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Alternatives to creating emissions

Most Australian proposals to limit carbon dioxide emissions have remained silent on ‘the elephant in the room’: the role of nuclear power in achieving lower carbon emissions in other countries.

No doubt the silence on nuclear power is politically astute and/or avoiding controversy.  For example the 2008 Garnaut Climate Change Review was not concerned with the actual methods employed and assumes that whatever technology becomes profitable will be used.

Almost all power engineers acknowledge that nuclear power is currently the only practical alternative to coal; wind and solar just won't cut it. There are now several hundred new nuclear power plants in planning and under construction worldwide and China alone is projecting 300.

If carbon sequestration is impractical on a scale that would make a difference, and this paper asserts this is so, it is virtually certain that the impact of an effective emissions reduction initiative would be to make nuclear power inevitable in the new energy mix. This mix would no doubt include increased use of other economic alternatives like solar and wind. 

Photovoltaic solar is already cost competitive with nuclear power in some circumstances and may replace part of our electricity needs as technological progress is made but solar panels do not provide this energy continuously without costly batteries.  While their use is widespread domestically 'going off-grid' is difficult without some complementary source of energy - for example gas.

Where wind is plentiful, wind turbines can make a substantial contribution, but again some means of energy storage is needed to fill those times of peak demand when there is insufficient wind.  This is discussed in more detail elsewhere on this website.

Nuclear electricity is the ‘next best’ economic alternative to coal and as outlined above the engineering challenges involved are trivial compared to CCS. 

If this is so, we have a good idea of what the world aught to look like. Why go through the difficulty of implementing economy distorting mechanisms like those proposed by the Garnaut Climate Change Review, with unknown side effects, when we can simply identify the technology changes we want and implement them? 

When changing to a new phone or television standard we do not tax the old technology to make the new attractive; we simply say that from such and such a date we will no longer use the old and everyone needs to make the appropriate transition arrangements.

One gets the impression that if the authors of the Garnaut Climate Change Review had been engaged to design and build the Sydney Harbour Bridge they would have proposed, instead, a tax on ferries.

To achieve the desired outcome of a transition to nuclear electricity without hidden economy distorting market mechanisms, NSW (and other states, perhaps with explicit Loan Council support or Commonwealth transition funding) could simply take action to progressively replace the present coal burning power stations with similar or possibly larger nuclear stations in the same or similar locations. Existing transmission and other generator independent infrastructure could then be used, minimising cost.

Local employment impacts would be minimised, employees and local residents would be healthier and safer. With appropriate advice and information this improved greenhouse, safety and employment environment would minimise any ‘not in my backyard’ objections to the changes.  The new stations would provide carbon free electricity to support existing industrial and residential purposes and provide for future growth, at a price competitive with that under the Garnaut Climate Change Review proposals.

Additional electricity capacity could be provided for electric trains, public road transport and private cars. These will inevitably become more attractive as oil prices rise and government infrastructure catches up with almost every other comparable city and country in the World.

We will know we have caught up when Sydney (and possibly Newcastle) has a proper Metro network of several intersecting lines linking up-market residential, retail and employment nodes across the city; the State has an updated 25KV electrified freight rail network; and there is a separate very fast passenger train service, at least down the east coast.  These will substantially reduce the transport use of fossil fuel and encourage urban consolidation around the new stations.  New industrial lands could be developed around freight hubs. Technological progress and local industry will be encouraged and stimulated by moving the State’s infrastructure into the 21st Century.

The relative cost of energy is, in any case, expected to increase under existing (undistorted) market mechanisms, encouraging increased energy efficiency.  Most experts predict that oil will increase in price relative to coal and together with new battery technology will encourage the development of new electric and hybrid transport. 

As nuclear power would only replace coal for electricity generation and indirectly for transport, coal would continue to be sold overseas (just as we presently sell uranium but do not consume it; conscious that NSW coal will remain a tiny fraction of the coal consumed worldwide) and used (at an undistorted price) in local metals smelting where there is no alternative.

 


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Travel

The Greatest Dining Experience Ever in Bangkok

A short story

 

The Bangkok Sky-train, that repetition of great, grey megaliths of ferroconcrete looms above us.   

All along the main roads, under the overhead railway above, small igloo tents and market stalls provide a carnival atmosphere to Bangkok.  It’s like a giant school fete - except that people are getting killed – half a dozen shot and a couple of grenades lobbed-in to date.

Periodically, as we pass along the pedestrian thronged roads, closed to all but involved vehicles, we encounter flattop trucks mounted with huge video screens or deafening loud speakers. 

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Fiction, Recollections & News

My Art and Artists

 

 

One recreation that I find very absorbing is drawing and painting. 

Having once been married to an exceptionally talented artist (now Brenda Chat) I do not pretend great skill or insight.

I always drew and painted but living with Brenda was like someone who has just mastered ‘chopsticks’ on the piano being confronted by Mozart. 

Our daughter Emily has inherited or acquired some of her mother’s skill and talent.  

Emily and I once attended life classes together and I am awed by her talent too.  One of her drawings hangs behind me as I write.  It is a wonderful pencil study of a life class nude. 

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Opinions and Philosophy

The reputation of nuclear power

 

 

One night of at the end of March in 1979 we went to a party in Queens.  Brenda, my first wife, is an artist and was painting and studying in New York.  Our friends included many of the younger artists working in New York at the time.  That day it had just been announced that there was a possible meltdown at a nuclear reactor at a place called a Three Mile Island , near Harrisburg Pennsylvania. 

I was amazed that some people at the party were excitedly imagining that the scenario in the just released film ‘The China Syndrome’  was about to be realised; and thousands of people would be killed. 

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