Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Some graduation ceremonies are very dull. Others are dead interesting, and provide enough material for numerous anecdotes. If you are Jenny, you already know two anecdotes about the graduation ceremony I went to a few weekends back. This is a third one.

The main speaker at the graduation was John Ellice-Flint, distinguished alumnus, ex-CEO of Santos, and 2020 summiteer. He talked about climate change. He did it ably enough that he never had me offside. I shall give a very rough paraphrase of his speech, as it is not the done thing to take notes, and my memory is not what it once was.

He didn’t waste any time emoting about environmental catastrophe, and stated at the outset that he was going to set to one side the whole debate about the nature and extent of global warming.

He pointed out that the large developing nations were not going to abandon fossil fuels, whatever we did: we would have to accept that fossil fuels were going to be a major part of the world energy mix for some time to come.

He gave an internet factoid about the number of wind turbines China would have to build every day in order to equal the number of coal-fired power plants it was building.

He said the only way we could hope to make an impact on carbon dioxide emissions in the short-term was to throw barrow-loads of money at scientists and engineers- the one outcome of Global Warming hysteria that I have always felt to be an unqualified good.

He said he felt confident that the new government would rise to the challenge of providing these barrow-loads of money, and that in achieving world-class expertise in these areas Australia would soon earn it back many times over.

He talked a bit more about renewables, and a bit more about carbon-capture. I forget exactly what he said. I was waiting for him to mention the ‘N’ word.

But he didn’t!

Not once.

The word ‘nuclear’ did not pass his lips.

He is obviously on top of the whole big picture of greenhouse-gas abatement. He is obviously a clever bloke. He is obviously well-connected.

And it is pretty obvious that the nuclear option is one that is going to be adopted by a lot of our neighbours in our Near North, whether or not an ice age starts tomorrow, because we are going to run out of coal eventually, no matter how clean it is. It seemed obvious to me that the arguments he made with respect to developing expertise in renewables and carbon-capture applied equally well to expertise in nuclear power. And it seems obvious to me that since we are already involved in the nuclear industry as a supplier of uranium, we have not only an economic opportunity but a moral duty to take responsibility for the whole fuel cycle: to provide processed fuel to our customers (to reduce proliferation concerns) and to take back their waste (because it was ours to begin with, because we have ideal political and geological conditions to store it, and again, to reduce proliferation concerns).

But Mr Ellice-Flint didn’t mention nuclear power at all.

I am sure it didn’t just slip his mind.

I am sure he had some perfectly good reasons not to mention it.

But unfortunately, by not mentioning it, he couldn’t help but come across as someone pushing a narrow carbon-capture agenda, rather than an honest broker surveying the challenges of our energy future.


Anonymous said...

Anyone who spouts off ab out AGW being a catastrophe but then back-pedalling or ignoring the obvious and clear nuclear solution ... is a hypocrite.

It's a great intellectual honesty test. Many AGW boosters fail it.

Helmut said...

I personally think that carbon capture and storage is far from the answer for clean coal, even with improved coal fired power station systems performance.

What I don't understand is that plasma gasification seems to be have overlooked or discounted out-of-hand as a viable alternative energy generation platform that can run on anything from coal to old boots and everything in between, relatively cleanly and producing not only electricity, but also biofuels and building materials.