Category Archives: Energy, Technology, Industry

Energy efficiency, generation, storage and distribution; development and availability of sustainable technologies; new and re-newed industries for a sustainable future

How and why of fossil-fuel freedom

Two great events this weekend: Friday’s CANWin speaker forum shows us how to get to fossil-fuel freedom; on Saturday afternoon Robertson CTC showcases the at-risk wonders of icy Antarctica.

Flier for speaker night 27 Feb.

Antarctica: A photographic journey

Glenn Dawson is a freelance photographer specialising in wildlife and nature. He and his cameras have made four trips to the Arctic, Alaska and Canada. Penguins with chicks He has also travelled twice to Africa to work and photograph wildlife and landscape. Robertson is to be treated to a presentation by Glenn, sharing his love and knowledge of the Antarctic, and other lands he has visited with a focus on nature, wildlife and cultures. Suitable for all ages.

Saturday 28th February, 3pm – 5pm; tickets $10. For bookings, contact the CTC, tel. 02 4885 2665.

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.

Australian business needs the RET

Clean Energy Council infographic: RET saves business $64million a year

More than 15,000 businesses have now installed a commercial-size solar power system. These businesses cover a broad range of sectors, from dairy and chicken farmers through to wineries, offices, supermarkets and retail outlets.

There is an increasing recognition that the current modest support provided by the RET means the business case for solar power makes sense, helping businesses become more competitive in tough economic conditions.

This is a very effective policy which is working well and will begin to phase out naturally from 2017. The rest of the world is going full-speed ahead on solar and there is a huge opportunity here for Australian businesses if we leave the RET alone.

[Kane Thornton, Clean Energy Council]

Tell your Federal MP, Australia needs the Renewable Energy Target scheme.

Throsby: Mr Stephen Jones

Electorate Office:
2/1 Bong Bong Road
Dapto, NSW, 2530

Postal address:
PO Box 864
Dapto, NSW, 2530

Phone: 4262 6122
Fax: 4262 615

Parliament Office:
PO Box 6022
House of Representatives
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

Phone: 6277 4661
Fax: 6277 8548

Gilmore: Mrs Anne Sudmalis

Electorate Office:
24 Berry Street,
Nowra, NSW, 2541

Postal address:
PO Box 1009
Nowra, NSW, 2541
Phone: 4423 1782
Fax: 4423 1785
Email: email hidden; JavaScript is required

Parliament Office:
PO Box 6022
House of Representatives
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600
Phone: 6277 4141
Fax: 6277 8482

Hume: Mr Angus Taylor

Electorate Office:
191 Auburn Street
Goulburn, NSW, 2580

Postal address:
PO Box 700
Goulburn, NSW, 2580

Phone: 4822 2277
Fax: 4822 1029

Parliament Office:
PO Box 6022
House of Representatives
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

Phone: 6277 4662
Fax: 6277 2389

Let’s help CORENA beat the RET Review

Let's fully fund 2nd CORENA Quick Win Project before the RET ReviewCORENA, one of CANWin’s partner organisations, is calling for help to get a solar PV project fully funded before July 1.

CORENA (Citizens’ Own Renewable Energy Network Australia Inc.) lends donated funds to community groups so that they can generate their own renewable energy. The loans are interest free, and the repayments go to fund more projects.

It’s a brilliant way for individuals and small organisations to give a big lift to community groups and an ongoing cut to carbon pollution.

Now the Federal government’s Renewable Energy Target Review threatens to make these grassroots efforts that much harder. Well nuts to that!! Renewables are the future, and no government has a mandate, or ultimately the power, to stop them.

Less than $4000 will see the second CORENA Quick Win project powering ahead.

If you’d like to donate, go to the CORENA website or click on the picture above.

From the CORENA Facebook page:

Pls help us get this project fully funded BEFORE the RET Review outcome has a chance to cause dramatic increases in solar prices.

We don’t know what the RET Review outcome will be, or when it will take effect. We assume STCs (the government’s contribution to the cost of solar) will remain in place at least till July 1, but after that we’ll be getting nervous.

Common Myths of the Nuclearists

CANWin member Peter Lach-Newinsky wrote this essay for It’s published here now as his response to fellow member Rob Parker’s article Safe Climate Needs Nuclear Power. Your comments on both articles are more than welcome, especially if they focus on questions like “How much energy do we need?” or “How can Australia go 100% renewable and when?” WebTeam

In 2011, at the time of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, the British journalist George Monbiot became the latest environmentalist and climate change activist to convert to nuclear power. Amazingly, it took the very meltdown and ongoing contamination of and by the Fukushima plant to finally convince him. He joined a gaggle of previous environmentalists-for-nuclear graced with illustrious names like James Lovelock, James Hansen, Steward Brand and Tim Flannery. Their common, logically infantile and ethically untenable, position boils down to ‘coal is worse’ (more about that below).

With the overcompensating zeal of the recent convert who needed to bludgeon his own doubts and convince himself of his new creed, Monbiot wrote two articles in The Guardian. One played down the likely effects of the Fukushima meltdown and reframed the disaster as actual ‘proof’ (‘scientific’, no doubt) of the minimal risks associated with nuclear power plants. The other negated all estimates of the numbers of Chernobyl victims but the official ones by the UN; the former were labelled as unscientific, irrational green scaremongering and conspiracy theories on a par with those of climate change deniers.

At the time of Monbiot’s articles, various radioactive emissions were thousands or millions of times the legal limits, with iodine and caesium emissions at 73% and 60% of Chernobyl levels. The levels of radioactive caesium emitted into the Pacific Ocean will necessarily bio-accumulate up marine food chains. The then emerging picture relating to the contamination of Japanese food growing districts and urban water supplies did not forebode well either. The Fukushima plant contained ten times as much fresh and spent nuclear fuel, and thus radiation, as Chernobyl did. Fukushima at the time seemed like Chernobyl in slo mo.

I will leave the discussion of the various estimates of Chernobyl victims (from 6,000 to 1.8 million) aside for the moment. In this essay I would like to concentrate on a few of the common myths that nuclearists like Monbiot tend to use, ex- or im-plicitly, when discussing the nuclear issue.

We’re Rational, You’re Emotional

This is a favourite one at some point in the debate. Science and Reason are posited as being exclusively on the side of the nuclearists while anti-nuclear positions are denigrated as being merely emotional, irrational, conspiratorial, extremist. It is revealing that this monopolising of calm, unemotional rationality for oneself is often, as in Monbiot’s case, put forward with great emotion. It doesn’t take much knowledge of psychology to work out that the self-styled representatives of science and Reason – still mostly but ever less exclusively men ‒ are also driven by complex emotions, the difference being that the emotions are covert and for the most part unconscious. These emotions may have to do with the unconscious defence of self-identity wedded to complex belief systems ranging from things like the efficacy of scientific and technological fixes for all social problems or the need for eternal economic growth right up to the ultimate meaning of life. All these may be seen as threatened by anti-nuclear stances and ‘green emotionalism’. Scientists, not being trained in areas like ethical thinking, emotional intelligence or social critique, may view all such ethical and ‘soft science’ perspectives as threatening. Denigrating them as irrational and emotional helps avoid them and suppress those aspects within oneself that might be tending that way. It takes a lot of emotion to remain emotionless. Denied is the simple human fact that emotions may guide and inform rationality to the mutual benefit of both heart and head. Yes indeed, the heart may have quite a lot to say about nuclear energy if it is allowed to do so.

Science is What We Say It Is

In all these anti-anti-nuclear diatribes the notion of ‘science’ is simply assumed as naively defined in the popular imagination: i.e. as an activity that is value-free, objective, non-ideological and non-political, as an institution that possesses a solid consensus on most issues and that can thus objectively guide political decision-making. In a secular world it has come close to replacing the Church as the supreme authority on interpreting reality and meaning-making.

In the real world of course, ‘science’ is a much more complex phenomenon. Rather than being non-political and objective, it is very often closely bound up with social and economic interests. Government and industry can often buy and/or cherry-pick the scientific results they need (as we know they may do with intelligence to justify military invasion). Thus, for example, officially ‘safe’ levels of chemicals or radioactivity in food vary greatly between countries and times and are often adjusted upwards during disasters in order to safeguard specific industries or the economic system as a whole. The definition of ‘safety’ becomes more an ‘economically feasible’ than a strictly scientific issue. Continue reading

Safe climate needs nuclear power

Rob Parker is a foundation member of CANWin whose engineering background underpins his understanding that the climate problem is enormous and urgent. In this article, the first in a series, Rob argues that renewables alone cannot reduce carbon emissions to a safe level; nuclear power must be part of the solution.
This view is likely to become a part of the policy debate in Australia. We hope you’ll share your thoughts in the comments section below this article.

This is the first in a series of articles dealing with the use of nuclear power to address climate change. For many people this is a contentious concept and for some their response will be hostile and incredulous. As a “baby boomer” my own journey into advocacy for nuclear power hopefully explains why its immediate adoption is essential to saving our civilisation and environment.

Hand holding a burning Earth

Image sourced from

My concern about climate change was ignited in 2005 when climate change awareness was growing and people were angry. We had a general revulsion against consumerism and rampant consumption. Corporate greed and ineffectual politicians were the enemies of the people and the environment and renewable energy solutions were thought to restore some level of control over our lives and return us to living in harmony with nature.

A wave of behavioural doctrines and solutions spread through the climate change movement. I researched alternative energy solutions and found that rarely was any analysis done to justify their adoption and at times perverse outcomes have resulted. A notable example is that of biofuels where markets have determined that more money can be made by displacing food production (for example, see here and here) or by destroying tropical habitats, especially of the Orangutan.

But regardless of the evident failure of “renewables” to make any real dent in our greenhouse gas emissions the “back to nature” movement would brook no opposition. For some, science and technology were seen as a part of this attack on our environment, so conceptually straightforward technologies harvesting nature’s free energy became the vogue. Typically we saw the large scale adoption of decentralised power systems such as roof top solar. The intermittency of these systems, which entrench the use of emissions intensive gas turbines, was and remains an inconvenient truth.

We will only get one chance to refashion our economy around low carbon technologies and people need to be held accountable for their opposition especially when it has no analytical basis. As James Hansen has recently observed:

“People who entreat the government to solve global warming but only offer support for renewable energies will be rewarded with the certainty that the U.S. and most of the world will be fracked-over, coal mining will continue, the Arctic, Amazon and other pristine public lands will be violated, and the deepest oceans will be ploughed for fossil fuels. Politicians are not going to let the lights go out or stop economic growth. Don’t blame Obama or other politicians. If we give them no viable option, we will be fracked and mined to death, and have no one to blame but ourselves.”

I detect similarities in science denial between the anti nuclear power brigade and the climate change sceptics. Again as James Hansen points out “There is no reciprocity from the supporters of renewable energy” with their preferred option being fossil fuel backup of renewable energy. “In other words replace carbon free nuclear power with a dual system, renewables plus gas. With this approach CO2 emissions will increase and it is certain that fracking will continue and expand into larger regions.”
The case I am making is for a clean low carbon industrial future, in harmony with and nurturing nature. For it is nature in the wondrous cosmic events such as the implosion of giant stars that gave our planet with immense improbability those elements essential to life such as iron, chromium, molybdenum or cadmium. These were created when stars in their final death throes fashioned and expelled these elements along with uranium and thorium into the cosmos. By a massive fluke these then aggregate into structures such as the Earth to enable life to flourish.

Mankind’s creativity can harness these elements from the magic furnace of the cosmos and use them to protect rather than assault our environment. My desire is to stop the industrialisation of our landscapes and to never entertain the massive network of towers and transmission lines that typify wind farms and solar plants. In an increasingly stressed landscape I wish to see nuclear powered desalinated seawater pumped inland so that we can remove many of the dams currently choking our increasingly climate stressed rivers.

As an engineer I became concerned that harvesting wind and solar power could not provide the amount of energy required to refashion our industrial economy around low carbon technologies. Nor could they do it in the time frame or within the carbon budgets that are required. We know the targets. We’ve been told often enough that a stabilisation target of 450 ppm carbon dioxide equivalent gives about a 50% chance of limiting global mean temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius. This means Australia needs to reduce its annual emissions by 90% by 2050, which means that our electricity must be generated with emissions less than 90 grams per kilowatt hour.

A quick review of Australia’s energy consumption shows where our efforts need to be directed if we are to address our emissions by 2050.

Energy in Australia 2013, Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics, Figure 10: Australia’s total energy consumption, by sector, 2010–11, Page 24

Energy in Australia 2013, Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics, Figure 10: Australia’s total energy consumption, by sector, 2010–11

a Includes ANZSIC Divisions F, G, H, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q and the water, sewerage and drainage industries.

b Includes consumption of lubricants and greases, bitumen and solvents, as well as energy consumption in the gas production and distribution industries and statistical discrepancies. Totals may not add due to rounding.

Source: BREE 2012, Australian Energy Statistics.

The diagram shows that to make any meaningful reductions we need to be synthesising transport fuels and changing the ways we process metals or manufacture cement. Importantly we need to drive carbon out of our electricity generation. It’s no good claiming that we need to de-industrialise or have large cut backs on consumption. The scale of the industrial transition required to achieve a low carbon economy will dwarf our current production. Meaningful reductions will for example result in the hydrogen replacing coal in the smelting of steel with the result that steam rather than carbon dioxide is expelled. Likewise aluminium, known as “canned electricity” has to be smelted using massive amounts of reliable clean low carbon electricity. Our heavy road transport needs to move to electrified rail and our light car fleet converted to electricity. It’s obvious that we have not even started the process of real carbon reductions and all this needs to be done with speed and with massive energy density.

We will only get one go at transforming our energy base and any system that is unproven or has massive redundancy and does not stand up to analytical rigor must be excluded. No nation has yet made any significant greenhouse gas reductions using wind or solar power and certainly not with expensive storage systems.
France and Sweden are two standout examples whose nuclear powered electricity generation meets the levels required by 2050. This has resulted in electricity being generated with carbon emissions of 77 and 22 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour versus our 847(1). France achieved their transition in 22 years with almost double Australia’s generating capacity.

We have on this planet enough uranium to power the globe for tens of thousands of years. Nuclear power stations utilise materials some 20 times more efficiently than wind or solar power and in nations that embrace the technology, 1200 megawatt reactors are now built in around four years.

In five future papers I will explore the issues of radiation, reactor safety, used fuel deployment, proliferation resistance and the massive environmental and industrial benefits of nuclear energy. Much of this will come from my studies into nuclear physics at ANU. I hope you’ll stay around for all of them.

Robert Parker 14th April, 2014

Offline References

(1) International Energy Agency, CO2 EMISSIONS FROM FUEL COMBUSTION Highlights (2012 Edition), p111

Too wet to picnic: National Day of Climate Action, Highlands style

A version of this article appeared in the Southern Highland News, 20 November 2013. More articles from the CANWin column.

Photo Denis Wilson

Picknickers for Climate Action Photo Denis Wilson

Why did 60,000 Australians in more than 130 towns and cities join in rallies last Sunday to demand climate action? Why did some 250 people come to a National Day of Climate Action Picnic in Bowral on a day better suited to hot soup and a good movie?

Couple with bright beach umbrella

Heatwave colours brightened a decidedly cool day Photo Denis Wilson

Because they understand that the world must stop burning fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas – for energy. Because they realise that destroying the climate won’t save the economy. Because they get that “There is No Planet B.”

And because they know they know that the good life doesn’t need fossil fuels. We can still build a better future, but to do it governments must get energy policy right and speed up the switch to renewable energy.

People arriving at the park entrance

Early arrivals on a damp, dark day Photo Angela Towndrow

The people who came to the damp picnic in Bowral are undaunted by the challenge of climate change, so it’s not surprising that they adapted easily to the unpicnic-like conditions.

Bob McInnes

Master of Ceremonies and master fiddler Bob McInnes Photo Denis Wilson

Musicians set up in the CWA hall instead of the rotunda and performed for a constantly moving crowd. MC Bob McInness managed to make himself heard by both the indoor crowd and those outside in the gardens.

Picnickers stood and talked instead of sitting and eating. One unscheduled speaker started a parade up Bong Bong Street. Another stressed that science follows all the evidence, even when it leads to conclusions we don’t like.

Anthony Ackroyd, in a heatwave hat

Anthony Ackroyd, in a heatwave hat

Special guest Anthony Ackroyd told some tales of his career as an impersonator of politicians. Meeting his subjects, he learnt that politicians are mostly charming people who want to do what’s right for the country. Those who doubt, or even deny, the science of climate change are probably not evil. “They’re just misguided,” Anthony said.

Good to know. Thanks Anthony.

About $200 was donated for Citizen’s Own Renewable Energy Network Australia Inc. (CORENA). CORENA uses donations from the public to fund practical renewable energy projects for community organisations. The loans are repaid from savings on electricity bills, and the repayments finance future projects so that the donated money is recycled. It’s people power powering people, far into the future.

Marchers gathering near the mall

Marshalling the marchers… maybe Photo Angela Towndrow

When the new government abolished the Climate Commission, thousands of people let their donations do the talking: within a week the Climate Commission returned as the crowd-funded Climate Council.

Last Sunday thousands of people rallied in support of strong climate action. They represent the majority: two out of three Australians believe that climate change is occurring. In the words of the 2013 Climate Institute report on Australian attitudes to climate change (PDF 2.4Mb):

Strong majorities recognise that doing nothing on climate change will increase the risks and that there are economic opportunities in acting in areas like renewable energy. Significantly, appreciation of the economic benefits and jobs associated with a strong renewable energy industry is not contingent on acceptance of climate change, or even that humans are responsible for it.