Author Archives: Philip Walker

A responsible nation?

Early or late, this year will bring a federal election where all voters can influence policy on emissions reduction and climate change. Philip Walker outlines some policy possibilities.

Australia must properly address its emissions reduction responsibilities now

Federal elections are approaching this year. There is a very important issue we are still not hearing much about. Many Australians are increasingly concerned about the future of our world under the effects of climate change. In spite of this, our decision makers continue to avoid addressing the issue seriously.

Australia remains one of the highest greenhouse gas-emitting countries, per unit of energy supply and consumption.

Dr Ross Garnaut

Ross Garnaut

Most Australians are not scientists, engineers or economists. It is difficult for many of us to hold an informed opinion about what measures should be taken in Australia in order to play our proper part in reducing carbon emissions world wide. However voters do have the opportunity to understand the fundamentals and to express their concerns.

A few years back we had the carbon tax. Some politicians, by stressing biased negative argument, soured public opinion about the tax, resulting in its repeal. However, there is considerable informed opinion worldwide advocating carbon taxes or fees to be the most effective form of carbon pricing to adequately address the problem.

A couple of US proposals could be applied to Australia

Economist William G. Gale, a US expert on tax policy, discussed options in the US economy at The Miller Center of the University of Virginia. He said: Carbon taxes would contribute to a cleaner, healthier environment and better environmental and energy policy by providing price signals to those who pollute. Not surprisingly, most analyses find that a carbon tax could indeed significantly reduce emissions.

Dr James Hansen

Dr James Hansen

Former NASA climate scientist James Hansen has proposed a “carbon fee” system under which fossil fuels are taxed when they are produced or imported, rather than when they are consumed. Under his proposal, countries would collect a fee when fossil fuels are mined or imported, and distribute the revenue to their citizens, while charging extra border duties to countries without a similar scheme.

Such carbon pricing, used effectively, would discourage emissions in favour of clean energy sources. Whilst accounting for the external costs of impacts on climate and environment, it fairly distributes compensation to the people. There should be no subsequent incentives to selected energy sources. The energy markets should be allowed to determine the mix of clean energy systems used.

In July 2015 Renew Economy published Hugh Saddler’s discussion of the take-home messages from abolition of Australian carbon tax, illustrating the proven effectiveness of the tax in Australia. In reading his conclusions, it is evident that the induced changes were modest in both supply and consumption but were what economic theory would have predicted. Larger impacts of a price on carbon will only appear if the policy is maintained over the long term. Many factors besides the carbon price have influenced changes in the behaviour of electricity consumers and suppliers. Achieving larger and faster emissions reductions will require a wide range of policies, all working in the same direction. A price on emissions, whether through an emissions trading scheme or a tax, will be a key component of such a suite, but only one component.

Professor Ross Garnaut, speaking at University of Technology, Sydney on 24th September 2015, said: Once emissions reduction responsibilities have been allocated amongst countries, it is possible for each country to contribute its share of the mitigation responsibility not only through the application of a Carbon Tax or an ETS, but also by direct regulation of emissions-intensive activity, or by fiscal payments to low-emissions activities, or through multifarious regulatory and fiscal interventions. He indicated that small countries with currently high emissions, like Australia, will not be able to resist indefinitely the pressure from the larger countries to do their fair shares in a global mitigation effort. Sooner or later proper action will be required, which will then be at higher cost than if steady progress had been made from an early time.

Sometimes in Australia we see the leading political parties’ bilateral support for action on selected issues. Why not with action on climate change?

We need to be continually demanding that our politicians put forward policies that, once implemented, would enable us to effectively play our part in addressing world climate change.

References

Economist William G. Gale, US expert on tax policy, discussing options in the US economy, at The Miller Center of the University of Virginia. The wisdom of a carbon tax

US environmental scientist James Hansen, addressing a “carbon fee” in The Conversation December 2, 2015. James Hansen: emissions trading won’t work, but my global ‘carbon fee’ will

Hugh Saddler, One Year on from the Carbon Price Australia’s Emissions Rebound is Clear, Renew Economy 22 July 2015

Professor Ross Garnaut, speaking at University of Technology, Sydney on 24th September 2015. The Essential Role of Carbon Pricing

Nuclear Energy Forum: 4 April 2015

At its third forum, titled The Radiance of France, CANWin’s nuclear energy forum set itself the task of examining what has made the French so successful in achieving amongst the world’s lowest greenhouse gas emissions.

The attendance continues to grow and this time around we had presentations by 6 of its members with 25 attending. Rob Parker kicked off with a summary of the French system of 58 reactors built over 22 years. While they were built to provide energy self sufficiency, in this age of clean energy and greenhouse gas reductions the French generate electricity with only 71 gr CO2/kwh while across the border in Germany with its 48% renewable capacity they generate nearly 10 times the French emissions with 672 gr CO2/kwh.

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The reasons are clear in these two graphs and Germany sets an ominous precedent for Australia if we continue to implement wind and solar while burning coal.

Phillip Walker then outlined the political process under President Pompidou and Prime Minister Messmer. The decisions to proceed with the nuclear programme were unilateral with no public or parliamentary debate.

After the break we were treated to an excellent presentation by Cameron Esslemont. This dealt with both open and closed nuclear fuel cycles and the great potential for recycling of used nuclear fuel. Cameron also touched on the political difficulties of implementing nuclear power and the handling of used fuel. He spoke in detail about the shifting policies of the IPCC and the cost structure of nuclear energy. This excellent presentation really needs an encore with more time to get a better appreciation of all of Cameron’s work.

Paluel Nuclear Power Plant 550x244 Top 10 Nuclear Power Plants

Paluel Nuclear Power Plant 5,528 MWh: France

Mike Thorley spoke about the French political system and outlined how it addressed centralised planning to enable the reactor fleet to be constructed.

Peter Cunningham then presented more details of the French system, its generating costs and comparison with the German performance and Australia’s uranium and thorium reserves.

Lou Flower then completed the afternoon with his observations that the French reactors are reaching maturity and may run into political difficulties with their replacement. The motivation of post war France has changed. The current generation may not be as patriotic or motivated to repeat the successes of the past. This may jeopardise future nuclear decisions.

The forum members show their commitment to the study of nuclear energy through their full participation and involvement in the topics. They are prepared to do work as demonstrated by the range of speakers and the three hours of full involvement. There is not full agreement on the issues we address however with intelligence and good grace the level of debate is greatly improved.

Based on this last meeting the CANWin nuclear forum has an excellent future where some very good work on understanding how we can properly decarbonise our energy production can occur.

Nuclear Energy Group: Forum 31 Jan 2015

People’s fear of low levels of radiation and an introduction to the nuclear fuel cycle were addressed in the CANWin Nuclear Energy Group’s second meeting, held on Saturday 31 January. The meeting started at 2pm and went through to 5.30 or so and was very successful with some 25 participants.

Fukushima before the quake

Fukushima nuclear power plant in 2010, before the earthquake and tsunami of 11 March 2011

The first topic looked at issues surrounding low levels of radiation that exist within our background environments and within our own bodies and the sources of these radioactive materials. We then moved on to compare these intensities with the larger levels of background radiation found around the globe and the lower levels that were emitted to the Japanese public from the events at Fukushima Diiachi.

We then looked at the lowest levels of radiation at which human health impacts can be determined and assessed these using both the linear no threshold and the hormesis models. Reference was also made to the International Committee on Radiological Protection recommendations and also to those of our own nuclear regulator, ARPANSA.

The questions and discussion were thorough and frank. The group has a very diverse political and professional makeup and this adds to its strength. While its intent is to address climate change, the two or three who doubted its existence were given a considerate hearing. Others on the day had a very strongly held concern about the dangers of all nuclear radiation and this was explored in some detail.

What this group is discovering is strength through diversity. This enables divergent ideas to be frankly discussed without judgement or rancour. It’s actually fun to “put the pieces back”.

Understanding some of the science is challenging for the group but hopefully most of these issues were resolved in the long discussions that followed the presentations. We ended the day with a review of the nuclear fuel cycle and some members of the group surprisingly got really involved with the differences between boiling water and pressurised water reactors and their comparative load following abilities.

This second forum shows that the nuclear group is going from strength to strength. Our next forum will continue to look at reactor types and the deployment of used fuel. This will include recycling, conversion in fast reactors or geological disposal. It will be early in March so if you would like to come along please contact:
Rob Parker email hidden; JavaScript is required,
Philip Walker email hidden; JavaScript is required,
Lou Flower email hidden; JavaScript is required, or
Lyndal Breen email hidden; JavaScript is required.

Know about nuclear energy

Picture of a nuclear power stationMassive cuts in greenhouse gas emissions in line with 2050 targets is the prime subject of CANwin’s nuclear energy group.

Fourteen participants attended the first meeting on 22 November, and we started out by looking at the key issues that cause concern about nuclear power.

We kicked off with some basic physics such as the structure of the atom and how radiation is produced and its benefits and risks. We looked at our background levels of radiation and their sources such as terrestrial, cosmic and even the naturally occurring radioactive potassium in all our bodies. These were compared with the radiation coming from nuclear and coal fired power plants.

The meeting finished with an overview of the comparative greenhouse gas emissions of OECD economies and the vital contribution made by nuclear power in the best performers such as Sweden and France.

At these meetings we hope to look at real science, to build up knowledge and dispel fear. At our next session we will look at the Linear No Threshold hypothesis which underpins fears such as “there is no safe level of radiation”. We will look at the impact of radiation on human beings and issues surrounding events such as Fukushima before moving on to nuclear reactors and the uranium fuel cycle.

We are trying to ensure these sessions inform people who do not have a strong science background but do have an abiding passion to address climate change. We are starting with the basics and will progress to more complex concepts.

What was very rewarding in our first session were the contributions made by all the group and the very considered way that the conversation developed. Apart from my poor handling of the Internet videos I’d give it a 9 out of 10 so thanks to all who attended.

Our next session is on Saturday 31 January at 2pm. Please let Rob Parker, Philip Walker, Lou Flower or Lyndal Breen know if you would like to come along. Contact details here.