Ben Heard founded the South Australia-based ‘Bright New World’ nuclear advocacy group that accepts secret corporate donations from the nuclear industry.
Like so many other nuclear advocates, Heard very rarely or never says or does anything about the problems of the nuclear industry such as its systemic racism (abundantly evident in his home state, South Australia) or the inadequate nuclear safeguards system and the associated WMD proliferation risks.
A big part of Heard’s schtick is his conversion from a nuclear critic to a supporter. It is a back-story built on slender foundations. A mining industry magazine article said Heard was “once a fervent anti-nuclear campaigner” but in fact he never had any involvement whatsoever in anti-nuclear campaigning. Heard made no effort to correct the error in the magazine article — indeed he put the article, uncorrected, on his own website and only corrected it after the falsehood was publicly exposed. Likewise, Heard made no effort to correct an ABC article which described him as a “former anti-nuclear advocate”.
Heard has a recurring disclosure problem. He rarely disclosed his consulting work for uranium company Heathgate when spruiking for the nuclear industry. He said the reason he rarely disclosed his consulting work with Heathgate was that it was mentioned on his website. So any time you hear anyone speaking about anything in the media, it’s your responsibility to do a web-search to see if they have a financial interest! More recently, he rarely discloses corporate funding — indeed his lobby group (closed in 2021) had a policy of accepting secret corporate donations. And Heard rarely if ever discloses his connection to nuclear power company Terrestrial Energy.
Table of Contents (with links)
- Small nuclear reactors, huge costs
- Small modular reactor rhetoric hits a hurdle, see below in this webpage.
- Ben Heard’s “outright lie”, massive hypocrisy and extreme censorship
- More SMR spin and misinformation from Ben Heard
- More misinformation from Ben Heard re SMR costs
- Ben Heard promoting floating nuclear power plants that will be used to exploit Arctic fossil fuel reserves!
- New nuclear push digs deep into vault of alternative facts
- Australia Institute critique of Ben Heard’s idiotic waste-to-fuel Generation IV nuclear fantasies
- Ben Heard’s epic fail … but will he have the decency to repay the $55,593?
- Pyroprocessing flops
- Does Ben Heard’s fake environment group accept secret corporate donations from the coal industry?
- Heard’s lobby group ‘Bright New World’ closes down
- Ben Heard does consulting work for the far-right, climate-denying Minerals Council of Australia
- Ben Heard supports a nuclear waste dump in SA despite the unanimous opposition of Barngarla Traditional Owners
- Aboriginal First Nations and Australia’s pro-nuclear ‘environmentalists’
- Would you do consulting work for General Atomics?
- Ben Heard parrots the racist lies of the right-wing Liberal Party
- Ben Heard in the Australian Financial Review
- Ben Heard’s fake ‘debates’
- Exposing Ben Heard’s misinformation regarding nuclear waste import business proposals
- Scientists debunk the disgraceful anti-renewables propaganda of Ben Heard, the paid nuclear lobbyist whose fake environment group accepts secret corporate donations
- Another scientific critique of Ben Heard’s anti-renewables propaganda
- Ben Heard’s dishonesty regarding nuclear power/weapons connections
- Dear Electric Energy Society of Australia
- A new low from Ben Heard
- Ben Heard campaigns against renewables and then denies doing so!
- Ben Heard’s misinformation about the Fukushima death toll
- Ben Heard’s misinformation about the Chernobyl death toll
- Nuclear Waste
- Heard platforms self-confessed liar Michael Shellenberger
The Minerals Council of Australia is notorious for its tireless efforts to oppose climate change mitigation policies. For example the MCA supplied the lump of coal that Prime Minister Scott Morrison waved around in Parliament. And the MCA made the GLOBAL top 10 list of climate policy opponents. You wouldn’t take money from climate criminals. It speaks volumes about Heard that he has repeatedly taken MCA money …
Jim Green, ‘Small nuclear reactors, huge costs’, RenewEconomy, 11 Oct 2021, https://reneweconomy.com.au/small-nuclear-reactors-huge-costs/
Even by the standards of the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA), the new report published by the country’s most influential coal lobby on the subject of small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) is jiggery-pokery of the highest order.
Why would a mining industry body promote SMRs? After mining for some years — or at most decades — no company would want to take on the responsibility of decommissioning a nuclear reactor and managing high-level nuclear waste for millennia. No companies are cited in the report expressing interest in SMRs to power their mining operations.
Perhaps the MCA – which infamously provided the lump of coal for Scott Morrison to wave around in parliament – thinks that promoting nuclear power will slow the transition from fossil fuels to renewables, and believes that it is in the interests of some of its member companies to slow the transition.
If so, the timing of the report isn’t great, coming in the same week as the Business Council of Australia’s report which argues for a rapid, renewables-led decarbonisation, and Fortescue’s announcement that it plans to build the world’s largest green energy hydrogen manufacturing facility in Queensland.
Perhaps the MCA is doing the bidding of the (mostly foreign-owned) uranium mining companies operating in Australia? The MCA’s CEO Tania Constable said: “Australia should take advantage of growing international interest in nuclear energy and look to expand its already significant uranium sector.”
Perhaps … but there’s no evidence that the two companies mining uranium in Australia — BHP (Olympic Dam) and Heathgate Resources (Beverley Four Mile) — are lobbying for nuclear power. And Australia’s “already significant” uranium industry could hardly be more insignificant — it accounts for about 0.2 percent of Australia’s export revenue and about 0.01 percent of all jobs in Australia.
Bob Carr’s atomic bombshell
The MCA report also came in the same week as Bob Carr’s striking about-face on nuclear power. Having previously supported nuclear power, Carr wrote in The Australian: “In 2010 one enthusiast predicted within 10 years fourth-generation reactors and small modular reactors would be commonplace, including in Australia. None exists, here or abroad.”
The MCA report says SMRs are an “ideal fit” for Australia, citing their enhanced safety, lower cost than large-scale nuclear reactors or equivalent energy production methods, and lower waste production than current reactors.
It’s all nonsense. The safety claims don’t stack up. Nor do the claims about waste. Academic M.V. Ramana notes that “a smaller reactor, at least the water-cooled reactors that are most likely to be built earliest, will produce more, not less, nuclear waste per unit of electricity they generate because of lower efficiencies.” And a 2016 European Commission document states: “Due to the loss of economies of scale, the decommissioning and waste management unit costs of SMR will probably be higher than those of a large reactor (some analyses state that between two and three times higher).”
SMRs have a similar capacity to many existing coal and gas-fired power plants in Australia, the MCA report states, so would make an ideal replacement. Back to Bob Carr:
“Where is the shire council putting up its hand to host a nuclear power plant? Harder to find than a sponsor for a high-temperature toxic waste incinerator. Nobody in the Hunter Valley has urged nuclear for the Liddell site, even on the footprint of this coal-fired power plant scheduled to close. And not even invoking the prospect of a small modular reactor that 10 years back was the vanguard of the nuclear renaissance. About to be planted across the Indonesian archipelago and the rest of Asia, we were promised. Today they exist only on the Rolls-Royce drawing boards they have adorned since the 1970s.”
The MCA said in June 2020 that SMRs won’t find a market unless they can produce power at a cost of A$60-$80 per megawatt hour (MWh). That’s a big problem for enthusiasts because there’s no chance whatsoever that SMRs will produce power in that cost range.
An analysis by WSP / Parsons Brinckerhoff, prepared for the 2015/16 South Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission, estimated a cost of A$225 / MWh for a reactor based on the NuScale design, about three times higher than the MCA’s target range.
CSIRO estimates SMR power costs at A$258-338 / MWh in 2020 and A$129-336 / MWh in 2030.
Russia’s floating nuclear plant is said to be the only operational SMR in the world, although it doesn’t fit the ‘modular’ definition of serial factory production. A 2016 OECD Nuclear Energy Agency report said that electricity produced by the Russian floating plant is expected to cost about US$200 (A$273) / MWh, about four times higher than the target range cited by the MCA and more expensive than power from large reactors (US$129-198 / MWh). Completion of Russia’s floating plant was nine years behind schedule and construction costs increased six-fold.
Yet, despite a mountain of evidence that SMRs won’t come close to producing power in the A$60-80 / MWh range, the new MCA report asserts that “robust estimates” using “conservative assumptions” suggest that SMRs will produce power at a cost of A$64-77 / MWh by 2030.
One wonders who the MCA think they’re kidding.
The MCA report was written by Ben Heard, who recently closed his ‘Bright New World’ nuclear lobby website and now works with Frazer-Nash. Heard promotes Canadian SMR-wannabe Terrestrial Energy in the MCA report but does not disclose his role on the company’s advisory board. Heard also contributed two chapters on nuclear power to a 2020 book titled ‘An Australian nuclear industry: Starting with submarines’.
Follow-up correspondence with the MCA:
Dear Tania [Constable – MCA CEO), just to let you know as a courtesy that I’m going to do my best to publicly expose all of the MCA’s nuclear misinformation from now on. It’s been going on for too long. Also, you should make yourself aware of Ben Heard’s track record of promulgating nuclear nonsense and his consistent failure to declare relevant interests, e.g. last week’s MCA report promotes Terrestrial Energy but doesn’t disclose Heard’s position on the company’s advisory board. My initial response to last week’s MCA report is copied below.
regards, Jim Green / FoE
Dear Dr Green,
Thank you for your email of 11 October. I am surprised that you are so concerned about the MCA commissioning a piece of work that provides a serious look at small modular reactors in the Australian context. You may not agree with the report, but to claim the MCA has engaged in ‘nuclear misinformation’ is fundamentally incorrect.
MCA publications are based on leading-edge research and analysis. Dr Heard has produced a heavily referenced report including three pages of references and end notes. He is one of Australia’s leading authorities on nuclear energy. His engagement and relationships with a number of nuclear technology providers is a testament to that expertise.
The MCA has long advocated that Australia needs a technology driven and neutral approach to address climate change. Reaching net zero emissions by 2050 – which the MCA supports – poses a number of challenges. Having available all technologies capable of meeting that challenge is imperative, and this includes nuclear, CCS, renewables and storage, along with offsets for difficult-to-abate sectors.
I understand your long term opposition to nuclear power. However, a clear majority of Australians are open to a serious discussion about it. This should be based on clear-eyed assessments. As such, Small Modular Reactors in the Australian Context provides a timely contribution to that discussion.
Yours sincerely, Peter Kos / MCA
Dear Peter, clearly you haven’t read my response to Heard’s paper – copied below.
To pick just one point, you know as well as I do that this is laughable: “robust estimates” using “conservative assumptions” suggest that SMRs will produce power at a cost of A$64-77 MWh by 2030.
Please make sure that MCA CEO Tania Constable knows that I plan to public expose all of the MCA’s nuclear misinformation from now on.
I’ve put your pathetic response on the FoE website.
Jim Green / FoE
P.S. If the MCA is serious about climate change, why did you provide Coalition MPs with a lump of coal to wave around in Parliament?
In 2020, Ben Heard repeatedly wrote and talked about the ‘real costs of small modular reactors’ (SMRs), attacking anyone who thinks that the real costs of SMRs (predictably over-budget and behind-schedule SMR construction projects) ought to factor in a discussion about the real costs of SMRs. Instead, Heard bases his estimates on self-serving, absurdly low company estimates (which are several times lower than expert estimates presented in the report of the SA Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission).
Could Heard get any sillier? Well, yes. Here’s the beginning of an Oct. 2020 article by Heard. Spoiler alert: Ontario Power Generation (OPG) is 100% government-owned.
“Based on the events of 2020, we might now find ourselves at the dawn of the very fast change in the journey of advanced, small modular reactors to commercialisation. A veritable flurry of recent announcements can hearten everyone who cares about a clean energy future.
“A new force is coming that can greatly accelerate our energy transition. On October 6, Canadian utility Ontario Power Generation announced the long awaited outcomes of a comprehensive assessment of SMR technologies, declaring a commitment of support to advance the engineering and design work of three SMRs designs: the BWRX-300 from General Electric-Hitachi, the Integral Molten Salt Reactor from Terrestrial Energy, and the Xe-100 pebble bed reactor from X-energy. To settle on these three designs, vendors passed through a due diligence process described by X-energy as the most comprehensive it has ever been through. That statement highlights the significance of this announcement.
“One of the flippant barbs aimed at the SMR sector by commentators (normally of the ideologically entrenched kind) is that private money is not interested in mere paper reactors, and that the whole class of technology is a distant prospect. It is one of those lazy critiques that are easy to say, and safe from dispute all through the long lead time to falsification. OPG’s decision, along with its joint venture formation with Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation and Global First Power, goes a long way to putting this simplistic assertion to rest.”
So a 100% government-owned entity is supporting SMR ‘engineering and design work’ (far short of a commitment to invest billions in actually constructing reactors) and that “goes a long way” to dispelling abundant evidence that private funding is far short of getting reactor construction projects off the ground? Could Heard’s nuclear advocacy get any sillier?
Will OPG and some or all of the three above-mentioned companies get reactor construction projects off the ground? Here’s a downbeat Nov. 2020 assessment in World Nuclear News, an industry publication not known for downbeat assessments:
“Ontario Power Generation (OPG) has announced it is resuming planning activities for building new nuclear generating capacity at its Darlington site in Ontario. However, it is now considering the construction of a small modular reactor (SMR) rather than a large conventional reactor, as previously envisaged. …
“No decision on technology has been made yet, OPG said, but it has begun work aimed at identifying potential options. Last month, OPG announced advancement of engineering and design work with three grid-scale SMR developers: GE Hitachi, Terrestrial Energy and X-energy. It said work with the three developers continues and will help inform OPG on potential options for future deployment.”
Does the OPG collaboration with the three companies involve a significant commitment of resources from any of the parties? The relevant announcements don’t mention any financial commitment from any of the parties. An Oct. 2020 World Nuclear News article suggests low-level, low-commitment collaboration: “GEH said it will provide detailed information on the design process, licensing, scheduling and contracting that will help inform OPG on options for siting an SMR in Ontario.” Heard’s comments about the announcement amount to hyperbole.
As for the “flurry” of other announcements noted in Heard’s article which purportedly prove private-sector commitment to SMRs:
— Canadian GOVERNMENT funding for Terrestrial Energy design / pre-licensing work. (Evidently Terrestrial Energy can’t even find private capital for design / pre-licensing work let alone serious capital for reactor construction.)
— GOVERNMENT funding for the US Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program. This “will bring two advanced reactor designs into full operation in the next 7 years”, Heard says, although he surely knows that statement to be implausible and he surely knows about the history of failure of such programs e.g. the US Next Generation Nuclear Plant Project which was abandoned in 2011 because of the unwillingness of the private sector to commit adequate funding.
— US GOVERNMENT funding for NuScale Power (without mentioning that expert evidence from economists, commissioned by the SA Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission, estimated a hopelessly uneconomic cost of A$225/MWh … the Minerals Council of Australia says that there will be no market for SMRs above a cost of A$60‒80/MWh).
— Potential GOVERNMENT SMR funding by the US International Development Finance Corporation.
— GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy begins a licencing process in the US for BWRX-300 SMR (no mention of the government subsidies, or of the vast gulf between beginning a licensing process and completing reactor construction … or even beginning reactor construction for that matter).
— Russia’s GOVERNMENT-funded floating reactor (no mention of the fact that its purpose is to support fossil fuel mining operations, or that the capital cost increased four-fold, or that the power it produces costs a hopelessly uneconomic US$200/MWh (A$260/MWh) according to the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency).
— A consortium of British businesses submits proposals to build SMRs (no mention of the fact that they won’t move an inch without vast government funding).
Heard writes: “With so many critics insisting the nuclear sector must develop the flexibility to accommodate variable renewables, the sector is delivering in spades with nimble designs, and now directly embedded storage.” Except that nothing in the real world supports what Heard is saying … not one of the reactors Heard is describing is operating or under construction, and the only things the sector is “delivering in spades” are paper designs, press releases and proposals for government funding. Most (perhaps all) of the handful of actual SMR construction projects have exhibited a familiar pattern of massive cost overruns and multi-year / multi-decade delays.
Heard writes: “In a seeming blink of an eye, the SMR sector has evolved into the strong probability of six or more vendors delivering first power before 2030.” There is literally zero chance of six or more vendors delivering first power before 2030, and a strong probability of zero vendors delivering first power before 2030. For reference, the flurry of worldwide SMR propaganda in the 1990s led to the construction of zero SMRs.
Heard’s lobby group ‘Bright New World’ accepts secret corporate donations from the nuclear industry. It’s a safe bet that the secret corporate donors include companies with an interest in SMRs. Note also that Heard’s article fails to declare his interest in one of the companies mentioned — he is a member of a Terrestrial Energy advisory board. He believes that it’s your responsibility to do the research to ascertain whether or not he has any conflicts of interest!
Heard mentions “the improving development and prospects in large nuclear in many markets”. Really? He is making stuff up.
Heard writes: “2020 looks like being the year a new clean energy sector was born”. But in the past two calendar years (2019 and 2020), nearly 500 gigawatts of renewable capacity was added worldwide while nuclear went marginally BACKWARDS. With the ageing of the global reactor fleet, nuclear power is certain to continue to decline. Its contribution to global electricity supply has already declined from a peak of 17.6% to 10% (whereas renewables now supply around 30%). Numerous industry insiders and supporters freely acknowledge that the nuclear power industry is in crisis — they have in recent years acknowledged nuclear power’s “rapidly accelerating crisis“, a “crisis that threatens the death of nuclear energy in the West“, “the crisis that the nuclear industry is presently facing in developed countries“, while noting that “the industry is on life support in the United States and other developed economies” and engaging each other in heated arguments about what if anything can be salvaged from the “ashes of today’s dying industry”.
Brief comments on the Jan. 2021 Ben Heard / BNW submission re AEMO/CSIRO GenCost
The Heard / Bright New World recommendation to exclude SMRs from the AEMO/CSIRO costing work has merit. SMRs could be included at a later stage, if and when there is further information on real-world projects as opposed to mere speculation. The federal, NSW and Victorian governments have all completed nuclear inquiries in recent years and all three governments plan to retain laws banning nuclear power. No state/territory governments are promoting nuclear power. There is a bipartisan consensus at the federal level to retain legal bans. There is no obvious reason for AEMO/CSIRO to be costing SMRs (or nuclear power more generally) at this stage.
In their Jan. 2021 submission, Heard / BNW promote the report by the Economic and Finance Working Group (EFWG) of the Canadian government-industry ‘SMR Roadmap’ initiative.
The Canadian EFWG report gives a wide range of SMR cost estimates ‒ all but the lowest of the cost estimates suggest that SMRs would be uneconomic in Australia (e.g. the Minerals Council of Australia has said that costs would need to be A$60/MWh or less to be competitive).
The lowest estimates in the Canadian EFWG report assume near-term deployment from a standing start (with no-one offering to risk billions of dollars to build demonstration reactors), plus extraordinary learning rates in an industry notorious for its negative learning rates.
Dr. Ziggy Switkowski noted in his evidence to the federal nuclear inquiry that “nuclear power has got more expensive, rather than less expensive”. Yet the EFWG paper takes a made-up, ridiculously-high learning rate and subjects SMR cost estimates to eight ‘cumulative doublings’ based on the learning rate.
That is creative accounting and one can only wonder why Ben Heard and Bright New World would present it as a credible estimate. One possible answer is nuclear industry funding of Bright New World, and Heard’s role as an adviser to wannabe SMR developer Terrestrial Energy. The Heard / BNW submission ought to declare those interests but fails to do so.
Here are the first-of-a-kind (FOAK) SMR cost estimates from the EFWG paper:
300-megawatt (MW) on-grid SMR: C$162.67 / MWh
125-MW off-grid heavy industry: C$178.01 / MWh
20-MW off-grid remote mining: C$344.62 / MWh
3-MW off-grid remote community: C$894.05 / MWh
In Australian dollars, the range is A$167 to A$914 / MWh. The Minerals Council of Australia says that SMRs would need to produce power at A$60/MWh to be competitive … almost three times lower than the lowest of the Canadian FOAK estimates.
The government and industry members on the Canadian EFWG are in no doubt that SMRs won’t be built without public subsidies:
“The federal and provincial governments should, in partnership with industry, investigate ways to best risk-share through policy mechanisms to reduce the cost of capital. This is especially true for the first units deployed, which would likely have a substantially higher cost of capital than a commercially mature SMR.”
The EFWG paper used a range of estimates from the literature and vendors. It notes problems with its inputs, such as the fact that many of the vendor estimates have not been independently vetted, and “the wide variation in costs provided by expert analysts”. Thus, the EFWG qualifies its findings by noting that “actual costs could be higher or lower depending on a number of eventualities”.
Heard has been repeatedly writing and talking about ‘the real cost of SMRs’ but insists that the real costs of SMRs — i.e. data on actual SMR construction projects, showing a familiar pattern of massive cost escalations — should be excluded from the discussion about the real cost of SMRs. Beyond ridiculous.
Small modular reactor rhetoric hits a hurdle
Jim Green, 23 June 2020, RenewEconomy
Obviously, the starting point for any serious discussion about SMR costs would be the cost of operational SMRs ‒ ignored by CSIRO/AEMO and by lobbyists such as BNW.
There is just one operational SMR, Russia’s floating plant. Its estimated cost is US$740 million for a 70 MW plant. That equates to A$15,200 per kW ‒ similar to the CSIRO/AEMO estimate of A$16,304 per kW. Over the course of construction, the cost quadrupled and a 2016 OECD Nuclear Energy Agency report said that electricity produced by the Russian floating plant is expected to cost about US$200 (A$288) per megawatt-hour (MWh) with the high cost due to large staffing requirements, high fuel costs, and resources required to maintain the barge and coastal infrastructure.
Figures on costs of SMRs under construction should also be considered ‒ they are far more useful than the estimates of vendors and lobbyists, which invariably prove to be highly optimistic.
The World Nuclear Association states that the cost of China’s high-temperature gas-cooled SMR (HTGR) is US$6,000 (A$8,600) per kW. Costs are reported to have nearly doubled, with increases arising from higher material and component costs, increases in labour costs, and increased costs associated with project delays.
The CAREM SMR under construction in Argentina illustrates the gap between SMR rhetoric and reality. In 2004, when the reactor was in the planning stage, Argentina’s Bariloche Atomic Center estimated an overnight cost of USS$1,000 per kW for an integrated 300-MW plant (while acknowledging that to achieve such a cost would be a “very difficult task”). When construction began in 2014, the cost estimate was US$15,400 per kW (US$446 million / 29 MW). By April 2017, the cost estimate had increased US$21,900 (A$31,500) per kW (US$700 million / 32 MW).
To the best of my knowledge, no other figures on SMR construction costs are publicly available. So the figures are:
A$15,200 per kW for Russia’s light-water floating SMR
A$8,600 per kW for China’s HTGR
A$31,500 per kW for Argentina’s light-water SMR
The average of those figures is A$18,400 per kW, which is higher than the CSIRO/AEMO figure of A$16,304 per kW and double BNW’s estimate of A$9,132 per kW.
The CSIRO/AEMO report says that while there are SMRs under construction or nearing completion, “public cost data has not emerged from these early stage developments.” That simply isn’t true.
BNW’s imaginary reactor
BNW objects to CSIRO/AEMO basing their SMR cost estimate on a “hypothetical reactor”. But BNW does exactly the same, ignoring real-world cost estimates for SMRs under construction or in operation. BNW starts with the estimate of US company NuScale Power, which hopes to build SMRs but hasn’t yet begun construction of a single prototype. BNW adds a 50% ‘loading’ in recognition of past examples of nuclear reactor cost overruns. Thus BNW’s estimate for SMR construction costs is A$9,132 per kW.
Two big problems: NuScale’s cost estimate is bollocks, and BNW’s proposed 50% loading doesn’t fit the recent pattern of nuclear costs increasing by far greater amounts.
NuScale’s construction cost estimate of US$4,200 per kW is implausible. It is far lower than Lazard’s latest estimate of US$6,900-12,200 per kW for large reactors and far lower than the lowest estimate (US$12,300 per kW) of the cost of the two Vogtle AP1000 reactors under construction in Georgia (the only reactors under construction in the US). NuScale’s estimate (per kW) is just one-third of the cost of the Vogtle plant ‒ despite the unavoidable diseconomies of scale with SMRs and despite the fact that independent assessments conclude that SMRs will be more expensive to build (per kW) than large reactors.
Further, modular factory-line production techniques were trialled with the twin AP1000 Westinghouse reactor project in South Carolina ‒ a project that was abandoned in 2017 after the expenditure of at least US$9 billion, bankrupting Westinghouse.
Lazard estimates a levelised cost of US$118-192 per MWh for electricity from large nuclear plants. NuScale estimates a cost of US$65 per MWh for power from its first plant. Thus NuScale claims that its electricity will be 2-3 times cheaper than that from large nuclear plants, which is implausible. And even if NuScale achieved its cost estimate, it would still be higher than Lazard’s figures for wind power (US$28-54) and utility-scale solar (US$32-44).
BNW claims that the CSIRO/AEMO levelised cost estimate of A$258-338 per MWh for SMRs is an “extreme overestimate”. But an analysis by WSP / Parsons Brinckerhoff, prepared for the SA Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission, estimated a cost of A$225 per MWh for a reactor based on the NuScale design, which is far closer to the CSIRO/AEMO estimate than it is to BNW’s estimate of A$123-128 per MWh with the potential to fall as low as A$60.
BNW proposes adding a 50% ‘loading’ to NuScale’s cost estimate in recognition of past examples of reactor cost overruns, and claims that it is basing its calculations on “a first-of-a-kind vendor estimate [NuScale’s] with the maximum uncertainly associated with the Class of the estimate.” Huh? The general pattern is that early vendor estimates underestimate true costs by an order of magnitude, while estimates around the time of initial construction underestimate true costs by a factor of 2-4.
Here are some recent examples of vastly greater cost increases than BNW allows for:
* The estimated cost of the HTGR under construction in China has nearly doubled.
* The cost of Russia’s floating SMR quadrupled.
* The estimated cost of Argentina’s SMR has increased 22-fold above early, speculative estimates and the cost increased by 66% from 2014, when construction began, to 2017.
* The cost estimate for the Vogtle project in the US state of Georgia (two AP1000 reactors) has doubled to more than US$13.5 billion per reactor and will increase further. In 2006, Westinghouse said it could build an AP1000 reactor for as little as US1.4 billion ‒ 10 times lower than the current estimate for Vogtle.
* The estimated combined cost of the two EPR reactors under construction in the UK, including finance costs, is £26.7 billion (the EU’s 2014 estimate of £24.5 billion plus a £2.2 billion increase announced in July 2017). In the mid-2000s, the estimated construction cost for one EPR reactor in the UK was £2 billion, almost seven times lower than the current estimate.
* The estimated cost of about €11 billion for the only reactor under construction in Finland is 3.7 times greater than the original €3 billion estimate.
BNW notes that timelines for deployment and construction are “extremely material” in terms of the application of learning rates to capital expenditure. BNW objected to the previous CSIRO/AEMO estimate of five years for construction of an SMR and proposed a “more probable” three-year estimate as well as an assumption that NuScale’s first reactor will begin generating power in 2026 even though construction has not yet begun.
For reasons unexplained, CSIRO/AEMO also assume a three-year construction period in their latest report, and for reasons unexplained the operating life of an SMR is halved from 60 years to 30 years.
None of the real-world evidence supports the arguments about construction timelines:
* The construction period for the only operational SMR, Russia’s floating plant, was 12.5 years.
* Argentina’s CAREM SMR was conceived in the 1980s, construction began in 2014, the 2017 start-up date was missed and subsequent start-up dates were missed. If the current schedule for a 2023 start-up is met it will be a nine-year construction project rather than the three years proposed by CSIRO/AEMO and BNW for construction of an SMR. Last year, work on the CAREM SMR was suspended, with Techint Engineering & Construction asking Argentina’s National Atomic Energy Commission to take urgent measures to mitigate the project’s serious financial breakdown. In April 2020, Argentina’s energy minister announced that work on CAREM would resume.
* NuScale Power has been trying to progress its SMR ambitions for over a decade and hasn’t yet begun construction of a single prototype reactor.
* The two large reactors under construction in the US are 5.5 years behind schedule and those under construction in France and Finland are 10 years behind schedule.
* In 2007, EDF boasted that Britons would be using electricity from an EPR reactor at Hinkley Point to cook their Christmas turkeys in December 2017 – but construction didn’t even begin until December 2018.
In response to relentless attacks from far-right politicians and lobby groups such as BNW, the latest CSIRO/AEMO GenCost report makes the heroic assumption that SMR costs will fall from A$16,304 per kW to as little as A$7,140 per kW in 2030, with the levelised cost anywhere between A$129 and A$336 per MWh. The report states that SMRs were assigned a “higher learning rate (more consistent with an emerging technology) rather than being included in a broad nuclear category, with a low learning rate consistent with more mature large scale nuclear.”
But there’s no empirical basis, nor any logical basis, for the learning rate assumed in the report. The cost reduction assumes that large numbers of SMRs will be built, and that costs will come down as efficiencies are found, production capacity is scaled up, etc.
Large numbers of SMRs being built? Not according to expert opinion. A 2017 Lloyd’s Register report was based on the insights of almost 600 professionals and experts from utilities, distributors, operators and equipment manufacturers, who predicted that SMRs have a “low likelihood of eventual take-up, and will have a minimal impact when they do arrive”. A 2014 report produced by Nuclear Energy Insider, drawing on interviews with more than 50 “leading specialists and decision makers”, noted a “pervasive sense of pessimism” about the future of SMRs. Last year, the North American Project Director for Nuclear Energy Insider said that there “is unprecedented growth in companies proposing design alternatives for the future of nuclear, but precious little progress in terms of market-ready solutions.”
Will costs come down in the unlikely event that SMRs are built in significant numbers? For large nuclear reactors, the experience has been either a very slow learning rate with modest cost decreases, or a negative learning rate.
If everything went astonishingly well for SMRs, it would take several rounds of learning to drastically cut costs to A$7,140 per kW. Several rounds of SMR construction by 2030, as assumed in the most optimistic scenario in the CSIRO/AEMO report? Obviously not. The report notes that it would take many years to achieve economies, but then ignores its own advice:
“Constructing first-of-a-kind plant includes additional unforeseen costs associated with lack of experience in completing such projects on budget. SMR will not only be subject to first-of-a-kind costs in Australia but also the general engineering principle that building plant smaller leads to higher costs. SMRs may be able to overcome the scale problem by keeping the design of reactors constant and producing them in a series. This potential to modularise the technology is likely another source of lower cost estimates. However, even in the scenario where the industry reaches a scale where small modular reactors can be produced in series, this will take many years to achieve and therefore is not relevant to estimates of current costs (using our definition).”
Even with heroic assumptions resulting in CSIRO/AEMO’s low-cost estimate of A$129 per MWh for SMRs in 2030, the cost is still far higher than the low-cost estimates for wind with two hours of battery storage (A$64), wind with six hours of pumped hydro storage (A$86), solar PV with two hours of battery storage (A$52) or solar PV with six hours of pumped hydro storage (A$84). And the CSIRO/AEMO high-cost estimate for SMRs in 2030 ($336 per MWh) is more than double the high estimates for solar PV or wind with 2-6 hours of storage (A$90-151).
Reality bats last
The economic claims of SMR enthusiasts are sharply contradicted by real-world data. And their propaganda campaign simply isn’t working ‒ government funding and private-sector funding is pitiful when measured against the investments required to build SMR prototypes let alone fleets of SMRs and the infrastructure that would allow for mass production of SMR components.
Wherever you look, there’s nothing to justify the hype of SMR enthusiasts. Argentina’s stalled SMR program is a joke. Plans for 18 additional HTGRs at the same site as the demonstration plant in China have been “dropped” according to the World Nuclear Association. Russia planned to have seven floating nuclear power plants by 2015, but only recently began operation of its first plant. South Korea won’t build any of its domestically-designed SMART SMRs in South Korea ‒ “this is not practical or economic” according to the World Nuclear Association ‒ and plans to establish an export market for SMART SMRs depend on a wing and a prayer … and on Saudi oil money which is currently in short supply.
‘Reality bats last’, nuclear advocate Barry Brook used to say a decade ago when a nuclear ‘renaissance’ was in full-swing. The reality is that the renaissance was short-lived, and global nuclear capacity fell by 0.6 gigawatts last year while renewable capacity increased by a record 201 gigawatts.
June 2020 ‒ Long story short … RenewEconomy published a FoE article about small modular reactor economics. Ben Heard demanded a right of reply. RenewEconomy told him that anyone is welcome to submit a contribution and it would be reviewed. Heard said he had been denied a reply. That was an “outright lie” according to the RenewEconomy editor. Heard’s response to the FoE article was published on his Bright New World website. He denied me (Jim Green) a right of reply (!) so I replied in the comments section and my reply was deleted by Heard (!) and my comment alerting readers to a substantive response on this FoE webpage was not published!
Here are the comments censored by Heard.
Ben Heard: “Then find the cost estimates, add them up and divide it by three, and float that as the cost of SMR nuclear that will inform decision-making in Australia.”
Response: Yes, real-world SMR construction cost data is limited but it is a better guide than self-serving industry claims. Also relevant are real-world data about cost overruns including the huge overruns with SMR projects and the A$10+ billion-dollar overruns with large reactors in western Europe and the US.
Ben Heard: “If Friends of the Earth thinks +50% is too low, they could have stated their reasoning, made their case (succinctly, if at all possible) and proposed their loading.”
Response: The general recent pattern is that EARLY vendor estimates underestimate true costs by an order of magnitude (see my article – citing AP1000s, EPRs, and Argentina’s SMR as examples), while estimates around the time of initial construction underestimate true costs by a factor of 2-4 (numerous examples cited in my article).
So a 100% loading above NuScale’s estimate would be the minimum starting point.
Note that the WSP / Parsons Brinckerhoff LCOE estimate for a NuScale SMR (A$225 or ~US$150 per MWh) is 2.5 times greater than NuScale’s estimate, and it is roughly twice the BNW estimate.
Ben Heard: “We went with vendor first-of-a-kind estimate +50%, consistent with this being a Class 4 cost estimate, independently verified, based on well-known and understood technology …”
Response: None of that changes the fact that numerous recent real-world reactor projects have been subject to vastly greater cost overruns.
Ben Heard: “We look forward to the author securing employment with a major accounting firm and explaining this [that NuScale’s cost estimate is bollocks] the next time the estimates are verified.”
Response: Heard himself adds a 50% loading. WSP / Parsons Brinckerhoff’s LCOE estimate is 2.5 times greater than NuScale’s estimate. No-one believes NuScale’s estimate.
Ben Heard: “Friends of the Earth didn’t understand ‘Class 4 estimate’. It is a defined term, established for estimates of engineer/procure/construct in civil projects. This is clearly described in our submission. We doubt they read it.”
Response: Yes, I do understand the term and have read your various articles and submissions – and referenced three of them at the top of my article. The real-world evidence, for both small and large reactors, demonstrates that Class 4 estimates need a rethink, especially the demonstrably false assertion (or assumption) that a 50% loading will cover any conceivable overruns.
Ben Heard: “‘NuScale’s estimate (per kW) is just one-third of the cost of the Vogtle plant’. Drawing comparison with large nuclear units, the very paradigm SMR is devised to disrupt, while not entirely irrelevant, is pretty dubious.”
Response: The relevance is that there is a solid body of expert opinion that construction costs per kW and LCOE will be greater for SMRs compared to large reactors. For example a 2015 report by the IEA and the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency predicts that costs per MWh for SMRs will typically be 50−100% higher than for current large reactors, and a UK report estimated a 30% cost increase per MWh.
Ben Heard: “‘BNW objected to the previous CSIRO/AEMO estimate of five years for construction of an SMR and proposed a “more probable” three-year estimate’. We neither objected, nor proposed a ‘more probable’ 3 years, nor even used the words ‘more probable’!”
Response: From the cited BNW paper: “No SMR developer is working on the basis of 5-year construction. This would also raise the LCOE considerably compared with a more probable 3 three years on the basis of what those bringing SMR to market are actually devising.”
As noted in my article, SMR projects typically take about a decade from start of construction to completion or near-completion (8 to 12.5 years).
Ben Heard: “‘100% agreed with Friends of the Earth [that there’s no empirical basis, nor any logical basis, for the learning rate assumed in the GenCost report]. There remains lack of transparency and replicability as regards the SMR learning rates applied in GenCost.”
Response: So do the maths … what is a reasonable learning rate based on the 12.5 year Russian floating plant?
What is a reasonable learning rate based on the Argentinian SMR, conceived in the 1980s, with construction of the first prototype currently stalled due to the project’s ‘serious financial breakdown’?
What is a reasonable learning rate based on mPower, abandoned after the expenditure of US$500 million and before construction of a first prototype began?
What is the learning rate for fast neutron reactors? That question could be answered based on 70 years of mostly-failed projects and would usefully inform current SMR / Gen 4 debates. My guess is that the FNR learning rate is negative.
What are the learning rates for large light water reactors? Well, we can answer that question, and I did so in my article: a very slow learning rate with modest cost decreases, or a negative learning rate.
Heard / Bright New World claims about SMR learning rates are 100% speculative.
Ben Heard: “‘Even with heroic assumptions resulting in CSIRO/AEMO’s low-cost estimate of A$129 per MWh…’. Friends of the Earth has studiously avoided all of the other necessary corrections identified by Bright New World, in particular operating costs and capacity factor, which bring this right down to more like $100/MWh.”
We have considered all the real-world data and plenty more besides. That research is synthesised in the RenewEconomy article and there’s loads more info in submissions such as this:
Our conclusions are shared by informed expert opinion (cited in the submission), e.g. the pro-nuclear US academic researchers who concluded that for SMRs to make a significant contribution to US energy supply, “several hundred billion dollars of direct and indirect subsidies would be needed to support their development and deployment over the next several decades”.
Ben Heard: “‘NuScale Power…hasn’t yet begun construction of a single prototype’. The reference case technology uses the most commercially established fuel cycle in the world, with standard fuel.”
Response: mPower was based on conventional light water technology, but still went bust after the expenditure of US$500 million. Rolls-Royce is proposing light water technology for SMRs in the UK but won’t proceed unless and until a long list of demands are met and hefty subsidies granted.
Ben Heard promoting floating nuclear power plants that will be used to exploit Arctic fossil fuel reserves!
2018 – Ben Heard at his corporate-funded greenwashing worst – actively promoting Russian Rosatom’s floating nuclear power plant that will be used to exploit Arctic fossil fuel reserves … even as he claims to be an environmentalist and claims to be concerned about climate change!
Heard appears to be collaborating with Rosatom in this work … is Rosatom one of the secret corporate donors to Heard’s fake environment group ‘Bright New World’?
State news agency Sputnik News, 2017: “Last week, officials from over a dozen countries gathered in Arkhangelsk, Russia for the international forum ‘The Arctic: Territory of Dialogue’. Among the forum’s senior participants was Russian nuclear energy giant Rosatom. Officials from the company and from the government previewed Rosatom’s role in the new wave of intensive Arctic development. Speaking at the forum, Rosatom CEO Aleksei Lihachev emphasized that the company has a wide array of projects and proposals in the areas of transport, energy, mining, and environmental protection, many of them taken into account by the government and by companies operating in the region. For example, Rosatom’s nuclear icebreakers are actively assisting in the creation of the so-called Northern Sea Route, the new northern shipping route running along the Russian Arctic coast from the Kara Sea to the Bering Strait. The Bilibino Nuclear Power Plant, meanwhile, provides power to the Arctic territories.”
In 2017, Heard facilitated an Australian speaking tour by the US Breakthrough Institute. RenewEconomy published a critique of the Breakthrough Institute’s Gen 4 / SMR silliness.
New nuclear push digs deep into vault of alternative facts
Jim Green, 31 May 2017, RenewEconomy
Australia’s nuclear energy debate reaches Peak Idiocy this week with the visit of Jessica Lovering from the U.S. Breakthrough Institute. Lovering has and will be speaking at public events alongside Australian university student Ben Heard.
Both the Breakthrough Institute and Heard’s ‘Bright New World’ present themselves as progressive environment groups but they are single-issue, pro-nuclear lobby groups with little interest in broader environmental issues. Australia’s environment groups ‒ i.e. real environment groups ‒ are united in our opposition to nuclear power.
Real environment groups celebrate the spectacular growth of renewables and the spectacular cost reductions whereas pro-nuclear lobby groups, including Lovering’s Breakthrough Institute and Heard’s Bright New World, are on a never-ending campaign against renewables. Global renewable energy capacity has doubled over the past decade and current renewable capacity of 2,006 gigawatts (GW) is 5.1 times greater than nuclear power capacity of 392 GW (including idle reactors in Japan). Actual electricity generation from renewables (23.5% of global generation) is more than double that from nuclear power (10.7%) and the gap is widening every day.
Lovering’s opinion piece in The Australian on Monday fails to note that her speaking trip is sponsored by the Minerals Council of Australia. Likewise, Heard has also been paid as a uranium industry consultant.
Lovering brings a suitcase full of alternative facts to Australia. The most egregious is that the nuclear industry is in the middle of some sort of renaissance. Even her own institute contradicts this, bleating about nuclear power’s “rapidly accelerating crisis“, a “crisis that threatens the death of nuclear energy in the West“, “the crisis that the nuclear industry is presently facing in developed countries“, the “ashes of today’s dying industry”, and noting that “the industry is on life support in the United States and other developed economies”
As discussed in RenewEconomy in April, the industry is definitely in crisis. US nuclear giant Westinghouse has filed for bankruptcy protection. Westinghouse’s parent company Toshiba states that there is “substantial doubt” about Toshiba’s “ability to continue as a going concern”. These industry giants have been brought to their knees by cost overruns ‒ estimated at US$13 billion ‒ building four power reactors in the U.S.
Likewise, French nuclear utilities EDF and Areva survive only because of repeated, multi-billion-dollar bailouts by the French government. The combined cost overruns for two French EPR reactors under construction in France and Finland amount to at least US$13.5 billion. South Korea is now looking to exit the industry.
As the Breakthrough Institute’s Michael Shellenberger wrote in February:
“Nuclear energy is, simply, in a rapidly accelerating crisis:
- Demand for nuclear energy globally is low, and the new reactors being built may not keep up with the closure of nuclear plants around the world. Half of all U.S. nuclear plants are at risk of closure over the next 13 years.
- Japan has only opened two of its 42 shuttered nuclear reactors, six years after Fukushima. Most experts estimated it would have two-thirds open by now. The reason is simple: low public acceptance.
- While some still see India as a sure-thing for nuclear, the nation has not resolved key obstacles to building new plants, and is likely to add just 16 GW of nuclear by 2030, not the 63 GW that was anticipated.
- Vietnam had worked patiently for 20 years to build public support for a major nuclear build-out before abruptly scrapping those plans in response to rising public fears and costs last year. Vietnam now intends to build coal plants.
- Last month Entergy, a major nuclear operator, announced it was getting out of the nuclear generation business in states where electricity has been de-regulated, including New York where it operates the highly lucrative Indian Point.”
Lovering’s solution to the nuclear power crisis is to sell moonshine. From The Australian on Monday: “Advanced nuclear designs have the capability to be meltdown-proof, using a combination of coolants, fuels, and basic physics. Reactors that are intrinsically safe can also be radically cheaper, especially by making much smaller, modular reactors in factory settings.”
But the only ‘meltdown-proof’ reactors are those that come pre-melted, i.e. concepts based on liquid nuclear fuels. As for WMD proliferation, the UK Royal Society notes: “There is no proliferation proof nuclear fuel cycle. The dual use risk of nuclear materials and technology and in civil and military applications cannot be eliminated.”
As for small modular reactors (SMRs), only a few are under construction: one in Argentina, a twin-reactor floating nuclear power plant in Russia, and three SMRs in China (including two high-temperature gas-cooled reactors). The broad picture for SMRs is much the same as that for fast neutron reactors: lots of hot air, some R&D, but few concrete plans and even fewer concrete pours.
There isn’t the slightest chance that SMRs will fulfil the ambition of making nuclear power “radically cheaper” unless and until a manufacturing supply chain is mass producing SMRs for a mass market ‒ and even then, it’s doubtful whether the power would be cheaper and it is inconceivable that it would be “radically cheaper”. After all, economies-of-scale have driven the long-term drift towards larger reactors.
As things stand, no country, company or utility has any intention of betting billions on building an SMR supply chain. The prevailing scepticism is evident in a February 2017 Lloyd’s Register report based on “insights and opinions of leaders across the sector” and the views of almost 600 professionals and experts from utilities, distributors, operators and equipment manufacturers. Respondents predicted that SMRs have a “low likelihood of eventual take-up, and will have a minimal impact when they do arrive”.
In the absence of a mass supply chain, SMRs will be expensive curiosities. The construction cost of Argentina’s 25-megawatt CAREM reactor is estimated at US$446 million, which equates to a whopping US$17.8 billion/GW. Estimated construction costs for the Russian floating plant have increased more than four-fold and now equate to over US$10 billion / GW.
Ben Heard thinks Australia should take the lead building his preferred version of Generation IV fast neutron reactors. So Australia ‒ a country with virtually no relevant expertise and even less experience ‒ should take the lead developing Generation IV reactors despite the fact that global nuclear industry giants face crippling debts and possible bankruptcy due to cost overruns building a handful of conventional reactors?
That proposition is beyond stupid and it was even rejected by the (stridently pro-nuclear) SA Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission last year. The Royal Commission said: “[A]dvanced fast reactors and other innovative reactor designs are unlikely to be feasible or viable in the foreseeable future. The development of such a first-of-a-kind project in South Australia would have high commercial and technical risk. Although prototype and demonstration reactors are operating, there is no licensed, commercially proven design. Development to that point would require substantial capital investment. Moreover, electricity generated from such reactors has not been demonstrated to be cost competitive with current light water reactor designs.”
Lovering offers one more alternative fact ‒ the claim that South Australia could accrue A$6 billion in annual economic benefits by importing vast amounts of nuclear waste from around the world.
That claim was tested by the Nuclear Economics Consulting Group, commissioned by a Joint Select Committee of the SA Parliament. The NECG report notes that the $6 billion claim, presented in the SA Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission’s 2016 report, fails to consider some important issues which “have significant serious potential to adversely impact the project and its commercial outcomes”; that assumptions about price are “overly optimistic” in which case “project profitability is seriously at risk”; that the 25% cost contingency for delays and blowouts is likely to be a significant underestimate; and that the assumption the project would capture 50% of the available market had “little support or justification”.
February 2016: An important new report from The Australia Institute shows that a proposal to establish a global nuclear waste industry in South Australia would fail to secure 90% of the imported waste, leaving an expensive and risky legacy for the state. Predictably, Ben Heard responded with an abusive, defamatory attack, saying the Australia Institute “seeks to deliberately mislead, misrepresent and misdirect. ”
In a nutshell, Heard wants South Australia to import 60,000 tonnes of high-level nuclear waste (spent fuel). 4,000 tonnes would be converted to fuel for Generation IV reactors. Or perhaps it won’t, since those Generation IV reactors are a figment of his imagination. He has no idea about the remaining 56,000 tonnes. He claims that this half-baked, hare-brained nonsense “offers a solution to the spent fuel problem”.
See also a separate Australia Institute report, ‘Digging for Answers’, on the economics of plans to import thousands of tonnes of spent fuel / high-level nuclear waste.
The 2015/16 SA Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission was led by Kevin Scarce, who’s only prior contribution to nuclear debates was to uncritically parrot the nuclear industry’s lies. A majority of the members of the ‘Expert Advisory Committee’ appointed by Scarce were strident nuclear advocates. Nuclear lobbyists – led by Ben Heard – united behind a plan to import spent nuclear fuel and to build Gen IV ‘fast reactors’, specifically a non-existent reactor type called ‘integral fast reactors’.
To its credit, the Royal Commission flatly rejected the Gen IV fast reactor propaganda peddled by Heard and others. This is what the Royal Commission says in its February 2016 interim report: “fast reactors or reactors with other innovative designs are unlikely to be feasible or viable in South Australia in the foreseeable future. No licensed and commercially proven design is currently operating. Development to that point would require substantial capital investment. Moreover, the electricity generated has not been demonstrated to be cost-competitive with current light water reactor designs.”
The Royal Commission said that nuclear power would not be economically viable in South Australia for the foreseeable future and it added: “If nuclear power were to be developed in South Australia, a proven design should be used that has been constructed elsewhere, preferably on multiple occasions …”
Heard’s consultancy was paid $55,593 by the SA government’s Economic Development Board and he came up with a crackpot idea based on non-existent Generation IV reactors which was completely rejected by the stridently pro-nuclear Royal Commission! Heard should have the decency to repay the $55,593 to the people of South Australia, so it can be used for schools, hospitals, public transport, medical research, civic amenities, extending the Glenelg tram all the way to the end of the jetty, etc.
The USA has infinitely more nuclear expertise and experience than Australia yet Westinghouse filed for bankruptcy due to crippling debts building CONVENTIONAL nuclear power plants. Two of the reactors were cancelled after A$13 BILLION had been spent on the project (V.C. Summer project, South Carolina).
Ben Heard’s bright idea: Australia – a country with infinitely less nuclear expertise and experience – should take the lead building RADICAL GENERATION-4 reactors. What could possibly go wrong?!
As mentioned elsewhere, the stridently pro-nuclear SA Royal Commission completely rejected Heard’s idiotic idea and Heard refused to repay the $55,000 of taxpayers’ money he was given to concoct his Gen 4 fantasy.
Another set of problems is discussed here: the Gen 4 reactors Heard wants you to pay for rely on pyroprocessing … a failed technology. Dr Ed Lyman explains below – Dr Lyman is a physicist whereas Ben Heard is a uni student with a background in occupational therapy. (Note that the sting is in the tail of Dr Lyman’s article: “Everyone with an interest in pyroprocessing should reassess their views given the real-world problems experienced in implementing the technology over the last 20 years at INL. They should also note that the variant of the process being used to treat the EBR-II spent fuel is less complex than the process that would be needed to extract plutonium and other actinides to produce fresh fuel for fast reactors. In other words, the technology is a long way from being demonstrated as a practical approach for electricity production.”)
Here’s a summary of Dr Lyman’s research plus links to short and long versions of his research:
Pyroprocessing: the integral fast reactor waste fiasco
In theory, integral fast reactors (IFRs) would gobble up nuclear waste and convert it into low-carbon electricity. In practice, the IFR R&D program in Idaho has left a legacy of troublesome waste. This saga is detailed in a recent article1 and a longer report2 by the Union of Concerned Scientists’ senior scientist Ed Lyman.
Lyman notes that the IFR concept “has attracted numerous staunch advocates” but their “interest has been driven largely by idealized studies on paper and not by facts derived from actual experience.”1 He discusses the IFR prototype built at Idaho ‒ the Experimental Breeder Reactor-II (EBR-II), which ceased operation in 1994 ‒ and subsequent efforts by the Department of Energy (DOE) to treat 26 metric tons of “sodium-bonded” metallic spent fuel from the EBR-II reactor with pyroprocessing, ostensibly to convert the waste to forms that would be safer for disposal in a geological repository. A secondary goal was to demonstrate the viability of pyroprocessing ‒ but the program has instead demonstrated the serious shortcomings of this technology.
“Pyroprocessing is a form of spent fuel reprocessing that dissolves metal-based spent fuel in a molten salt bath (as distinguished from conventional reprocessing, which dissolves spent fuel in water-based acid solutions). Understandably, given all its problems, DOE has been reluctant to release public information on this program, which has largely operated under the radar since 2000.
“The FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] documents we obtained have revealed yet another DOE tale of vast sums of public money being wasted on an unproven technology that has fallen far short of the unrealistic projections that DOE used to sell the project to Congress, the state of Idaho and the public. However, it is not too late to pull the plug on this program, and potentially save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. …
“Pyroprocessing was billed as a simpler, cheaper and more compact alternative to the conventional aqueous reprocessing plants that have been operated in France, the United Kingdom, Japan and other countries.
“Although DOE shut down the EBR-II in 1994 (the reactor part of the IFR program), it allowed work at the pyroprocessing facility to proceed. It justified this by asserting that the leftover spent fuel from the EBR-II could not be directly disposed of in the planned Yucca Mountain repository because of the potential safety issues associated with presence of metallic sodium in the spent fuel elements, which was used to “bond” the fuel to the metallic cladding that encased it. (Metallic sodium reacts violently with water and air.)
“Pyroprocessing would separate the sodium from other spent fuel constituents and neutralize it. DOE decided in 2000 to use pyroprocessing for the entire inventory of leftover EBR-II spent fuel – both “driver” and “blanket” fuel – even though it acknowledged that there were simpler methods to remove the sodium from the lightly irradiated blanket fuel, which constituted nearly 90% of the inventory.
“However, as the FOIA documents reveal in detail, the pyroprocessing technology simply has not worked well and has fallen far short of initial predictions. Although DOE initially claimed that the entire inventory would be processed by 2007, as of the end of Fiscal Year 2016, only about 15% of the roughly 26 metric tons of spent fuel had been processed. Over $210 million has been spent, at an average cost of over $60,000 per kilogram of fuel treated. At this rate, it will take until the end of the century to complete pyroprocessing of the entire inventory, at an additional cost of over $1 billion.
“But even that assumes, unrealistically, that the equipment will continue to be usable for this extended time period. Moreover, there is a significant fraction of spent fuel in storage that has degraded and may not be a candidate for pyroprocessing in any event. …
“What exactly is the pyroprocessing of this fuel accomplishing? Instead of making management and disposal of the spent fuel simpler and safer, it has created an even bigger mess. …
“[P]yroprocessing has taken one potentially difficult form of nuclear waste and converted it into multiple challenging forms of nuclear waste. DOE has spent hundreds of millions of dollars only to magnify, rather than simplify, the waste problem. This is especially outrageous in light of other FOIA documents that indicate that DOE never definitively concluded that the sodium-bonded spent fuel was unsafe to directly dispose of in the first place. But it insisted on pursuing pyroprocessing rather than conducting studies that might have shown it was unnecessary.
“Everyone with an interest in pyroprocessing should reassess their views given the real-world problems experienced in implementing the technology over the last 20 years at INL. They should also note that the variant of the process being used to treat the EBR-II spent fuel is less complex than the process that would be needed to extract plutonium and other actinides to produce fresh fuel for fast reactors. In other words, the technology is a long way from being demonstrated as a practical approach for electricity production.”
- Ed Lyman / Union of Concerned Scientists, 12 Aug 2017, ‘The Pyroprocessing Files’, http://allthingsnuclear.org/elyman/the-pyroprocessing-files
- Edwin Lyman, 2017, ‘External Assessment of the U.S. Sodium-Bonded Spent Fuel Treatment Program’, https://s3.amazonaws.com/ucs-documents/nuclear-power/Pyroprocessing/IAEA-CN-245-492%2Blyman%2Bfinal.pdf
Really important for South Australians and others to expose paid nuclear lobbyist Ben Heard and his fake environment group ‘Bright New World’:
- Heard’s fake ‘environment’ group ‘Bright New World’ accepts secret corporate donations. In his words, he “will respect the company’s right to privacy”! On what principle is that ‘right’ based, Ben?
- Heard’s last gig was for the coal industry-funded, viciously racist Minerals Council of Australia.
- Before that, he did consulting work for General Atomics ‒ a US corporation which is up to its neck in drone warfare and thus in the slaughter of innocents.
- Heard rarely disclosed his General Atomics funding when spruiking for nukes … disclosure wasn’t his strong point then, and it isn’t now (see above re secret corporate donations).
- Heard is possibly the first and hopefully the last person to ask for donations when speaking to small, unfunded community groups.
- This is what the stridently pro-nuclear South Australian Royal Commission said about Heard’s Gen IV nuclear power plans: “[A]dvanced fast reactors and other innovative reactor designs are unlikely to be feasible or viable in the foreseeable future. The development of such a first-of-a-kind project in South Australia would have high commercial and technical risk. Although prototype and demonstration reactors are operating, there is no licensed, commercially proven design. Development to that point would require substantial capital investment.”
- Heard got a $55,000 government grant to come up with his eccentric Gen IV proposal and, needless to say, he refused to repay one cent of that money. And that neatly sums up Heard’s nuclear lobbying business ‒ lots of money, not much sense, and he can’t even win over the most strident nuclear advocates to his crackpot ideas.
Heard’s response to all this – he says he is “proud” to do consulting work for the Minerals Council and General Atomics, to ask for money from small community groups, etc.
Here is an excerpt from this article: Jim Green, 13 June 2019, ‘Nuclear power exits Australia’s energy debate, enters culture wars’, https://reneweconomy.com.au/nuclear-power-exits-australias-energy-debate-enters-culture-wars-47702/
Of course, support for nuclear power in Australia isn’t exclusively limited to the far-right, although it is heading that way. A tiny number of self-styled ‘pro-nuclear environmentalists’ or ‘ecomodernists’ continue to bang the drum. Ben Heard, for example, continues to voice his support for nuclear power ‒ his advocacy lubricated by secret corporate donations and amplified by the right-wing media and by invitations to any number of nuclear-industry talk-fests.
Heard continues undeterred by the South Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission’s clear acknowledgement that nuclear power is not economically viable in Australia or by its complete rejection of his ‘next generation’ nuclear fantasies.
But what impact could Heard’s nuclear advocacy possibly have in the current context, with fossil fuel interests fighting to protect their patch and to curb the growth of renewables, and with nuclear power being so exorbitantly expensive that isn’t part of any serious debate about Australia’s energy options? Surely the only effect of nuclear advocacy in the current context is to muddy the debate about transitioning from fossil fuels to renewables and thus to shore up incumbent fossil fuel interests.
Australian economist John Quiggin discussed these issues last year (emphasis added):
“The problem is that nuclear fans like Ben Heard are, in effect, advocates for coal. Their line of argument runs as follows:
(1) A power source with the characteristics of coal-fired electricity (always on) is essential if we are to decarbonise the electricity supply
(2) Renewables can’t meet this need
(3) Nuclear power can
“Hence, we must find a way to support nuclear. The problem is that, on any realistic analysis, there’s no chance of getting a nuclear plant going in Australia before about 2040. So, the nuclear fans end up supporting the Abbott crew saying that we will have to rely on coal until then. And to make this case, it is necessary to ignore or denounce the many options for an all-renewable electricity supply, including concentrated solar power, large-scale battery storage and vehicle-to-grid options. As a result, would-be green advocates of nuclear power end up reinforcing the arguments of the coal lobby. … In practice, support for nuclear power in Australia is support for coal. Tony Abbott understands this. It’s a pity that Ben Heard and others don’t.“
(Also see elsewhere in this webpage: ‘Ben Heard promoting floating nuclear power plants that will be used to exploit Arctic fossil fuel reserves!’)
An article in an IPA publication … consulting work with the far-right MCA … consulting work for the appalling General Atomics … sympathetic coverage from the Murdoch press and from the AFR’s far-right anti-journalist Aaron Patrick. What to make of Ben Heard’s impressive far-right connections? One explanation is to follow the money (see #followthemoney in this webpage). Another explanation (which doesn’t contradict the first) is offered by Australian economist Prof. John Quiggin:
Not everyone likes the grand bargain
John Quiggin, September 3, 2019, http://blogotariat.com/node/3823006
I’ve been very surprised by the extent to which some commentators on the right have been willing to entertain the idea of a carbon price in return for lifting the ban on nuclear power. I mentioned Aaron Patrick in the Fin yesterday. And today, here’s Adam Creighton at the Oz
Reviving the carbon tax debate is probably anathema for many, but if one were set up correctly, with all the money being returned to taxpayers by way of an annual payment, it would make nuclear power stations more viable and provide a political springboard to abandon the massively inefficient clutter of state and federal renewable energy targets. Carbon dividends for all is a much better sell than a carbon tax on everything
On the other hand, one person from whom I confidently expected unqualified support has jibbed at it. As I said a while back, the proposal should appeal to anyone who seriously believes that nuclear power should be adopted as a response to climate change.
The obvious example, for me at any rate, is Ben Heard. So, I was quite surprised when, in a lengthy Twitter discussion (here’s his feed), he would not endorse a carbon price, or any other specific measure to reduce emissions. Not only that, but he professed greater sympathy for rightwing science deniers than for anti-nuclear environmentalists.
It’s easy enough to guess what is going on here. I imagine Heard started out with genuine concern about the climate, and convinced himself that nuclear power was an essential part of the solution. That entailed arguing that renewables couldn’t do the job, even with storage. At this point, Heard would have got plenty of hostility from environmentalists, and plenty of support from denialists. So, when he’s faced with something like a carbon price (or, for that matter, any effective climate policy) that his new friends will hate (check out the old white male Oz commenters on Creighton’s post), he backs away. I’ve previously seen the same pattern with Barry Brook and (from a different starting point) Ted Trainer.
June 2021: Ben Heard’s ‘Bright New World’ group — which received secret corporate donations from the nuclear industry — is closing down.
Concerted efforts to have state and federal laws banning nuclear power repealed have failed in recent years.
At a guess, corporate donors have given up and will no longer fund Bright New World.
A stocktake of Heard’s 10 years of pro-nuclear, anti-renewables campaigning:
1. Renewables capacity grew by an incredible 1500+ gigawatts worldwide and renewables now account for 29% of global electricity generation. Nuclear generation was stagnant and nuclear’s contribution to global electricity generation fell to 10%. In Heard’s home state of South Australia, renewables have grown to 60% of electricity generation (over 70% as of 2023) and the conservative state government is enthusiastically committed to 100% net renewables by 2030.
2. Heard’s efforts to turn South Australia into the world’s nuclear waste dump were unsuccessful.
3. Heard’s efforts to promote ‘Generation IV’ reactors fell flat on their face. Heard and other nuclear enthusiasts united behind a push for (non-existent) ‘Integral Fast Reactors’ and this is how the SA Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission responded in its final report: in 2016: “[A]dvanced fast reactors and other innovative reactor designs are unlikely to be feasible or viable in the foreseeable future. The development of such a first-of-a-kind project in South Australia would have high commercial and technical risk. Although prototype and demonstration reactors are operating, there is no licensed, commercially proven design. Development to that point would require substantial capital investment.”
Good riddance to Bright New World. #epicfail
Minerals Council of Australia makes global top 10 climate policy opponents
Minerals Council of Australia – with deep ties to Morrison government – gets number eight global ranking for groups acting against climate policies.
Ben Heard supports a nuclear waste dump in SA despite the UNANIMOUS opposition of Barngarla Traditional Owners
Shamefully, the federal government refused a request from Barngarla Traditional Owners, native title holders of the area, to be included in a community ballot regarding a proposed national nuclear waste ‘facility’ (dump and store) near Kimba in South Australia. So the Barngarla Determination Aboriginal Corporation (BDAC) engaged an independent agent to conduct a confidential postal ballot.
Not a single Barngarla Traditional Owner voted in favour of the dump. BDAC wrote to Mr. Canavan calling on him to abandon the nuclear dump in light of their unanimous opposition, and stating that BDAC will take whatever steps are necessary to stop the dump being imposed on Barngarla Country against their will.
The SA Labor Party argues that Traditional Owners ought to have a right of veto. Deputy Leader of the Opposition Susan Close says that SA Labor are “utterly opposed to the process”, which she described as “appalling”.
Compare that to the federal government, which wants to push ahead despite unanimous Aboriginal opposition. The government’s mind-set seems not to have advanced from the ‘Aboriginal natives shall not be counted’ clause in the Constitution Act 1900.
So where does ‘progressive ecomodernist’ Ben Heard stand on this? He supports the dump despite unanimous Aboriginal opposition. Sickening and disgusting, but we shouldn’t expect any more from a fake environment group which accepts secret corporate donations from the nuclear industry.
See elsewhere in this webpage:
- Aboriginal First Nations and Australia’s pro-nuclear ‘environmentalists’
- Would you do consulting work for General Atomics?
- Ben Heard parrots the racist lies of the right-wing Liberal Party
Jim Green, 3 July 2018, Online Opinion, http://onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=19825&page=0
The plan to turn South Australia into the world’s nuclear waste dump has lost momentum since 2016 though it continues to be promoted by some politicians, the Business SA lobby group, and an assortment of individuals and lobbyists including self-styled ‘pro-nuclear environmentalists’ or ‘ecomodernists‘.
In its 2016 report, the SA Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission established by the state government promoted a plan to import 138,000 tonnes of high-level nuclear waste (about one-third of the world’s total) and 390,000 cubic metres of intermediate-level waste. The state Labor government then spent millions on a state-wide promotional campaign under the guide of consultation.
The government also initiated a Citizens’ Jury process. However two-thirds of the 350-member Citizens’ Jury rejected the waste import proposal “under any circumstances” in their November 2016 report. The Jury’s verdict was non-binding but it took the wind out of the dumpsters’ sails.
A key factor in the Jury’s rejection of the waste import plan was that Aboriginal people had spoken clearly in opposition. The Jury’s report said: “There is a lack of aboriginal consent. We believe that the government should accept that the Elders have said NO and stop ignoring their opinions. The aboriginal people of South Australia (and Australia) continue to be neglected and ignored by all levels of government instead of respected and treated as equals.”
The respect shown by the Citizens’ Jury to Aboriginal Traditional Owners had been conspicuously absent in the debate until then. The SA government’s handling of the Royal Commission process systematically disenfranchised Aboriginal people.
The Royal Commission
Royal Commissioner Kevin Scarce ‒ a retired Navy officer ‒ didn’t appoint a single Aboriginal person to the staff of the Royal Commission or to his Expert Advisory Committee. Aboriginal people repeatedly expressed frustration with the Royal Commission process.
The Royal Commission acknowledged the opposition of Aboriginal people to its nuclear waste import plan – but it treated that opposition not as a red light but as an obstacle to be circumvented. The Commission opted out of the debate regarding land rights and heritage protections for Aboriginal people, stating in its report: “Although a systematic analysis was beyond the scope of the Commission, it has heard criticisms of the heritage protection framework, particularly the consultative provisions.”
Despite its acknowledgement that it had not systematically analysed the matter, the Royal Commission nevertheless arrived at unequivocal, favourable conclusions, asserting that there “are frameworks for securing long-term agreements with rights holders in South Australia, including Aboriginal communities” and these “provide a sophisticated foundation for securing agreements with rights holders and host communities regarding the siting and establishment of facilities for the management of used fuel.”
Such statements were conspicuously absent in submissions from Aboriginal people and organisations. There is in fact an abundance of evidence that land rights and heritage protection frameworks in SA are anything but “sophisticated.”
Enter the ecomodernists
Ben Heard from the ‘Bright New World’ pro-nuclear lobby group said the Royal Commission’s findings were “robust”. Seriously? Failing to conduct an analysis and ignoring an abundance of contradictory evidence but nevertheless concluding that a “sophisticated foundation” exists for securing agreements with Aboriginal rights-holders … that’s “robust”? Likewise, academic Barry Brook, a member of the Commission’s Expert Advisory Committee, said he was “impressed with the systematic and ruthlessly evidence-based approach the [Royal Commission] team took to evaluating all issues.”
In a November 2016 article about the nuclear waste import plan, Ben Heard and Oscar Archer wrote: “We also note and respect the clear message from nearly all traditional owner groups in South Australia that there is no consent to proceed on their lands. We have been active from the beginning to shine a light on pathways that make no such imposition on remote lands.”
In Heard’s imagination, the imported spent nuclear fuel would not be dumped on the land of unwilling Aboriginal communities, it would be processed for use as fuel in non-existent Generation IV ‘integral fast reactors‘. Even the stridently pro-nuclear Royal Commission gave short shrift to Heard’s proposal, stating in its final report: “[A]dvanced fast reactors and other innovative reactor designs are unlikely to be feasible or viable in the foreseeable future. The development of such a first-of-a-kind project in South Australia would have high commercial and technical risk.”
Heard claims his imaginary Generation IV reactor scenario “circumvents the substantial challenge of social consent for deep geological repositories, facilities that are likely to be best located, on a technical basis, on lands of importance to Aboriginal Australians”.
But even in Heard’s scenario, only a tiny fraction of the imported spent fuel would be converted to fuel for imaginary Generation IV reactors (in one of his configurations, 60,000 tonnes would be imported but only 4,000 tonnes converted to fuel). Most of it would be stored indefinitely, or dumped on the land of unwilling Aboriginal communities.
Despite his acknowledgement that there was “no consent” to proceed from “nearly all traditional owner groups in South Australia”, Heard nevertheless wrote an ‘open letter‘ promoting the waste import plan which was endorsed by ‘prominent’ South Australians, i.e. rich, non-Aboriginal people.
One of the reasons to pursue the waste import plan cited in Heard’s open letter is that it would provide an “opportunity to engage meaningfully and partner with Aboriginal communities in project planning and delivery”. There is no acknowledgement of the opposition of Aboriginal people to the waste import plan; evidently Heard believes that their opposition should be ignored or overridden but Aboriginal people might be given a say in project planning and delivery.
A second version of Heard’s open letter did not include the above wording but it cited the “successful community consultation program” with Aboriginal communities. However the report arising from the SA government’s community consultation program (successful or otherwise) stated: “Some Aboriginal people indicated that they are interested in learning more and continuing the conversation, but these were few in number.”
Geoff Russell, another self-styled pro-nuclear environmentalist, wrote in a November 2016 article in New Matilda:
“Have Aboriginals given any reasons for opposing a waste repository that are other than religious? If so, then they belong with other objections. If not, then they deserve the same treatment as any other religious objections. Listen politely and move on.
“Calling them spiritual rather than religious makes no difference. To give such objections standing in the debate over a repository is a fundamental violation of the separation of church and state, or as I prefer to put it, the separation of mumbo-jumbo and evidence based reasoning.
“Aboriginals have native title over various parts of Australia and their right to determine what happens on that land is and should be quite different from rights with regard to other land. This isn’t about their rights on that land.
“Suppose somebody wants to build a large intensive piggery. Should we consult Aboriginals in some other part of the country? Should those in the Kimberley perhaps be consulted? No.
“They may object to it in the same way I would, but they have no special rights in the matter. They have no right to spiritual veto.”
Where to begin? Russell’s description of Aboriginal spiritual beliefs as “mumbo-jumbo” is beyond offensive. He provides no evidence for his claim that Traditional Owners are speaking for other people’s country. Federal native title legislation provides limited rights and protections for some Traditional Owners ‒ and no rights and protections for many others (when the federal Coalition government was trying to impose a national nuclear waste dump on Aboriginal land in SA in 2003, it abolished all native title rights and interests over the site).
National nuclear waste dump
The attitudes of the ecomodernists also extend to the debate over the siting of a proposed national nuclear waste dump. Silence from the ecomodernists when the federal government was passing laws allowing the imposition of a national nuclear waste dump in the Northern Territory without consent from Traditional Owners. Echoing comments from the Liberal Party, Brook and Heard said the site in the Northern Territory was in the “middle of nowhere”. From their perspective, perhaps, but for Muckaty Traditional Owners the site is in the middle of their homelands.
Heard claims that one of the current proposed dump sites, in SA’s Flinders Ranges, is “excellent” in many respects and it “was volunteered by the landowner”. In fact, it was volunteered by absentee landlord and former Liberal Party politician Grant Chapman, who didn’t bother to consult Adnyamathanha Traditional Owners living on the neighbouring Indigenous Protected Area. The site is opposed by most Adnyamathanha Traditional Owners and by their representative body, the Adnyamathanha Traditional Lands Association (ATLA).
Heard claims there are “no known cultural heritage issues” affecting the Flinders Ranges site. Try telling that to the Adnyamathanha Traditional Owners who live on Yappala Station, in the Indigenous Protected Area adjacent to the proposed dump site. The area has many archaeological and culturally-significant sites that Traditional Owners have registered with the SA government over the past decade.
So where did Heard get this idea that there are “no known cultural heritage issues on the site”? Not from visiting the site, or speaking to Traditional Owners. He’s just repeating the federal government’s propaganda.
Silence from the ecomodernists about the National Radioactive Waste Management Act (NRWMA), which dispossesses and disempowers Traditional Owners in every way imaginable. The nomination of a site for a radioactive waste dump is valid even if Aboriginal owners were not consulted and did not give consent. The NRWMA has sections which nullify State or Territory laws that protect archaeological or heritage values, including those which relate to Indigenous traditions. The NRWMA curtails the application of Commonwealth laws including the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984 and the Native Title Act 1993 in the important site-selection stage. The Native Title Act 1993 is expressly overridden in relation to land acquisition for a radioactive waste dump.
Silence from the ecomodernists about the Olympic Dam mine’s exemptions from provisions of the SA Aboriginal Heritage Act.
Silence from the ecomodernists about sub-section 40(6) of the Commonwealth’s Aboriginal Land Rights Act, which exempts the Ranger uranium mine in the Northern Territory from the Act and thus removed the right of veto that Mirarr Traditional Owners would otherwise have enjoyed.
Silence from the ecomodernists about the divide-and-rule tactics used by General Atomics’ subsidiary Heathgate Resources against Adnyamathanha Traditional Owners in relation to the Beverley and Four Mile uranium mines in SA.
Adnyamathanha Traditional Owner Dr Jillian Marsh, who in 2010 completed a PhD thesis on the strongly contested approval of the Beverley mine, puts the nuclear debates in a broader context: “The First Nations people of Australia have been bullied and pushed around, forcibly removed from their families and their country, denied access and the right to care for their own land for over 200 years. Our health and wellbeing compares with third world countries, our people crowd the jails. Nobody wants toxic waste in their back yard, this is true the world over. We stand in solidarity with people across this country and across the globe who want sustainable futures for communities, we will not be moved.”
Now, Traditional Owners have to fight industry, government, and the ecomodernists as well.
Would you do consulting work for – or promote – a company that supported police brutality against a peaceful protest including the pepper-spraying of the 11-year old grand-daughter of an Adnyamathana Elder? Ben Heard has done both.
Would you do consulting work for – or promote – a company whose parent company in the U.S. is up to its neck in the slaughter of innocents via drone warfare? Ben Heard has done both.
Would you do consulting work for – or promote – a company which has employed spies to infiltrate environment groups? Ben Heard has done both.
Would you do consulting work for – or promote – a company with an appalling environmental record? If so, would you call yourself an environmentalist?!
Please follow this link to read about General Atomics’ disgusting behaviour, and watch the short video below, and ask yourself: Would you do consulting work for this company or promote its uranium mine in South Australia? Ben Heard has done both.
A new low from Ben Heard, parroting the racist lies of the right-wing Liberal government.
Here is an extract from an article posted at:
Australia’s self-styled ‘pro-nuclear environmentalists’ – academic Barry Brook (a member of the Royal Commission’s Expert Advisory Committee), uranium and nuclear industry consultant Ben Heard, and one or two others – have never once voiced concern about attempts to impose nuclear waste dumps on unwilling Aboriginal communities. Their silence suggests they couldn’t care less about the racism of the industry they so stridently support.
Silence from Brook and Heard when the federal government was passing laws allowing the imposition of a national nuclear waste dump in the Northern Territory without consulting or securing consent from Traditional Owners.
Echoing comments from the right-wing Liberal Party, Brook and Heard said the Muckaty site in the Northern Territory is in the “middle of nowhere”. From their perspective, perhaps, but for Muckaty Traditional Owners the site is in the middle of their homelands – and claims that it is in the middle of nowhere are deeply offensive.
Heard’s comments about the current proposed dump site on Adnyamathanha land in South Australia have been just as offensive. He claims there are “no known cultural heritage issues on the site”. Try telling that to the Adnyamathanha Traditional Owners who live on Yappala Station, in the Indigenous Protected Area right next to the dump site.
So where did Heard get this idea that there are “no known cultural heritage issues on the site”? Not from visiting the site, or speaking to the Traditional Owners. He’s just parroting the federal government’s racist lies.
Brook and Heard are also offering up the state of South Australia for an international high-level nuclear waste dump as if it was their personal property. No mention of Aboriginal Traditional Owners or their fierce opposition to the proposal.
Some notes by FoE’s national nuclear campaigner Jim Green responding to comments in an Australian Financial Review article in September 2019:
“A South Australian energy modeller and pro-nuclear campaigner, Ben Heard, says that before pretty much every second public appearance he agrees to, the organisers express second thoughts after lobbying by Friends of the Earth or others.”
‒ Sometimes FoE suggests that organisers require Heard to disclose his financial interests including his solicitation and acceptance of secret corporate donations for his lobby group … because Heard has a track record of failing to disclose financial interests. Sometimes we have suggested that a ‘debate’ requires representation from more than one viewpoint, since Heard evidently believes otherwise (see elsewhere in this webpage: ‘Ben Heard’s fake ‘debates”).
“I have been called a racist,” he says.
‒ See elsewhere in this webpage: ‘Ben Heard parrots the racist lies of the right-wing Liberal Party’. Also see elsewhere in this webpage: ‘Aboriginal First Nations and Australia’s pro-nuclear ‘environmentalists’
“I have been called corrupt.”
‒ Not by FoE.
“I have been accused of taking public money to deliver ridiculous ideas.”
‒ The obscenely pro-nuclear South Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission flatly rejected Heard’s Generation IV fantasies which were developed with the assistance of taxpayers’ money. See below: ‘Ben Heard’s epic fail … but will he have the decency to repay the $55,593?’
“I have been called not an environmentalist. I am an environmentalist. I am associated with a company that makes drones and I am somehow accused of being associated with killing children.”
‒ An environmentalist who is “proud” to do consulting work for a company that has hired private investigators to infiltrate environment groups!! Sounds more like a corporate-funded greenwasher.
‒ Heard can call himself whatever he wants. I call him a nuclear lobbyist whose fake environment group accepts secret corporate donations.
‒ Heard says he is proud to have consulted for a General Atomics’ subsidiary. Plenty of people would be ashamed to work for the company in light of its appalling environmental record and its involvement in drone warfare, etc. See elsewhere in this webpage: ‘Would you do consulting work for General Atomics?’ and see this information and video about General Atomics.
“I receive thinly veiled death threats.”
‒ A serious death threat, reported to the police? Or is Heard referring to a mentally-ill man in Adelaide who sings an offensive ‘song’ attacking nuclear advocates, and verbally attacks me and many others (not just nuclear advocates).
“This is my life.”
‒ I’ve had cordial, interesting communications with pro-nuclear people over the years. Heard’s problem is not that he is pro-nuclear – it is everything else: failure to disclose financial interests, aggressive and sometimes defamatory attacks, peddling misinformation, fake ‘debates’ with only pro-nuclear speakers, etc. etc.
In 2011, Heard organised a fake ‘debate’ with all pro-nuclear speakers! Referring to the fake ‘debate’, Heard claimed that Friends of the Earth “tried to have our event shut down”. That claim was another one of Heard’s blatant lies.
In 2018, Heard is involved in another fake ‘debate’ featuring all pro-nuclear speakers – organised (or at least hosted) by the Warren Centre. We don’t know if Heard helped to organise the fake debate including the speaking list. Friends of the Earth wrote to the Warren Centre asking why this fake ‘debate’ features all pro-nuclear speakers and seeking assurance that the audience would be made aware that Heard’s so-called environment group accepts secret corporate donations. There was no response from the Warren Centre. Here’s a link to the unanswered questions we sent to the Warren Centre.
Feb. 3, 2017
EXPOSING THE LATEST MISINFORMATION FROM BEN HEARD – THE PAID NUCLEAR LOBBYIST WHOSE FAKE ENVIRONMENT GROUP ACCEPTS SECRET CORPORATE DONATIONS.
The Advertiser has today run an article including false claims from nuclear lobbyist / uranium industry consultant / PhD student Ben Heard that Jay Weatherill’s plan to turn SA into the world’s high-level nuclear waste dump could be pursued without the need to gamble hundreds of millions or billions of dollars with no guarantee of any return on the investment.
Mr Heard is quoted saying that the “notion of high upfront cost to South Australia is a persistent and deliberate lie first peddled by deceitful environmental groups and now, sadly, taken up by the Liberal Party.”
In fact, the necessity of gambling hundreds of millions or billions of dollars ‒ without the slightest guarantee of any return on the investment ‒ is clearly spelt out by Jacobs, the economics consulting firm commissioned by the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission.
Jacobs Project Manager / Consultant Tim Johnson told the SA Joint Select Committee that “total expenditure prior to the decision to proceed” is likely to be from around A$300 million to in excess of A$600 million, depending on the timing of the decision to proceed. (Letter to Joint Standing Committee, 5 July 2016.)
Dr Johnson told the Joint Select Committee that the project entails very significant economic risks: “It isn’t a risk-free process to go into this. There is a very significant risk.” Yet the nuclear waste dump lobby persist with the fabrication that the project can be pursued without economic risks.
Jacobs noted the potential for initial outlays in the billions in its report for the Royal Commission: “Under the cash-flow assumptions of the baseline, where no revenues ahead of delivery are assumed (a deliberately conservative assumption), there is an initial outlay of A$2.4 billion (real) in net terms.” (Jacobs, Paper 5, sec 4.4, Cash flow profile for the baseline, p.205.)
Any suggestion that the nuclear waste dump project could be a quick fix for the SA economy were dispelled by the Royal Commission’s report, which stated (emphasis added): “Careful characterisation over several decades is required to confirm the suitability of the geological conditions.”
The only way to avoid gambling hundreds of millions or billions of SA taxpayers’ dollars would be in the wildly improbable scenario that potential client countries would take that gamble. If anyone needs any convincing as to the improbability of that scenario, it came late last year in correspondence from the Taiwanese government’s energy and nuclear agencies. As Daniel Wills reported in The Advertiser: “Taiwan’s state-owned energy company has bluntly rejected Investment and Trade Minister Martin Hamilton-Smith’s claim the country would consider paying to help set up a nuclear waste dump in SA, saying in a letter that it “hereby declares this is a false information”.”
Taipower clearly states that it would not consider sending waste to another country unless and until that country has developed a repository. Yet the economic case developed by Jacobs and MCM collapses if revenue (and waste) is not received before construction of a repository. The Final Report of the Royal Commission states (p.300) (emphasis added): “Figure J.8 also demonstrates that a facility configuration scenario is viable only with the establishment of a surface interim storage facility capable of accepting used fuel prior to construction of geological disposal facilities. Configurations 3 and 4, which did not include interim storage facilities (see Table J.1), did not generate profits because of the delay in receiving waste and associated revenues.”
Taiwan’s Atomic Energy Council is clearly sensitive to SA public opinion, pointing to the Citizen Jury’s rejection of the proposal and noting that: “Without the understanding and support from Australian … nuclear waste storage cannot be developed.”
The nuclear waste dump lobbyists are hanging on to the ludicrous proposition that potential client countries will gamble hundreds of millions or billions of dollars on a waste dump plan that is:
* Opposed by three political parties in SA (Liberals, Greens, NXT) and by many within the ALP.
* Opposed by a majority of South Australians (e.g. 31% support vs. 53% opposition in the SA Government’s statewide consultation process; and a November 2016 poll commissioned by the Sunday Mail found just 35% support.)
* Opposed by a vast majority of Aboriginal Traditional Owners on whose land the high-level nuclear waste dump would necessarily be located. (The SA government’s Community Views Report said: “There was a significant lack of support for the government to continue pursuing any form of nuclear storage and disposal facilities. Some Aboriginal people indicated that they are interested in learning more and continuing the conversation, but these were few in number.”)
* Rejected by two-thirds of the 350-strong Citizens’ Jury “under any circumstances”.
Taiwan has clearly stated that it has no intention of gambling vast sums of money on a nuclear dump in SA and it is equally improbable that any other potential client country would do so. In which case South Australians would need to gamble hundreds of millions or billions of dollars on a project with no guarantee of any return on the investment.
Late last year, Mr Heard had to correct a statement falsely claiming that most South Australians support the high-level nuclear dump plan and he begins 2017 with another falsehood. He should have the decency to apologise to the Liberal Party and to environment groups for his latest falsehood and slander.
Interestingly, the statement falsely claiming that most South Australians support the high-level nuclear dump plan was endorsed by SA’s Chief Scientist, Dr. Leanna Read. Shamefully, the state’s chief fact-checker didn’t bother to check her facts.
Mr Heard also conveniently ignores real-world experience with nuclear waste projects:
* Estimates of the clean-up costs for a range of (civil and military) UK nuclear sites including Sellafield have nearly doubled from a 2005 estimate of £56 billion (A$91.6 billion) to over £100 billion (A$163.6 billion)
* In 2005, the French government’s nuclear waste agency Andra estimated the cost of a deep geological repository at between €13.5 and €16.5 billion (A$19.0‒23.2 billion). In 2016, Andra estimates the cost of the repository at between €20 billion to €30 billion (A$28.1‒42.2 billion). As with the UK, the latest French estimates are nearly double the earlier estimates.
* Between 2001 and 2008, the estimated cost of constructing the Yucca Mountain high level nuclear waste repository in the USA and operating it for 150 years increased by 67%, from US$57.5 billion to US$96.2 billion (A$75.1 billion ‒ $125.7 billion). Yucca Mountain was abandoned – so the USA wasted US$13.5 billion (A$17.6 billion) and still doesn’t have a repository.
The Nuclear Economics Consulting Group report commissioned by the SA Joint Select Committee concluded that the nuclear waste import project could be profitable under certain assumptions but the report then raises serious questions about most of those assumptions. The NECG report notes that the Royal Commission’s economic analysis didn’t even consider some important issues which “have significant serious potential to adversely impact the project and its commercial outcomes”; that assumptions about price are “overly optimistic” and if that is the case “project profitability is seriously at risk”; that the 25% cost contingency for delays and blowouts is likely to be a significant underestimate; and that the assumption the project would capture 50% of the available market had “little support or justification”.
Finally, Mr Heard’s promotion of fast breeder reactors is beyond stupid. For all the rhetoric about Generation IV fast breeder reactors, and the US$100+ billion invested worldwide, only five such reactors are operating worldwide (three of them experimental) and only one is under construction (in India). Most of the countries that invested in fast breeder reactors have given up, deciding not to throw good money after bad. Last year, Japan decided to give up on the Monju fast breeder reactor, a fiasco that will cost Japanese taxpayers A$17.3 billion in construction, operation and decommissioning costs despite the fact that the reactor rarely operated.
The Royal Commission completely rejected proposals advanced by Heard and others for ‘advanced fast reactors’, noting in its final report that such reactors are unlikely to be feasible or viable in the foreseeable future; that the development of such a first-of-a-kind project would have high commercial and technical risk; that there is no licensed, commercially proven design and development to that point would require substantial capital investment; and that electricity generated from such reactors has not been demonstrated to be cost competitive with current light water reactor designs.
Scientists debunk the disgraceful anti-renewables propaganda of Ben Heard, the paid nuclear lobbyist whose fake environment group accepts secret corporate donations
Can we get 100 percent of our energy from renewable sources?
New article gathers the evidence to address the sceptics
Public release ‒ 17 May 2018
Lappeenranta University of Technology
Is there enough space for all the wind turbines and solar panels to provide all our energy needs? What happens when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow? Won’t renewables destabilise the grid and cause blackouts?
In a review paper last year in the high-ranking journal Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Master of Science Benjamin Heard and colleagues presented their case against 100% renewable electricity systems. They doubted the feasibility of many of the recent scenarios for high shares of renewable energy, questioning everything from whether renewables-based systems can survive extreme weather events with low sun and low wind, to the ability to keep the grid stable with so much variable generation.
Now scientists have hit back with their response to the points raised by Heard and colleagues. The researchers from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, Lappeenranta University of Technology, Delft University of Technology and Aalborg University have analysed hundreds of studies from across the scientific literature to answer each of the apparent issues. They demonstrate that there are no roadblocks on the way to a 100% renewable future.
“While several of the issues raised by the Heard paper are important, you have to realise that there are technical solutions to all the points they raised, using today’s technology,” says the lead author of the response, Dr. Tom Brown of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology.
“Furthermore, these solutions are absolutely affordable, especially given the sinking costs of wind and solar power,” says Professor Christian Breyer of Lappeenranta University of Technology, who co-authored the response.
Brown cites the worst-case solution of hydrogen or synthetic gas produced with renewable electricity for times when imports, hydroelectricity, batteries, and other storage fail to bridge the gap during low wind and solar periods during the winter. For maintaining stability there is a series of technical solutions, from rotating grid stabilisers to newer electronics-based solutions. The scientists have collected examples of best practice by grid operators from across the world, from Denmark to Tasmania.
Furthermore, these solutions are absolutely affordable, especially given the sinking costs of wind and solar power.
The response by the scientists has now appeared in the same journal as the original article by Heard and colleagues.
“There are some persistent myths that 100% renewable systems are not possible,” says Professor Brian Vad Mathiesen of Aalborg University, who is a co-author of the response.
“Our contribution deals with these myths one-by-one, using all the latest research. Now let’s get back to the business of modelling low-cost scenarios to eliminate fossil fuels from our energy system, so we can tackle the climate and health challenges they pose.”
The research papers for further information:
T.W. Brown, T. Bischof-Niemz, K. Blok, C. Breyer, H. Lund, B.V. Mathiesen, “Response to ‘Burden of proof: A comprehensive review of the feasibility of 100% renewable-electricity systems’,” Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, DOI:10.1016/j.rser.2018.04.113, 2018.
B.P. Heard, B.W. Brook, T.M.L. Wigley, C.J.A. Bradshaw, “Burden of proof: A comprehensive review of the feasibility of 100% renewable-electricity systems,” Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, DOI:10.1016/j.rser.2017.03.114, 2017.
(The following article also critiques the anti-renewables propaganda of Barry Brook, the academic who self-promoted a bogus Outstanding Scientist award and insisted there was no credible risk of a serious accident at Fukushima even as nuclear meltdowns were in full swing.)
Mark Diesendorf and Ben Elliston, ‘The feasibility of 100% renewable electricity systems: A response to critics’, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Volume 93, October 2018, Pages 318–330.
‒ Large-scale electricity systems based on 100% renewable energy can meet the key requirements of reliability, security and affordability.
‒ This is even true where the vast majority of generation comes from variable renewables such as wind and solar PV.
‒ Thus the principal myths of critics of 100% renewable electricity are refuted.
‒ Arguments that the transition to 100% renewable electricity will necessarily take as long or longer than historical energy transitions are also refuted.
‒ The principal barriers to 100% renewable electricity are neither technological nor economic, but instead are primarily political, institutional and cultural.
The rapid growth of renewable energy (RE) is disrupting and transforming the global energy system, especially the electricity industry. As a result, supporters of the politically powerful incumbent industries and others are critiquing the feasibility of large-scale electricity generating systems based predominantly on RE. Part of this opposition is manifest in the publication of incorrect myths about renewable electricity (RElec) in scholarly journals, popular articles, media, websites, blogs and statements by politicians. The aim of the present article is to use current scientific and engineering theory and practice to refute the principal myths. It does this by showing that large-scale electricity systems that are 100% renewable (100RElec), including those whose renewable sources are predominantly variable (e.g. wind and solar PV), can be readily designed to meet the key requirements of reliability, security and affordability. It also argues that transition to 100RElec could occur much more rapidly than suggested by historical energy transitions. It finds that the main critiques published in scholarly articles and books contain factual errors, questionable assumptions, important omissions, internal inconsistencies, exaggerations of limitations and irrelevant arguments. Some widely publicised critiques select criteria that are inappropriate and/or irrelevant to the assessment of energy technologies, ignore studies whose results contradict arguments in the critiques, and fail to assess the sum total of knowledge provided collectively by the published studies on 100RElec, but instead demand that each individual study address all the critiques’ inappropriate criteria. We find that the principal barriers to 100RElec are neither technological nor economic, but instead are primarily political, institutional and cultural.
Ben Heard claims that: “Peace is furthered when a nation embraces nuclear power, because it makes that nation empirically less likely to embark on a nuclear weapons program. That is the finding of a 2017 study published in the peer-reviewed journal International Security.”
That’s a lie twice over. Firstly, it isn’t true. Secondly, Heard’s assertion isn’t supported by the International Security journal article, written by Nicholas Miller from Dartmouth College.
Miller’s article downplays the power/weapons connections but much of the information in his article undermines his own argument (and Heard’s). In Miller’s own words, “more countries pursued nuclear weapons in the presence of a nuclear energy program than without one”, “the annual probability of starting a weapons program is more than twice as high in countries with nuclear energy programs, if one defines an energy program as having an operating power reactor or one under construction”, and countries that pursued nuclear weapons while they had a nuclear energy program were “marginally more likely” to acquire nuclear weapons ‒ almost twice as likely if North Korea is considered to have had a nuclear energy program while it pursued weapons.
So why does Heard claim that “when a nation embraces nuclear power, because it makes that nation empirically less likely to embark on a nuclear weapons program”? He ignores most of Miller’s article (and Miller himself ignores much that is known about power/weapons connections) and focuses on these findings:
- The annual probability of starting a weapons program is more than twice as high in countries with an operating power reactor or one under construction (a statistically-significant finding).
- The annual probability of starting a weapons program is somewhat lower in countries with operating power reactors compared to countries without them (a statistically non-significant finding).
So why does Heard privilege the second of those findings when only the first is statistically significant? Why does Heard privilege the finding that excludes countries with power reactors under construction (but not in operation) when the inclusion of such countries provides a fuller, more accurate assessment of the power/weapons connections? Perhaps Heard’s selectivity is connected to his work as a nuclear lobbyist whose fake environment group accepts secret corporate donations.
Nuclear power/weapons connections are multifaceted, repeatedly demonstrated, disturbing and dangerous:
‒ Nuclear power programs were involved in the successful pursuit of weapons in four countries (France, India, Pakistan, South Africa) according to Miller (and India and North Korea could be added to that list) and have provided many other countries with a latent weapons capability.
‒ Power programs have provided ongoing support for weapons programs to a greater or lesser degree in seven of the nine current weapons states (the exceptions being Israel and North Korea).
‒ The direct use of power reactors to produce plutonium for weapons in all or all-but-one of the declared weapons states (and possibly other countries, e.g. India and Pakistan).
‒ The use of power reactors to produce tritium for weapons in the US (and possibly other countries, e.g. India).
‒ Power programs (or real or feigned interest in nuclear power) legitimising enrichment and reprocessing programs that have fed proliferation.
‒ Power programs (or real or feigned interest in nuclear power) legitimising research (reactor) programs which can lead (and have led) to weapons proliferation.
‒ And last but not least, the training of experts for nuclear power programs whose expertise can be (and has been) used in weapons programs.
Re the Feb 21, 2018 Electric Energy Society of Australia (EESA) webinar with nuclear lobbyist Ben Heard talking about nuclear power:
1. Will EESA be organising a separate webinar to provide a perspective from someone who isn’t a nuclear lobbyist? If not, is that lack of balance consistent with the Engineers Australia Code of Ethics and Guidelines on Professional Conduct?
2. Will you amend the bio-note on the EESA webpage to note that Heard’s so-called environment group accepts secret corporate donations? If not, why not? The bio-note on the EESA webpage claims that his group ‘represents the community’ … if such dubious claims are allowed to stand then it surely needs to be acknowledged that his group accepts corporate donations including secret corporate donations. Is such disclosure not required by the Engineers Australia Code of Ethics and Guidelines on Professional Conduct?
3. During the webinar, will it be made clear that Heard’s group accepts corporate donations including secret corporate donations? Is such disclosure not required by the Engineers Australia Code of Ethics and Guidelines on Professional Conduct?
4. During the webinar, will you make it clear that Heard’s asinine contribution to the SA Royal Commission was rejected by the Commission? Specifically, the final report of the Royal Commission said: “[A]dvanced fast reactors and other innovative reactor designs are unlikely to be feasible or viable in the foreseeable future. The development of such a first-of-a-kind project in South Australia would have high commercial and technical risk. Although prototype and demonstration reactors are operating, there is no licensed, commercially proven design. Development to that point would require substantial capital investment.”
5. Will you ensure that webinar participants are provided with some basic factual information that Heard certainly won’t be volunteering, e.g.
— A$40 billion capital cost for two new reactors in the UK (A$20 billion each)
— A$16 billion capital cost for new reactors in France and Finland
— bankruptcy filing of Westinghouse due to catastrophic cost overruns building conventional reactors in the US (including A$13+ billion wasted on reactors in South Carolina that were cancelled last year).
— Westinghouse, Toshiba and a number of other utilities exiting the reactor construction business
— Ziggy Switkowski, head of the Howard government’s Nuclear Energy review, now says he believes “the window for gigawatt-scale nuclear has closed”. He also said that nuclear is no longer lower cost than renewables and that the levelised cost of electricity of the two is rapidly diverging.
6. Will you ensure that webinar participants are informed that Heard has continued lobbying for the importation of 138,000 tonnes of high-level nuclear waste to SA despite being well aware of the overwhelming opposition of Aboriginal Traditional Owners?
7. What steps will you take to ensure that participants are provided with some credible information about high-temperature gas-cooled reactors given that these seem to be Heard’s latest fixation? Some information is copied below.
8. If Heard claims that high-temperature gas-cooled reactors are ‘meltdown-proof’, or other such inanities, will you ensure that his falsehoods are corrected?
Yours sincerely, Jim Green
HIGH-TEMPERATURE GAS-COOLED REACTORS (HTGRs)
Excerpt from M. V. Ramana, April 2016, ‘The checkered operational history of high-temperature gas-cooled reactors’, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00963402.2016.1170395
“Proponents of HTGRs often claim that their designs have a long pedigree. … But if one examines that very same experience more closely – looking in particular at the HTGRs that were constructed in Western Europe and the United States to feed power into the electric grid – then one comes to other conclusions. This history suggests that while HTGRs may look attractive on paper, their performance leaves much to be desired. …
“Although Germany abandoned this technology, it did migrate to other countries, including China and South Africa. Of these, the latter case is instructive: South Africa pursued the construction of a pebble-bed reactor for a decade, and spent over a billion dollars, only to abandon it in 2009 because it just did not make sense economically. Although sold by its proponents as innovative and economically competitive until its cancellation, the South African pebble-bed reactor project is now being cited as a case study in failure. How good the Chinese experience with the HTGR will be remains to be seen. …
“From these experiences in operating HTGRs, we can take away several lessons – the most important being that HTGRs are prone to a wide variety of small failures, including graphite dust accumulation, ingress of water or oil, and fuel failures. Some of these could be the trigger for larger failures or accidents, with more severe consequences. … Other problems could make the consequences of a severe accident worse: For example, pebble compaction and breakage could lead to accelerated diffusion of fission products such as radioactive cesium and strontium outside the pebbles, and a potentially larger radioactive release in the event of a severe accident. …
“Discussions of the commercial viability of HTGRs almost invariably focus on the expected higher capital costs per unit of generation capacity (dollars per kilowatts) in comparison with light water reactors, and potential ways for lowering those. In other words, the main challenge they foresee is that of building these reactors cheaply enough. But what they implicitly or explicitly assume is that HTGRs would operate as well as current light water reactors – which is simply not the case, if history is any guide. …
“Although there has been much positive promotional hype associated with high-temperature reactors, the decades of experience that researchers have acquired in operating HTGRs has seldom been considered. Press releases from the many companies developing or selling HTGRs or project plans in countries seeking to purchase or construct HTGRs neither tell you that not a single HTGR-termed “commercial” has proven financially viable nor do they mention that all the HTGRs were shut down well before the operating periods envisioned for them. This is typical of the nuclear industry, which practices selective remembrance, choosing to forget or underplay earlier failures.”
This is a response to the latest defamatory spray from Ben Heard – the paid nuclear lobbyist whose fake environment group ‘Bright New World’ accepts secret corporate donations. Heard’s latest defamatory spray is directed at the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF).  The ACF has actively and tirelessly supported the International Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) for over a decade. ICAN was largely responsible for the United Nation’s nuclear weapons ban treaty established in mid-2017, and ICAN was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in late-2017 in recognition of its extraordinary ‒ and extraordinarily successful ‒ work.
Heard says that his fake environment group Bright New World “stands with efforts to rid the world of the abhorrence that is nuclear weapons.” That’s not true. Heard has never lifted a finger in support of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament campaigns. His only connection to the Nobel laureates responsible for the UN nuclear weapons ban treaty is that he routinely attacks and slanders them.
Note that this isn’t Ben’s first attempt at pretending to be something that he isn’t. He once posted an article on his website stating that he was “once a fervent anti-nuclear campaigner” before he saw the nuclear light. In fact, he literally never lifted a finger in support of anti-nuclear campaigns, and that fabrication was only corrected on his website after it was publicly exposed.
Heard notes that the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize was received by Dr Mohamed ElBaradei on behalf of the International Atomic Energy Agency. True, but why doesn’t Heard note that Dr ElBaradei was best known for his striking honesty regarding the severe limitations of the so-called safeguards system? During his tenture as Director General of the IAEA, Dr ElBaradei noted that the IAEA’s basic rights of inspection are “fairly limited”, that the safeguards system suffers from “vulnerabilities” and it “clearly needs reinforcement”, that efforts to improve the system have been “half-hearted”, and that the safeguards system operates on a “shoestring budget … comparable to that of a local police department “.
So why is Heard silent about the clearly inadequate safeguards system? Perhaps his secret corporate donors include uranium mining companies who have a vested interest in ignoring and lying about the inadequacies of the safeguards system.
Heard attacks the ACF for failing to acknowledge the “obvious distinction” between nuclear power and nuclear weapons. But in fact, there are manifold connections and 20+ countries have deliberately sought to bring themselves closer to a weapons capability via ‘peaceful’ nuclear programs. Five of the 10 countries to have built nuclear weapons did so under cover of ‘peaceful’ nuclear programs. And in the other five countries ‒ the ‘declared’ nuclear weapons states ‒ there are important connections between power and weapons, not least the direct use of power reactors to produce plutonium for bombs (or the current use of power reactors in the US to produce tritium for nuclear weapons). Australia’s only serious pursuit of nuclear power was driven by a hidden weapons agenda as then Prime Minister John Gorton later acknowledged.
It is important to note that prominent nuclear advocates are now openly acknowledging ‒ repeat, openly acknowledging ‒ the connections between nuclear power and weapons, particularly in the US and the UK. Even the Nuclear Energy Institute, which represents nuclear power companies, has been openly acknowledging the connections. And to give one more example, an organisation headed by former US energy secretary Ernest Moniz argues that the US nuclear power industry “helps the U.S military meet specific defense priorities” and is “essential to the global projection of U.S. military capability.”[6,7]
Why would the nuclear power industry and some of its prominent supporters openly acknowledge the power/weapons connections? It’s a sign of their desperation: they are seeking to increase the already massive government subsidies for nuclear power by arguing that nuclear weapons programs will be adversely affected if not underpinned and supported by a strong, heavily-subsidised nuclear power industry.
It’s disappointing that Heard ignores the obvious connections between nuclear power and weapons. But we should have some sympathy for his position: his secret corporate donors wouldn’t be impressed if he was to talk openly and honestly about the repeatedly-demonstrated connections between ‘peaceful’ nuclear programs (including nuclear power programs) and nuclear weapons. His secret corporate donors wouldn’t be impressed if he was to talk openly and honestly about the severe limitations of the nuclear safeguards system. And his secret corporate donors would be even less impressed if he was to do something about the problems, such as campaigning for a strengthened safeguards system.
Ben Heard – the paid nuclear lobbyist whose fake environment group ‘Bright New World’ accepts secret corporate donations – actively campaigned against a solar thermal plant being built at Port Augusta in South Australia … then said it was a “complete lie” that he campaigned against a solar thermal plant!
Specifically, Heard wrote a report arguing that plans for a solar thermal plant at Port Augusta should be abandoned in favour of nuclear power, and he used the report as a tool for public, political and media lobbying and campaigning.
Meanwhile, real environmentalists successfully campaigned for the coal plant at Port Augusta to be replaced with renewables!
By the way, why is it that none of these self-styled ‘pro-nuclear environmentalists’ such as Ben Heard play any role whatsoever in campaigns against fossil fuels? We (i.e. real environmentalists) have never once had any support from them whatsoever in fossil fuel campaigns in SA or Victoria or anywhere else. Presumably Heard’s excuse is that he’s too busy campaigning against renewables!
Heard trumpets that “absence of radiologically-related health impacts” from the Fukushima disaster. He is well aware of ‒ but chooses to ignore ‒ the World Health Organisation report that concluded that for people in the most contaminated areas in Fukushima Prefecture, the estimated increased risk for all solid cancers will be around 4% in females exposed as infants; a 6% increased risk of breast cancer for females exposed as infants; a 7% increased risk of leukaemia for males exposed as infants; and for thyroid cancer among females exposed as infants, an increased risk of up to 70% (from a 0.75% lifetime risk up to 1.25%).
Heard ignores numerous other impacts from the Fukushima disaster. For example, he is silent on the plight of evacuees. Six years after the disaster, over half of the original 164,000 evacuees remain dislocated, with tens of thousands still living in temporary housing. Local authorities said in January 2017 that only 13% of the evacuees in five municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture have returned home after evacuation orders were lifted.
The Japanese government’s estimate of Fukushima clean-up and compensation costs has doubled and doubled again and now stands at ¥21.5 trillion (US$187bn). Indirect costs will likely exceed that figure and total long-term direct and indirect costs will likely exceed US$500 billion.
Heard ignores a fundamental point: it’s perfectly reasonable for anyone to follow the lead of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) and argue that the long-term Chernobyl death toll is uncertain, but conflating that uncertainty with a long-term death toll of zero clearly isn’t defensible. Heard could refute the evidence that nuclear advocates (including Heard himself) routinely conflate or confuse an uncertain long-term death toll with a long-term death toll of zero. But the evidence is there for all to see and Heard doesn’t attempt to refute it. So Heard’s entire article can be read as an exercise in obfuscation.
Following UNSCEAR’s lead, Heard objects to the use of collective radiation dose estimates and risk estimates to arrive at an estimate of the Chernobyl cancer death toll. Fair enough, except that there’s no other way to arrive at an estimate of the death toll. That’s why UNSCEAR itself has previously used that approach (as Heard concedes) … as have the IAEA, the WHO etc. etc. (see here for links to some of their literature). That’s why articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals use the approach (e.g. this one).
That’s why Timothy Jorgensen, an Associate Professor of Radiation Medicine, writing in The Conversation a few days ago, notes that “an international team of scientists completed a comprehensive analysis of the dose and health data” and estimated 22,800 radiation-induced non-thyroid cancers from exposure to Chernobyl radiation … based on radiation dose estimates! Heard completely ignores thyroid cancers but as Jorgensen notes: “Scientists estimate that there will ultimately be about 16,000 excess thyroid cancers produced as a result of iodine-131 exposure from Chernobyl.”
Heard thinks the epidemiological record can be used to estimate the Chernobyl death toll. The Jorgensen article notes that the estimated 22,800 radiation-induced non-thyroid cancers represents a 0.01% increase in cancer incidence across 40 exposed countries. So Heard apparently believes that epidemiological studies ought to be able to detect a 0.01% increase in cancer incidence across 40 countries and to confidently ascribe that increase to Chernobyl.
Jorgensen is discussing cancer incidence but the same point applies to cancer mortality. See for example Table 12, p.108 of the WHO 2006 report: very small percentage increases in cancer mortality (ranging from 0.003% to 1%) add up to an estimated 9,000 cancer fatalities in the three most heavily exposed ex-Soviet states.
Heard states: “Then comes the area of credible uncertainty: the possibility, based on modelled impacts, that some additional thousands of fatalities may be attributable based on the most exposed populations.” So having completely rejected the use of radiation dose estimates and risk factors to estimate the Chernobyl death toll, Heard now regards this as “an area of credible uncertainty”. Idiot.
Earlier comments on Heard’s misinformation regarding the Chernobyl death toll
Heard acknowledges a total of 43 deaths from the Chernobyl disaster from acute radiation exposure and thyroid cancer. He argues that the long-term non-thyroid cancer death toll is zero. He arrives at that conclusion by repeatedly misrepresenting a report by the UNSCEAR and ignoring all other estimates of the long-term cancer death toll.
The UNSCEAR report argues that the long-term cancer death toll from Chernobyl cannot be meaningfully estimated because of “unacceptable uncertainties in the predictions”, i.e. the limitations of epidemiological studies, and the uncertainties of applying a risk estimate (e.g. based on the linear no-threshold theory) to the collective radiation dose estimate (e.g. the IAEA’s collective dose estimate of 600,000 person-Sieverts).
Heard conflates UNSCEAR’s unknown long-term cancer death toll with a long-term cancer death toll of zero. Obviously they are two very different propositions yet the distinction is lost on Heard. An obvious question for Heard − how could UNSCEAR arrive at a long-term cancer death toll of zero at the same time as it argues that the death toll cannot be estimated because of “unacceptable uncertainties in the predictions”? In truth, UNSCEAR doesn’t estimate a long-term cancer death toll of zero − it simply declines to provide any estimate whatsoever.
UNSCEAR participated in the Chernobyl Forum study which estimates a death toll of 4,000 among the highest-exposed populations (with a follow-up World Health Organisation study estimating an additional 5,000 deaths among populations exposed to lower doses in Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine.) On the broader issue of the cancer risks of exposure to low-level ionising radiation, UNSCEAR’s view is that “the current balance of available evidence tends to favour a non-threshold response for the mutational component of radiation-associated cancer induction at low doses and low dose rates.”
Back to the Chernobyl death toll:
- A study published in the International Journal of Cancer in 2006 estimates that Chernobyl will have caused 16,000 thyroid cancers and 25,000 other cancers in Europe by 2065, and that 16,000 of these cancers will be fatal. The study does not consider emergency workers exposed to relatively high doses.
- Research published in 2006 by UK radiation scientists Ian Fairlie and David Sumner estimates 30,000 to 60,000 deaths.
- A 2006 scientific study commissioned by Greenpeace estimates a death toll of about 93,000.
Studies such as those listed above typically use a risk estimate derived from the linear no-threshold theory (LNT). There is uncertainty about the accuracy of the LNT-derived risk estimate in relation to low doses and low dose rates. However that does not mean − as many nuclear advocates state or imply − that the LNT-derived risk estimate overstates the true risk. It may be accurate or it may understate or overstate the true risk. Thus the 2005 report of the Committee on the Biological Effects of Ionising Radiation (BEIR) of the US National Academy of Sciences states that (p.6) “combined analyses are compatible with a range of possibilities, from a reduction of risk at low doses to risks twice those upon which current radiation protection recommendations are based.”
Heard makes great play of the psychological impacts of nuclear disasters such as Chernobyl and Fukushima, which he blames on radiophobia spread by nuclear critics. However the enormous psychological impact of the Fukushima disaster is not a result of ‘radiophobia’ — it is an understandable reaction to the circumstances people face, in particular the 160,000 people evacuated from the 20-km exclusion zone. They are homeless, jobless, and many are separated from friends and family. Compensation has been too little, too late. The clean-up of contaminated areas has been slow and contentious. Likewise, the enormous psychological impact of the Chernobyl disaster is a result of the circumstances people face, in particular the 350,000 people evacuated from the exclusion zone.
Some useful discussions on the Chernobyl death toll:
- Lisbeth Gronlund, 17 April 2011, ‘How Many Cancers Did Chernobyl Really Cause?’, http://allthingsnuclear.org/post/4704112149/how-many-cancers-did-chernobyl-really-cause-updated
- Sue Wareham, 2009, ‘The nuclear industry: a history of misleading claims’, Briefing Paper #20, http://www.energyscience.org.au/factsheets.html
- An article exposing the misinformation of Heard and other self-styled ‘pro-nuclear environmentalists’ regarding the Chernobyl death toll.
Some comments from an article by Ben Heard and Barry Brook (BH/BB) and my (Jim Green) responses.
BH/BB: “The best start for responsible management of any hazardous waste is to capture and contain it at the source. Nuclear power does this.”
About one-third of the spent fuel produced in power reactors has been reprocessed and this results in considerable releases of radioactive materials (it is “environmentally dirty” according to the Deputy Director General of the World Nuclear Association). Then there are accidents and leaks − for example in April 2005 it was revealed that 83,000 litres of highly-radioactive liquid containing dissolved spent nuclear fuel (and 160 kgs of plutonium) had leaked from the THORP reprocessing plant in the UK, and the leak went undetected for at least eight months.
Uranium mine tailings waste isn’t captured and contained, nor is the liquid waste from in-situ leach mining.
Hanford, Dounreay, Sellafield, Chelyabinsk/Mayak − these are synonymous with environmental pollution as a result of serious, protracted nuclear waste management problems.
BH/BB: “[R]adioactive waste is perceived as complex. This is far from the truth. Radioactive material is one of the most predictable, easily monitored and best understood forms of waste. We know what it does, and how it does it, forever, and we manage it accordingly.”
Obviously there is no experience with the management of high-level nuclear waste over periods of centuries or millenia let alone “forever”. Research continues to throw up surprises, e.g. colloidal migration of plutonium, and studies from the Äspö Hard Rock Laboratory in Sweden suggesting that copper-encapsulated canisters will corrode much faster than previously expected.
2023 update: The only operating deep underground nuclear waste repository anywhere in the world – the WIPP repository in the USA – suffered a chemical explosion in 2014 following years of staggering mismanagement and under-regulation.
BH/BB: “[T]he quantities in question are relatively very small. … A large-scale 25 GW nuclear power industry would add a mere 50 tons, taking up just 250 m3 (six-and-a-half standard shipping containers).”
BH/BB ignore waste streams across the nuclear fuel cycle − mine tailings waste, depleted uranium, etc. Over a 50-year lifespan, a 25 GW nuclear power industry would be responsible for:
- 900 million tonnes of low-level radioactive tailings waste − assuming the uranium came from the Olympic Dam mine in SA. (If the uranium came from in-situ leach mines, there would be no tailings waste but there would be many aquifers polluted with radionuclides, heavy metals and acid.)
- 215,000 tonnes of depleted uranium waste, a by-product of the uranium enrichment process.
- 37,500 tonnes of high-level nuclear waste (spent fuel).
- 375,000 cubic metres of low-level and intermediate-level waste.
(The Switkowski report is the basis for most of the above calculations. The figure on tailings waste comes from BHP Billiton’s literature regarding the Olympic Dam open-cut mine expansion plan.)
The figures for one reactor (1 GW) for one year are: 720,000 tonnes of radioactive tailings waste (Olympic Dam), 170 tonnes of depleted uranium waste, 30 tonnes of high-level nuclear waste (spent fuel) and 300 cubic metres of low-level and intermediate-level waste.
Volume and mass are not the only parameters to consider. High-level nuclear waste (spent fuel) produced in power reactors around the world contains enough plutonium to build about 200,000 nuclear weapons. Heat generated by high-level nuclear waste is another concern.
The interesting part of the BH/BB article concerns fast reactor technology. In theory fast reactor technology is attractive (potentially consuming more waste and weapons-useable material than the reactors produce) but in practice it has been highly problematic − fast reactor programs have contributed to several nuclear weapons programs; they have been leak-prone, fire-prone, and accident-prone; and there are a number of multi-billion-dollar white elephants such as the French Superphenix fast reactor. (On fast reactor technology see this report (PDF) by the International Panel on Fissile Materials.) Likewise the theory of conventional reprocessing is attractive but in practice it has been highly problematic.
BH/BB conclude their fast reactor promo: “So nuclear waste stops being a major headache, and turns into an asset. An incredibly valuable asset, as it turns out. In the US alone, there is 10 times more energy in already-mined depleted uranium (about 700,000 tonnes) and spent nuclear fuel, just sitting there in stockpiles, than there is coal in the ground. This is a multi-trillion dollar, zero-carbon energy resource, waiting to be harnessed.” Nuclear utilities around the world disagree − they are keen to dump their nuclear waste in Australia or anywhere else that will take it and they are prepared to pay billions of dollars to get rid of it. In theory, nuclear waste is a multi-trillion dollar asset; in reality it is a multi-billion dollar liability.
Why did Ben Heard’s ‘Bright New World’ invite Michael Shellenberger to speak at a mid-2020 zoom public meeting? Shellenberger is, amongst other things:
— a serial liar who acknowledges a long history of failing to be truthful
— a dangerous nutjob who promotes the worldwide proliferation of nuclear weapons
— a dangerous nutjob who promotes the abolition of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
So why provide a platform for Shellenberger to promote his misinformation and dangerous nonsense? If Heard provides an answer, it will be posted here.