A nuclear power hypothetical

This post is inspired by a suggestion from reader Steve on my previous post about serious playfulness as a way of promoting constructive blog debate.

Imagine that it’s 2006. The new Australian Prime Minister Dr Brendan Nelson has been convinced by reading this post at Troppo Armadillo that global warming is a really significant problem that requires urgent government action. Nelson is seriously considering taking the nuclear option, being aware that nuclear power is the only current mature, generally available, base load electricity generation option that doesn’t create greenhouse gases. He is seriously considering:

(a) committing Australia to a large-scale adoption of nuclear power generation; and

(b) taking up a flippant suggestion by Greenpeace, and agreeing that Australia will store free of charge the nuclear waste from overseas nuclear power plants that use Australian uranium. The suggestion has previously been made seriously by the uranium industry.

The PM is aware that the current cost of nuclear power generation (inclusive of amortization of capital cost) is around twice that of coal-fired plants, but he has also been told that the cost relativities are much more equal if a carbon tax is imposed on all industries emitting CO2 to the atmosphere. As a classical liberal, Nelson is attracted to the idea of implementing a carbon tax to force CO2-emitting industries to internalise the real costs of their operations, and thereby letting the market decide which is the best technology, while also taking decisive action against global warming, in contrast to his supine predecessor John Howard.

You are a government consultant, and you are asked to provide the PM with a one-page (400 words at most) briefing paper on why the government should or should not introduce Nelson’s plan. You’ll need to keep your argument succinct but logical, because Nelson will have your briefing paper assessed by departmental and ministerial office experts who will inevitably rip it to shreds if you advance unsound propositions. This would mean you would never again get a lucrative government consultancy, and would be forced back to the ignominious (if occasionally pleasurable) role of commenting gratuitously and ineffectually on a blog somewhere.

The PM has appointed Troppo Armadillo as the official receiving centre for consultants’ briefing papers, and you should post them in the comment box here. Your cheque will be in the mail. Trust us, we’re the government.

PS – Dr Nelson has chosen this method of submission partly so consultants become aware of each others’ submissions and can submit later addenda responding to competitors’ submissions. However, being the polite small “l” liberal that he is, Nelson reacts very poorly to abusive, needlessly combative advice. Hence any subsequent responses will need to be restrained and logical if you hope to remain on the lucrative approved consultants’ list. OTOH, Nelson also appreciates a good joke (with Abbott, Costello, Downer and Ruddock in his Cabinet, that’s probably fortunate). So tastefully humorous responses may be a good tactic, as long as the dignity of other consultants is given reasonable respect. It’s a fine line.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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Robert
2022 years ago

You’re clearly well practiced at setting exams!

JN
JN
2022 years ago

Here’s an interesting factoid to work into the essay. The world’s largest uranium deposit (Olympic Dam), the Fed’s preferred nuclear dump (Aroona Station) and the Fed’s preferred out-of-sight-out-of-mind piece of real estate (Woomera) are all within an hour’s drive.

JN again
JN again
2022 years ago

Also get Ziggy Switkowski to run it because he’ll be looking for a job and he has a nukular background.

Francis Xavier Holden
2022 years ago

Ken – it must be a long time since you submitted for a tender. How it works is this.

PM Nelson’s mob calls for Indications of Interests, encouraging small and innovative companies and thinkers. All proposals must be costed. Due to important nature of subject there is only a fortnight until closing time in Canberra and no electronic submissions will be accepted. All submissions must provide proof of $20m insurance.

Then 4 months after submission Public Servants and Politicians will take all innovative ideas from proposals and give them to some mates in KPMG or Kinseys who will incorporate all ideas and collect the $2m fee, as planned all along.

jen
jen
2022 years ago

what is the KPMG?

Robert Merkel
2022 years ago

Just a quick factoid or two ; Those capital cost claims are open to question; this (industry advocacy) site:

http://www.uic.com.au/nip16.htm

claims a number of new (production-ready) designs should be well under that. Another useful document is a Royal Institute of Engineers report on the costs of generating electricity (though in a British context where coal is less conveniently available):

http://www.raeng.org.uk/news/publications/list/reports/Cost_of_Generating_Electricity.pdf

Nabakov
Nabakov
2022 years ago

Like hell are you gonna get 400 words out of me sober, Ken. But here’s my precis of my synopsis of my executive summary:

Pro:
-Bold! Courageous! Decisive!
– Hey, you’re a freshly-elected PM, you can do whatever you want for at least two years.
– Those construction industry donations will pour in like premixed cement.
– The construction unions onside and offguard.
– Hard hat photo-op heaven.

Con:
– Bold! Courageous! Divisive!
– One word PM, “NIMBY”.
– What to you think will blow out first to vote-sapping proportions: the budgets or the timelines?
– One tweensy weensy little leak lights up the international media and our nice, clean and green multibillion dollar tourism and agribusiness sectors won’t look so appetising.

“and collect the $2m fee”

We’re in the wrong business Frankie. Mind you, ever been to a KPMG Xmas party? I couldn’t tell where the numbers stopped and the people began.

Gaby
Gaby
2022 years ago

Now Ken and Nabakov, that is “seriously playful”. Very good. Nice way to finish of a Friday.

Have a good one.

Nic White
2022 years ago

Why Nelson?

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Nic

Because (a) Nelson is a classical liberal (in contrast to Howard and Abbott) and (b) (and more importantly) he recently spcifically canvassed the nuclear option in a speech (as I linked in the primary post – http://www.dest.gov.au/Ministers/Media/Nelson/2005/04/Speech180405.asp ) .

Rex
Rex
2022 years ago

The Prime Minister
Dr. Nelson,

RE: Nuclear Power for Australia

Our conclusion is that the entire issue of nuclear power in Australia will ultimately hinge on the proposed location of the nuclear waste dump.

Our view is that it will be relatively straightforward to convince the public that a nuclear reactor can be safely built and operated, provided that the public can be certain that it will only be constructed with the proven American technology, that has been operating safely for 30 plus years, and that no Russian or Ukrainian technology will be utilised.

The public is well aware of the dangers and exceedingly long half-life of nuclear waste products however, and although they can be easily convinced that a reactor will have the waste removed once the fuel rods are spent, and therefore the danger also removed, the problem of the waste dump is still the most critical political factor to overcome.

We note that in the past neither the State Fgovernments have been able to overcome the political obstacles in relation to the location of toxic waste dumps for dioxins, PCPs and other chemicals wastes, and therefore we see the problem of the nuclear waste dump being equally, if not, more problematic.

On a more positive note we observe the Government’s success in placing unwanted humans in South Australia, at Baxter, and Western Australia at Port Headland, and this shows a certain flexibility from those states that could be advantageous.

However, we believe that the best option politically will be a version of the Pacific Solution, with the government coming to an arrangement with one of the Pacific Islands, ideally Nauru, which has no functioning ecosystem at present, and locate the waste dump on that island.

An additional benefit of the Nauru option could possibly involve the purchase, from the liquidator, of the office building in Melbourne known as Nauru House, and formally owned by them. The Nauruans, could be resettled in this building, and recreate their colourful community in the heart of the city. This we feel would be an ironically pleasing outcome, and a definite vote winner.

Nabakov
Nabakov
2022 years ago

One of the pleasures of the blogosphere is that it does throw up all sorts of tasty little infobites and other stuff you never even thought of, let alone like that!

Another great pleasure is when people peel off great little riffs like Rex just did above. A small but perfectly formed satirical gem.

And Rex, you did it not for money or fame but just for the sheer pleasure of being able to lay it on an appreciative audience.

I’m permalinking it.

Robert Merkel
2022 years ago

Dear Dr. Nelson Prime Minister thank $DEITY the other bastard’s finally gone Sir:

We believe that, for the purposes of domestic energy generation, there are three key policies that should be pursued:

*A carbon tax, gradually rising to levels forcing strong reductions in emissions, should be introduced; give it back in tax cuts and dries Finance Minister Panopolous won’t be able to complain too much. Given current technologies, it is likely that such a policy will eventually result in the introduction of nuclear power plants as there are no feasible alternatives. We do not however believe that the federal government should be the operator; leave that to the state governments or private companies. Let the states take some political pain in the process…
* The federal government should establish a regulatory regime that makes it possible for properly managed nuclear plants to be constructed and run in Australia. Given that nuclear technology has strong defence and foreign policy implications, it would seem (subject to actual legal advice from somebody who understands the foriegn affairs and defence powers in the constitution) that the nuclear industry should be regulated by the federal government rather than the states. One key point of regulation would be the establishment of a high-level waste dump or dumps of a size sufficient to store all waste produced by Australian reactors.
*The long-term storage of foreign waste should be considered; unilaterally offering free storage is rather magnanimous but completely insane in both policy and political terms. Such an offer would be a very potent carrot in negotiating any number of foreign policy deals with countries such as Japan and the United States; heck, you could probably get *free* F-22’s from the Yanks rather than those too-slow, too-small, and not-stealthy-enough JSF’s we’re currently signed up for if you solved their nuclear waste disposal problem for them. In political terms, you’d be offering an even bigger free kick to the Greens than you already would be by letting in domestic nuclear power, so you’d want something pretty juicy in return.

In political terms, we agree with the previous submission that described your policy as “Courageous! Bold! Decisive!” – in other words, political poison. Given that 2007 is an election year, if the Labor Party lines up united against it, this policy could be political suicide. Neither party is going to want to talk about this in an election campaign. So wait and see what happens. It may be Prime Minister Beazley’s problem.

Rex
Rex
2022 years ago

Thankyou Mr. Nabakov. Your feedback is most appreciated.

You’re permalinking it? You have a blog? Where pray tell!

Incidently On re-reading I see that there is an error: 4th para should read -“We note that in the past neither the State nor Federal governments”.

Bugger.

Mindy
Mindy
2022 years ago

Dear Prime Minister

On recent travels I had stopped at a road house in the NT at a place called Wycliffe Well. This small hamlet is known (within at 100km radius) as a hotspot for aliens. I kid you not Prime Minister.

I propose that this site would be perfect for a nuclear waste dump. The radiation illuminating the night would look both sufficiently alien for the tourists passing through, and also have the added effect of attracting any aliens cruising the galaxy. An unlooked for bonus would be any alien landing would immediately decide that Earth wasn’t worth invading and leave again.

I look forward to your favourable response to this suggestion.

Regards

Robert Merkel
2022 years ago

Doc,

Another issue you will have to consider, if you want to go down this road; whether you’ll allow an indigenous uranium enrichment facility. To cut a long story short, it seems that the cheapest way to run a nuclear reactor (even though there are some which don’t need it) is with enriched uranium (uranium which has been filtered to increase the concentration of U-235). Even the Canadians, who have traditionally used unenriched uranium in their reactor designs, seem to be moving to using slightly enriched uranium.

Now, the trouble is that the easiest route to building a nuclear weapon is through learning how to enrich uranium. Once you can enrich uranium, actually making a bomb is something even a National Party backbencher could figure out; you enrich it to a really high concentration (which is expensive and takes a long time, but it’s perfectly doable). If you then take two bits of it and slam them together fast enough, you get a really big explosion. the Hiroshima bomb, way back in 1945, was made this way, and they were so confident it would work they didn’t feel the need to test it. Uranium enrichment was the way both South Africa and Pakistan got the bomb; it was also the technology that A.Q. Khan was pedalling to the highest bidder. It should be pointed out that there are a number of states that have uranium enrichment capabilities that haven’t built bombs; Japan, Germany, Belgium, Argentina, The Netherlands, to name a few. But these South American and European nations face rather different security and foreign policy issues than we do (not being a first-world outpost in the Third World).

From an international law perspective, as an NPT signatory we’re perfectly entitled to build an enrichment facility. But, then again, However, if we have one, it’s going to be damned hard to argue that our neighbours (for instance Indonesia, which has a big (open) nuclear research infrastructure and plans to build a number of power reactors) shouldn’t have them either. But, then again, the Indonesians might well decide they want their own enrichment facility anyway, and if they really want it they’re entitled to build it.

The alternative is, of course, to import it from elsewhere. But if we do end up with a large nuclear industry it makes economic sense to enrich the fuel here.

MrLefty
2022 years ago

Imagine that it’s 2006. The new Australian Prime Minister Dr Brendan Nelson

He’s a medical doctor not practising, so isn’t he Mr Nelson?

David Tiley
2022 years ago

I like the implied line up between Dr Helen Caldicott and Dr Brendan Nelson.

It is, after all, ultimately a medical question, which Caldicott knows and Nelson might have to recognise.

Jacques Chester
Jacques Chester
2022 years ago

Interesting hypothetical, though I’m just not sure how Dr Nelson becomes PM. I’m surprised, after the last round of education reforms, that you’re prepared to consider him a classical liberal.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Jacques

I’m expecting that Howard will retire as soon as he’s successfully provoked Costello into spitting the dummy and resigning (whether before or after unsuccessfully challenging). Howard will retire with every expectation that his soulmate Abbott will have the numbers to succeed him.

Meanwhile Costello, embittered by Howard’s betrayal and Abbott’s sanctimonious opportunism, has been storing up old evidence that Abbott’s premarital activities were actually much much sleazier than even Bob Ellis alleged in his defamatory book. Costello leaks this information to Bill Heffernan who, despite his loyalty to Howard, is so outraged that he broadcasts the information under parliamentary privilege and mounts a successful campaign against Abbott’s bid for the leadership. Faced with the prospect of a choice between Phil Ruddock, Amanda Vanstone, Brendan Nelson or Alexander Downer, an overwhelming majority plump for Nelson.

Francis Xavier Holden
2022 years ago

ken – I’d a never thought it. You are a man after my own thinking.

Nabakov
Nabakov
2022 years ago

A scenario Ken that teeters between pretty plausible and highly entertaining. Please let it be so.

Who doesn’t love a good political sex scandal, especially when leadership hangs in the balance – and where two of the principals are actually called Abbott and Costello? With a special guest appearance by a rampaging Hefferlump to boot. It’ll be champagne comedy and a sub-editors’ carnival.

Nabakov
Nabakov
2022 years ago

And what’s more, the cartoonists of Australia be sacrifciing a virginal cadet journo to their dark gods for just a scenerio.

tsfs
tsfs
2022 years ago

Abbott and Costello

‘So, who’s on first?’

irrisistable, unfunny, predictable …..

What is it about sex that disqualifies someone from leading a country?