Energy Too Cheap To Meter (As Long As It Gets Enormous Taxpayer Handouts)  

Posted by Big Gav

The Rodent has almost concluded his little charade about nuclear energy, with his latest utterance confirming what was obvious to educated observers alomst 2 years ago - he wants to build nuclear power plants in Australia (the Financial Review's pro-nuclear campaign continues unabated this weekend, but their paywall precludes any links). He has also been having talks with his Canadian counterpart about creating a uranium miners version of OPEC by the sounds of it.

Nuclear power is inevitable in Australia and could come sooner than expected, according to the Prime Minister. In comments that lift the tempo on the contentious issue, John Howard said nuclear power in this country "could be closer than some people would have thought a short while ago". His Industry Minister, Ian Macfarlane, claimed it could be as early as 2020. "I think it is inevitable. The time at which it will come should be governed by economic considerations," Mr Howard told Melbourne radio from Ottawa.

Just four days previously while in Washington, he struck a more cautious line, saying he had "a completely open mind to that … It may be desirable that Australia in the future builds nuclear power plants." Yesterday, he said: "The whole atmosphere in Washington, the atmosphere … created by the high level of oil prices is transforming the debate on energy, alternative energy sources."


Nuclear power costs twice as much as coal power, and earlier this week the Treasurer, Peter Costello, said it was not economically right for Australia now, "because we have such proven resources of gas and coal".


The Opposition's environment spokesman, Anthony Albanese, said Labor opposed nuclear power on cost, safety, waste and proliferation grounds. "Labor will not change that view. I look forward to Labor ending John Howard's nuclear fantasy."

According to energy experts, Australia could not develop a nuclear power industry in time to stave off the effects of climate change, and such a program would be prohibitively expensive.

Academics at NSW University and the University of Technology Sydney said no private investor would take on the risk without huge government subsidies.

Scientists have warned that the world needs to make large cuts in greenhouse gas emissions to avoid further climate changes. But even if there was a doubling of global nuclear energy output by 2050, it would only reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 5 per cent, said Greenpeace Australia Pacific's chief executive, Steve Shallhorn.

The NSW Greens MLC Ian Cohen said that after 50 years, the nuclear industry still had not found a way to store its waste safely. "We don't want it back and we don't want to create it here."

The opposition says Howard's nuclear fantasy is really a nightmare.
Mr Albanese said he did not believe there would be a change in ALP policy. "The simple fact is that in Australia there's not a pro-nuclear vote," he said yesterday at a Sydney press conference. "There are, however, many thousands who have demonstrated their anti-nuclear position over the decades and we need as a party to keep the faith with them."

Mr Ferguson echoed Labor Leader Kim Beazley's mantra that the economics of having a nuclear industry in Australia did not stack up because Australia was rich in other natural resources.


Mr Albanese responded saying that if the Prime Minister considered nuclear energy so safe, he should site a nuclear reactor in one of his MPs' seats. "John Howard needs to come clean and say where a future nuclear reactor would be sited under a future conservative government and where the waste would be sited," he said.

A similar kabuki act has been playing out in the UK, with Tony Blair finally coming out of the closet and declaring Britain's future is a nuclear one. To be fair, he has more justification for choosing this course of action than the Rodent does, as Britain has far fewer energy options open to it. Not all members of the ruling party agree though, with one pointing out just why nuclear power does stack up on cost grounds.
Critics accused the prime minister of pre-empting the government's energy review, which is due to report in July.

Earlier, ex-Labour environment minister Elliot Morley rejected the case for a new generation of nuclear plants. He told The Guardian newspaper the energy review, which is headed by Department of Trade and Industry Minister Malcolm Wicks, might well point to renewable sources of energy if it was "open, transparent and fair".

He complained that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs had not had the involvement it should in the technical aspects of the review. He had seen no official government figures on the real cost of nuclear power. Mr Morley said: "To have new nuclear power is going to involve very large sums of money.

"If nuclear power was so great then you would have the private sector willing to invest in it. "The reality is that economically the risks are great and the returns are low. "No private sector company is going to take on the long-term risks, the cost of decommissioning, the storage, reprocessing and the responsibility for the waste."

Friday's Crikey had a post on the subject called "Blair goes nuclear, British politics gets weird" by Guy Rundle.
Tony Blair has stolen the running on his own government's energy review with his announcement, in a speech to a British business group, that he would be pushing for a new generation of nuclear power stations, intended to come on stream by 2017. It looks like one policy push amongst many, but in fact it's hugely significant – a pivot point for massive changes in British politics.

The secret is in the timing – Blair's announcement came just a short time after Tory leader David Cameron's unveiling of his new dream team of candidates, including Zac Goldmsith, editor of The Ecologist, and one of the highest profile greens (small g) in Britain.

Cameron has constructed a blue-green alliance by tapping into some older forms of conservatism, which had a remnant presence in the Tory party until it was taken over by Hayekian liberals in the 1970s.

Chief amongst these is the founding belief that, in the last analysis, humanity is subject to nature and not vice-versa. This is expressed in the conservative notion of "prudentia", which is something more than just being careful – it means maintaining an awareness that being (nature, tradition, order etc) extends far beyond what we can know or control.

As has been noted, most recently by David McKnight, such ideas connect well with Green notions – couched in terms taken from Left traditions – that we live within a dynamic and whole system, which, if regarded as nothing more than a commodity, will eventually bite back. Blair's public nuclear push is about aligning labour with a liberal humanist anti-conservative tradition of optimism in human ability to bridge the gap between being and knowing, and thus control our environment.

Such a process, if pushed further, would make the re-alignment of British politics total. Conservatives would become the party of regulation, and base their support within groups and industries – farming, small business, insurance etc – which would like to see a minimisation of risk. Labour would be identified as the party of modernisation, drawing its support from both big business, new media and so on – all those who want contemporary life to be a process of ceaseless transformation.

As the Frank Furedi notes (in The Politics of Fear) this is becoming the primary political division of hypermodern societies. Left and Right (in terms of private-public ownership) is a dead letter for the moment. On social issues, each party would have a libertarian and an authoritarian faction, with the latter dominating in both cases.

And if that all sounds far-fetched, remember this – the Conservatives were once an anti-capitalist, anti-industrial, and anti-imperialist party.

Genuine conservatism effectively died in the 19th century as capitalism took hold, and the Tories became a faction of liberalism. Of course, I don't trust the current Tories any further than I could spit them out – they're still the party of business. But they may find that the drift of events eventually gives them no choice but to actually live up to the new image they are so carefully cultivating.

Huntley's newsletter this week had a few words of caution for commodity investors - its a shame he doesn't try and put the China / India driven boom into the context of peak oil, which he has frustratingly hinted at enough times over the past 3 years. Maybe he figures its not worth trying to estimate a firm date for the peak and to just let the China story run for now...
Ouch! It has been a little while since we had a sell off with some passion or fear in it. But that is what happens when the level of speculation gets way ahead of any semblance of fundamentals. One should always remember the weight of money argument/theory can be a two edged sword and does not always apply. It tends to be easier to buy positions than liquidate them. In a speculative environment prices tend to fall faster than they have risen as punters simultaneously head for the exit. The human behaviour pattern of preservation or protection of profit tends to be greater than the risk taken on in gay abandonment when purchasing stock.

In a speculative bubble those participating in the game ‘pass the parcel’ do not think about the downside risk to their latest fancy – just how much am I going to make! When the music stops the rush for the door is reminiscent of the charging of the bulls at Pamplona or the unfortunate people stampedes at some religious gatherings in the Middle East – there will be casualties. Add to the ‘normal’ levels of speculation, the effect of margin lending and other leverage in the market and prices get slashed as greed turns to fear.

We are looking at this as an overdue correction and not the end of the China/India led resources boom although it is probably prudent to anticipate a little more short term pain as stock prices react to some extraordinary gains in the golden nine weeks between March 10 and May 12.

We have recently witnessed nationalistic moves in Tanzania and Bolivia that destroy resource company wealth – shades of Rex Connor. The latest to join the group is Mongolia which introduced a windfall profits tax. This will hit foreign companies that have made big investments in Mongolia due to the favourable/benign tax environment. Reports indicate the new bill will impose a tax starting at 68% when copper prices breach US$2,600 a metric ton and gold US$500 an ounce. If enacted that may well put paid to Ivanhoe’s much vaunted Turquoise Hill copper/gold project. That could be good news for copper and gold prices! This is another reminder to be aware of venturing into stocks where sovereign risk is high.

The whole entitlement culture of investors in mining companies operating internationally needs a rethink in my view. At the end of the day, resources are owned by the country that they are in - and while you may think you can buy the rights to all profits to be gained by digging the stuff up, the rules can change. So investors should either simply accept the risk, or cease hoping that they can trade beads for Manhattan and stop investing in offshore resource extraction.

Unfortunately, some investors still seem to think that developed nations are doing their third world counterparts a favour by taking their resources off them (frequently by bribing the present ruling clique in whatvere country they are operation in with a cut of the profits), as this friendly fellow demonstrates (via John at The Real Deal).
”Latest to be caught by government folly is Canada’s Ivanhoe Mines, busy developing a copper-gold deposits in the wilds of Mongolia. Mongolia’s parliament has voted – in a minority vote – to levy windfall taxes amounting to more than two-thirds of profits when gold’s price exceeds $500 an ounce or copper more than $2,600/ton. And the move was made without prior consultation with the mining firms only recently attracted to one of the world’s most inhospitable regions.”

”The lessons are clear, be careful of where investment funds are directed. The world’s resources companies have no responsibility to prop up the exchequers of countries that, for whatever faults of history, have failed to develop their economies in any meaningful way.”

”Let the Mongolians crawl back to their yurts and nomadic lifestyles, let the Bolivians regress to the instability and grinding poverty that has characterized their history since Simon Bolivar chased the Spaniards out and let the Zimbabweans go back the subsistence existence that they reveled in before alien ideas of industry, security of ownership and consistently fair legal process were introduced to them.”

I think simply dismissing history is a cheap stunt - in many third world countries the majority of the population got screwed, usually by invasion and subjugation, so they probably don't care a great deal about crying investors who feel that their investment has been stolen from them.

There are a number of ways of dealing with developing nations if you'd like them to have functioning economies so you can trade with them for their resources (by which everyone benefits). One is foreign aid - although it would have to be an actual gift, rather than the usual pseudo-aid which involves purchases of arms or other goods and services from the donor country. Another is loans - countries have an incentive to set up transparent and fair legal systems that enable local companies to operate and develop reource projects as they will be given a better rate of interest if they are perceived as being low risk. Expecting developing countries to "sell off the farm" and condemn themselves to an existance of wage slavery isn't really a way forward for them - so its no wonder they are once again choosing the nationalisation path.

Dave Pollard may have some unusual views, but he does come up with some interesting links - this one looks at the Canadian version of the nuclear charade and the "carbon dioxide is good for you" ads by the CEI.
Here in Canada we're bombarded by outrageously deceptive 'advertisements' by Shell ("we're working with the people to return the tar sands to nature" -- describing Canada's worst-ever ecological holocaust-in-progress) and a lobby group that calls itself 'Canada's Nuclear Industry' ("nuclear energy is clean, clear, affordable and safe" -- if you disregard the horrifically toxic waste products, massive cost overruns, frequent leaks and other security breaches, and vulnerability to terrorist attack). In the US the same thing seems to be happening (we get US stations with their ads here on cable): ExxonMobil, through the junk science right-wing 'Competitive Enterprise Institute', is blanketing the media with outrageous commercials about the benefits of CO2 and slandering Al Gore's film An Inconvenient Truth, and the Bush regime has released a PR piece on Gitmo claiming that most of the injuries to inmates occur "on the basketball courts". Most of us on the blogosphere know these faux-advertisements are nonsense, and we can use sources like the Center for Media and Democracy to decipher their Orwellian newspeak and discover which corporatists are spending their tax cuts and subsidies for these ads, but most viewers are not accustomed to such blatant propaganda.

Grist has a post on the effort going into the launch of Al Gore's movie "An Inconvenient Truth" and the global warming awareness efforts that have prompted the CEI's demented propaganda campaign.
Think you've been hearing a lot about global warming lately? If a new climate-focused group hatched by Al Gore has its way, you ain't seen nothin' yet.

After nine months of behind-the-scenes planning and wrangling, the Alliance for Climate Protection is now nearly ready for prime time. Gore spoke about the alliance in an exclusive interview with Muckraker. He said the group aims to raise big bucks for a single goal: "To move the United States past a tipping point on climate change, beyond which the majority of the people will demand of the political leaders in both parties that they compete to offer genuinely meaningful solutions to the crisis."

Practically speaking, this means launching a massive media and grassroots education campaign trumpeting the urgency of global warming and targeted at all manner of Americans -- "NASCAR fans, churchgoers, labor-union members, small businessmen, engineers, hunters, sportsmen, corporate leaders, you name it," said Gore -- with the assumption that "where public opinion goes, federal policy will follow."

With a leadership team that includes Brent Scowcroft, national-security adviser to presidents George H.W. Bush and Gerald Ford; Carol Browner, head of the U.S. EPA under Bill Clinton; and other heavies, the alliance could considerably pump up the volume of the green movement's barely audible public outreach on global warming. It plans to raise "tens of millions at least," said Browner. The group's official launch date is not confirmed, but will likely be in the coming weeks. The search for a CEO is under way, and board meetings have already commenced.


Meanwhile, what the alliance does have going for it is timing. Between record-high gasoline prices, predictions of historic drought this summer, and warnings that another brutal hurricane season could be approaching, the tipping point on climate change may well be nigh.

The CEI has also been attacking peak oil it seems - Bart from Energy Bulletin makes some pertinent comments:
In quoting the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) as the Peak Oil skeptics, is Scripps reporter Lance Gay perhaps indulging in satire? What credibility can CEI possibly have, with their current CO2-is-good-for-you TV ads? Spin & disinformation, thy name is CEI, in peak oil as it is in climate change.

Mike at Energy futura has a post entitled "This Week in Algae",which, unsurprisingly, takes a look at some algae related news.
Ahh, algae! Where would we be without them? Certainly not living on a planet with a breathable atmosphere of 20% oxygen at least. Considering that they produce at least one-third to one-half of the Earth's oxygen they are not much talked about. However I noticed algae in the news in four different areas this week...

Biodiesel from Algae

Biodiesel from algae has long been seen as a potential solution to our liquid transport fuel needs, with the US Department of Energy (under the forward thinking, but politically inept Carter adminstration) establishing an aquatic species program to research biodiesel from algae. The program was cancelled in the 80's however currently research is ongoing with one research group at UNH promoting that "just" 200,000 hectares (780 sq miles) of desert salt-water algae ponds could meet the entire US demand... provided certain practical problems are solved, of course.

So it was very encouraging to read this week that New Zealand has become the first nation in the world to commercially produce biodiesel from algae. NZ company Aquaflow Bionomic Corporation formed an agreement with the Marlborugh District Council to extract oils from excess algae coming from a municipal sewerage pond discharge.

Production is estimated at 1,000,000 litres per year, which in oil-field speak is only 6,300 bbls/year, as much as some productive wells would produce in a day. However this production is from a small town, and there are many other sources of nutrient rich waters to grow algae in, such as dairy farm run-off, so if this system were established widely it would provide significant volumes of biofuels.

TreeHugger has lots of interesting posts up as usual - on Virent Energy Systems' Liquid Biofuel Fed Hydrogen Generator, Whole Foods, An Inconvenient Truth and the Chicago Climate Exchange.
I've been talking about The Chicago Climate Exchange a lot over on Triple Pundit, but I thought it was time TreeHugger readers got a little 101 on this very interesting cap and trade program to reduce CO2 emissions.

One of the most effective methods of reducing a particular pollutant is to create a cap and trade program. This means that an authority such as government states that only some amount of the pollutant will be permitted, per year, and that each company in the country or state is permitted some amount, generally a bit less than their historical norm. After that, if a company manages to reduce its emissions by a greater amount than they were legally bound to, they may sell the "right to pollute" to other companies who have been unable to meet their target.

The United States created a very effective cap and trade program to deal with Sulphur Dioxide in1990, and the EU has now begun using cap and trade as a way to reduce CO2 - in keeping with the Kyoto accord. But what's a country to do if they're not a Kyoto signatory, and their government doesn't want to create a market for a particular emission, say CO2?

Simple - get a bunch of companies together and create your own market! A growing group of companies, including DuPont, Dow, Ford, Bayer and numerous city governments (see the impressive list here) have signed on to a legally binding contract to reduce their emissions, and trade their right to pollute on a free market exhange based in Chicago - the CCX.

So what would possess a major corporation to voluntarily do anything a long these lines, much less legally bind themselves to do so? Read on for the reasons...

GuamBat Stew has a post on the markets - and how they relate to landslides, instability and bifurcation.

WorldChanging has articles on Power-Scavenging Sensors, XsunX Transparent Photovoltaics and Bruce Sterling on The Future of Media Arts.
Ally #1, Bruce Sterling, has laid down another phenomenal rant, this time on the future of media arts. It's a lovely stroll through ubiquitous computing, how the Internet of things maps to the 3D world, and why the art world has a critical role to play in understanding how this new blending of smart places, spimes, and systems for making visible the invisible come together, an exploration of what art becomes when the actual is the new virtual. If you have no idea what we mean when we use these phrases, it's even more worth your time.

It ties into a ton of stuff we talk about on Worldchanging -- walkshed technologies, reputation economics, participatory panopticons, product-service systems -- but adds a wonderful dash of Bruce's predict-the-present futurism.

Tom Paine has a post on "Oil diplomacy".
Whatever the merits of the U.S.-Libyan rapprochement, it boggles the mind that the United States is moving in the opposite direction in regard to Venezuela. (Piling irony on irony, Chavez arrived in Libya on Wednesday to meet Gadhafi.) Even as it subtracted Libya, the United States took a major step toward adding Venezuela to the list of terrorism-supporting countries. The State Department announced that it is imposing a ban on the sale of weapons, including spare parts for F-16 Falcons, to Venezuela. In doing so, the spokesman for the State Department—noting that he “can’t get into all the details of it”—essentially accused Venezuela’s intelligence service of working with Iran and Cuba to support terrorism and drug gangs in neighboring Colombia.

The charges are absurd on their face and, unsurprisingly, the government of Venezuela angrily rejected the accusations. In fact, Venezuela has more reason to add the United States on its list of terrorism-supporting countries. The United States is harboring a former Venezuelan intelligence official, Luis Posada Cariles, who blew up a Cuban airplane in 1976. At the time Cariles was operating out of Caracas in coordination with anti-Castro extremists. In 1985 he escaped from a Venezuelan prison and today Venezuela is seeking his extradition from the United States. In addition, in a move that was not exactly a manifestation of the Good Neighbor policy, the Bush administration endorsed a coup d’etat two years ago in which the Venezuelan right briefly toppled Chavez.

Although the Bush administration claims to be engaged in a global war on terrorism and a campaign to extend U.S.-style democracy, it is more than apparent that Washington is in fact pursuing a worldwide strategy driven by the geopolitics of oil—and not just in regard to Libya and Venezuela. Iran and Iraq, of course, come to mind. More broadly, in recent weeks President Bush played obsequious host to President Ilham Aliev of oil-rich Azerbaijan. Bush warmly embraced Aliev, a less-than-democratic leader whose energy resources and strategic position make him an important player both in pipeline politics and in regard to U.S. plans for regime change in Iran. One-fourth of Iran’s population is comprised of Azeris. Then Vice President Cheney trundled into oil-rich and autocratic Kazakhstan last week, on a jaunt during which he warned Russia against using “oil and gas [as] tools of intimidation and blackmail.”

Of course. Using oil and gas for intimidation and blackmail? That’s America’s job.

Mike Carlton's column this weekend takes a look at Dual Citizen Murdoch and his signal the the Rodent's time is coming to an end. He even uses some of my phrases from yesterday - maybe its time for me to ask the Herald for a weekly cynics gig...
The Great Cham has spoken. Citizen Murdoch has announced it's OK by him for John Dubya Howard to make an elegant exit from the prime ministership any time soon.

"He's probably planning to go out on the top," Rupert confided to an ABC reporter who fronted him at Wednesday's state dinner for Howard at the White House. "I'd like to see him stay, but he's had 10 years there and it's a record. He's on top of his form, and much better to go out that way than like Margaret Thatcher, or losing an election."

So that's that, then. All fixed, deal done. Chestnut hair bouffant and glowing in the TV lights, the raddled old mogul was doing something he greatly enjoys: instructing politicians on their exits and their entrances. He knew precisely what effect this prognostication would have in his former homeland. His obedient claque of News Ltd pundits will now turn as one, like a shoal of whitebait, to proceed in the direction indicated.

Far from the gaiety in Washington, Peter Costello had been out in the bush grubbing for post-budget photo opportunities, going down a mine in Broken Hill in an orange jumpsuit that had him looking like an awkward carrot, that sort of thing.

Then came Rupert's thunderclap. The Treasurer almost wet himself. Murdoch "could well be Australia's most successful businessman ever and he is an extraordinarily intelligent person and I always listen very carefully and I value his views", he gurgled, the cat with the canary.


While Howard may have misjudged public reaction with Iraq and Work Choices, his radar may be correctly tuned with nuclear energy. I think the public has quietly decided it's inevitable and that Albanese is catering to a minority. The ALP have to come up with a detailed energy policy that looks both realistic and climate friendly. The public wants pragmatism, not posturing. Otherwise Costello will be PM laying the first brick for a nuke in Broken Hill.

I think you're incorrectly conflating uranium mining and nuclear power.

I think its fair to say most of the population don't give a sh*t abut uranium mining and exports - even I don't care that much - I don't think its a good thing but I also think its inevitable so I'll keep my whinging to the minimum necessary to feel that I've had my say.

Nuclear power is a different kettle of fish (as is turning the country into the world's nuclear waste dump).

I'm sure if you polled any state and said "do you want a nuclear reactor within 100 kilometres of [insert capital city here]" you'd have a very large negative response.

If you gave them an accurate estimate of how much their power bills will go up once all the costs are included the response would be even more negative.

And if you showed how much their power bills could go down if serious efficiency, conservation and renewables strategies were implemented, only the hard core "fuck you boy" (as Billmon terms them) crowd would still be in favour...

Nuclear is a losing bet and should be shunted off the table as quickly as possible.

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