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Cheers - AE

Wednesday, 20 October 2010


Australia in general and Victoria in particular are chronic sufferers of nuclearphobia, the irrational fear of a form of power generation that elsewhere in the world is used quite safely to supply nearly four fifths of their electricity, and even though there is shortly to be a state election this isn't likely to change. It can be taken as read that the Greens are nuclearphobes but I'm disappointed to see both the main parties ruling it out as well.
VICTORIA will remain a nuclear-free state, regardless of who wins next month's state election. Nuclear power is not needed in Victoria because it is expensive, dangerous and obsolete given the state's abundance of energy options, say Premier John Brumby and Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu.

A Committee for Melbourne study reported in The Age yesterday called for nuclear power stations to cope with growing electricity demand and to reduce carbon emissions.
Great, just fucking great. And what the fuck do you propose to use to keep the fucking lights on, John? It's not going to be bloody unicorn tears and fairy wishes, is it?

Close, very close.
He said his government was focused on renewable energy.
And I'm sure that Big Eco, having many of its renewable fingers in various taxpayer funded subsidy pies, is just fucking tumescent to hear it. As, of course, are the coal mining and oil and gas drilling mobs, because they know what John Brumby isn't saying, which is that for the majority of the time when renewables aren't supplying you have to produce power by conventional means, i.e. burning coal, oil and gas. Worse, when your renewables are something as intermittent and unreliable as wind you need to keep the conventional generators spinning even though they're not producing electricity just so they can take over at a moment's notice. How do you think they're kept spinning? Yep, by burning coal, oil or gas.

Now for parties that believe the warble gloaming weather gods are angry with us, as both Liberals and Labor seem to, the solution to all this carbon emitting-ness would appear to be a simple one: go nuclear. Even if you are, like me, a sceptic nuclear is a good option but if you're a warmist, or at least a warmist willing to retain modern living standards, it ought to be at least part of the answer to your prayers. And as The Age said they're not the only ones who believe both in the carbon dioxide problem and the nuclear solution:
SERIOUS consideration should be given to building nuclear power stations in Victoria within decades to cope with growing demand for electricity and the need to slash carbon emissions, a report by a business think tank says.


Committee for Melbourne chief executive Andrew MacLeod said if Melbourne was to cope with the serious infrastructure problems it faced over coming decades, there needed to be a ‘‘serious examination’’ of options such as nuclear power.

‘‘We need to take the emotion out of this [nuclear power] debate and put the logic back in,’’ he said. ‘‘Right now we rule out nuclear, don’t even talk about it. We need to have a serious discussion.’’
I'm going to leave out discussing some of their other ideas (such as road charging) for another day, but when you boil it down I'm absolutely with them on nuclear power: we need to strip out the emotion and have an adult discussion.

Unfortunately we haven't got adults leading the discussion. We've got fucking politicians.
But Mr Brumby said yesterday: ''Nuclear power is expensive, there are some risks with it and we have had a long-standing policy in Victoria about a nuclear-free state.''
Oh, Jesus. I hardly know where to start.

Yes, it is expensive but the same applies to renewables, much less all the untested and immature technology that is being touted as the fix to make the angry weather gods calm down. And Christ, any big infrastructure project is expensive. You buggers have committed Victorians to a large and incidentally energy hungry desalination plant in Wonthaggi at a cost of $4 billion plus ongoing costs, but that expense was deemed less important than guaranteeing Melbourne's future water supply. Why isn't the same thinking applied to energy? You took a punt on desal at Wonthaggi despite the risk that the drought might break and fresh rains would begin refilling the dams and reservoirs, and of course sod's law that seems to be what's happened now we've all been committed to the bloody thing. But with energy it's not like you're going to get lots of electricity just drop out of the fucking sky over Melbourne.

Yeah, okay, but it's not exactly easy to recharge my phone with it.

Alright, what about these risks that the Great Leader Premier is so concerned about? Yes, nuclear energy is not 100% safe, but then not a lot is absolutely risk free and as this table shows when compared with other forms of power generation nuclear has actually got a bloody good record:

Now that table is from an industry website and might not be completely impartial (I admit I haven't checked the sources mentioned - I've got a bit too much on my plate right now) but even assuming they're off by a factor of ten it suggests that the nuclear power industry is no more dangerous than natural gas, which certainly isn't viewed as too dangerous for Victoria despite incidents like this:
The 1998 Esso Longford gas explosion was a catastrophic industrial accident which occurred at the Esso natural gas plant at Longford in the Australian state of Victoria's Gippsland region. On 25 September 1998, an explosion took place at the plant, killing two workers and injuring eight. Gas supplies to the state of Victoria were severely affected for two weeks.
No doubt Brumby and his fellow nuclearphobes are concerned about the potential for an incident such as Windscale or Chernobyl that causes casualties and deaths in the wider population. Fair enough, although Windscale wasn't a civil industry power reactor but made for weapons production, and that was also a feature of the Russian RBMK reactor design used at Chernobyl. Nuclearphobes should also note that both designs lacked a proper containment structure and are therefore not reactors that anyone with even a shaky grip on sanity would construct anywhere in the world today. Since any discussion of nuclear power in a currently non-nuclear state should only revolve around designs which you would construct we can surely ignore both. So what about the popular reactor designs, the Light Water Reactors? The worst accident involving an LWR, actually the pressurised water variety, is of course Three Mile Island, and while I'm sure that the only things relaxed during that event were a lot of sphincters the number of dead as a result of the accident has been estimated as less than one.* You probably wouldn't choose to copy exactly that design for a modern power reactor in Victoria either, but it's a fair point that like Chernobyl and Windscale people outside the plant itself were put at risk. And of course that never happens with natural gas, does it?
Medical student in horror gas explosion.
Ah. Yes, as per that table above, fatalities involved in natural gas use are about 85 per Terawatt-year and, unlike the 8 (8!) for nuclear include members of the general public.

So risk wise I'd call that honours even, if not a win for nuclear since the next generation reactor designs include passively safe and even inherently safe designs. Has natural gas moved on in the same way? We've been using it a lot longer and are pretty aware of the risks, and yet still people die. Possibly we've hit or are nearing the buffers for safety in gas at a time when nuclear, already being no less safe than gas if we're being very pessimistic about it, and probably actually better, is getting safer still. The only other risk is terrorism, and aside from the fact that the only terrorist attack on a reactor I've ever heard of was carried out not on the orders of some cave dwelling fucknuts but by a member of the fucking Green Party of Switzerland you could make a pretty convincing case for paranoia about almost any form of generation. We worry about terrorists getting their hands on nuclear material - although again, new designs may use nearly all their fuel and solve both that problem and the long term waste storage issue - but gas based bombs can and have been used by terrorists too. That's no more going to stop gas production than the fact that now and again there are accidents which kill and injure people. Hydro failures can be hugely destructive. Christ, the Yanks have been so worried about someone blowing themselves up on the Hoover Dam they haven't allowed trucks to cross it for ages and have just finished a snazzy new bridge to deal with the problem. Do we worry about building dams? Well, actually yes we do, but we're fucking adult about it and just do what we can to work out all the risks in advance and design to minimise or mitigate them. Plane crashing into the containment building? Just fucking test it, man!

So why is it that so many governments, including Victoria's, seem congenitally incapable of this sort of testing and risk management when it comes to anything involving the word "nuclear"? A rational look at the issues of costs and risks shows nothing that can't also apply to other forms of generation and even other large infrastructure projects, though I accept that rational looks at the nuclear option from a politician may be pretty rare events. But perhaps it's John Brumby's last justification for continuing to piss about with windmills while burning hydrocarbons and emitting the CO2 that we're supposed to fear so much. Remember what he said?
... we have had a long-standing policy in Victoria about a nuclear-free state.
The favourite excuse for avoiding progress. This is how we've always done it and we're not prepared to change. Remind me, John. How many years did mankind eat raw meat caught with sharpened sticks and bits of flint, and did anyone think the length of time we'd been doing it that way was a reason not to master fire and eventually invent supermarkets and ovens? Would you have had us still setting traps and cooking in fire pits? Would you even be advocating avoiding this new fangled, hot, orangey, wavey stuff that makes the meat go brown and taste different? Of course you bloody wouldn't. So why, aside from competing for part of the Green vote, do you continue this childish hysteria about nuclear power?

Still, why should you be worried when the tool you're up against in next month's election is actually saying the same thing? It's not like you're at risk of losing because of the Liberals' sensible energy policy.


* A similar claim has been made in the New England Journal of Medicine here. It's here, but only for subscribers. However, I got part of the relevant section with a Google search: "If we take a figure of 5000 person-rems per cancer, the accident at Three Mile Island caused less than one cancer.").
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