On decommisioning nuclear reactors

25 07 2016

Some of the stuff in this article simply beggars belief…..  like “they weren’t designed with decommissioning in mind”.  Seriousy..?  That is just mindboggling.  And the decommissioning costs, at a time the world’s financial system is on the verge of collapse is similarly gobsmacking…… I’m so glad there are no nukes in Australia after reading that lot.


[Below are excerpts from the 7 March 2012 NewScientist article: How to dismantle a nuclear reactor ] about the costs and challenges of dismantling nuclear power plants in Europe] Hat tip to energyskeptic.com

By the start of 2012, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, 138 commercial power reactors had been permanently shut down with at least 80 expected to join the queue for decommissioning in the coming decade – more if other governments join Germany in deciding to phase out nuclear power following the Fukushima disaster in Japan last year.

And yet, so far, only 17 of these have been dismantled and made permanently safe. That’s because decommissioning is difficult, time-consuming and expensive.

A standard American or French-designed pressurised water reactor (PWR) – the most common reactor design now in operation – will produce more than 100,000 tonnes of waste, about a tenth of it significantly radioactive, including the steel reactor vessel, control rods, piping and pumps. Decommissioning just a single one generally costs up to half a billion dollars.

Decommissioning Germany’s Soviet-designed power plant at Greifswald produced more than half a million tonnes of radioactive waste. The UK’s 26 gas-cooled Magnox reactors produce similar amounts and will eventually cost up to a billion dollars each to decommission. That’s because they weren’t designed with decommissioning in mind.

The many variations also mean that there is no agreed-upon standard for how to go about the process. If you want to decommission a nuclear power plant, you have three options. The first is the fastest: remove the fuel, then take the reactor apart as swiftly as possible, storing the radioactive material somewhere safe to await a final burial place.  The second approach is to remove the fuel but lock up the reactor, letting its troublesome radioactive isotopes decay, which makes dismantling easier – much later.  The third option is to simply entomb the reactor where it is.

Even when the reactor can be dismantled, where do you put the radioactive waste? Even the least contaminated material – old overalls, steel heat exchangers and toilets – must be carefully separated and sent to specially licensed landfill sites. Not every country has such designated facilities. Intermediate-level waste, contrary to its name, is even more of a problem because it may require deep ground burial alongside the high-level spent fuel.

In 1976, a British Royal Commission said no more nuclear power plants should be built until the waste disposal problems were resolved. Thirty-five years on, nothing much has changed.


The Myth of Human Progress

5 06 2016

After reading this excellent article, you will know why I admire Chris Hedges so much……

Posted on Jan 13, 2013 on the Truthdig website





By Chris Hedges

chrishedgesClive Hamilton in his “Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth About Climate Change” describes a dark relief that comes from accepting that “catastrophic climate change is virtually certain.” This obliteration of “false hopes,” he says, requires an intellectual knowledge and an emotional knowledge. The first is attainable. The second, because it means that those we love, including our children, are almost certainly doomed to insecurity, misery and suffering within a few decades, if not a few years, is much harder to acquire. To emotionally accept impending disaster, to attain the gut-level understanding that the power elite will not respond rationally to the devastation of the ecosystem, is as difficult to accept as our own mortality. The most daunting existential struggle of our time is to ingest this awful truth—intellectually and emotionally—and continue to resist the forces that are destroying us.

The human species, led by white Europeans and Euro-Americans, has been on a 500-year-long planetwide rampage of conquering, plundering, looting, exploiting and polluting the Earth—as well as killing the indigenous communities that stood in the way. But the game is up. The technical and scientific forces that created a life of unparalleled luxury—as well as unrivaled military and economic power—for the industrial elites are the forces that now doom us. The mania for ceaseless economic expansion and exploitation has become a curse, a death sentence. But even as our economic and environmental systems unravel, after the hottest year in the contiguous 48 states since record keeping began 107 years ago, we lack the emotional and intellectual creativity to shut down the engine of global capitalism. We have bound ourselves to a doomsday machine that grinds forward, as the draft report of the National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee illustrates.

Complex civilizations have a bad habit of destroying themselves. Anthropologists including Joseph Tainter in “The Collapse of Complex Societies,” Charles L. Redman in “Human Impact on Ancient Environments” and Ronald Wright in “A Short History of Progress” have laid out the familiar patterns that lead to systems breakdown. The difference this time is that when we go down the whole planet will go with us. There will, with this final collapse, be no new lands left to exploit, no new civilizations to conquer, no new peoples to subjugate. The long struggle between the human species and the Earth will conclude with the remnants of the human species learning a painful lesson about unrestrained greed and self-worship.

“There is a pattern in the past of civilization after civilization wearing out its welcome from nature, overexploiting its environment, overexpanding, overpopulating,” Wright said when I reached him by phone at his home in British Columbia, Canada. “They tend to collapse quite soon after they reach their period of greatest magnificence and prosperity. That pattern holds good for a lot of societies, among them the Romans, the ancient Maya and the Sumerians of what is now southern Iraq. There are many other examples, including smaller-scale societies such as Easter Island. The very things that cause societies to prosper in the short run, especially new ways to exploit the environment such as the invention of irrigation, lead to disaster in the long run because of unforeseen complications. This is what I called in ‘A Short History of Progress’ the ‘progress trap.’ We have set in motion an industrial machine of such complexity and such dependence on expansion that we do not know how to make do with less or move to a steady state in terms of our demands on nature. We have failed to control human numbers. They have tripled in my lifetime. And the problem is made much worse by the widening gap between rich and poor, the upward concentration of wealth, which ensures there can never be enough to go around. The number of people in dire poverty today—about 2 billion—is greater than the world’s entire population in the early 1900s. That’s not progress.”

“If we continue to refuse to deal with things in an orderly and rational way, we will head into some sort of major catastrophe, sooner or later,” he said. “If we are lucky it will be big enough to wake us up worldwide but not big enough to wipe us out. That is the best we can hope for. We must transcend our evolutionary history. We’re Ice Age hunters with a shave and a suit. We are not good long-term thinkers. We would much rather gorge ourselves on dead mammoths by driving a herd over a cliff than figure out how to conserve the herd so it can feed us and our children forever. That is the transition our civilization has to make. And we’re not doing that.”

Wright, who in his dystopian novel “A Scientific Romance” paints a picture of a future world devastated by human stupidity, cites “entrenched political and economic interests” and a failure of the human imagination as the two biggest impediments to radical change. And all of us who use fossil fuels, who sustain ourselves through the formal economy, he says, are at fault.

Modern capitalist societies, Wright argues in his book “What Is America?: A Short History of the New World Order,” derive from European invaders’ plundering of the indigenous cultures in the Americas from the 16th to the 19th centuries, coupled with the use of African slaves as a workforce to replace the natives. The numbers of those natives fell by more than 90 percent because of smallpox and other plagues they hadn’t had before. The Spaniards did not conquer any of the major societies until smallpox had crippled them; in fact the Aztecs beat them the first time around. If Europe had not been able to seize the gold of the Aztec and Inca civilizations, if it had not been able to occupy the land and adopt highly productive New World crops for use on European farms, the growth of industrial society in Europe would have been much slower. Karl Marx and Adam Smith both pointed to the influx of wealth from the Americas as having made possible the Industrial Revolution and the start of modern capitalism. It was the rape of the Americas, Wright points out, that triggered the orgy of European expansion. The Industrial Revolution also equipped the Europeans with technologically advanced weapons systems, making further subjugation, plundering and expansion possible.

“The experience of a relatively easy 500 years of expansion and colonization, the constant taking over of new lands, led to the modern capitalist myth that you can expand forever,” Wright said. “It is an absurd myth. We live on this planet. We can’t leave it and go somewhere else. We have to bring our economies and demands on nature within natural limits, but we have had a 500-year run where Europeans, Euro-Americans and other colonists have overrun the world and taken it over. This 500-year run made it not only seem easy but normal. We believe things will always get bigger and better. We have to understand that this long period of expansion and prosperity was an anomaly. It has rarely happened in history and will never happen again. We have to readjust our entire civilization to live in a finite world. But we are not doing it, because we are carrying far too much baggage, too many mythical versions of deliberately distorted history and a deeply ingrained feeling that what being modern is all about is having more. This is what anthropologists call an ideological pathology, a self-destructive belief that causes societies to crash and burn. These societies go on doing things that are really stupid because they can’t change their way of thinking. And that is where we are.”

And as the collapse becomes palpable, if human history is any guide, we like past societies in distress will retreat into what anthropologists call “crisis cults.” The powerlessness we will feel in the face of ecological and economic chaos will unleash further collective delusions, such as fundamentalist belief in a god or gods who will come back to earth and save us.

“Societies in collapse often fall prey to the belief that if certain rituals are performed all the bad stuff will go away,” Wright said. “There are many examples of that throughout history. In the past these crisis cults took hold among people who had been colonized, attacked and slaughtered by outsiders, who had lost control of their lives. They see in these rituals the ability to bring back the past world, which they look at as a kind of paradise. They seek to return to the way things were. Crisis cults spread rapidly among Native American societies in the 19th century, when the buffalo and the Indians were being slaughtered by repeating rifles and finally machine guns. People came to believe, as happened in the Ghost Dance, that if they did the right things the modern world that was intolerable—the barbed wire, the railways, the white man, the machine gun—would disappear.”

“We all have the same, basic psychological hard wiring,” Wright said. “It makes us quite bad at long-range planning and leads us to cling to irrational delusions when faced with a serious threat. Look at the extreme right’s belief that if government got out of the way, the lost paradise of the 1950s would return. Look at the way we are letting oil and gas exploration rip when we know that expanding the carbon economy is suicidal for our children and grandchildren. The results can already be felt. When it gets to the point where large parts of the Earth experience crop failure at the same time then we will have mass starvation and a breakdown in order. That is what lies ahead if we do not deal with climate change.”

“If we fail in this great experiment, this experiment of apes becoming intelligent enough to take charge of their own destiny, nature will shrug and say it was fun for a while to let the apes run the laboratory, but in the end it was a bad idea,” Wright said.


The Curious Case of Lake Mead

25 06 2015

Another post from Mark Cochrane…..

For the drought in the western US, Lake Mead is a bellwether of the situation since it is a major water source for several states and it shows such a convenient bathtub ring around its edge as the water level drops. The lake is currently more than 140 feet lower than it would be at full capacity, holding 37.1% of what it would at ‘Full Pool’.

In recent weeks the lake level has been dropping by an average of 0.08 ft/day (e.g. 1 inch/day) but for the last week it treated the lake level of 1075 (elevation) like a resistance level on a stock chart by suddenly slowing to an average drop rate of 0.01 ft/day (1/8 inch). Last night it reverted to the mean though and dropped an inch to land its level at 1074.99. It also broke through the bottom of this dynamically updated chart of the last three years of lake levels, forcing it to add a new low of 1070 (yesterday the chart ended at 1075). Who imagined it would get this bad…

The 1075 level is more than just a psychological barrier, it is one where rationing kicks in. It doesn’t start today but in a somewhat arcane manner, if the projections for the lake’s January 1st levels are below 1075 as of mid August.

What happens? Arizona takes the main hit, losing 320,000 acre-feet (AF) of water for its agricultural lands and Nevada is ‘curtailed’ by another 13,000 AF. California has senior water rights and doesn’t face ‘curtailment’ of water for its agricultural lands but the rationing will hit metropolitan areas. Since 2007, there has been a program whereby these areas could sock away water in Lake Mead using Intentionally Created Surplus (ICS) accounts. Basically by conserving water and drawing less than their maximum allowed water rights they got a credit that they could draw on at a later date. However, once the 1075 level is breached those accounts are frozen. A water-bank holiday. Not being completely clueless, metropolitan areas that saw the 1075 level looming have been making a run on their ICS accounts in the last year or more. Ultimately though, the end of ICS availability will mean that the cities will have to use less water, which likely means higher prices, quotas or similar tools to ratchet down water use further. It is possible that the lake will drop below 1060 ft this year, and highly likely this will occur next year. When this happens the last access points on Lake Mead will become inoperable – translation, no boating/tourism. In addition, power costs for energy created at the Hoover Dam will go up substantially. At 1075 feet hydropower costs will roughly double, they triple at 1050 ft, quadruple at 1025 ft, and keep rising right up until power generation ceases at around 1015 feet. Note, Hoover customers are bound by contract to have to purchase Hoover power until 2067 (link). The price of air conditioning is going up.

Just over a month ago it looked like 2016 was going to definitely be a year of reckoning for all states in the US and Mexico that rely on the Colorado River for water but ‘miracle May’ could potentially forestall things by another year. The massive flooding from unprecedented soaking rains that occurred along the upper river basin are now partially replenishing Lake Powell which sits up river of Lake Mead. Lake Powell has filled by over 20 ft in the last 6 weeks and is now filling by over half a foot a day. This has only raised it to 52.5% of capacity but it could be enough to ensure that Lake Mead can be managed to be above 1075 ft come Jan 1, 2016. Extend and pretend of the water supply can probably be finagled for another year but barring a new ‘miracle’ the pain of less water and higher energy costs for the region are likely coming in the next few years. The one hope for a temporary stay of execution in the region is if the current El Nino conditions get very strong, since those conditions are often associated with wet conditions in the drought affected areas. Of course, if that happens, there will be a lot of other problems around the world where El Nino isn’t as kind. Even if this drought abates for a while, chances are that we will witness growing tensions over water use and access in the coming decades as this is the reality of the new climates that we are forcing on the planet.


Chris Hedges at The Earth at Risk Conference 2014

3 12 2014

Published on Nov 24, 2014

Interview with Chris Hedges at The Earth at Risk 2014 Conference and the moral imperative of resistance thru non-violent direct action and mass movements of sustained civil disobedience…

Climate Crisis: Are we there yet?

28 11 2014

Published on Youtube 27 Nov 2014

A lively panel discussion with Dr. Guy McPherson, Dr. Rick Nolthenius, Joe Jordan, Dr. Carol Stoker, and a participating Santa Cruz audience reviews a wide variety of opinions on whether we are in a climate crisis.  At first, I thought this was going to be a Guy McPherson love fest, but it’s much better than that……  proper scientists putting McPherson into perspective.  Things aren’t great, but we still have time to stop the worst of it…

Joe  Jordan and Carol Soker needs to visit this site, however……  his optimism of solar power is well overcooked!  Let’s face it, everyone has opinions, and they all have something to say that adds to everyone’s knowledge.  So share the knowledge…

The truth about the efficacy of Solar Power.

4 10 2014

Anyone following this blog will know I no longer believe renewables will ever run the world as we know it.  In this knowledge, I constantly face barrages from people who claim we in Australia could have 100% renewable energy by 2020, and/or that we will magically switch from fossil fuels to renewables, even without the use of fossil fuels! On social media, items known as ‘memes‘ fuel such nonsense on a level that makes utter BS look like facts.

Whenever I challenge these memes, I usually get hailed down as a negative lover of fossil fuels who doesn’t believe climate change is real, blah blah blah…  when of course, you who is reading this knows damned well this is hardly the case.

Robert Wilson

Today, I have discovered that someone has actually gone to the trouble of analysing data, you know, that stuff that tells the truth, on this website.

The information contained therein is simply fascinating.

As with any myth there are multiple versions. In this case it is either that Germany gets half of its electricity or half its energy from solar panels. The latter version is easily refuted by pointing out that the majority of German energy consumption is not in the form of electricity. BMWs, Mercedes and Volkswagens run on petrol and diesel, not electricity.

That might seem obvious, unless of course you happen to believe that we will also magically switch to renewables powered electric cars, and yes, even without the assistance of fossil fuels!  The power of believing something, anything, that counters stuff you don’t want to know about is overwhelming.  It’s akin to religion, really….

Robert Wilson, the author of the piece at the Energy Collective, debunks this myth with simple reference to Germany’s official statistics for electricity generation. And what they tell us is really really simple……… Germany does not get half of its electricity from PVs at all, rather the figure is around one order of magnitude lower, or only 4.5%, far short of 50%.  Wilson then adds:

And if you want to think that half of Germany’s electricity comes from something green you will be disappointed. 46% of generation comes from coal. And just over half of coal powered electricity in Germany comes from burning lignite, perhaps the most polluting way to generate electricity on the planet.

He then produces some convincing graphs.  I like graphs, they are visual and tell a story of a thousand words in a click of a mouse (known as copy and paste!)


Look at that…….  80% of Germany’s energy comes from FFs and nukes!  Who’d a thunk?  Wilson continues with:

Germany’s solar output varies massively during the year, and these variations can be made clear by a simple comparison. Daily output of Germany’s solar panels peaked last year on 21st of July, when panels produced 20.9% of daily electricity demand. In contrast, the worst day of the year was 18th January when solar panels produced just over 0.1% of Germany’s electricity demand. This second statistic has, unsurprisingly, failed to elicit any headlines.


During most of Germany’s Winter, PVs generate almost no electricity; output from solar panels are fifteen times higher in July than in January 2013. Additionally, Germany’s annual consumption of electricity peaks in Winter evenings, when everyone is snuggling up to their heaters, watching their big screen TVs, and making loads of cups of tea and coffee with their electric kettles.  And of course all the lights are on.  Which is also when solar panels generate zero power…..!  Such simple realities mean that Germany, or any other cloudy and high latitude place (and I have to include Tasmania in this lot!), struggle to generate any amounts of useful electricity from solar panels.  Which is why I am planning to also have a small wind turbine in Tassie to close the gap.  Furthermore, living a really efficient lifestyle that requires very little energy really pays off here.

“I will end”, writes Wilson, “with a simple calculation of how long it will take Germany to reach 50% solar electricity given current build rates.”

The new German government has put in place a long-term target of having between 2.5 and 3.5 gigawatts of solar panels installed each year. If we take the higher figure, and assume that 3.5 gigawatts is installed each year, it will take Germany almost ninety years to reach 50% solar electricity. This however is an underestimate. Solar panels must be replaced every twenty or twenty fives years, and 50% solar energy in Germany would require massive advances in energy storage techniques. Germany, then, is around a century away from getting half of its electricity from solar panels.

Does this look like a revolution?

NEVER believe anything on Facebook without first checking the facts.


The Electricity Industry’s Death Spiral

8 07 2014

Over the past seven or so years, our electricity costs have more than doubled.  While the media has feasted on the pink batts, Peter Slipper and Craig Thomson fiascos, the astonishing reasons behind these price cost has been largely ignored, even though they may well turn out to be one of the greatest scams in the history of Australia.

Since 2009, the electricity network companies that own and maintain our “poles and wires” have spent an astonishing $45 billion on what will turn out to be the most expensive project Australia has ever seen.  Allowed to run virtually unchecked (now they have been mostly privatised..), all that money was spent on infrastructure we don’t need, and we’re all paying for it with ‘connection fees’.  The spending was approved by the federal regulator, but the federal government didn’t even realise what was going on until it was well underway and too late to stop it……….


Make no mistake…… this is the single biggest reason electricity prices have skyrocketed.  The federal treasury tells us that 51% of your electricity bill goes towards “network charges”.  The carbon price, despite unending propaganda to the contrary, is peanuts, comprising just 9% of the price rise….. NOT 9% of the entire bill as is often touted!  The rest of your bill is carved up between those companies that actually generate your electricity (20%) and the retailers who package it up and sell it to you (20%). How one packages electricity I’ll never know, but if there’s a buck in it…….. The RET (Renewable Energy Target) is such a small  impost, the treasury’s analysis doesn’t even include it; the Australian Energy Market Commission says it may be around 5%.

Thanks to the network companies’ infrastructure binge, we now pay the highest prices in the developed world. In the US, electricity costs just 13 cents per unit (kWh), less than half what we are charged, now the cost has gone up another 17%….  The impact has been felt most in New South Wales and Queensland, where the networks are government owned and network charges have accounted for two thirds of the price increases.

For a Coalition intent on destroying the carbon price, the price hikes were a gift from heaven – absolute “proof” that the carbon price is as destructive to the economy as they predicted.  Chris Dunstan, of the Institute for Sustainable Futures, believes that the networks’ spending spree may actually be the reason for the mad monk’s success.  “If electricity prices hadn’t doubled,” he says, “the carbon tax would not have been anything like the issue it was”……  and maybe the fiberals would not have won the election.

But wait……..  it gets worse.

In Climate Spectator, Tristan Edis writes “Private sector businesses have either acquired or constructed over 20,000 megawatts of fossil-fuelled power plant capacity since after 2007, when the Labor Party committed to substantially expand the Renewable Energy Target. This represents the vast majority of fossil fuel power plant capacity owned by the private sector in the National Electricity Market.”

Why does this matter?

“Well, just about every respected Australian energy market economic modeller estimates that repealing the Renewable Energy Target would probably end up costing them money through higher bills. Instead the main beneficiary of a wind back in the legislated target will be the existing owners of fossil fuel power stations.  According to analysis prepared by Hugh Bannister of Intelligent Energy Systems, abolishing the RET would deliver a $12.8 billion windfall to fossil fuel generators over the next 10 years in net present value terms, but cost consumers $500 million and renewable energy generators $7.7 billion.” writes Tristan.  The solution?  A $30 billion government bail-out for power companies……..  I would call that a cock up of epic proportions.

Investment bank Morgan Stanley says it has been overwhelmed by the response to its recent analysis which suggested that the falling costs of both solar modules and battery storage presented a potential tipping point that would encourage huge numbers of homeowners and businesses in the US to go off grid.  If that’s the case in the US, how much stronger is this case here in Australia where power costs twice as much?

Australia will be one of the proving grounds for the world’s second largest solar energy company to test its off-grid solar energy storage, putting solar panels and lithium-ion batteries into customers’ homes in Victoria. SunPower is expected to make an official announcement on a pilot project in Australia’s second most populous state in the next two months.

And now, the Tasmanian Economic Regulator has dropped the feed-in tariff (FiT) for solar customers who signed up after 30 August 2013 from 8.282c to a paltry 5.551c effective from 1 July 2014.  Read all about that here…. and see the comments where everyone is talking about disconnecting from the grid, and town sized mini smart grids with storage.

And hot off the press, we now have this from the ABC….

The Australian Solar Council has criticised moves by Ergon and Energex to encourage new customers to install smaller solar systems that do not feed electricity back into the power grid.  Ergon and Energex said the changes, which included new rules about installing systems that feed-in power, would help them manage the detrimental impact of solar on their power networks.

John Grimes from the Australian Solar Council said he believed the power companies were trying to limit solar uptake.  “There’s a very small number of instances where there are technical issues caused by solar uptake, but they are a tiny fraction of a per cent,” Mr Grimes said.


Price of solar has come down, but not batteries: installer

Solar installer Brian Cooke specialises in systems that allow households to generate all their own electricity.

He said poor battery technology was limiting the ability of people to go “off the grid”.

“The price of solar has come down dramatically but the other associated cost of batteries, which is the other major cost, is not really coming down,” Mr Cooke said.

However that has not stopped the growth in people looking to become self-sufficient.

That the idiots in charge may have started their own demise with a revolution of their own making is undeniable.  This revolution, however, still demands a working economy and resource availability, neither of which I can see lasting much after 2020.

How a small town could go off the grid

The collapse of the electricity distribution system may well have already started.  Slowly perhaps, but the death spiral, as it is known, is underway.  People I know in the solar industry are saying the next wave of business opportunities for them is disconnecting grid tied people who (unlike us) are going to lose the FiT they were expecting to pay for their investment in PVs, and installing battery storage, running their houses as stand alone systems.  Our plan is definitely to not connect to Tasmania’s grid when we move.  One thing is certain about the future……  it’s really really uncertain!