Geoff Russell

More lies and conspiracy theories from Geoff Russell.

Russell claims in New Matilda in March 2016 that the “livestock industry is a major source of funding” for Friends of the Earth (FoE) “so it isn’t surprising that they give Australia’s greatest source of climate warming (the meat industry) a free ride …”

FoE doesn’t get any funding from the livestock industry or anyone or any organisation connected to the livestock industry. And the claim that FoE gives the meat industry a free ride is an unhinged, untrue conspiracy theory.

Liars and deranged conspiracy theorists will always be with us. The blame rests with those who give them a platform – in this case New Matilda.

Lies, dangerous lies and WMD

Some of Russell’s misinformation is harmless, e.g. his incessant, dishonest attacks on environmentalists. But some of his misinformation is dangerous, no more so than his attempts to deny and trivialise the obvious connections between nuclear power and nuclear weapons proliferation.

Here’s a link to a detailed article which debunks misinformation from Russell and others on the nuclear power/weapons problem:

Here are a few snippets from that article:

Nuclear advocate Geoff Russell states that we have been 100% successful at preventing further use of nuclear weapons since World War II and that a “rational person would conclude that preventing nuclear wars and nuclear weapons proliferation is actually pretty easy, otherwise we wouldn’t have been so good at it.” He further notes that “ladders are more dangerous than nuclear electricity plants, and cars are more dangerous than ladders.”

So perhaps ladders and cars should be classified as Weapons of Mass Destruction? Nuclear weapons are unique in their destructive potential − even more destructive than ladders. As former US Defense Secretary Robert MacNamara said: “In conventional war, mistakes cost lives, sometimes thousands of lives. However, if mistakes were to affect decisions relating to the use of nuclear forces, there would be no learning curve. They would result in the destruction of nations.”

Russell states: “The proliferation argument isn’t actually an argument at all. It’s just a trigger word, brilliantly branded to evoke fear and trump rational discussion.” One of the rabidly anti-nuclear organisations evoking fear and trumping rational discussion is the US State Department, which noted in a 2008 report that the “rise in nuclear power worldwide … inevitably increases the risks of proliferation”. And the anti-nuclear ideologues at the US National Intelligence Council argued in a 2008 report that the “spread of nuclear technologies and expertise is generating concerns about the potential emergence of new nuclear weapon states and the acquisition of nuclear materials by terrorist groups.”

Russell argues: “Over 90 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions come from countries which already have nuclear reactors. So these are the countries where the most reactors are needed. How is having more reactors, particularly electricity reactors, going to make any of these countries more likely to build nuclear weapons? It isn’t.”

The premise is correct − countries operating reactors account for a large majority of greenhouse emissions. But even by the most expansive estimate, less than one-third of all countries have some sort of weapons capability (they possess weapons, are allied to a weapons state, or they operate power and/or research reactors). So the conclusion − that nuclear power expansion would not lead to a large increase in the number of countries with access to nuclear resources and expertise − is nonsense.

There is another thread to the argument. It is true that the expansion of nuclear power in countries which already operate reactors is of little of no proliferation significance. It is of still less significance in countries with both nuclear power and weapons. Incremental growth of nuclear power in the US, for example, is of no proliferation significance. That said, US civil nuclear policies can (and do) have profound proliferation significance. The US-led push to allow nuclear trade with India has dealt a cruel blow to the global non-proliferation and disarmament architecture and to the NPT in particular. And the US government’s willingness to conclude bilateral nuclear trade agreements without prohibitions on the development of enrichment and reprocessing is problematic (and conversely, the agreement with the United Arab Emirates, which does prohibit enrichment and reprocessing in the UAE, is helpful).

What nuclear conspiracy theories?

Jim Green, Climate Spectator, 23/4/2013


Conspiracy theories conjured up by nuclear advocates are mostly harmless fun. But not when they involve trivialising the suffering of victims of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Political demagogue Lyndon LaRouche is the most colourful of the conspiracy theorists. Here’s his take on the anti-nuclear movement: “This utterly depraved, dionysian cult-formation found its echoed, more violent expression in late 1980s Germany, where the anti-nuclear, fascist rioting reached near to the level of outright civil war …”

Australia’s Leslie Kemeny (think Lord Monckton) agrees: “Radical green activism and global terrorism can form dangerous, even deadly, alliances. The ‘coercive utopianism’ of radical greens, their avid desire for media publicity and their hidden socio-political agendas can produce societal outcomes that are sometimes violent and ugly.”

Kemeny believes the anti-nuclear movement is “supported by immense funds from affluent right-wing interests” and is also tied to the “political left”. Go figure. With such a grab-bag of extreme − and extremely contradictory − views, Kemeny might be considered a good candidate for Bob Katter’s political party … but he’s already joined Fred Nile’s.

A recent convert to nuclear conspiracy theories is Adelaide-based nuclear advocate Geoff Russell. Russell has no time for the euphemisms of ‘dionysian cult-formation’ or ‘coercive utopianism’. He gets straight to the point: nuclear critics are responsible for all of the death and suffering resulting from the Fukushima nuclear disaster and much else besides. Ouch.

How does he arrive at those conclusions? One part of the intellectual contortion concerns the role of environmental groups such as Friends of the Earth. To the limited extent that environment groups influence energy policy around the world, the result is a greater role for renewables, less nuclear power and less fossil fuel usage. But for Russell, being anti-nuclear means an implicit endorsement and acceptance of fossil fuels and responsibility for everything wrong with fossil fuel burning.

That contorted logic will come as a surprise to Friends of the Earth campaigners risking life, limb and heavy penalties in their efforts to shut down coal mines and ports; and to everyone else engaged in the fossil fuel and climate problems in many different ways.

A second intellectual contortion concerns the cancer risks associated with radiation exposure. Russell’s view is that long-term exposure to low levels of radiation “does sweet fa”. In a submission to a South Australian Parliamentary Committee, he writes: “Let’s suppose that if 1000 people drink a glass of wine a day then eventually 10 will get cancer due to that wine. I just made those numbers up, they are to illustrate the method … So how many people will get cancer if a million people drink 1/1000 of a glass per day? The anti-nuclear logic … estimates 10,000 cancers. The population is consuming 1000 times the alcohol that produced 10 cancers, therefore there will be 10,000 cancers.”

Russell gets his simple calculations wrong by three orders of magnitude − three more than you’d expect from a self-described mathematician. In any case the link between wine and cancer tells us precisely nothing about radiation.

Russell and science are at odds on the question of the cancer risks associated with low-level radiation exposure. The 2006 report of the Committee on the Biological Effects of Ionising Radiation (BEIR) of the US National Academy of Sciences states that “the risk of cancer proceeds in a linear fashion at lower doses without a threshold and … the smallest dose has the potential to cause a small increase in risk to humans.”

Likewise, a 2010 report by the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation states 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.”

It’s a big step, but once you’ve convinced yourself that radiation is harmless, a world of possibilities present themselves. Scientific estimates of the Chernobyl death toll range from 9,000 to 93,000, but Russell claims the Chernobyl death toll was “three tenths of a half of a sixth of bugger all” or “a few dozen deaths”. Another step gets you to this: “It is far worse than flippant to risk the destabilisation of the unusually benign climate of the past 10,000 years because of a few dozen deaths. That’s nutter stuff.”

Likewise, early estimates of the long-term Fukushima cancer death toll range from 130 (pdf) to 3,000, but if radiation is harmless the radiation-related death toll will be zero. Or as Russell bluntly puts it, Fukushima was “deathless“.

Russell claims the performance of the Fukushima nuclear power plants in the face of the 3/11 earthquake and tsunami was “a spectacular success and one of the biggest unreported good news stories of the decade.” And it was indeed a spectacular success except for the explosions, meltdowns and fires.

Russell wants us to contrast the Fukushima nuclear accident with “actual suffering” from the 3/11 earthquake and tsunami. Tell that to the family and friends of the Fukushima farmer whose suicide note read: “I wish there wasn’t a nuclear plant.”

The Fukushima disaster has caused an immense amount of suffering, particularly for the 160,000 evacuees who remain homeless two years after the disaster. The Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (NAIIC) − established by an Act of Parliament − notes that evacuees “continue to face grave concerns, including the health effects of radiation exposure, displacement, the dissolution of families, disruption of their lives and lifestyles and the contamination of vast areas of the environment.” The nuclear disaster is also responsible for nearly half of the estimated 1,632 indirect deaths associated with the evacuation from the 3/11 triple-disaster.

Importantly, the NAIIC report − along with every other report into the Fukushima disaster − is clear that whereas the 3/11 earthquake and tsunami were Acts of God, Fukushima was an Act of TEPCO. Russell and like-minded apologists fudge or ignore the distinction. The NAIIC report states that the Fukushima disaster was “a profoundly man-made disaster that could and should have been foreseen and prevented” if not for “a multitude of errors and wilful negligence that left the Fukushima plant unprepared for the events of March 11.”

That wilful negligence is responsible for all the suffering and deaths associated with the evacuation and ongoing dislocation; radiation exposure likely to lead to a cancer death toll ranging from 130 to 3,000; and economic costs that will total several hundred billion dollars.

Russell has another intellectual contortion to perform. If radiation is harmless, there is no need for an exclusion zone to be maintained around Fukushima. Sometimes he goes so far as to say the initial evacuation was “unnecessary” − though of course he never said any such thing in the immediate aftermath of the nuclear disaster.

So why is the evacuation zone still in place two years after the nuclear accidents? Russell argues: “The panic whipped up by the anti-nuclear movement completed the devastation began by the tsunami and prompted an unnecessary evacuation that killed people.” And still more bizarrely, “the people who are still living in temporary housing in Japan should be running a class action against the anti-nuclear movement for its role in the wasting of so much money when there are serious needs to be met.”

Russell never explains how NGO views (which he misrepresents) translate into government policy. As best as one can work it out, environment groups pump “radiophobia” into the ether and governments (and radiation scientists) absorb it by osmosis − hence the “unnecessary” Fukushima exclusion zone. Either that or shamanic transmutation.

To accuse greenies of being responsible for the death and suffering resulting from Fukushima places Russell alongside LaRouche, Kemeny and other comedians and demagogues. But there’s nothing funny about his distinction between the easily-preventable Fukushima nuclear disaster and “real problems“, or his distinction between the suffering of Fukushima evacuees and “actual suffering“, or his description of the Fukushima disaster as “benign“. Those statements are disgusting and disgraceful.

Jim Green is the national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth, Australia.

Russell the Racist

Aboriginal First Nations and Australia’s pro-nuclear ‘environmentalists’, Jim Green, 3 July 2018, Online Opinion,

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.

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.

Uranium mining

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.

Two years from Fukushima and we know the truth

Jim Green, 11 March 2013, The Punch

Today is the second anniversary of the Fukushima disaster and it promises to be another silly-season for Australia’s nuclear apologists. They have form. While the crisis was unfolding in March 2011, Ziggy Switkowski advised that “the best place to be whenever there’s an earthquake is at the perimeter of a nuclear plant because they are designed so well.” Even after the multiple explosions and nuclear meltdowns, Adelaide-based nuclear advocate Geoff Russell advised: “If you are in a quake zone and have time to seek shelter, forget hiding under door jambs and tables, find a nuke.”

Even as nuclear fuel meltdown was in full swing at Fukushima, Adelaide University’s Prof. Barry Brook reassured us that: “There is no credible risk of a serious accident… Those spreading FUD [fear, uncertainty and doubt] at the moment will be the ones left with egg on their faces. I am happy to be quoted forever after on the above if I am wrong … but I won’t be.” Eggs, anyone?

Last year, Brook and Russell insisted that the Fukushima disaster was “deathless“. Yet the World Health Organization released a report last week which takes us a step closer to understanding the likely death toll. To quote from the report:

In terms of specific cancers, for people in the most contaminated location, the estimated increased risks over what would normally be expected are:

• all solid cancers – around 4% in females exposed as infants;
• breast cancer – around 6% in females exposed as infants;
• leukaemia – around 7% in males exposed as infants;
• thyroid cancer – up to 70% in females exposed as infants (the normally expected risk of thyroid cancer in females over lifetime is 0.75% and the additional lifetime risk assessed for females exposed as infants in the most affected location is 0.50%).

For people in the second most contaminated location of Fukushima Prefecture, the estimated risks are approximately one-half of those in the location with the highest doses.

The report also references a section to the special case of the emergency workers inside the Fukushima NPP [Nuclear Power Plant]. Around two-thirds of emergency workers are estimated to have cancer risks in line with the general population, while one-third is estimated to have an increased risk.

Indirect deaths must also be considered, especially those resulting from the failure of plant operator TEPCO and government authorities to develop and implement adequate emergency response procedures. A September 2012 Editorial in Japan Times notes that 1,632 deaths occurred during or after evacuation from the triple-disaster; and nearly half (160,000) of the 343,000 evacuees were dislocated specifically because of the nuclear disaster. A January 2013 article in The Lancet notes that “the fact that 47% of disaster-related deaths were recognised in Fukushima prefecture alone indicates that the earthquake-triggered nuclear crisis at the Fukushima power plant caused extreme hardship for local residents.”

The claim by Barry Brook and Geoff Russell that Fukushima was “deathless” has no basis in truth.

Russell wants us to contrast the Fukushima nuclear accident with the “actual suffering” from the 3/11 earthquake and tsunami. Tell that to the family and friends of the Fukushima farmer whose suicide note read: “I wish there wasn’t a nuclear plant.”

The Fukushima disaster has caused an immense amount of suffering, particularly for the 160,000 evacuees who remain homeless two years after the disaster. The Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (NAIIC) − established by an Act of Parliament − notes that evacuees “continue to face grave concerns, including the health effects of radiation exposure, displacement, the dissolution of families, disruption of their lives and lifestyles and the contamination of vast areas of the environment.”

Importantly, the NAIIC report − along with every other report into the Fukushima disaster − is clear that whereas the 3/11 earthquake and tsunami were Acts of God, Fukushima was an Act of TEPCO. Brook, Russell and like-minded apologists fudge or ignore the distinction. The NAIIC report states that the Fukushima disaster was “a profoundly man-made disaster that could and should have been foreseen and prevented” if not for “a multitude of errors and wilful negligence that left the Fukushima plant unprepared for the events of March 11”.

The nuclear apologists’ indifference to science and logic, and their indifference to human death and suffering, are stronger arguments for a nuclear-free Australia than anything I could come up with. A large majority of Australians share my distrust − a 2011 poll found that just 12% of Australians would support a nuclear plant being built in their area, 13% would be anxious but not oppose it, and 73% would oppose it.

Jim Green is the national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth and editor of the World Information Service on Energy’s ‘Nuclear Monitor’.

China’s small modular reactor program

Edited version of letter published in Crikey 11/3/2013: Very generous of Crikey to let Geoff Russell to have two fulminating pro-nuclear rants in the same week (‘Greener pastures’, Crikey letters, 8/3). In his latest offering he opines that China is “gearing up to produce small modular reactors by 2020 or thereabouts”. This is the standard ‘look over there’ tactic of the nuclear zealots. What is actually happening in China, as Russell well knows, is that dozens of ‘Generation 2’ reactors are under construction or in planning − reactor technology that wouldn’t be licenced in the West. Regulation is a joke, staff training standards are inadequate, press freedoms are non-existent, and whistleblowers − if they’re lucky − are imprisoned. — Jim Green, Friends of the Earth

2023 update – Russell’s BS about China’s SMR program proven to be just that … BS

China General Nuclear Power Group plans to use floating nuclear power plants for oilfield exploitation in the Bohai Sea and deep-water oil and gas development in the South China Sea. China’s interest in SMRs extends beyond fossil fuel mining and includes powering the construction and operation of artificial islands in its attempt to secure claim to a vast area of the South China Sea.

China’s one operating SMR

China has one operating SMR (loosely defined) and one under construction. The operating SMR (loosely defined) is China’s demonstration 210 MW (2 x 105 MW) high-temperature gas-cooled reactor (HTGR). A 2016 report said that the estimated construction cost was about US$5 billion (A$7.2 billion) / GW ‒ about twice the initial cost estimates ‒ and that cost increases arose from higher material and component costs, increases in labour costs, and project delays. The World Nuclear Association states that the cost of the demonstration HTGR is US$6 billion (A$8.6 billion) / GW, roughly twice the cost of larger Chinese ‘Hualong’ reactors (US$2.6‒3.5 billion / GW). Those figures (US$5‒6 billion / GW) are 2‒3 times higher than the US$2 billion (A$2.88 billion) / GW estimate in a 2009 paper by Tsinghua University researchers.

Wang Yingsu, secretary general of the nuclear power branch of the China Electric Power Promotion Council, said in 2021 that HTGRs would never be as cheap as conventional light-water reactors.

In 2004, the CEO of Chinergy said construction of the first HTGR would begin in 2007 and it would be completed by the end of the decade. However, construction of the demonstration HTGR did not begin until 2012 (with an estimated construction time of 50 months) and it was completed in 2021 after repeated delays. This nine-year construction project ‒ more than double the construction time estimate in 2012 ‒ undermines claims that SMRs could be built in as little as 2‒3 years.

China’s HTGR is said to be operational but the November 2022 edition of the World Nuclear Industry Status Report indicates that problems have arisen:

“The first of two High Temperature Gas Cooled Reactor (HTGR) units at Shidao Bay (Shidao Bay 1-1 and 1-2) ‒ IAEA-PRIS considers these as one plant ‒ was connected to the grid on 20 December 2021. As of the time of this writing, there is no public announcement that the second unit has been connected. Further, between January and June 2022, there was no power fed to the grid from this site, according to China Nuclear Energy Industry Association (CNEIA). No information has been published about the reasons for the additional delays in commissioning the second unit and for the shutdown of the first unit in the first half-year of 2022.”

However a December 2022 World Nuclear Association article was more upbeat, citing Chinese project partners stating that the HTGR reached “initial full power” on 9 December 2022, thus “laying the foundation for the project to be put into operation”.

Neutron Bytes reported in June 2020: “It has been reported by several sources that the high cost of manufacturing the HTGR reactor components and building it are caused, in part, by the need for specialty materials to deal with the high heat it generates, and by the usual first-of-a-kind costs of a new design which have contributed to the schedule delay. In any case, China’s ambitious plans to make Shandong Province a showcase for advanced nuclear reactors have been put on hold.”

NucNet reported in 2020 that China’s State Nuclear Power Technology Corp. dropped plans to manufacture 20 HTGRs after levelised cost of electricity estimates rose to levels higher than a conventional pressurised water reactor such as China’s Hualong One.

Likewise, the World Nuclear Association states that plans for 18 additional HTGRs at the same site as the demonstration HTGR have been “dropped”.

Multiple nations have tried to develop high-temperature gas-cooled reactors but then abandoned those efforts.

China’s one under-construction SMR

In July 2021, China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) New Energy Corporation began construction of the 125 MW pressurised water reactor ACP100 at Hainan with an estimated construction time of just under five years (58 months). CNNC says it will be the world’s first land-based commercial SMR. The ACP100 has been under development since 2010. Construction was supposed to begin as early as 2013 (and, later, 2015 … and 2016 … and 2017) but did not begin until 2021. According to CNNC, construction costs per kilowatt will be twice the cost of large reactors, and the levelised cost of electricity will be 50% higher than large reactors.