A typical member of the growth lobby, for several years now, Bernard Salt, of KPMG, he has been in the business of boosting population growth in Australia, with the idea that people with the same values as him can make a lot of money out of it. Now he is coming out of the closet and telling us that all this population growth means we have to go nuclear. Unfortunately, I don't think he knows what he is talking about.
According to my calculations, if Bernard Salt is allowed to continue to take the stage, and garners support from state governments and the Federal government, along with others of his ilk and values - that means that Australia is up S--- Creek without a paddle and we are headed straight for the rapids - with no lifeboats and carrying far too many passengers, with more coming on all the time. See below on the logistics of power supply and the costs of setting up nuclear.
See more and related articles here Ziggy Switkowski, Population Numbers and Nuclear in the Australian and Nuclear Fission and the future for Fast Breeder Reactors
Australia and Peak Oil: The North Korea route or the Cuba Route?
Short term to 2050
In theory there should be two choices available for Australia in the short term: the ‘Cuba route’ and Nuclear Power (the Growth lobby route) to deal with decline in fossil fuels and the problem of global warming.
The Cuba route: After the fall of the iron curtain, cheap soviet oil was no longer available for North Korea or for Cuba, so both had to lear to live without much fossil fuel. Korea went the industrial agriculture and nuclear power route. Cuba went the relocalisation and permaculture route. Guess which polity did the best? I'll give you a hint: it wasn't North Korea.
You will find all the references for this article in Chapter 20, "France and Australia After Oil," in Sheila Newman, (Ed.) The Final Energy Crisis, 2nd Edition, Pluto Press, UK, 2008. In the same book you can read more in Antony Boy's articles about North Korea and also about Japan's options for the future without cheap and abundant oil.
The Cuba option
The biggest problem for Cuba was and remains transport. Bicycles can only do so much. Servicing a population and infrastructure shaped by oil but without that oil is fraught with difficulty. Cuba had relied on importing food, agricultural fertilizers, and petroleum for road transport. Relocalisation of institutions as well as food production was the main solution. People in the cities were assisted to produce their own food and state farms were turned into small leaseholds and cooperatives. Permaculture techniques and draft animals replaced fossil-fuel based fertilizers and petroleum for farm machines and transport. Cuba is now self-sufficient and Cubans purchase 80 per cent of their food at local markets. Throughout and still, the state remained a vigilant welfare provider, attending particularly to health and education, with an unusually high ratio of doctors per capita.
The key to the Cuban solution was land redistribution, which was possible within Cuba’s system. This alternative is not going to be easily available in Australia because of the land-use planning and housing system, which makes relocalisation very difficult. That is a pity because many see this alternative as a desirable way of profiting from adversity by reducing centralization and aggregation of land, energy resources and utilities, and strengthening democracy, independent and collective economic and social participation.
The North Korean option for Australia
The Nuclear route is the opposite way. It implies total electrification, synthesising, using complex technology, the pattern of settlement and transport which arose from exploitation of the natural endowment of petroleum. It requires massive investment, and in Australia’s case, the investment sought is likely to be private. This implies ongoing loss by citizens of control over the country’s energy systems and all that flows from that – the future of work, the state of the environment, natural amenity. It implies the reshaping of Australian society by corporations with profit alone in mind, for the benefit of a small dominant asset-rich class, with the electorate a mere captive market.
In Cuba the energy supplies and materials which permitted centralized power were suddenly withdrawn and Cuba lacks the mineral resources to attract capital intensive investment. This situation surely facilitated local reorganization. In uranium-rich Australia, an opposite structuring is more likely. Because government policy favours commercial investment over public investment, nuclear facilities would tend to consolidate corporate power and its relationship with national and state government. Australia’s Anglophone mainstream media derives largely from syndicated US sources and these cultural mediators not only do not support communism or socialism, but they do not support dirigisme or relocalisation either.
In the space of a few years long-established Australian government anti-nuclear power policy reversed under Mr Howard, in spite of public disapproval. Mr Rudd is similarly surrounded by nuclear power fans in the form of the Growth Lobby. See also"Ziggy Switkowski, Population Numbers and Nuclear in the Australian", and
"Scanlon report underpins threat to Australian democracy". Bernard Salt is right there in among them.
I do not expect Mr Rudd to maintain any opposition to nuclear power in this country for long.
Nuclear is seen as an investment opportunity which will provide employment, international importance, and new industries. Rationales offered to the public are the [manufactured] imperative to provide power for projected (politically engineered) population growth and the desirability of off-setting greenhouse gas contributions from coal-fired electricity and coal exports. (Australia is the world’s largest coal exporter.) Australian planning is dominated by what the corporate sector wants. There are many indications that public sector scientists are expected to support private, corporate research and development rather than leading with public research responding to public need, which might result in moderation rather than accelerated consumption.
According to the ABARE, in the financial year 2005-6 Australia’s total primary energy consumption was 5640.7 petajoules (PJ) , growing at an average of 2.2 per cent or about 120 PJ per annum over the past 20 years. No-one is seriously suggesting replacing all this with nuclear. The suggested figure is more like 25 power plants in the next 15 years supplying one third of Australia’s (doubled) electricity demand. But many people believe that nuclear will actually take care of the problem of fossil-fuel depletion, permitting business as usual.
To do so would theoretically take 225.6 thousand MWe nuclear power plants each supplying 25PJ, plus an average of 4.8 new nuclear plants per year to supply annual growth in consumption. Each plant’s initial cost would be around $USD2 billion, in an economy currently valued by the World Bank at $US768 billion, but heavily indebted and privatised.
Of that 5640.7PJ primary energy, around 55 per cent comes from petroleum (35 per cent) and gas (19 per cent). To rely on nuclear to replace this by powering an electric car or hydrogen road transport system is a further absurdity. In addition to the 225.6 imagined nuclear power plants, more would be required to supply electricity to plug-in electric cars and to split water into hydrogen to carry more electricity to fuel the creation of new infrastructure to manufacture and service hydrogen-carrying electric vehicles, requiring more electricity (obviously).
Each 1000 MWe nuclear power plant would itself require around 1.3PJ per annum or 52PJ over a 40 yr life-time according to the Australian Uranium Association.
The government is counting on coal and gas to fill the initial gaps in petroleum supply, but coal is being exported so fast and the world is using it up so quickly with the gas peak already looming, that nuclear will presumably be called upon to supplement coal, gas and oil as well. Perhaps the government is desperately trying to attract nuclear development money by enlarging its population base and intensifying its other extractive industries, in a plan where uranium mining is, of course, a keystone. None of the above calculations factor in the amount of new energy required to build the cities around the plants – to supply and service the infrastructure required for the projected population growth, which is used to lure investment.
In a totally electrified economy, attempting to preserve something like the current consumer-goods based economy, the most likely option is to produce hydrogen electrically and also use it as an electricity carrier, to fuel electric cars and trucks. This implies a vast increase in the need for electricity and a complete renovation of road transport support infrastructure as well as vehicle design and manufacture. The corporations will demand profits from any new ventures. How are the Australian people going to pay for this? What are they going to need to give up for this? In Australia’s ‘trickle-down economy’ who is going to be left out? At the very peak of oil production, public priorities have shifted so far in favour of private enterprise that the Australian government is not capable of providing affordable housing for its constituents.
In the meantime the VAMPIRE index (Vulnerability Assessment for Mortgages, Petrol, Interest Rate Expenditure) is rising. The people at the high end of the VAMPIRE index are those locked into bloating mortgages in remote suburbs with little or no public transport, captive to rising gasoline prices for cars without which they cannot get to work, get their children to school, or get to shops to buy food.
Such hostages to sprawl are most in need of the Cuban route, but Australia’s systemic inability to plan and adapt infrastructures, industry and national resource use to radically changing conditions is perhaps its biggest problem.
Planning departments and tribunals palliate a bewildered electorate with superficial choice between styles, but, whilst allowing endless sprawl on the city-edges, continue to ram through intensified developments in the cities; to purposefully overshoot water resources and transport infrastructure in response to the growth lobby’s insatiable demand for big projects at public expense. These take the form of desalination plants, sewerage recycling plants, complex road-tunnels and expressways and, biggest of all, geological restructuring of seaports to accommodate giant container-ships for anticipated quadrupling in trade. With chilling disregard for the consequences, Australian lobby groups of planners, developers, builders and financiers have successfully campaigned for government led policies to increase population growth and energy demand.
An Australian monument to prominent members of the Growth Lobby
Mr Salt and Mr Peter McDonald (another growthist demographer), the members of the Scanlon Foundation, AATSE, the Multicultural Foundation, the Property Council of Australia, Australia 2020, APop, and a host of other persons, such as Mr Pratt (deceased), Mr Lowy, Mr Bracks, Mr Kennett, Mr Brumby, Mr Rudd, Mr Swann, and politicians in opposition who failed to stand up to this tyranny should have their names carved in stone in a public place so that the people of Australia will know who is responsible as our survival margins decline.