclear and immediately close their ears. If are interested in learning a bit more, http://www.theage.com.au/tv/Technology/show/Motherboard/The-Thorium-Drea...

That a reactor can't undergo a warhead type explosion is entirely irrelevant when Chernobyl and Fukushima have clearly shown that steam and or hydrogen explosions are quite sufficient to cause very significant release and spread of radiation. The Australian public is not interested in spending time understanding all of the different ways that nuclear reactors can blow up, they want clean energy that is safe and affordable. Nuclear is neither of these.

The warhead argument was an intellectual threat Paul. Any vested interest immediately attacks detractors of any lucrative technology as luddites. They try to scare away opinion that isn't complementary, with the argument that Aussies have no right to an opinion on the roll out of a new technology unless they have completed a degree in the actual technology proposed. You don't need to understand telecommunication engineering to know you don't want a mobile telephone tower in your back yard. This patronising technique is UN Australian and immediately shows the vested interest for what it is, a front for a spin think tank funded by a multinational. The legal and medical/pharmaceutical associations have used this technique successfully for many years. The big difference between the " sides" is availability of funds for lobbying politicians and legal counsel to scare concerned citizens away from asking questions. This attempt is particularly condescending. Role out the luddite threat, spin Fukushima as a success ?, release the climate change ogre, claim all drawbacks have been designed out and that completely safe and clean technology is readily available , completely ignore any other industry failures or tax payer funded subsidies or special legislation needed to make the industry viable and claim a victory for common sense. The fact that the emergency method used to ultimately cool the equipment down at Fukushima is conveniently overlooked shows the contempt of these people. No mention is made of the sea water contaminated and released into the ocean and the subsequent contamination of the marine food chain of the very ocean that Australians use as a food source. The contamination will be conveniently masked by the background radiation from Pacific weapons testing. Having witnessed major steam and hydrogen incidents , I would certainly not like the to be the one attempting an emergency shut down or repair with the added risk of radiation exposure. These people have no idea of the training and expertise and emergency service backup involved to operate and maintain these plants safely. The expertise for operating our present energy facilities has been decimated. Apprenticeships for the skills required are rare and those that find one are paid little and respected less. Finding an impartial body to oversee the compliance of this industry for the benefit of Australians would be impossible without a complete change of attitude to the dangers involved.

I was,correct,we really need Gonski.The failure regarding real debate is truly shown Mr Kyle,truly,truly amazing dear.

Paul, please tell me which is the bigger risk: The occasional Fukushima with impacts "below detectable levels", or 4 degrees of warming and fairly regular global crop failures with deaths and lifelong childhood stunting and disease for millions? Is ideological purity so important that you are willing to risk the latter on technologies which even the richest economy in Europe hasn't made work? ... France 80-gm-co2/kwh for the last 2 decades, Germany 468 gm-CO2/kwh and still rolling out coal power stations.

Having lived in Germany during the Chernobyl disaster I can tell you it's not a trivial issue when a nuclear power plant blows up as the author and some commentators here like to make out.

You see during the Chernobyl crisis a strong Easterly wind blowing the radiative fall over Central Europe. The result was sand in playgrounds around Germany registering 100x the normal dose of radiation. They subsequently they took out 20 cms of top layer of every single sand pit and transported it to a nuclear waste site.. Add to that that out doors grown mushroom in that year were no longer deemed save for human consumption. Oh and the several hundred tons of contaminated milk powder had to be disposed of as well.

Of the workers that did mot of the clean up work in the first few days I believe on a couple are still alive. People that lived in Chernobyl have abnormally high rates of cancer. A lot of the children of parent that were exposed to radiation have a deformities and other developmental defects.

The long term affects on people's health around Europe aren't really monitored but some experts suspect a direct link between cancer rates in some communities and exposure to radiation following the days after the first explosion.

It was the heroic efforts of some that prevented a total meltdown of the plant in Chernobyl. These people ultimately aid for their heroising with their lives. The direct area around Chernobyl these days is an exclusion zone due to the high levels of radiation.

Yes, those plants don't blow up on a regular basis but when they do it has an impact on tens of thousands of humans beings. And consider this. Germany has had it's fair share of near misses in the past 30 years. This is a country that's considered to be world leading when it comes to nuclear technology. Now imagine a country like Australia that has zero experience with running a 10mega watt reactor getting into the game. Our tech industry can't even run a bunch of chemical plants without a major incident or leak every other month. How would that industry fair running a nuclear power plant?

Can you imagine an Australian Government department being able to offer a salary great enough to attract an auditor with the sufficient expertise and impartiality to monitor the operators adherence to the applicable regulatory codes and procedures that would apply to such a major hazard facility ? The stories of the men at Fukushima who were ordered into the Dai ichi by their contractor supervisors against operating procedures are very interesting . I would be very surprised if any of the proponents of "nuclear " power in Australia have worked in any power plant, on a night shift and experienced an emergency shutdown, when the "experts" are tucked up in bed, and conveniently can't be reached, when the "plutonium" hits the fan. The Australian government won't even assist in the training of enough technicians to run a conventionally heated power station. We would need another 1000 or so, 457 visa workers with untraceable qualifications to run the plants. They could then conveniently disappear when the plant melted down.

Wow... I take comfort from understanding just how many people will have read this piece and taken away the great messages without leaving comment.

Phillip Kyle...You are clearly terrified of something you do not understand. Would you please consider learning about spent nuclear fuel and radiation before trying so hard to infect others with your fear? We have a real problem in climate change, and while you chase every issue down a rabbit hole to a terrifying possible conclusion, there is an actual crisis unfolding.

To those referring to Chernobyl over, and over again... when buying a new 2013 Volvo, is it common to find people peppering the dealer with questions about 1985 Yugos driven by drunks? Quite apart from the impacts of the accident being broadly misunderstood (sure, I would live there. I would love to see all the wildlife that has returned), it has simply zero bearing on energy decision making today. While some of us keep worrying about "the plutonium hitting the fan", a new study tells us a mere 80K - 115K premature deaths in India are caused by coal every single year.http://india.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/03/22/indias-coal-power-plants-kill-...

Please, for the sake of tackling climate change: take a breath, do some learning, and measure your monsters properly.

I am happy to accept that your monster appears closer, bigger and more frightening to you Ben than my monster. I am just not happy to release my monster on to Australian soil to try to chase your multinational monster away, until mine proves it is able to clean up after itself and isn't able to bite anyone. I believe I have no choice but to end my days on a warming planet. Homo Sapiens just love to burn stuff, it is in their blood and unstoppable. Prometheus be dammed ! I would like to give my children the choice whether they want to continue the ways of the baby boomers.
I would like to see you follow up on your claim to move to Chernobyl. Drop me a line when you are permanently ensconced. 2013 Volvo's still run people down whether being driven by a drunk driver or not and regardless of any government legislation enacted to modify driver behaviour. The Yugo may not have the bells and whistles but still uses the same basic technology.
I do follow energy technology avidly, work daily with the control systems designed to keep the genie in the bottle and have watched with interest the development of all the emerging technologies and there pros and cons. I sincerely hope Geoff's vision of clean energy is realised.
I have been exposed to all manner of hazards, 24 hours a day, keeping the lights on for my fellow Aussies over the last 30 years. I will most probably die of a disease caused by exposure to these hazards that short term thinkers decided was an acceptable risk for me to take to keep major hazard facilities operating for the good of the country. I have rarely seen the decision makers and talkers out on the plant where the risks that they like to talk about in their offices, actually exist. I understand human nature and know that late at night procedures are sometimes forgotten. I have witnessed individuals taking short cuts. I have watched bean counters take the axe to sound engineering practices to save money. I have watched government regulators turn a blind eye to multinational indiscretions. The fact that a better technology or new regulation exists that will reduce harm, in no way guarantees it's introduction. The dollar always rules at the end of the day.
If you seriously want to reduce human CO2 emissions, jack the price of hydrocarbon fuel up until humans will only burn it when absolutely necessary. Only then will new technologies receive the development funding they require.

For those acutely concerned about waste, please check the images at this post. They include a site of dry fuel storage for the entire quantity of spent fuel from 30 years of operations of a medium sized nuclear plant. It's tiny. You can click the aerial shot to use Google Earth to see the (incredibly minor) impact of the site in the landscape. http://decarbonisesa.com/2012/07/22/waste-expectations/

Thanks Ben, looks safe enough for now. So that is the where the spent fuel is stored, for now. Any other radioactive waste we may need to worry about , when a nuclear power plant is decommissioned and the site remediated ? Where will we store that ? Do you receive any income from the nuclear energy industry ? Would one have any chance of advancing their nuclear ambitions at this time, if they didn't have a convenient CO2 monster to try to scare Aussies with ? The clean and safe technology should sell itself without relying on a climate change spectre. Why not wait until this clean technology is proven clean and safe before trying to sell it to Aussies ? John Howards report suggested waiting ,didn't it ?

I very rarely post on this site, as many of the discussion's are unwinnable as it comes down to personal beliefs. However if "Phillip Kyle" truly believes that the future risk to his kids from a potential nuclear incident are of enough concern not to use nuclear power, then surely he must also ban his kids from getting into any cars, as statically there is many fold greater chance of dying or suffering permanent injury in a car than from a nuclear incident.

If this is a serious discussion of risk versus reward, then I would hate to be Phillips offspring, as it would be too risky to get out of bed let alone leave the house.

Thomas: The most infuriating thing about the claims about Chernobyl's long term impact is that people don't bother to do basic checking. Are the horror stories plausible? Consider. Helen Caldicott, a week after the tsunami killed 19,000 people gave a press conference. Not even a moment's silence for the dead, she launches straight into claims that it's "orders of magnitude" worse than Chernobyl which poisoned Europe "Turkish food is radioactive, do not buy Turkish dried apricots..." etc. Have a look at globocan.iarc.fr ... cancer stats on all countries. What is the age standardised rate of cancer in Turkey? About half that of Australia. The anti-nuclear movement keeps saying things which are demonstrably false. Why don't people bother to check? ... embarrassingly, I spent most of my life being anti-nuclear and not bothering to check. Once I started checking, I realised I'd been conned. Had it not been for concern about climate change, I'd still be ignorant, because I'd not have taken the time to check. Of course if you use anti-nuclear sites as sources to check stuff, then it doesn't work. They just recycle the same fictions endlessly and invoke conspiracy theories to explain how all of the world's cancer registries, maintained by thousands of doctors working independently are all just puppets of a grand nuclear conspiracy. We can't afford anti-nuclear conspiracy theories and laziness. This isn't a game, this isn't religion, or fashion, truth matters.

I've nothing against nuclear power in principle, but answer me this:
- How long does a nuclear power plant take to plan, design, and build? (From "Hey, I think we should build a plant" to "Hooray, we're selling electricity!")
- What's the current LCOE of new nuclear? (Private, not public builds.)
- What's the current typical use of nuclear waste in France, Japan, USA, Switzerland, Sweden, and the other countries quoted?

Finally, compare the answers to those questions to similar answers for renewable energy and tell me: is nuclear not just a good option, but the /best/ option for non-emitting power?

Re: questions about the cost of nuclear power...

One thing that gets lost in the discussion of costs is that nuclear power plants can easily last 100 years. Some of them will not, but most of them can. Wind installations will be lucky to last 20 years and solar panels lose their ability to efficiently convert light to electricity over time and are near worthless after 30 years or less.

So, while all three forms of generation are expensive to install (for similar generating capacities) and all three have low operating costs, in the case of wind and solar, you'll be buying a whole new installation in 20 - 30 years. With nuclear, you pay off the initial costs, and after 30 years the electricity is ridiculously cheap.

This is easily shown by looking at the real costs of electricity from nuclear reactors in the USA which have been operating for 30 years of more. For example, the STNP in south Texas has a generation cost close to $.02/KWHr.

Additionally, the LCOE numbers quoted for wind and solar **never** include transmission costs, nor the cost of backup supply for when the wind isn't blowing or the sun isn't shining. Those costs triple the cost of wind from its LCOE numbers.

The argument, "The wind is always blowing somewhere" just means that one must have enough electrical transmission capacity (high voltage wires at $2.5 million/mile) to carry all of your electricity needs from every single one of your wind generation sites. In other words, about five times as much transmission capacity, as if you just had a single reliable power plant.

Nuclear reactors can be built as fast as you'll allow them down to about 2 - 4 years. Back in the 60s reactors were built in less than 5 years from concept through approval to generating electricity. Those plants are still operating today, safely, fifty years later.

Contrariwise, you can make nuclear construction as slow as you like, by erecting regulatory barriers designed to slow the process rather than designed to let society provide clean, plentiful electricity in a timely manner.

When you factor in transmission costs, and backup capacity, nuclear is one third the cost of wind. It is one fifth the cost of solar. Furthermore, all proposals for wind and solar involve the energy company reaching into **your** home and controlling demand by adjusting your thermostat or turning your appliances on and off for **their** convenience. With nuclear, you keep the energy company's hands off of your appliances.

If you factor in the total lifetime costs, nuclear is six to thirty times cheaper than wind and solar because building a nuclear reactor is like building the Panama Canal or Boulder Dam. It lasts for four generations and keeps on giving. Wind and solar are like putting up a billboard.

Martin, there isn't one answer to your question. The United Arab Emirates are building 4x1.4 GW nuclear plants. They, like Australia, had no nuclear expertise when they decided to do this in 2009, so they spent a couple of years building the regulatory infrastructure and legal framework and the South Koreans (Samsung, Hyundai) started the physical build last year. The first plant will be producing electricity in 2017, then 2018,19,20. In then end, these 4 plants will produce more energy than the Germans, with a population 10 times the size built from wind+solar between 2000 and 2010.

You can find some relevant LCOE figures and references here: http://www.zerocarbonoptions.com/

Waste? It's incredibly annoying how much time is wasted discussing something which is insignificant as a risk compared to everything from falling off ladders to eating sausages and just about anything in between. And to use it as an excuse for risking climate change by avoiding nuclear power is bizarre.

Thorium is available all over the world and we have Thorium for at least 1000 years production of electricity. In 1950'ies- they had 2 nuclear lines in the US. One based one Thorium and one based one Uranium, they chose Uranium because it could be used for weapon production as well. Thorium can't be used for bombs !! Uranium is very inefficient in a reactor as it only burn up a few % in the reactor, but thorium burn up to about 98 % which means there is very little waste from Thorium. Thorium is used as a "liquid reactor".
Thorium Energy produces no CO2-emmision.
Robert Hargraves (Dartmouth College, US) has calculated the price on Electricity:
Solar 23,5 cents pr. kWh
Wind 18,4 cents pr. kWh
Biomass 9,7 cents pr. kWh
Coal 5,6 cents pr. kWh
Natural gas 4,8 cents pr. kWh
Thorium 3 cents pr. kWh (Nuclear based on Thorium and NOT Uranium ).

Search on LFTR-reactor and MSR-reactor too.

We have a bright future if we select the right Energy source !!!!!!!!!

Geoff Russell is a deceiver and and is totally ignorant of the nuclear disasters and the damage caused by this very scary and dangerous technology. All that any one has to do is to go on the web and type in nuclear disasters to learn the truth. The next thing to do is to ignore this dangerous man that tries to spread lies about atomic power.It is not safe,it is expensive. it produces cancers,mutations and will damage as yet unborn children for many generations to come.