From STOP THESE THINGS
Without doubt, coal-fired power remains the cheapest and most reliable form of power generation, bar none. Which is why hundreds of new plants are being built across China, India, Indonesia and elsewhere in Asia. However, in Australia, and elsewhere in the deindustrialising West, coal-fired power has been declared public enemy number one by a cult that reckons they can change the weather, using thousands of wind turbines and millions of solar panels. Quite how, is anybody’s guess? But there it is.
The cult tells us that the tiny fraction of carbon dioxide gas generated by human activity (3%) causes all the things that ail us, be it droughts or floods, freezing or hot weather. The naturally occurring stuff (97%), not so much, apparently.
Let’s, for the moment, leave battles about human-generated carbon dioxide gas to one side and assume that the cult has won the day; viz – that power generation systems that generate carbon dioxide gas in the process have no place in what they call the “energy mix”.
It’s the premise that has overtaken energy policy in Australia, the US, parts of Europe and elsewhere where bellies are full and the elites run the show. The result being, that in those countries obsessed with the so-called wind and solar ‘transition’, the construction of new coal-fired power plants has stalled and perfectly functional plants are being destroyed with wanton glee by the cult in question.
Which brings us to safe, reliable and affordable nuclear power. If the anti-CO2 cult were true to their word, they would be banging on about nothing else, because it’s the only stand-alone generation source that does not generate carbon dioxide gas in the generation process.
The fact that end-is-nigh zealots take an entirely contrary position – trotting out risible arguments about the purported dangers and cost of nuclear – speaks volumes about their true objects.
As to the myth about cost, when Finland powered up its latest nuclear power plant in April wholesale power prices dropped 75%, almost overnight. The Olkiluoto 3 plant is fully operational, generating 1,600 MW of electricity on demand (irrespective of the weather), and delivering 15% of the country’s power needs. Nuclear now provides around half of the country’s total electricity generation. The result of adding Olkiluoto 3’s ever-reliable output to the Finnish grid was a decline in average spot electricity prices from €245.98 per MWh in December to €60.55 per MWh hour in April. So much for the wind and solar cult meme about nuclear power being ‘too expensive’.
The Swedes set out to ditch nuclear power and meet a 100% renewable energy target in the 1980s. Having finally worked out that such a move was totally unworkable, Sweden has decided to follow neighbouring Finland, with its own move towards safe, reliable and affordable nuclear power.
Follow the money and you’ll note that the loudest advocates for the grand wind and solar ‘transition’ are those with their snouts in the wind and solar subsidy trough. Politicos and NGOs alike are brazen in their attempts to smear the benefits of nuclear power, merrily ignoring the fact that their proposed ‘solution’ has no hope of ever succeeding – by reason of iron laws of economics, physics and good old meteorology.
Nuclear power doesn’t depend on the weather, it doesn’t require batteries and it doesn’t require backup, and it doesn’t depend upon the whims of despots and cartels that control the rare earths and minerals essential for the construction of wind turbines and solar panels. Uranium, the highly-concentrated energy source at its heart, is abundant and readily extracted. All it takes is the wit and the will to do so.
Australia holds the world’s largest uranium reserves and, despite its shifting policy of limiting the number of mines and states that have banned them, is the world’s third-largest uranium exporter. Happy to export it, but too dim to use it ourselves, thanks to a 25-year-old ban on the use of nuclear power.
Now, however, as the effect of Australia’s utterly idiotic energy policy starts to bite, the (notionally conservative) Liberal/National Coalition (in opposition to the Federal Green/Labor government) has finally mustered up the courage to present a case for nuclear power. Albeit 20 years too late.
Last week, Ted O’Brien, the Coalition’s Energy spokesman kicked off with the demand to get rid of the legislative ban on nuclear power plants as he (finally) began promoting an energy source that has been overlooked for far too long in this country.
Coalition set to go nuclear on energy
9 August 2023
A “coal-to-nuclear transition” in the regions and tapping Australia’s world-leading uranium stocks are firming as centrepieces of the Coalition’s 2025 energy policy to secure long-term baseload power, slash emissions and lower electricity bills.
Key election battlegrounds and coalmining regions in the NSW Hunter Valley and central and north Queensland, which are vulnerable to the rapid shift away from coal to renewables, are expected to be leading candidates for the future development of small modular reactors.
Opposition energy and climate change spokesman Ted O’Brien told The Australian that “views of local communities would be front and centre” if the Coalition rubber-stamps a coal-to-nuclear transition.
“A social licence should be a prerequisite for any major infrastructure that impacts people’s way of life. It’s one of the reasons why we’re speaking so openly about these matters now, even before we’ve settled a policy,” Mr O’Brien told The Australian.
“The Coalition is learning lessons from Labor’s misjudged attempts to steamroll over regional communities in their rush to roll out renewables and transmission lines.”
Peter Dutton has put nuclear energy and gas at the heart of the Coalition’s future energy blueprint, which will be finalised before the next federal election.
The Australian can reveal Scott Morrison came close to backing nuclear energy ahead of the 2022 election after conducting extensive research during deliberations on the Coalition’s 2050 net-zero emissions policy.
Coalition sources said Mr Morrison, who believed SMRs would play a role in the future energy mix, dropped the idea over fears of an electoral backlash and Anthony Albanese weaponising nuclear as a central campaign issue.
Despite the majority backing of Coalition MPs in 2021, some inside the Liberal Party were concerned about the economics and polling showing voters remained sceptical about nuclear energy.
The Prime Minister and Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen – who have committed to slashing emissions by 43 per cent and having 82 per cent of renewable electricity in the grid by 2030 – claim nuclear is not a viable option because it is too expensive.
Amid soaring energy bills and fears over grid instability, the Coalition is pointing to post-election polling showing public sentiment on the benefits of nuclear energy has shifted.
Following a recent visit to the US coal state of Wyoming, where locals are backing an SMR project funded by billionaire Bill Gates, Mr O’Brien said “Australians with high energy-IQ know intuitively swapping retired coal plants for nuclear makes sense because they are like-for-like replacements”.
Writing in The Australian, the Queensland MP states: “Like in Wyoming, Australians in towns with power plants and energy-intensive industries aren’t fooled by NIMBY scare tactics of city-based politicians.
“Nuclear plants can plug into the grid, leveraging existing transmission, transportation and water infrastructure left behind by retired coal plants.”
Quoting a US Department of Energy report, Mr O’Brien writes that using the infrastructure of an existing coal plant can “reduce a nuclear plant’s capital costs by up to 35 per cent”.
“Replacing just one of Australia’s 50 coal generators with nuclear power would remove about 1.6 million tonnes of CO2 annually, equivalent to the emissions created by nearly 900,000 cars running on petrol,” he writes.
“Nuclear would also avoid the environmental damage of thousands of kilometres of transmissions lines connecting new wind and solar projects.
“Nuclear plants deliver more jobs and better-paying ones as they can produce more electricity, rely on more value-added supply chains and higher-educated workers. In replacing coal for nuclear, most plant workers can live in the same town and stay in the same occupation, albeit work in a cleaner and safer workplace.”
Mr O’Brien, who points to coal-to-nuclear transitions in Poland and Wyoming, said Australia had “enormous uranium reserves – the largest in the world – but we have never used nuclear energy to generate electricity”.
A Minerals Council of Australia poll in May found that 45 per cent of voters either strongly or somewhat supported nuclear power as a domestic energy source, with 23 per cent opposed.
The survey of 2600 voters, which was run by research group Insightfully, found that 51 per cent of respondents supported removing bans on nuclear energy, with 19 per cent opposed and 30 per cent neutral. Mining giant BHP is pushing the Albanese government to remove “prohibitions” on nuclear energy to help achieve 2030 and 2050 climate targets, amid fears that restricting power sources in the grid will hold back the clean energy transition.
Mr O’Brien said “Labor’s policies are driving a premature closure of coal plants, with 80 per cent of baseload power set to exit the grid by 2035”.
Wyoming’s coal-to-nuclear shift a blueprint for Australia
9 August 2023
As coal plants race to exit the grid without any guarantee of a replacement, we should learn from the US state of Wyoming as it embarks on a transformation from coal to nuclear.
Home to the biggest deposits in the US, Wyoming relies on coal to generate around 70 per cent of its electricity. Wyoming also possesses the largest reserves of uranium in the US, but it has never used nuclear energy.
Sound familiar? Australia is also reliant on coal. On average, around 58 per cent of our electricity is coal-generated, but this spikes to over 80 per cent at times.
We too have enormous uranium reserves – the largest in the world – but we have never used nuclear energy to generate electricity. All this is set to change – in Wyoming, that is.
Wyoming has decided to replace its retiring coal plants with nuclear. Kemmerer, in the state’s Rocky Mountains, will be the site for its first nuclear plant, with a Natrium reactor replacing the Naughton coal plant by 2030.
Natrium is a TerraPower technology about one-third the size of a large nuclear plant; it’s a 345-megawatt small modular reactor with sodium-cooling and a molten salt storage system. Unlike coal, SMRs complement renewables by ramping up and down to power the grid when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining.
Behind TerraPower is Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. Visiting Wyoming in May, Gates told America’s ABC nuclear can help “solve our climate goals” and “get rid of the greenhouse emissions without making the electricity system more expensive and less reliable”. I too visited Wyoming earlier this year. What struck me was the extent to which residents were embracing their nuclear future. Four coal communities had gone head to head in a competitive bid to host the state’s first nuclear plant. On hearing this, I reflected on the NIMBY (not in my backyard) arguments peddled by Anthony Albanese and Energy Minister Chris Bowen, and queried why Wyoming’s coal communities so eagerly vied to host a nuclear plant.
“They have high energy-IQ,” came the answer from Rita Meyer, who ran the consultation process. These communities understand energy and industry; they are people who “get it” when it comes to big projects and the enduring benefits they deliver. What does this mean for Australia?
Like in Wyoming, Australians in towns with power plants and energy-intensive industries aren’t fooled by NIMBY scare tactics of city-based politicians. Australians with high energy-IQ know intuitively that swapping retired coal plants for nuclear makes sense because they’re like-for-like replacements. Nuclear plants can plug into the grid, leveraging existing transmission, transportation and water infrastructure left behind by retired coal plants.
According to a September 2022 study for the US Department of Energy, using infrastructure of an existing coal plant can reduce a nuclear plant’s capital costs by up to 35 per cent.
It’s not just about the economics, however, but also the environment. Replacing just one of Australia’s 50 coal generators with nuclear would remove around 1.6 million tonnes of CO2 annually, equivalent to the emissions created by nearly 900,000 cars running on petrol.
Nuclear would also avoid the environmental damage of thousands of kilometres of transmissions lines connecting new wind and solar projects.
It’s good for workers too. Nuclear plants deliver more jobs, and better-paying ones, as they can produce more electricity, rely on more value-added supply chains and higher-educated workers.
In replacing coal for nuclear, most plant workers can live in the same town and stay in the same occupation, albeit work in a cleaner and safer workplace. Wyoming is a case study for North America, as Poland is for Europe. Poland too relies on coal for around 70 per cent of its electricity and it has Europe’s largest reserves. After its Ministry of the Economy identified nuclear as the most cost-effective method to decarbonise, Poland embarked on its own coal to nuclear transformation.
According to a poll by research agency CBOS in December, 75 per cent of residents support the move. Meanwhile, in Australia, the Albanese government’s climate and energy policies are in tatters, yet it still refuses to contemplate zero-emissions nuclear technology. Labor has broken its promise of lower power prices and a reliable grid and it’s falling short of its renewables and emissions reduction targets. It demonises coal, yet Australia’s remaining 17 coal plants are what keeps the lights on – for now.
Labor’s policies are driving a premature closure of coal plants, with 80 per cent of baseload power set to exit the grid by 2035. Without like-for-like replacements, Australia will become weaker and poorer, and communities with coal plants will be the most vulnerable. This is madness and I suspect high energy-IQ communities know it.
Presented with a coal-to-nuclear opportunity, these communities may be as open-minded as those in Wyoming.
Time to go nuclear before we run out of usable power
10 August 2023
In a properly planned energy transition, it would make sense to consider upfront all options to replace existing sources of generation with more efficient ones that could reduce greenhouse gas emissions using existing network infrastructure. The fact that nuclear is only now being put forward as a proposal by the Dutton opposition to replace coal-fired power plants when they are retired is an alarming reality, given the high costs and big risks being faced in our increasing dependence on intermittent technologies. The fact both sides of politics have been unwilling to support changing the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to allow nuclear to even be considered is testament to the political cowardice that has led to the situation we have today.
By any measure, the Albanese government’s decarbonisation agenda – which requires 82 per cent of power to come from renewable sources by 2030 – is already well off course. The transition is characterised by higher-than-expected costs and lower-than-promised returns. There can be little confidence that things will be turned around quickly, given the obstacles that keep appearing. This includes technical problems with big-ticket projects such as the Snowy 2.0 hydro-electricity scheme.
It is also apparent that community sentiment in favour of the renewable transition is sorely tested by proximity to the projects that will be required. Onshore wind farm developments are under pressure in Victoria because of the potential impact on protected brolgas. Queensland is revising its planning laws because many residents have decided the environmental cost and loss of amenity in wind farm developments in environmentally sensitive areas do not stack up. Offshore wind proposals can expect a similar fate to that being experienced by efforts to build the $20bn worth of high-voltage transmission lines that are needed to make the renewables-dependent electricity network function. It is for these reasons that the Coalition’s timid embrace of nuclear must be urgently considered.
Claims nuclear plants are too expensive and communities will not accept them must be put to the test. Opposition climate change and energy spokesman Ted O’Brien has provided evidence for the defence of nuclear in what is happening in other traditionally coal-dependent communities: Wyoming in the US and Poland in Europe. A Bill Gates-backed company, TerraPower, is building a small nuclear reactor in Wyoming that the Microsoft founder says can help “solve our climate goals” and “get rid of the greenhouse emissions without making the electricity system more expensive and less reliable”.
The TerraPower technology, called Natrium, is fully backed by the US Department of Energy and is designed to integrate into grids with high penetrations of wind and solar. A similar transition is under way in Poland and, contrary to what we were told would happen in Australia, local communities in the US and Poland are keen to be involved. Consultants working on the proposals say this is because workers in coal centres have a high energy-IQ; they understand why energy matters, and what the risks and opportunities are.
It is reasonable to question the energy-IQ of those leading Australia’s low-emissions transition. This is particularly so given the facts exposed by Claire Lehmann that put to the sword claims that renewables are the cheapest option – because they do not take account of the billions of dollars needed for firming, storage and transmission upgrades that will be spent prior to 2030.
By putting nuclear on the table for proper consideration, the federal opposition is doing what should have been done at the outset. Given the imminent risks, removing the legislative ban on considering nuclear energy should be a bipartisan priority.