nuclear power in Australia

From Crikey: If a government wanted to figure out how best to defend the country, it wouldn’t hold an inquiry into the air force. It would hold an inquiry into … defence. So if a government wanted to figure out how to plan for responsible energy consumption in an age of climate change you’d assume it would hold an inquiry into energy consumption. Instead, the Australian government holds an inquiry into … nuclear energy.

The above really says it all. The Liberal government has decided that they want to get nuclear reactors regardless of what the citizens want. Surprisingly the Switkowski report was not very positive towards nuclear power. It concluded that producing 1/3 of Australia’s electricity requirements would require 25 nuclear power plants, and that they would have to be built close to population centers, and mainly on the east cost. I guess that means about 8 reactors for Melbourne and about 10 for Sydney! It has been suggested that the federal government could force nuclear power on the states even if the state governments don’t want it!

For those reactors to be economically viable a carbon tax is required (this means taxing all energy sources on the amount of carbon that they release into the atmosphere). The Liberal government has been opposing such a tax but now the report they commissioned recommends it.

The Victorian branch of the Liberal party seems to support such things. I have been walking past the office of Ted Baillieu (the leader of the Victorian Liberal party) on my way to work. He has a sign in his office window opposing wind power so I guess he’ll be supporting nuclear power.

It’s something to keep in mind at the election on Saturday. I’ll be handing out how to vote cards for the Greens.

economics of nuclear power

It’s interesting to note in this press release from the Australian Greens that Dr Ziggy Switkowski (head of the Prime Minister’s nuclear taskforce) that nuclear power is not economically viable in Australia without a carbon tax. As the government has refused to consider such a carbon tax this seems to rule out nuclear power for Australia. I expect that other countries have similar economics.

I imagine that nuclear power would be viable for a country that lacks adequate wind for wind power, is not very sunny so solar power doesn’t work, has few rivers so hydro-electric power can’t be used, and which has no option of geo-thermal power. Is there such a country?

new hybrid Camry

day 12 of the beard

Toyota in the US has released a hybrid Camry which seems to be the larger Prius that many people have wanted. Since it’s release the Prius has been greatly desired by people who like technology and the environment. The only down-side to the Prius is that it is a small car and doesn’t have as much room for baggage or passengers as you might desire.

The new Camry Hybrid has the Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) that gives the Prius it’s smooth ride, the keyless start (optional), DVD navigation via a large screen, six airbags, and tire pressure monitoring.

The above review states that the test car shuddered when the engine started and made odd mechanical noises. It’s not indicated in the article but I suspect that the car may have been an early production test model rather than the type of car you will get if you actually buy one. The Prius I drove did not shudder or make any odd noises (in fact hardly any noise that I could hear). Maybe if I drove a Prius in a country area I would hear some noises, but in the city (which the Prius is designed for) the Prius didn’t make any
engine sounds I could here. I expect that the hybrid Camry will perform as well as the Prius in this regard.

The review describes the hybrid Camry as giving 35mpg with a driving pattern that was not the most fuel efficient, that is roughly 6.7 liters per 100Km which is more than the quoted rate for some small cars. The four-door Smart cars are advertised as using 5.8L/100Km and Diesel allows even better efficiency. But if you want the space of a Camry then 7.1L/100Km is fairly good, especially considering that you could reduce that by driving more slowly. Also we have to consider that the primary aim of the Prius design (and presumably the design of the hybrid Camry) is to protect the environment by reducing the poisonous emissions, this may reduce the fuel efficiency slightly (the aim of reducing emissions is not always compatable with the aim of reducing fuel use).

There are apparently 3.785 liters to a US gallon. A US mile has 1760 yards and a yard is apparently 0.9144m, so a US mile would be 1760*0.9144 = 1609 meters or 1.609Km.


To convert MPG (the US measurement of fuel use when based on a US mile and a US gallon) to L/100KM (the Australian way of measuring fuel use) you use the above formula (where X is the MPG rating). I included this information here because I couldn’t find it anywhere else.

I was going to post this before but was side-tracked by the flash issue.

Also I’ve included a beard picture for day 12 (yesterday).

electric cars

Here’s an interesting post on the Green’s site about the Indian Reva electric car and the attempts to get a permit to drive it on Australian roads.

From the Reva site it seems that the Standard model is a 750Kg two-door hatch-back car to seat four people that bears a resemblance to the most widely known Smart Car. The top speed (of something like 50 or 65Km/h) is also reminiscent of the smaller Smart cars. The Reva site indicates that the Indian government is offering a subsidy to people who purchase such vehicles to try and solve pollution problems.

In Australia we have a standard of living that is a lot higher than most people in India experience. But it doesn’t have to continue like that. If the poor leadership shown by the Australian government continues and the Indian government continues doing sensible things then our positions could be reversed.

If there is a Reva in Victoria then I’d like to try driving it, even if only on private property.

Virgin – no free water and renewable energy

When returning from Ruxcon I took a Virgin Blue flight.

The Virgin web site has a FAQ with the following advice regarding DVT:
Drink plenty of water and other fluids during and after the flight, limiting alcohol, tea and coffee.

However Virgin provide no free water on the flight and charge $2 for 350ml of water! This is a strong incentive to buy caffeinated drinks and/or alcohol, after all if you are going to pay then you want something better than water!

They should provide free tap water as a basic health measure.

On the positive side there was an interesting article in the Virgin Blue magazine about alternative sources of fuel. It covered bio-Diesel (renewable and produces less toxic smoke), and producing Diesel from waste plastic (saves space in land-fill as well as providing fuel). It wasn’t as technically detailled as I would like and it didn’t mention some of the methods being developed for producing Diesel fuel from algae or the work on using bio-fuel for jet aircraft (which would be appropriate for an airline magazine).

But it’s a good start, hopefully some travellers will learn that there are environmental problems and ways that we can fix them.

why I joined the Australian Greens

In 2004 I was browsing the web sites of the various political parties to see how they met my needs. The only party that stood out was the Greens. The reason for this is that they had some material on their web site that was positive towards free software and made mention of helping members install Linux (apparently they ran some sort of Linux install-fest for their members).

Earlier this year when I offered to burn copies of Fedora Core 5 for anyone who wants it, one person who accepted was Matthew Wright of the Victorian Greens. As I was in the area I dropped the CDs in to the Greens office. It seems that the principles of the Green party agree with my beliefs in almost all areas.

The Greens Charter has many points that might surprise some people, the majority of the points in the charter do not directly relate to the environment. Many people join the Greens without having the environment as a key issue, the issues of social justice, non-violence, and free flow of information attract many people. The Greens IT policy has attracted quite a number of people in the Linux community!

Also it should be noted that concern for the environment does not require that you like the environment! If you want to spend all your life inside a building in front of a computer then you still want good quality food and an absence of natural disasters. The environment is bigger than us, we depend on it, and we don’t understand much about it. The fact that different experts give differing opinions about the scope of the global-warming problem is not a reason for complacency, in fact it’s the opposite – it’s a reason to be cautious about things we don’t understand that can kill us!

The Green parties in other countries are all independent (while still loosely associated as part of the international Green movement). So there will be some differences in the policies of the Green parties in different countries. But I expect that there will be a lot in common.

A final positive thing about the Green party is the integrity of the people in the party. Unlike most politicians you can expect the Green senators to do what they promise to do and to vote according to party policy.

IT companies and toxic waste

Greenpeace has an interesting article about how IT companies rank in toxic waste problems.

Dell rates quite well, I feel happier about my recent purchase of a large Dell TFT monitor now. HP does reasonably well, that’s fortunate as the Green party in Victoria has recently purchased a HP server. But next time we discuss such things I will suggest that more consideration be given to Dell servers because of this issue.

Lenovo does really badly, I’m surprised because I would have expected IBM to do reasonably well and I didn’t think that Lenovo would make significant changes. From now on I will refrain from purchasing Lenovo products. I will still purchase second-hand IBM products, but nothing under the Lenovo brand until they clean up their act.

Also it’s worth noting that computers manufactured with toxic chemicals will outgas some of the chemicals into the local environment (IE your server room, bedroom, or wherever else you have computers). Avoiding the computers manufactured with toxic chemicals is not only good for the environment, but also good for your health!

more on clean energy

One new technology for saving fuel in cars is the 6 stroke engine. This is an engine that has two power strokes for every intake of fuel. The first power stroke is from the fuel burning, the second is from water being injected into the cylinder and boiling rapidly using steam for power. A significant amount of the weight of a car or truck engine is the cooling system. With water being injected into the cylinder after every burn the engine will require no other cooling, this can mean a weight reduction of up to 500KG for a truck engine! It is claimed that this technique can “improve a typical engine’s fuel consumption by 40 percent”. Note that this technique could be combined with the technology in a Prius for even greater efficiency.

Simon Richter wrote an interesting response to my blog about clean energy. I’m guessing that the part of Germany he’s from is similar in some ways to Amsterdam (where I used to live).

In Amsterdam tiny cars are used a lot more than they have been in most places. There is the Smart Car but there is also a tiny car that can only seat one person (I’ll update this entry with a link if someone provides me one). The tiny car appears to weigh ~200Kg, has a maximum speed of 30Km/h, and is narrow enough to fit in bike lanes. Such cars will take little petrol and can be used for shopping. The short-distance car idea is being used by many people already in northern Europe.

Simon suggests having a standard baggage container that fits in all cars. I don’t think that would work as there are many different design factors (parking space, cargo capacity, and aerodynamics) which force designers to choose different shapes.

I think that a better idea would be a standard baggage trailer that could be towed by any small car. It should not be difficult to design a trailer that can be safely towed at 30KM/h behind a tiny car. The supermarkets could rent such trailers to shoppers for a nominal fee. Then most shopping trips could use the cargo capacity of the tiny car, but when buying supplies for a party you could rent a trailer from the supermarket.

Another option is having shops deliver goods to you. I have observed an increasing number of people doing this at my local supermarket. Of course you would still need to take ice-cream home yourself and maybe milk and meat too.

Electric scooters are also a good option for travel. Unfortunately in Australia there are few good options for securing them at the moment. As an electric scooter is light enough to be carried it needs to be chained to something secure. In the Netherlands this wouldn’t be a problem as the bicycle infrastructure includes plenty of bike racks to which you can chain your bike, scooter, etc. Of course the Netherlands is entirely flat so there’s no need for an electric scooter. Melbourne has a lot more hills and most people aren’t fit enough to ride a bike so scooters are needed to replace cars.

Regarding depersonalised cars. That would require a significant social change as currently cars are extremely personalised. One thing that I had been thinking about is the idea of sharing cars with neighbors. For example if you have an apartment building and there are a few people you trust then you could share a tiny car for going shopping. Sharing a car used for driving to work or for entertainment would not work well as the car would spend most of it’s time in use (or at least parked somewhere away from home). Sharing a car that’s used for small journeys would be much easier as such a vehicle would spend most of it’s time at home.

In Australia most families have two cars. One is used a lot (spends maybe 70 hours a week away from home) and the other is used much less (maybe 10 hours a week). Instead of owning two cars it would be possible for families to own one car and share another.

Regarding the Pebble Bed Reactor, could the people who advocate it please read the Wikipedia article. The limiting factor is not thermal expansion (solids do not expand nearly enough) but the Doppler effect (fast neutrons are not as effective at triggering fission). But in spite of that issue, let’s not consider an untested new reactor design to be the savior of nuclear energy. I think that most people who read my blog have a science or engineering background and know from experience that new technologies often don’t work too well in the first version. When a new CPU has a bug it’s usually not a big deal. When a new OS or application has many bugs it’s often expected (expecially when the OS or application comes from a monopolist). But if a new design for a nuclear reactor turns out to have a bug then it will be a more serious issue.

clean energy

There are many people claiming that nuclear power will solve all the ills of the world. However this does not seem to be possible. Firstly you have to consider the hidden costs of nuclear power such as deaths from the mining industry (ingesting uranium ore is a really bad thing) and the difficulty in disposing of radioactive waste. But rather than concentrating on the bad aspects of nuclear power (which are well documented) I will concentrate on some of the viable alternatives.

Wind power is a really good option, particularly for countries such as Australia that have a low population density and a large land area. The Chinese government is investing heavily in wind power, I think it’s safe to assume that it’s not because they are great environmentalists but because they simply need more energy than they can get from other sources and that they have strategic reasons for not wanting to rely on Australian coal and uranium or Arabian oil. Most energy sources have some drawbacks, but wind power has no side effects and isn’t going to kill birds either (birds have evolved the ability to detect and avoid predatory birds, they can easily avoid large fixed objects such as fans from wind farms).

Two other good options are wave and tidal power. These are better than river based hydro-electricity because there is no need to create dams that remove forests. Wave and tidal power are both very predictable which is an advantage when compared to wind power which is less predictable. One solution to the unpredictability of wind power is to couple it with a river based hydro-electric system which can provide electricity when there is less wind. A hydro-electric system to compensate for days that are less windy would need a much smaller dam than one that is designed to provide the main power source.

The next issue is how to power vehicles (on air, land, and sea). Advocates of nuclear power often talk about hydrogen powered cars. However while hydrogen has a good ratio of energy to weight it is not very dense, so the energy density for volume is much less than petrol. Combining Prius technology with
hydrogen in an internal combustion engine still won’t give the distance per tank of fuel as petrol does. Hydrogen with fuel cells in an all electric vehicle might allow you to drive the same distance as a non-hybrid car on petrol, but probably won’t compare to the range of a hybrid Diesel vehicle.

Bio-Diesel is a good option for fuelling cars. Diesel engines give greater efficiency than Otto cycle (the most common car engine) or Atkinson cycle (as used in the Prius) engines. Not only is bio-Diesel renewable but it also produces exhaust that is less toxic than that which is produced from fossil fuels. See the VeggieVan site for more details on bio-Diesel. The toxic fossil fuels are linked to health problems in airline hostesses, AFAIK there has been no research on the impact of car exhaust on pedestrians.

One thing to note about bie-Diesel is that you can do it right now. According to a British TV documentary all you have to do is filter oil that was used for frying food (they used oil from a Mexican restaurant) and mix it with a small amount of ethanol and it’s ready to use in your car. As restaurants currently have to pay to dispose of old frying oil this should be good for everyone!

Bio-Diesel could work for powering planes, there is already research in progress on this issue, but there are problems related to the viscosity of bio-Diesel at low temperatures. Maybe a blend of bio-Diesel and bio-Ethanol would work. Ethanol freezes at -114.3C and should lower the freeze temperature of bio-Diesel.

Bio-Diesel would of course work really well for ships. Supplying the amount of fuel that current ships need would be difficult. Some analysis shows that the deck area of a ship can collect enough sunlight to supply ~10% of the power needs of the ship. The Orcelle is a design for a totally clean ship that runs on solar, wind, and wave power. However with the proposed design the solar panels will not be angled effectively for collecting sunlight as they will be on sails. I think that there is a lot of potential in having a design based around sails, wave and solar power for generating electricity, and also a Diesel engine running on bio-Diesel fuel for supplying extra power when required (EG when sailing at night in calm weather). Building a ship that uses only wind, solar, and wave power would probably be significantly more expensive than the current Diesel design. Building a ship that uses 10% Diesel and 90% wind, solar, and wave power might be a lot cheaper.

There are lots of ways of producing the energy we need to maintain our current standard of living. If our government was to spend as much money researching them as it does protecting petroleum reserves then the problem would be solved.