Friday, June 10, 2022

We Saved Diablo Canyon!

Michael Shellenberger

It took rolling black-outs, a change in public consciousness, and my run for governor, but our six-year long effort to save Diablo Canyon nuclear plant in California has finally succeeded!

Our victory should give hope to pro-nuclear people everywhere. If we can save nuclear power in California, the birthplace of the anti-nuclear movement, then we can save nuclear anywhere.

Viewed as politically radioactive just a decade ago, after the Fukushima accident, nuclear power is today coming back in a big way. The pro-nuclear movement is growing like gangbusters in even hostile nations like Belgium, Germany, and Australia. The world’s largest economies including Japan, Britain, and France are returning to nuclear energy. And it is becoming increasingly clear to liberals and conservatives alike that only nuclear can achieve global prosperity and environmental sustainability.

The main reason for the success of the pro-nuclear movement is the failure of renewables and the global energy crisis. The share of global energy from fossil fuels is unchanged since 1980 because solar and wind do not replace fossil fuel power plants, and, in fact, depend upon them. Only baseload hydro-electric and nuclear power plants can replace fossil fuels. And over-investment in unreliable renewables and underinvestment in nuclear, hydro-electricity, and natural gas, over the last decade, directly resulted in today’s energy shortages, skyrocketing electricity prices, and a return to coal around the world.

Because we were lost in soft, renewable energy delusions while Putin was grounded in the hard physical reality of nuclear, oil, & natural gas

But there is another reason for the pro-nuclear movement’s success that may come as a surprise. For decades, nuclear energy supporters have promoted the idea that nuclear energy is a compliment to intermittent solar and wind energies. Pro-nuclear people have argued that we should emphasize the risk of climate apocalypse for why nations should build nuclear plants. And nuclear boosters have argued that, when educating policymakers, journalists, and the public about the technology, we should emphasize the deficiencies of existing nuclear plants, and promote next generation technologies.

As an outsider to the nuclear science and technical community, these arguments made increasingly little sense to me, as time passed. Natural gas and hydroelectric dams are compliments to intermittent solar and wind, because their output can be easily and efficiency turned up or down, whereas nuclear plants are most efficiently run at full-power. Climate change is real but climate alarmism is dishonest and alienates many people who support nuclear energy for other reasons. And futuristic nuclear plants are a long ways off, which means it’s misleading at best, and self-destructive at worst, to hype nuclear technologies that only exist on paper.

The most important thing is to tell the truth about nuclear, I argued to friends and colleagues, starting in 2016, and build an honest pro-nuclear movement worldwide around the truth. Anti-nuclear people have been lying about the technology for decades. For pro-nuclear people to have any credibility, we must tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, about nuclear power. And we must build our movement on the basis of the truth, and push back against those who exaggerate climate change, who suck up to the renewable energy industry like battered wives, and who sell fairy tales about magical nuclear reactors.


How a battery shortage is hampering the U.S. switch to wind, solar power

U.S. renewable energy developers have delayed or scrapped several big battery projects meant to store electrical power on the grid in recent months, scuttling plans to replace fossil fuels with wind and solar energy.

At least a dozen storage projects meant to support growing renewable energy supplies have been postponed, canceled or renegotiated as labor and transport bottlenecks, soaring minerals prices, and competition from the electric vehicle industry crimp supply.

One previously unreported dispute over a delayed California storage project has even wound up in court.

The slowdown in utility-scale battery installations threatens the pace of the U.S. transition away from fossil fuels as the Biden administration seeks to decarbonize the grid by 2035. The delays could pose a threat to power reliability in states that already depend heavily on renewable energy like California.

Storing power is considered vital to the expansion of solar and wind energy because it allows electricity generated when the sun is shining or wind is blowing to be used at the end of the day when consumers need it most.

The delays span states including California, Hawaii and Georgia, with battery providers including Tesla (TSLA.O) and Fluence (FLC.AX) warning of disruptions to supply, according to a review of regulatory documents, corporate statements and interviews with project developers and power providers.

The delays, some of which have not been previously reported, range from several months to a year, according to the Reuters reporting.

"I have not seen a nascent industry challenged on so many fronts," said Jamal Burki, president of IHI Terrasun Solutions, the U.S. energy storage arm of Japanese heavy equipment maker IHI Corp (7013.T).

European energy storage projects are also facing delays, but that region lags the United States in the development of grid-scale storage, making the issue less pronounced.

Ben Guest, fund manager at Gresham House Energy Storage Fund (GRID.L), which invests in battery projects in Britain, said he has seen two- to three-month delays in projects primarily due to component shortages and shipping challenges.

Energy storage makes up about 3% of U.S. operating clean energy capacity and has been growing rapidly. Installations soared 170% in the first quarter to 758 megawatts, according to the American Clean Power Association, roughly enough capacity to power 144,000 homes.

But the pace is dipping below forecasts. Energy research firm Wood Mackenzie told Reuters it may revise down its current outlook for U.S. storage installations of 5.9 GW this year because of the rising evidence of market disruptions, after 2021 installations came in at about two-thirds of what it initially expected.

Prices for lithium-ion batteries, three-quarters of which are produced in China, have soared as much as 20% since last year as lithium and nickel costs rise, COVID-19 lockdowns disrupt manufacturing, and transport constraints slow shipments.

Robust demand from EV producers for batteries has also been a headwind, industry players told Reuters. Battery manufacturers are favoring the EV market because their orders are more predictable compared to the lumpy, project-based orders from power storage developers.


The power struggle: inconvenient truth proves renewables can’t cut it

Australia’s low-emissions energy journey is locked in a struggle ­between engineering and hope.

The nation has lost its way on energy because it has failed to think long term, excluded emerging technologies from the discussion, and refused to learn the lessons of failure from elsewhere.

Debate this week about how a capacity market should work to keep the lights on and industry in business underscores the point.

Too many people with too little understanding have turned a problem of physics and engineering into one of politics and economics. The breakdown in electricity supply is as serious as it has been predictable. Engineers know that grinding the coal sector into the ground won’t make renewables produce electricity when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining. Leaving gas in the ground, as NSW and Victoria have done, won’t power a back-up supply. Stealing back supplies of gas from companies that have contracted to sell it elsewhere will compound the problems.

Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen has fired back at the Coalition over their push for Labor to…
Governments generally don’t last long enough to reap the product of the chaos they sow. But new governments should learn the mistakes of others.

Contrary to popular opinion, Germany’s transition away from nuclear power has not been fuelled by wind and solar. It has been powered by greater use of brown coal and a dependence on Russian Gas. Power shortages in South Australia, California, Texas, UK and Europe all share a common feature, a naive hope that renewable energy will do the job it is not equipped to do.

Politicians have been cowered into supporting solutions they don’t understand. No serious thinker believes it’s economically sensible to firm up a national grid with batteries but a whole industry is willing to take government money to give it a try.

It might well be an expensive fix for individual households, but not industry. Spending billions to extend the national grid is based on the premise that the wind will always be blowing somewhere. The reality is this is not necessarily the case.

Hydrogen is a promising technology but experts who have worked in the field maintain it is a dangerous substance, difficult to contain and invisible when it burns. From an environmental perspective, the vast amount of materials and area of land needed to attempt what is being proposed using wind, solar, batteries, pumped hydro, hydrogen and transmission lines does not meet the cost/benefit test. A bigger concern is electricity is only a small part of the challenge ahead. Bigger and more important for industry is process heat, something that wind and solar can never deliver.

Alinta Energy chief executive Jeff Dimery belled the cat this week that the energy crisis was caused by chaotic market planning that had swamped the country with renewables that in turn made coal uncompetitive.

“We’re committing economic suicide if we rush and try to do it too quickly when we haven’t got the alternative supplies in place,” he told a Melbourne conference.

To illustrate the point, he said renewable energy plants in South Australia last Wednesday at 6.15pm were producing one megawatt of electricity, a tiny fraction of capacity. There was no wind in Victoria either.

“So it wouldn’t have mattered if you doubled the capacity of the transmission, and it wouldn’t have mattered if you quadrupled the capacity of intermittent generation. Without coal and gas, the lights would have gone out in South Australia, that is a fact,” he said.

Watching on, as the nation’s energy thinkers look for Band-Aid solutions to potentially fatal conditions in the energy market is the former head of Australia’s Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, Adi Paterson, who has also commercialised pioneering research on lithium ion batteries and participated hydrogen policy work in South Africa.

Paterson says the nation is locked in a false struggle. “This ­debate has become about economics and the universal law of economics is that it does not trump physics,” he says.

“We have the burden of ­explaining more clearly to people what the real energy choices look like. Carbon-free process heat is a much bigger problem than electricity. And the fundamental problem is, if we are going to electrify everything, we are going to need reliable, predictable, ‘always-on’ electricity for a rational society to function.

“With the energy cost issues, people are starting to see that when you take the baseload out the costs go up.”

He said it was important to have an intergenerational view of the problem: “We do not have to do it all in 10 years. In the next century, I believe, if we just take off the false time problem, we will be looking for the highest density of energy we can get, and at the top of that pile is nuclear fusion.”

There are critics who can point to decades of promises but the world is looking to new-generation nuclear reactors and fusion to solve the problem of low-emissions electrification to run a developed industrial economy.

In the domain of nuclear fission, the first small-scale modular nuclear reactor by a US firm NuScale is under construction and will be completed this decade.

The US National Academies road map has set a time line to build nuclear fusion reactors from 2035. Australian company HB11 Energy, of which Paterson is a ­director, is leading the world in ­exploring nuclear fusion using a new generation of high-energy ­lasers. The technology won a Nobel prize for the inventors and can bring decades of theory into reality.

HB11 Energy is looking at the 2040s to have a plant operating based on the principles of inertial fusion using lasers.

Despite this, nuclear fission and fusion technology are not part of Australia’s official energy discussion. Jim Chalmers, says he has ruled out nuclear energy because “the economics don’t stack up”.

The Treasurer said he had never been a supporter of nuclear power and would maintain his opposition to it, which was “economic not ideological”.

Paterson says this view misunderstands the problem.

“There is a tendency to oversimplify,” he says. “I think the fundamental problem of wind and solar is it is highly accessible to the domestic consumer but most of what is useful in our society we don’t really understand. You can win an argument by saying solar, wind and batteries because people understand it.

“I think we need to have this discussion about fission and fusion as a low-cost source of electrons because it gives us predictability and optionality.

“It will give us a stab at solving the energy problem not just the electricity problem. The question for wind, solar and batteries is ‘Where is the process heat?’

“If we solve the issue of nuclear fusion plants – because they will also provide process heat for ­industry – they will be the anchor tenant of most modern economies from about 2060.”

This line might not suit the catastrophisation narrative of a climate emergency. But at least it might just work.


The dismal history of wildfire prevention in Australia

We once knew how

Three consecutive extreme summers accompanied the Settlement Drought of 1790-93. Masses of flying foxes and lorikeets dropped dead in Parramatta during three days of blistering northwesterly gales with temperatures above 43 degrees Celsius. Aboriginal fires were burning 24/7 but there were no fire disasters.

Our first megafire, around 1820, established the Great Scrub of South Gippsland after Aboriginal burning was disrupted by a 1789 smallpox epidemic. Following European occupation, five million hectares of Victoria exploded in the Black Thursday disaster of 1851. The Strzelecki Ranges were incinerated again on Red Tuesday 1898.

When the Highlands were set alight in extreme weather on Black Friday 1939. Fourteen large fires in East Gippsland did little damage because the land was managed by grazing and burning. In 1961, four towns in Western Australia were destroyed by the Dwellingup fires. Foresters woke up, reintroduced broad area burning, and developed aerial ignition techniques. Bega was saved from disaster in the horrendous 1968 fires by prior aerial burning in what is now wilderness to the northwest.

In the 1970s, ecologists had a dream that species that thrived through about 40,000 years of Aboriginal burning would be wiped out by mild fires. Prescribed burning was reduced and the Hume-Snowy Bushfire Prevention Scheme was disbanded.

In 2003, lightning strikes started many fires in and around Kosciuszko National Park. Fires in managed areas outside the park were all rounded up within three days. Fires in the park went on to destroy nearly 500 homes in Canberra and claim four human lives.

The parliamentary inquiry into A Nation Charred took evidence from land managers and:

‘Heard a consistent message right around Australia:- there has been grossly inadequate hazard reduction burning on public lands for far too long; local knowledge and experience is being ignored by an increasingly top heavy bureaucracy.’

A dissenting report relied heavily on information from Professor Robert Whelan of Wollongong University who claimed that ‘broad scale hazard reduction is threatening biodiversity conservation and must therefore be avoided by land managers and resisted at a political level’.

South-eastern bureaucracies boycotted the Nairn Inquiry and set up a Council of Australian Governments Inquiry under an emergency manager, Professor Whelan, and another professor. They gave us ‘learning to live with bushfires’ – education, emergency response, and evacuation instead of sustainable fire management.

Since COAG 2004, more than 200 people have been killed in bushfires.

Whelan set up a bushfire ‘research’ industry at Wollongong University which eventually became the core of NSW Bushfire Research Hub. The academics made models supposedly showing that prescribed burning doesn’t work in the southeast because it’s biogeographically different from the southwest, where 60 years of real data have proved its effectiveness. They said that, in any case, prior burning has no effect under extreme conditions.

The long-term operational data from Western Australia show that burning is ineffective unless a minimum of around 9 per cent of the landscape is treated each year. The effects last up to six years. So prescribed burning is effective when at least half the landscape is being maintained. In the southeast, the figure has been around 1 per cent per annum. The real data also show that the positive effects of maintenance apply particularly in severe seasons, by preventing the development of unstoppable firestorms.

Authorities in the southeast use models to target the miniscule amount of prescribed burning around the edges of suburbia. They are, in effect, creating supposed firebreaks. The scientific and historical evidence is crystal clear that firebreaks, fire engines, and waterbombers can’t stop firestorms coming from unmanaged land. The world record Gospers Mountain fire of half a million hectares started from one lightning strike in the Wollemi Wilderness.




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