Rachel Nolan - Peak Oil Speech in Qld Parliament

The number of elected representatives at State and Federal level who have mentioned peak oil in parliamentary speeches must be getting close to double figures!

Speech to Parliament
Ms Rachel Nolan MP - Member for Ipswich
13th March 2008

Ms NOLAN (Ipswich—ALP):

On Monday night in Ipswich two local engineers, Steve Posselt and Stuart McCarthy, in conjunction with the Ipswich Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Ipswich Green—an organisation of which I am a cofounder—ran an Ipswich leaders forum to outline to the community the serious challenge of sustainability.

Their timing could not have been better. Today the price of a barrel of West Texas crude oil passed through the $US110 mark. This is the highest price oil has ever reached, either in current or inflation adjusted terms.

The price surge is a result of a culmination of rising demand, flat production and falling inventories, but there is a simpler way of describing what is happening. It is called peak oil. Peak oil advocates have always argued that we would only recognise the peak of world oil supply when it was passed—that is, we would only see it for sure in the rear-vision mirror.

Well, the view in the rear-vision mirror is becoming increasingly clear. In November 2006 the world produced 85.5 million barrels or crude per day. No month since has surpassed that total. During 2007 world oil production declined to 84.6 million barrels per day. Around the world, nation by nation, oil production has peaked and declined.

The USA peaked at 9.6 million barrels per day in 1970 and now produces 5.1 million barrels per day. Venezuela peaked in 1970, the UK peaked in 1999, and Norway and Australia both peaked in 2000.

The Energy Watch Group in Germany recently analysed world data and suggest that we are past the world’s peak. They calculate that world supply will now decline by seven per cent per year, falling to 58 million barrels per day by 2020. There is no way known that production of biofuels such as ethanol can plug such an enormous and growing gap. Even putting aside the record grain prices we are already seeing as arable land is transferred from food to fuel production the simple fact is that there is not enough land on the planet to grow the liquid fuel volume which we require today.

Aldous Huxley once said that ‘human beings have an almost limitless capacity to take things for granted’. When it comes to oil and our use of it, that is certainly true. Lester Brown in his Plan B 3.0 set out the challenge thus—

The challenge for our generation is to build a new economy, one that is powered largely by renewable sources of energy, that has a highly diversified transport system and that reuses and recycles everything. And to do it with unprecedented speed.

The Ipswich leaders’ forum set out that challenge for our community. It is a serious challenge and one that we must all seriously pursue.

Download speech as a PDF from Rachel Nolan's website.

It's remarkable that in Australia it's like in the US, the states are recognising and responding to the problem while the federal government remains clueless.

I think its partly because state and local politicians have more free time to think about issues, and a stronger connection to their local communities.

And its also because the greenhouse mafia concentrates its lobbying on Canberra, leaving the provincials types unmolested.

Sure, there's those things.

But what we're seeing in many parts of the world is that the local and state/provincial governments are responding to climate change with positive action; not always what I'd consider the best actions, but they are at least addressing the issues. And at times they're actually going up against their federal governments in court to get things done.

But that took a decade or so. I expect issues of depleting fossil fuels to take as long. On the plus side, the measures required for both problems have got quite some overlap. If we're already trying to prevent climate change, we'll be reducing fossil fuel consumption. So while the recognition of the problem may take another few years, the response will be a bit quicker.

Kiashu, I think on the surface the Feds seem clueless, but there is a deeper problem than simply not understanding Peak Oil. Bush, Cheney, Fox, and all those aligned with their particular way of thinking seem to perceive that 'reality is what you insist it is', rather than most other people's viewpoint, which is 'reality is what it is'. So in the same manner that they think insisting the Iraq war was an incredibly beautiful event, they are also able to insist the interior of the Earth is a gooey nugat of inifinite oil production and the oil industry just needs to expand infrastructure to increase the flow to a sufficiant level to reduce the price.

We can only hope future leadership will adhere to the above latter view of reality and initiate a serious course towards a Plan B before we are all bicycling to work.

And yet there will be no delegate at the Australia 2020 Summit that has a Peak Oil as a focus.

Quoting the list administrator of Beyond Oil South Australia: "My conclusion - the Labor Party wants to avoid the discussion of peak oil and resource limitations at all costs! This is also evident from a reply that I have seen from Senator Penny Wong (federal Minister for Climate Change and Water) to a letter from a peakist specifically addressing peak oil, cycling and other issues. She addressed everything but the peak oil topic."

while it's great to see these kind of speeches, i don't think we should kid ourselves about where the reality is at yet.

there are a handful of inner city councils with a significant number of executive officers who really understand peak oil, but beyond that there is very little to shout about. the Vic and NSW State Governments are not recognising and responding to the problem in any strategic manner.. just a few token measures while the road building and urban sprawl goes on. Qld has some serious representation on the issue in State Parliament, but the Government is still pursuing the big roads/tunnels solution.

at Federal Level there is remarkable variation in awareness and response to peak oil even amongst senior ministers.


My brother advises the premier of Victoria. 4 years ago I had a discussion with him about peak oil. He said they were fully aware, but the government will ignore the issue because it would not be politically popular to scare the electorate.

France is using Global Warming as a cover to do something effective about Peak Oil.

Most effective is a recent goal of 1,500 km of new tram lines in a decade. Adjust for population, and that would mean 500 km for Australia. Towns as small as 100,000 are getting trams in France.

Mulhouse France is my favorite example. Population 110,900 metro 271,000. No trams in 2005, 54 km of trams in 2012. Velib rental bicycles all around town (first 30 minutes free), and the LGV Rhin-Rhône arrives in 2011.

Mulhouse, in a few short years, is going from an oil based transportation system to having a very viable non-oil based alternative.

All good for Climate Change, but also good for Peak Oil !

Please pass this on, too few know what can be done !


Queensalnd seems to be leading the way in Australia and it seems only ALP members that can even mouthe the words "peak oil".

Tar sands will take up some of the slack. Ditto for coal liquification. Oil shale will play a minor role. In the meantime,the rising cost of gas will hasten a migration to the grid. Hybrid,plug-in,then fully electric vehicles. Rising fuel costs also make renewable energy more affordable by the day. Wind energy capacity in the U.S. doubled last year. Only supply constraints kept solar from doing the same. Yes,the U.S. peaked 38 years ago,but it's still the world's #3 producer. Peak oil isn't a catastrophe waiting to happen. It's a slow,decades long process...that hastens the worlds transition to the Solar Age. That's a good thing.

The mythology of the fairy tale ending is permanently lodged into the psyche of the European consciousness. The techno-fix is a mockery of a travesty of a sham. Australians and Americans consume 30 times as much as other peoples. Even if we adjusted our lifestyles to that of less energy consumptive nations is humanity sustainable at 6.7 billion people and growing? Of course not.

The techno-fix is a mockery of a travesty of a sham. Will sobering facts stop the overwhelming effort and investment of the west to keep everything going? No. We have a culture of two year olds.

See you on the downside. And that's not a good thing.

I agree 100%. If someone wants to know the difference between an electric (which still requires a source to produce it) and oil, try using a cordless weedeater vs. a gas powered one on knee high weeds and wet grasses. You'll reach for the oil powered one every time. The idea that an expanding economy in India and China coupled with already developed countries swarming through energy at the clip of 31 billion barrels of oil a year can make the switch to electricity is outlandish at best. Only through the most chaotic transition will that ever occur. People can adjust to more, but not less without being forced. Humankind is still motivated by simple, 2 year old perceptions.

...that hastens the worlds transition to the Solar Age. That's a good thing.

The last time we had a solar age was prior to the nineteenth century, before coal. There is avery good reason that industrialisation didn't happen under the last "solar age" and there is a compelling argument that it won't last long into the next one either, tar sands, wind and bio-fuels notwithstanding.

There is avery good reason that industrialisation didn't happen under the last "solar age"

Um.... is that reason that nobody had invented photovoltaic cells?

Maybe it was because they didn't have wind turbines that could generate 7 MW each to power the PV plants ?

Of course, solar thermal just needs some well aimed shiny metal bits - and those have been around for a couple of thousand years now - we just didn't know how to use them back then...

I guess the 20 Mw of installed PV were also used to produce the wind turbines? And those cranes used for the installation I am sure were using only bio-diesel, along with the plug in electric trucks were just sitting around waiting to deliver it all to site.

Of course we have been able to amke shiny metal things for a few thousand years but you seem to think aiming them is easy. It is not easy now, even with our modern control systems to line up thousands of highly polished mirrors ot concetrate enough sunlight on one spot to capture it. Accurately lining up these things requires some pretty hi tech control systems, X and Y axis servo motors for each mirror and an army of cleaners to keep all the dust, grime, bird shit and other crap off them so that they keep working at the design efficiency. Any dulling of the polished surface will reduce the effectiveness considerably as the sunlight scatters in all directions rather than the predictable angles required.

As far as PV goes, this is great for isolated, small scale, low deamnd installations. Even if isolated means your suburban house with a 20KW system on the roof, it is still of limited value to industry , even if you do supply the grid. The power grid is currently designed for a one flow of power. It is not equipped to upload massive amounts of unregulated, PV generated power from every household that wants to do their bit. You may be able to share a bit with your neighbours within the same local distribution grid, but you are not going to supply anything to the aluminimu smelter that is turning out new wind turbine blades. The smelter and other heavy industries need high security power supplies to stay in business. You can't just turn some of these things off, becuase the wind stops or the clouds roll in.

The most reliable form of solar energy conversion is hydro-electricity. If we could combine itermittent wind and other solar technologies to pump water up hill rather than rely on the rain to get it there, we will ahve gone a long way to closing the loop. The biggest problem is having big enough storages to create the scale necessary to keep our curretn industrial apparatus all going.

But hey, if you've got all th answers, theres no shortage of suckers out there waiting to invest.

"The techno-fix is a mockery of a travesty of a sham."

How so Joe? The earth receives 174,000 terawatts of solar energy each year. You don't think it can spare 15 of those terawatts for transportation and electrical needs? That's all the energy the planet consumes each year. I'm looking forward to clean energy. $300 oil makes virtually any alternative cheap by comparison. Of course,there will be lots of 45MPG cars on the road with $10 gas,just like there are lots of 15MPG cars on the road with $3 gas. But,we'll be one step closer to the Solar Age.

While we probably will move to a non oil based technical society. We could do it today with a investment in wind and solar and some serious research. And we always have nuclear.

What your missing is that this techno-fix if you will will be for a even smaller portion of the planets population than supported by a oil based society.

Show me a renewable based society that gives a excellent standard of living for 4 billion people and I'd change my tune.

Efficiency can make a huge difference, giving us time to adjust our lifestyles. There is no reason for transportation not to be nearly free. Following the example of phone bills.

Here is an image of JPods. The move a 12- watt-hours to travel a km. Solar collectors 2 meters wide over the rails can gather enough for 12,000 vehicle-km per day per km of rail. Networks pay for themselves in 1-15 years.

Want to help deploy these types of networks? Links to nearly everyone working on these type concepts is at the jpods.com web site.

The trick will be not to breed ourselves out of house and home again.

"Efficiency can make a huge difference, giving us time to adjust our lifestyles."

"Lifestyle" is a term that people who have never known "Want" use. I don't know what else to say.

Even if these things run on 12Wh per km which is a seriosuly samll amount of energy, the massive restructuring of the urban environment, which will allow them to function with any sort of logisitical efficiency, would negate any savings that might be made. Add into that the massive capital investment required,just when finance is strained, and the fact that folks just might not need to go anywhere at all, least of all to the mall to do "shopping". This may have some limited applications in theme parks (dooomed) etc for limited point to point transport but PHEVs and EVs are more likley, given that they will fit the exisiting infrastruture more easily. Ultimatley though the future will be about staying put, with all your basic daily needs being within walking or cycling distance. This will require much more densification of living arrangements and a radical reassesment of waht constitutes absolute need.

While most of the world will have nuclear power, and it is our great good fortune that we do, Queensland at least is still adamantly opposed, including the speaker in the main article. I'd say there is some hope for her on this topic though, as her main sticking point is waste disposal, which is not a hard problem, and she voted for water flouridation on the basis of the science despite pressuer from the paranoid fringe.

I never cease to be amazed by people who want to shift from one depleting resource to another.

Hubbert got that one right - solar is the best alternative, not nuclear - why waste time with the old extraction based model ?

All power generation requires extraction of resources. One aspect of lifecycle analysis is to understand that requirement. On that basis, with current technology, wind and nuclear are the lowest resource investment technologies, although I'm not sure whether the wind figures include backup and grid upgrades. Solar is much hungrier for resources.

Uranium and thorium resources can outlast our local space-based fusion energy provider.

Classic - I love that sort of pie-in-the-sky nonsense. However, I suspect the sun will still be shining long after humanity has abandoned nuclear power forever.

People just don't want to deal with the waste and weapons proliferation issues. That is the cold hard reality of it.

We can meet all our energy needs using clean energy sources - and so we will.

Its really as simple as that.

No, Australia will burn coal, and burn the planet while it is at it.

That is the simple truth.


It’s disappointing when snide indignation is disguised as technical debate.

Sadly this is fairly ubiquitous in nuclear power discussions. Is it any wonder why those familiar with the technology aren’t more outspoken?

Meeting Australia’s energy needs through renewables, conservation and efficiency (and/or with a tremendous amount of luck – carbon capture) would be wonderful. If I were omnipotent, I would make it so without delay (as would anyone).

But IF the available technologies fall short – and many are suggesting they will – I believe it would be wise to take steps now to at least facilitate a future nuclear power programme in Australia.

The risks explained in Professor Hansen’s letter to Kevin Rudd simply dwarf any credible risk associated with modern, western designed nuclear power stations.

The only thing simple about Australia’s energy future is, in all likelihood, we will be faced with a decision to accept high emissions, severe economic stress, routine power outages, nuclear power or some combination thereof.

It's possible that humanity will find another way to fulfil its energy needs, but that doesn't alter the truth of the abundance of fertile nuclear fuel. And it doesn't alter the fact that you need to use plenty of resources to collect industrial-use energy from sunlight.

Waste is a reasonable point to debate, although the low volume generated per GW-year means that even quite eloborate solution are feasible. Whether they are necessary is part of the discussion too. Weapons proliferation is mostly red herring - no nuclear weapons program has ever developed from a civilian power plant infrastructure. There's only marginal control points to debate there.

We can meet all our energy needs using clean energy sources - provided you include nuclear in that category, which I emphatically do. Your "pie-in-the-sky nonsense", more literally, would be believing that we can meet all our needs from only solar.

Uranium and thorium resources can outlast our local space-based fusion energy provider.

Maybe, hypothetically. But no-one knows how long any finite resource will be available is the required quantities because no-one knows how much will be required (including growth), how difficult that requirement will be to mine and how much environmental damage will be done. Also, no-one knows whether there will be a stable society in which those resources will be used, or in which the waste from those resources will be stored. Of course, a lot of people make guesses and even passionately believe those guesses are correct. But no-one knows for sure. And yet, incredibly, nuclear advocates still push for a switch from one finite fuel resource to another finite fuel resource.

It's a crazy old world.

Joffan is correct.

Claims of nuclear fuel depletion are unjustified as is the unfortunately enormous emotive rhetoric surrounding the technology today. Perspectives are skewed, risks inflated without technical justification and – worst – most people are ill-informed on key issues.

I expect nuclear will eventually receive fair and objective consideration in Australia as the climate/energy situation becomes obvious to more and more people. There is an array of pressures coming down on the Australian public now and in the very near future. Electricity costs are predicted to rise as we are pressed [internationally as well as from within] to reduce our carbon emissions. Pressures to shift from fossil to no/low carbon energy generation could have an impact on energy reliability or quality [as an example, look at the recent case in Texas where serious grid instability resulted from a rapid drop in wind, also look at the energy situation in South Africa]. Oil production capacities are to continue increasing costs for petrol putting further economic strain on Australian business and the general public.

If carbon emissions are to be reduced, then each large coal station that is displaced [by wind, solar, geothermal, efficiency, conservation or nuclear] is a step in that direction. Perhaps the adoption of the complete nuclear fuel cycle in Australia is worth considering. We should at least be open to nuclear power’s expansion in other countries with a demonstrated history of safety and a commitment to non-proliferation. The most direct way to accomplish this is to encourage the expansion of uranium mining throughout all of Australia in the near term as we consider our broader nuclear options for the future.

look at the recent case in Texas where serious grid instability

The ERCOT report places that squarely on the failure of fossil fuel plants to deliver their promised spinning reserve,

I agree that Australis should get 33% to 40% of their power from nukes, but that is the effective limits without excessive nuke power unsettling the grid.

The two great failings of nuke is the time to get them back on-line (up to two weeks) after forced outages and they are not designed to run at partial load. All or nothing !


Yes, but the initiating event was a rapid and significant drop in wind. I imagine this event will be reviewed by other utilities operating wind farms with rapid response fossil backups. The response requirements [total load] would increase as the percentage of total demand shifts to wind.

Note: I'm not bashing the technology, just citing that such a shift involves risks that must be managed.

ERCOT has a list of industries that can accept a sudden blackout (in exchange for cheaper power), and used about 1 GW to deal with the issue.

ERCOT is now recruiting a second list of industries and businesses that can accept a loss of power with a 10 minute warning. This is because wind does give a bit of warning as it winds down, unlike nuke where 1.6 GW can go from all to nothing with a trip.

I believe in a "Rush to Wind" with a slower nuclear build-up as a secondary response.

Best Hopes,


NuclearAustralia - "Claims of nuclear fuel depletion are unjustified as is the unfortunately enormous emotive rhetoric surrounding the technology today. Perspectives are skewed, risks inflated without technical justification and – worst – most people are ill-informed on key issues."

This seems to be the standard fob off. Anyone that objects to nuclear power has to not know anything about it. The problem of low/high grade ores is a serious problem. There are no working thorium reactors at the moment and as they cannot produce material for nuclear weapons it is unlikely that any government that is considering nuclear power will pay for their development.

"I expect nuclear will eventually receive fair and objective consideration in Australia as the climate/energy situation becomes obvious to more and more people."

Yes you are absolutely correct. When we stop driving our best minds and research overseas for lack of vision and investment we will perhaps see the huge solar power plants that David Mills is developing with research from Sydney Uni built here. When the Australian public sees the 24X7 power produced from our abundant land drenched with an average of up to 10.5 sun hours per day it will become obvious to even the most ardent ACA watcher that solar power is Australia's future. Additionally we have thousands of kilometers of some of the best wind resources in the world along with thousands of years of geothermal.

Also we might persuade the Australian inventor of vanadium flow batteries, that we now have to buy from Canada, to return and work in Australia, give some Australian's a job and produce some major storage to help the renewable power.

Given all this why would we want the waste and mess of an inflexible base load power station, that has real problems being integrated with new smart grids, that also requires a multi billion dollar price tag and expertise we do not have to gain control of the entire fuel cycle from uranium ore to geological storage of the waste.

Over the years uranium exploration had dropped off to nil, but has resurged with recent demand and price increases. These efforts - as expected - have yielded very positive results around the world. Claims to the contrary are fabrication.

Nuclear plants do not offer much operational flexibility as you say. Their role is principally one of baseload power generation. Start them up, let them generate their 700 to 1600 MWe and then shut them down every two years for maintenance and refuelling. They alone can not fully address the relevant challenges. But that does not mean they don't have a role to play.

Just because it's a 'standard fob off', doesn't mean it's not completely true. In general those opposed to nuclear power understand very little about the technology or related science; but routinely regurgitate distorted facts (or worse, total lies) from other organisations hell bent on sending humanity back into the dark ages. Trends around the world show people, organisations and governments are making the effort to objectively consider nuclear power from a more level perspective (i.e. in the context of the real risks relative to similar risks accepted by humanity every day). These considerations are resulting in a transformation of many ardent anti-nuclear activists into some of the technology's most vocal supporters.

I don't really like PV-solar. The panels are energy intensive and following their useful lives the resulting waste (including toxic heavy metals) will be around forever. To mass produce such a technology does not seem prudent. [Before you shoot back a reply, nuclear waste solutions exist and are deployed today, including reprocessing. The volume of waste to energy production ratio also weighs heavily in nuclear's favour.]

Wind, solar-thermal, geothermal, tidal, efficiency, conservation and smart public transport along with other policy initiatives relating to transport and/or land use are all great options and I fully support their deployment to the maximum extent where it makes economic sense to do so. I even support strong government subsidies for them all - provided this is the most effective means to achieve the relevant goals (reliable, high quality energy supply with no/low emissions).

I'd like to put my faith in coal / carbon capture, but there are too many unknowns associated with this technology, an unpredictable timeframe, and demonstration attempts to date have failed to achieve any credible results. However, that won't stop us from throwing a pile of money at it.

I do not believe it is wise to so casually remove nuclear from our options until we are certain (based on demonstrated technologies, objective risk analyses and peer reviewed science) our energy goals can be met without it.

NuclearAustralia - "I do not believe it is wise to so casually remove nuclear from our options until we are certain (based on demonstrated technologies, objective risk analyses and peer reviewed science) our energy goals can be met without it."

Thank you for your considered reply. You are the most reasonable nuclear advocate that I have seen so far.

However I am not removing nuclear casually. If a country the size of Australia with it's tiny population cannot get along without nuclear power then what hope is there that other countries can do the same? The more countries that think that they need nuclear power the more chance there is that one or more of them will come under threat in the next 200 years and decide that they really do need nuclear weapons to ensure their national security. Remember that the future will be much more resource constrained in water, energy and arable land. Do you really want countries with starving populations being able to resort to nuclear weapons? Also with the rush to build thousands of nukes the waste problem is going to be swept under the carpet, as is being done now, as a problem to deal with in the future leaving a dangerous legacy for us to clean up.

If I thought that all nuclear programs would be run like the Swedish then perhaps I would be less critical however they are the exception rather than the rule. Even the French are still storing their waste aboveground and waiting for a miracle for long term storage.

"Fighting the objections of technical experts who argued it would increase costs, Bataille introduced the notions of reversibility and stocking. Waste should not be buried permanently but rather stocked in a way that made it accessible at some time in the future. People felt much happier with the idea of a "stocking center" than a "nuclear graveyard". Was this just a semantic difference? No, says Bataille. Stocking waste and watching it involves a commitment to the future. It implies that the waste will not be forgotten. It implies that the authorities will continue to be responsible. And, says Bataille, it offers some possibility of future advances. "Today we stock containers of waste because currently scientists don't know how to reduce or eliminate the toxicity, but maybe in 100 years perhaps scientists will.""

The point is that Australia should be the renewable energy beacon for the rest of the world. Renewables are scaleable from village to city in a way nuclear is not. Small village renewables need no distribution infrastructure, that is usually non-existant anyway, and is applicable to third world countries as well as first world. Renewables can be deployed with no risk that they can be secretly turned into weapons and leave no dangerous legacy to be cleaned up by someone else.

I do agree the solar PV is not the best way except for small scale solar however in that application it is supreme as it has no moving parts and generally will work for 30 years without maintenance.

If we can show the world that a country that once had the highest per capita greenhouse emissions can maintain a first world technological society and replace fossil fuels with renewables then perhaps we can convince other countries to do the same. How much better would it be to say to Iran "We understand your energy problems, we have solved them with solar thermal and wind, we can supply this technology and you do not have to go down the nuclear path". If Iran is genuine that it's nuclear program is for peaceful purposes (which I doubt) then this should be a strong argument. What we cannot say to Iran is that we use nuclear power however, because you cannot be trusted with it, you have to use renewables which even we cannot make to work. This is exacty what we are saying at the moment and it surprise surprise is not working very well. It will also not work for all the other countries that we really would prefer not to have access to nuclear technology that will follow our example, if we build nukes, and try to obtain, legally or illegally, nuclear power plants.

In conclusion do you really want at the end of our age hundreds of nuclear armed states fighting over the last of the oil, gas and water?

And thank you for your compliment and patience to post such a thorough reply.

I would like to make a few counterpoints for your consideration.

First regarding the uniqueness of Australia; yes there are only 21 million or so Australians today (predicted to increase by about 40% by 2050), however, unlike many other states and countries we are on our own. With respect to energy generation, we must be self-sufficient. We do not have the luxury of importing energy from Canada or France when our reserves suddenly drop. To manage the risks accordingly, we need additional reserve capacity (actual instantaneous generation in excess of demand) compared with other nations. 15% reserve is the norm, and for Australia – we’d do well to stay above that value by a healthy margin.

The link made between commercial power and nuclear weapons is unjustified. Neither Iran nor North Korea has nuclear power. With respect to Iran, no one is saying they do not have the right to nuclear power – only the sensitive technology to enrich uranium that can be linked to weapons programmes. Also in North Korea, international negotiators are offering the government nuclear power plants as a reward for the elimination of their weapons programme (which by the way was developed with no commercial nuclear power industry connection). The uranium enrichment levels required for nuclear power plants (~5% maximum) can not be used for nuclear weapons. International efforts looking to expand nuclear power to help address many of the worlds ongoing challenges (low emissions energy generation as well as addressing extreme hunger and poverty) are doing so by securing sensitive technologies on the front-end (enrichment) and back-end (reprocessing) of the fuel cycle. What happens in-between to generate the actual power, is not capable of creating a nuclear weapons state. Australia can support these efforts by expanding uranium mining and supplying uranium to states with demonstrated safety performance and a verifiable commitment to nuclear non-proliferation.

With respect to the waste, the link I posted in the comment above discusses many options and can provide additional information for consideration. The volume, toxicity and decay time can be dramatically reduced using fast neutron reactors. Reprocessing can also help in this regard as well as recovering significantly more energy from each irradiated fuel assembly. The challenges on the back-end of the nuclear fuel cycle are not technical or related to health risks etc. They are political. What waste there is (and it’s not that much if you compare it with just the solid waste coming from, say, coal plants) is safely and securely stored. The fly ash from coal stations (and all the concentrated toxic heavy metals contained therein) lies mostly unregulated in huge collection basins at thousands of locations around the world. I think it is important to consider these risks consistently and objectively.

I agree completely that Australia should be a renewable energy beacon. Next to efficiency and conservation – renewables (particularly wind) are the ‘low hanging fruit’ for efforts to address current energy challenges. I don’t know much about the cost of solar thermal and I’ve read that there’s a bit of development remaining for geothermal and perhaps tidal. But YES deploy them all – like I say above – to the maximum extent, with subsidies as feasible.

BUT, if that fails to assure the self-sustaining energy quality, reliability, and capacity as I mentioned at the beginning of this post. Then, I believe, the risks of deploying nuclear power in Australia are dwarfed by those sited in, for example, Prof. Hansen’s recent letter to Kevin Rudd.

If a country the size of Australia with it's tiny population cannot get along without nuclear power then what hope is there that other countries can do the same?

On the other TOD boards, the pro-nukers dislike me because I point out the difficulties of a "Rush to Nuke" and support a slow build-out of nuke that can be supported by the infrastructure and experienced labor force (about 8 new nukes in the USA in a decade).

I also worry about the restart capabilities of nuke (5 days to half power, 2 weeks to full power is "typical") and the upper limits of nuke as a percentage of the grid.

I support a "Rush to Wind" and geothermal as well. With pumped storage and HV DC transmission to balance generation with load. Conservation and efficiency are the quick, effective and economic solutions that need to be pursued full bore !

Australia needs to get off it's addiction to coal ASAP. Wind, solar, geothermal, conservation and efficiency will *NOT* be enough, and certainly not soon enough !

IMO, Australia needs to select a site in eastern Australia for three 1.6 or 1.7 GW nuclear power plants, start construction on Unit #1, start on Unit #2 30 months later and Unit #3 24 to 30 months after that. Once Unit #1 is 95% complete, start work at another site with Unit #B1 (using some of the experienced personal from the first site). And when Unit #2 is 95% complete, start work on a third site with Unit #C1. Follow the same 30 month delay between units.

Contract with France or someone else for fuel recycling (even if it is not "economic").

Coupled with conservation, efficiency (Melbourne tram systems for everyone ! And improve Melbourne's system), wind, solar, geothermal, pumped storage and HV DC transmission to balance it all, Australia could reduce coal burning by 90+% in twenty five years. But *NOT* without nuclear power !

Thinking that Australia can run without coal OR nuclear is, IMO, a fantasy unsupported by any reasonable economic analysis. (Will Australians pay 40 cents/kWh ? I doubt it and any plan predicated on that assumption is bound to fail).

Solar, wind, geothermal, conservation may be angels, Nuclear power may be the small imp, coal is Satan himself !


BTW, I (and any other reasonable person) would *MUCH* prefer a world with a limited nuclear war than a world with +3 C temperature rise, or worse. Australia once supported a population of about 50,000 to 100,000. It could again. See your recent drought as a sample.

From your first link, I found this gem: "From time to time concerns are raised that the known resources might be insufficient when judged as a multiple of present rate of use. But this is the Limits to Growth fallacy, a major intellectual blunder recycled from the 1970s, which takes no account of the very limited nature of the knowledge we have at any time of what is actually in the Earth's crust. Our knowledge of geology is such that we can be confident that identified resources of metal minerals are a small fraction of what is there."

It starts off with a stinging attack on the authors of Limits to Growth. See here for some commentary on how that book was unjustly pilloried. It then justifies that attack with wishful thinking - that because knowledge increases with time, therefore there will be as much resources available as we could possible ever need. So it basis its advocacy on a fingers crossed approach.

Of course, it may turn out to be right, but is that really any way to set energy policy for decades into the future?

On one issue, waste, you overstate the issues.

France is reprocessing their spent fuel, extracting the transuranics for reuse as fuel and storing the fission byproducts (a mixture of every element between lead and lithium that was created when uranium atoms split), The half lives of this mix vary all over the map, but almost none have half lives of over 30 years.

A number of rare and valuable elements (platinum group particularly) and it is calculated that the fission byproducts could be safely refined and used commercially in 300 years (used for commercial purposes, such as catalysts, not as jewelry).

I strongly suspect that after 175 years, people will weary of waiting and say that radioactivity has declined enough and refine it then (and truly radioactivity for most elements will be trivial by then). That is for their future judgment.

The volumes involved after reprocessing are quite small. Of all the things to worry about in the world, nuclear waste does not make the Top 100.


Perry - Did you know that even plants through photosyntesis are only able to harvest around 10% to 12% of total available solar energy that it comes in contact with? Did you know that solar panels come from huge amounts of processed silicon just like the chips running that little computer you tap on? Did you know that processing silicon into solar panels uses huge amounts of aluminum, water, copper and lead and huge amounts of fossil fuel energy?

Lets consider food. In between watching our plasma screens and rocking out to our I-Pods we might get hungry. Here's some good news: We don't need to worry about the oil running out. Arable land and potable water is going to run out before the oil does. Food without water won't grow. Oh and the fish for protein is so full of mercury (one of the most poisonous minerals on earth) that it will be inedible in twenty years. Got any soylent green?

Another post a couple of weeks ago detailed the following: I'll paraphrase, "At the beginning of the industrial revolution the total weight of man and his cattle was less than 1% of vertabrae animals. Today that figure is at 98%." (See overpopulation or classic overshoot)

I know that in the wonderful age of Viagra, Oprah and Prozac we're not supposed to be depressed but go with me on this: Deep abiding depression is a healthy response to reality.

Now if that doesn't depress you then "Have a Nice Day."

Thats a little under 3w per squre metre. My laptop alone needs 90w so that means 30m2 devoted to one small appliance which is a fairly constant load. Running a car or aluminium smelter will take up cosiderably more. Given that 71% of the planet is underwater, 6% is farmland and much of whats left either mountainous or at latitiudes that have fewer hours of daily sunlight and your chances of harvesting anything like 15 terrawatthours is slipping out of reach.

The only proven society that runs on solar energy is an agrarian low tech one in which wood and other bio-fuels are either grown or harvested from natural forests. Hydro electricity is also a form of harvesting solar energy, but we have pretty much reached the limits of that too.

Making an asuumption that the suns energy can be concentrated enough to provide enough differential to create a useful energy flow is pretty naive. If it was that simple, we would have done it decades ago.

There are a lot more drivers on Chinese and Indian roads with $100 oil than there were with $25 oil Memmel. More expensive energy doesn't automatically mean less affordable energy. Not if the world has economic growth. Which is why the notion of a steady state economy is so ridiculous. Steady state means more and more people being left behind as energy costs grow.

Your mixing in the effects of the worlds largest credit bubble and globalization with the price of oil. Borrowing 50 years into the future to boost todays economy is not sustainable. If the financial markets where not so distorted and we handled 100 oil then you might have a case. Lets see how many Indian and Chinese drivers are easily paying for 100 oil or even 50 dollar oil once this credit bubble has unwound a bit more.

The notion of a steady state economy is not ridiculous in fact its the reason our very smart ancestors took hundreds and even thousands of years to improve their standard of living. They lived in a world with a EROI marginally above 1:1. What your missing by clouding the issue with costs in a massive debt bubble is that the EROI in this brave new world will be very low.

Its not negative so eventually the combination of declining population and refinement/expansion of a high-tech renewable way of life will result in a decent standard of living for a fairly stable population base but this could take hundreds of years. This is pretty easy to figure out since the conditions are similar to the collapse of all past civilizations I've seen nothing to indicate that we can short circuit the situation. So I actually think that technology will eventually save the day but we will be dust many times over before this day arrives.

How long do you anticipate exponential growth remaining possible? - the globe is finite.

To put it into perspective, if you are concerned about resource limitation at home, do you plan on an exponential increase in residents in your home and an exponential increase in your output? If you do, I'm, glad I'm not your neighbour - the increases in numbers of people would be unpleasant, but the social breakdown due to stress in your house would make the neighbourhood unbearable. This is what we are seeing on a global scale. The religious belief in the possibility of continued growth is the ridiculous position.

You may want to look at these articles.

"The religious belief in the possibility of continued growth is the ridiculous position."

Population growth and economic growth are two different things Dan. I foresee a stable or declining population in the Solar Age. The Western world is there,or close to there,already. A stable or declining economy would be disastrous though. There's enough solar energy available to support a trillion people. Unfortunately,that isn't the case with other resources,like water.

"A stable or declining economy would be disastrous though."

How do you propose to continue to have an economy that can continue to grow exponentially without exponential inputs? Tangible goods certainly can't grow at an exponential rate indefinitely as they are constrained by resource inputs. And even if we could get an exponential increase in productivity (in reality we would, in an analogy to the academic specialist, be making more and more of less and less) on non tangibles, we can only purchase so many services each - there is a limit to the growth no matter what the basis of your economy is.

I don't see it going down that way Memmel. I see no problem financing solar panels for 30 years if they last that long. The credit unwinding you speak of has little or no relation to the price of oil. Just another fear factor to throw in the apocolyptic mix. Peak oil didn't crash civilization this year,and it won't be some kind of doomsday next year or the next. It means changes in the way we live. I think those changes will usher in an economic boom like the world has never before seen. It will lift more boats than ever before. One of us will be right. Or,maybe the actual result will be somewhere in between. Kick up your feet for awhile. It'll be decades before we know.

Perry, would you mind threading your comments, rather than starting a new discussion thread with each reply.


Sorry D. I was clicking on comment at the bottom of the page. Should I click Parent,Parent subthread,or Reply?

Never mind. I think I got it now.

Perry its hard to say if the credit bubble and oil are related or not. They certainly are intermingled. I'm just saying making assumptions about the effect of oil prices in a badly distorted economy is not sensible. In the normal world people don't get 100-200k extra income every few years. This is what was happening with HELOC's.

I'd like to say a few things about your comments they are not about you.

First you don't have a problem financing solar panels for 30 years. Well thats fine but how many people have the disposable income to do this ? Lets assume your costs are between 15-30k USD for solar panels. Thats a LOT of money. What percentage of the population has the money or credit to finance solar panels ? A lot of people have a thousand or less each month after living expenses. You might not have a problem but your not most people.

Next your saying its not doomsday this year or next year etc etc. Well I hate to break it to you but at least in the US life's been going steadily down hill since about 2000. Wages are stagnant cost of living is increasing etc etc. The world is in a lot worse shape now than it was eight years ago. As far as Doomsday I'd say its already well along in Iraq but it will start at different times for different people. I'm sure Bill Gates could claim that life was just peachy well after it turned to crap for most people.
Also if you follow some of my posts my observation is that a segment of society will continue to do just fine in certain regions I call them enclaves the existence of these enclaves does not prove that society has not collapsed. Take the Roman Empire fragments existed for hundreds of years after Rome fell. Look at the history of Spain for example and the rise of enclaves is obvious.

Collapse of a civilization is not a one day event its a direction. And the direction ours is taking is already obvious if you open your eyes. Sure regions will continue to be prosperous and probably they will form the foundation for the civilization that comes after ours but it won't be ours just like we are not Romans.

Finally as far as one of use being right I think that not the way to look at it. Since by reducing it to right or wrong implies that both arguments are of equal strength. Since we where unable to provide a good life for the vast majority of people using oil the probability that less will enjoy the good life as oil dwindles is a absolute truth.
Its incorrect to act as if this is debatable.

I personally have every intention to try and make sure I'm one of the few that can continue to live the good life (albeit sustainable) and have my 30k solar cells but I'm not blinded by the reality that if I succeed I'll probably be part of a very small percentage of the population thats not having doomsday arrive over the coming decades.

As far as I know no one that thinks as you do has really thought out the issues for the entire world and how you take expensive renewable technologies and expand them so the entire world can live a happy and high level renewable existence. This is the real problem. I'm not sure we can prevent doomsday from arriving for a lot of the planet however I'm hopeful that we might be able to make it a short painful period of change instead of the traditional hundreds of years between the peaks of civilizations. The move for Greek to Roman society for example shows a transition with little disruption. So it has happened.

They calculate that world supply will now decline by seven per cent per year

It's amazing how a single mis-quote can get propagated so that now almost everyone thinks that this is what the EWG report said. What they actually said was:

Production will start to decline at a rate of several percent per year.

Of course, 7% per year sounds much more dramatic but continuing to misquote the report will just discredit it, in the eyes of many people.

Excellent! Local political people are sometimes more connected with reality. This is an important thing to be discussing, however there are three interconnected issues, water, energy and climate change. The Long Emergency is the combination of all three, which is occurring right now.

Regarding the larger governmental response:

Denial -> Bargaining -> Depression -> Acceptance ->Realistic Responses and Action.
(The last one is often never reached)


"Facts do not cease to exist just because they are ignored."
"Proper Studies", Aldous Huxley, 1927, and also from Mr. Huxley:

"Great is truth, but still greater, from a practical point of view, is silence about truth. By simply not mentioning certain subjects... propagandists have influenced opinion much more effectively than they could have by the most eloquent denunciations."