This webpage factually rebuts some of the misinformation promulgated by paid nuclear lobbyist Ben Heard, whose fake environment group / corporate front group ‘Bright New World’ accepts secret corporate donations.
For factual rebuttals of the misinformation promulgated by other nuclear advocates, please visit: https://nuclear.foe.org.au/propaganda/
Ben Heard – corporate-funded greenwasher
Ben Heard is arguably the most aggressive and abusive of Australia’s nuclear advocates − see for example this temper tantrum and compare it with the matter-of-fact tone of the paper he is attacking. He has repeatedly indulged himself with personal attacks that are blatantly defamatory.
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.
A mining industry magazine article says that Heard was “once a fervent anti-nuclear campaigner”. However Heard 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. His website was later corrected, but only after his dishonesty was publicly exposed. Likewise, Heard made no effort to correct an ABC article which describes him as a “former anti-nuclear advocate”.
A November 2015 ABC article falsely describes Heard as a scientist. It isn’t clear whether this was an error by the ABC or the latest fabrication and misprepresentation by Heard. Either way, it’s a safe bet that Heard won’t be correcting the error. And again in March 2016, Heard was described as a scientist in the media (inDaily); and again it’s a safe bet that Heard won’t correct the error.
A December 2015 article says Heard is “recognized internationally as an authority on climate-change mitigation”. It isn’t clear whether this was a journalist’s error or the latest fabrication and misprepresentation by Heard. Either way, it’s a safe bet that Heard won’t be correcting the error.
Heard has a recurring disclosure problem. He rarely disclosed his consulting work for uranium company Heathgate when spruiking for the nuclear industry. More recently, he rarely discloses corporate funding – indeed his fake environment group has a policy of accepting secret corporate donations. 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!
What would you do?
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 watch this short video and ask yourself: Would you do consulting work for this company or promote its uranium mine in South Australia? Ben Heard has done both.
Ben Heard’s fake ‘debates’
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.
Dear Members of the SA House of Assembly and Legislative Council,
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.
If anyone still has any doubts about whether Ben Heard is an industry shill – 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.”
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.
Another scientific critique of Ben Heard’s anti-renewables propaganda
(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.
More dangerous misinformation – nuclear power/weapons connections
Ben Heard – the paid nuclear lobbyist whose fake environment group accepts secret corporate donations – 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 paid 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.
Dear Electric Energy Society of Australia
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.”
New nuclear push digs deep into vault of alternative facts
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.
Australia’s nuclear energy debate reaches Peak Idiocy this week with the visit of Jessica Lovering from the U.S. Breakthrough Institute. 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.
A new low from Ben Heard, the paid nuclear lobbyist whose fake environment group ‘Bright New World’ accepts secret corporate donations
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 parrots the racist lies of the right-wing Liberal Party
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.
Ben Heard campaigns against renewables and then denies doing so!
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!
Australia Institute critique of Ben Heard’s idiotic waste-to-fuel Generation IV nuclear fantasies:
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.
Ben Heard’s epic fail … but will he have the decency to repay the $55,593?
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 (@BNW_Ben) and his fake environment group ‘Bright New World’:
- Heard’s fake ‘environment’ group accepts secret corporate donations. In his words, he “will respect the company’s right to privacy”! On what principle is that ‘right’ based, Ben? #followthemoney
- Heard’s last gig was for the coal industry-funded, viciously racist Minerals Council of Australia. #followthemoney
- 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. #followthemoney
- 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). #followthemoney
- Heard is possibly the first and hopefully the last person to ask for donations when speaking to small, unfunded community groups. #followthemoney
- 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. #followthemoney
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. #followthemoney
Ben Heard ‒ the paid nuclear lobbyist whose fake environment group ‘Bright New World’ accepts secret corporate donations ‒ lies about the Fukushima death toll
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.
Ben Heard’s latest round of idiocy and misinformation ‒ this time on the Chernobyl death toll
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 lies 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.
BH/BB: “The material in Dry Cask Storage at Fukushima bore the full brunt of the tsunamis, with no damage.”
True, but the spent fuel in the reactor buildings was responsible for a significant fraction of the radioactive releases.
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 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.
Memo Coalition: If you want to talk nuclear, talk about its costs
Giles Parkinson, 1 Dec 2014
(Heard disputes the accuracy of the following article in RenewEconomy – his response is posted at this link.)
The Australian Coalition government is at it again – raising nuclear power as a potential replacement for coal fired generation without mentioning the one thing that should kill the idea in its tracks, its stratospheric costs.
Julie Bishop, in an interview with Fairfax Media, raised nuclear as an option before heading off to the Lima climate change talks. “It’s an obvious conclusion that if you want to bring down your greenhouse gas emissions dramatically you have to embrace a form of low or zero-emissions energy and that’s nuclear, the only known 24/7 baseload power supply with zero emissions,” she said.
It is not the first time the government of Tony Abbott has raised nuclear. Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane is a big fan, and intends to look at it in the energy white paper. As we wrote in August in our article “It’s time for Abbott to dump secret nuclear ambitions,” Abbott is surrounded by pro-nuclear advisers who seem ignorant of the opportunity in renewable energy. Hence the government’s position on the RET.
Bishop says she wants Australia to have a “sensible debate” about nuclear, but what they – and the pro-nuclear advocates – never mention is cost. In developed economies, with liberalised markets, it is astronomical.
The UK, which has nuclear and where the issue is not controversial, the proposed 3.2GW Hinkley C reactor – the first new reactor in 20 years – is proving just how expensive it is. It is suffering huge delays, and may still not be built, and the cost is blowing out all the time – so far it is five times the estimate cost in 2008.
As the EU noted in its investigation into the massive government subsidies needed to support the project, the total total will come to some $45 billion. The construction risk, the insurance risk, the production risk and the financing risk all have to be assumed by the government, because no private company will risk their own balance sheet.
Even the International Energy Agency, in its recent world outlook, lamented the problem facing nuclear – economic uncompetitiveness, lack of public confidence, massive subsidy reliance, changing government policy, and “financing in liberalised markets,” not to mention the approaching closure of old facilities, which have yet to be costed. That’s why it paints scenarios that do not include nuclear, or the even more expensive carbon carbon and storage.
In western economies, such as Australia, financing is the key for nuclear. But it is a point that is repeatedly ignored. In a recent presentation to the Peabody Coal-sponsored energy seminar in the lead up to the G20 meeting in Brisbane, for instance, nuclear cheerleader Ben Heard blamed everyone from lefties to greenies for the current state of the nuclear industry.
But it is the other end of town that won’t support it and is crippling its deployment. Bankers, insurers and project developers simply don’t want to bear the risk of something going wrong, however remote the possibility. When the India government last year toyed with the idea of not accepting construction risk at nuclear plants, General Electric, the biggest industrial company in the world, said it would pack up and leave. It wasn’t about to accept construction risk for the plants it builds either. GE recently pulled the plug on laser nuclear enrichment technology research which badly impacted Australia’s Silex Systems.
India’s energy minister Piyush Goyal said last month the government was growing cautious about nuclear, noting that the US and many European nations have stopped setting up nuclear plants. “This government would like to be cautious so that we are not saddled with something only under the garb of clean energy or alternate energy; something which the West has discarded and is sought to be brought to India,” he said.
As the influential paper, the Hindu, later noted:
The key fact about nuclear power is that it is the world’s most subsidy-fattened energy industry, even as it generates the most dangerous wastes whose safe disposal saddles future generations. Commercial reactors have been in operation for more than half-a-century, yet the industry still cannot stand on its own feet without major state support. Instead of the cost of nuclear power declining with the technology’s maturation — as is the case with other sources of energy — the costs have escalated multiple times.
Heard, meanwhile, did the usual pro-nuclear thing of attacking renewables – criticising their “intermittency” a disingenuous meme we hear often in the government and conservative commentariat. Heard, for instance, argued that wind farms take up too much space – omitting to note that the land can and is used for grazing, crops and other farming activities.
Heard then declared himself to be a “supporter” of solar, and then took a pot-shot at the new Ivanpah solar tower plant, a first of its kind technology – quoting stories that it had failed to meet its production targets. But the target quoted is the production goal for 2018. Ivanpah has only been running for nine months, and it has spent the first year calibrating the technology which is being at this scale for the first time. It is actually running ahead of its targets, as we reported here.
And then Heard tried to dismiss claims that solar and wind have cheaper levellised cost of energy (LCOEs) than other “base load” fuel sources, by claiming that these costs do not include cost of grids and grid integration.
But neither do the other technologies. And in Heard’s own state, the South Australian grid is now powered 40 per cent by wind and solar without the need for any new back-up or grid integration at all.
Contrast that with Hinkley C, where National Grid says the need for new back-up will cost £160m a year ($A300 million), or more than $A12 billion over the 40 year life of the plant. That is over and above the $45 billion upfront cost, and doesn’t take into account the decommissioning costs, or the waste disposal. Indeed, since 2008, the projected cost of the plant has risen five-fold, and its builders – who said they would be powering electric ovens to cook Christmas turkeys in 2018, now don’t mention a start up date.
The costs of Hinkley, even heavily subsidised in a country with a well established industry, will lock in a price of £92.50/MWh, or $A170/MWh, indexed to inflation. Thankfully, this has caused the Australian government forecaster, BREE, to include a more sober assessment of nuclear’s costs – even without decommissions and waste disposal, or a real grip on cost of capital – that the government pro-nuclear advocates choose to ignore in their rush to demonise renewables.
As for France, well that nuclear bubble is well and truly punctured. France pays a lower rate per kilowatt hour than other countries, because the capital cost of the nuclear plants was written off by the government decades ago. But French consumers face similar electricity bills to those in Germany because the nuclear plants have to run all the time, so there has been no investment in energy efficiency.
Now, though, the French have got a major problem. They are not economically as strong as they were in the 1970s, and they simply cannot afford the capital cost of building new nuclear plants. Even the capital cost of maintaining the current fleet will be higher than the capital cost of building them in the first place.
This prompted energy minister Segolene Royal to point out that it would be cheaper to build wind and solar than to maintain the nuclear fleet. Which is what they are doing, and why they are seeking to wind back the share of nuclear to 50 per cent from 75 per cent, because all the new capacity will come from renewables.
In France, at least, costs and practicality are finally winning over ideology. Australia needs to realise that too. The need for base load power is something of a myth. With the plunging cost of solar and other renewables and now storage, flexibility is the key.