Pandora's Promise: go nuke or not?


For a small town Alice Springs occupies a prominent place in the nation’s nuclear debate: we’re surrounded by uranium deposits.
The first national nuclear waste dump is likely to be set up not far to the north of here; the former Labor government sent an explorer packing in a bid – unsuccessful and highly unlikely to succeed – to win a minor by-election.
And our massive power consumption, driven by climatic conditions, suggests a low carbon emission source for electricity would be a good idea.
Against this background the provocative film Pandora’s Promise (90 minutes) will be shown here on December 11, together with Climate of Hope (30 minutes).
It’s an initiative by Paul Darvodelsky to stimulate informed debate: he owns the cinema and also runs from Alice Springs a process engineering consulting business, which has clients throughout South East Asia and Australia.
He says he’ll be introducing the movies with thoughts along the following lines:
“Germany, which is oft-touted as a shining light in renewables, imports 60 to 70% of its energy, much from France (80% nuclear) and other countries, the total of which is largely nuclear.
“They also use predominantly oil and brown coal, which are some of the dirtiest fuels.  They only have 1.5% renewables,” says Mr Darvodelsky (pictured).
“On the positive side, the Germans are strongly focussed on reducing consumption and investing heavily in renewables.
“Still, they are committed to running their own nuclear plants until at least 2022 and most likely beyond.
“Various statistics on deaths from nuclear power are all over the place but we see far less information about the impacts of power from fossil fuels, which are significant.
“I’m trying to get to the bottom of whether climate change or nuclear accidents cause more damage.
“It would appear environmental and human impacts are greater from coal fired energy, directly and from climate change” says Mr Darvodelsky.
“Amongst all the hype from the pro and anti-nuclear lobbies it’s very difficult to find reliable information. However few reliable sources seem to suggest we can exceed more than about 25% renewable energy with current technologies.
“We need a major breakthrough to meet our energy needs.”
The evening is licenced, so if at the end you feel you need a drink, the opportunity will be at hand.
IMAGES, top: Cabling in a Brazilian slum. Above: Lights are on across the world.


  1. Message to “John Brown”: Please ring me on 0418 890040 so we can discuss resuming your access to this comment box. I sent two emails to your nominated address but they bounced back.
    Erwin Chlanda, Editor.

  2. What part of Germany’s energy requirements are met by burning gas imported from Russia?
    How far into the Pacific Ocean will the radioactive pollution from the Fukushima power plant travel?
    For that matter how much of Kakadu will be poisoned by the recent radioactive acid spill at the Ranger uranium mine?
    On the other hand, another airpocalypse is currently under way in northern China. What will be the long term health effects on those breathing that air?
    It looks like we’re not far off 7.2 billion humans, and we all want the benefits of power.
    Is our choice really between being in Japan and glowing at night, and being in China and not being able to breath?
    And our part in all this? I know we sell coal and gas to China. Uranium too? And do we sell uranium to Japan? I know we do, or soon will, sell it to India.
    It’s all well and good to say we need a breakthrough in renewables, but when the power fails, I want it fixed NOW. I think most of us do. And I don’t want it to fail again. Or at least not tomorrow.
    Work commitments at night will prevent me seeing the movies and hearing the introductions. I hope someone from the Alice Springs News covers it.
    This debate is hotting up. My prediction: We will sell whatever we have to anyone with the readies if it means we can maintain our lifestyle.

  3. Good comment and questions Hal.
    While politicians ignore the science regarding global warming and climate change and continue on making the same decisions – the future looks rather bleak.
    Hard choices have to be made now regarding our power sources.
    Meanwhile Europe is flooding …

  4. Dicey stuff
    Fukushima is far from over. Next door to massive Tokyo, we could easily still see something we’d never wish on anyone.
    Worse, the rhetoric between Japan and China is heating up to a hot war and that leaking reactor is an easy target.
    The price of uranium oxide is also at a major low, i.e. slim pickings for an industry hen-pecked by the Greens for the last six years.
    It also takes a long time to get a reactor up and running.
    All the same, it could be a great way to really green the centre.
    As long as we can get rid of the Greens, that is.

  5. At least one massively erroneous statement in this article – Germany’s share of renewables is much higher than the 1.5% claimed by Paul Darvodelsky. The average share of renewables in Germany across the whole of last year was 22 per cent:–for-a-day-20131206-2yull.html#ixzz2n2lOJWaw
    Renewable penetration in Germany reached almost 60% at one point this year with a combination of wind and solar. A bit of fact checking wouldn’t go amiss.

  6. A bit of false dichotomy concerning which causes more damage – climate change or nuclear accidents – since the climate change already well underway will make extreme weather events, and therefore the chance of nuclear accidents, much more likely. Shouldn’t we be aiming for zero harm?
    And I think the major breakthrough we need is in spinal implant surgery for the political class, rather than any technological innovation.

  7. Great observations by all. It’s a difficult problem no doubt.
    While searching further for answers I came across some pretty comprehensive studies by NASA. Their research says the current level of nuclear power, after taking into account all factors, saves 76,000 lives per year. This saving is attributed to a reduction in energy related pollution and climate change. Fascinating.
    Hal. Germany gets a bit over 20% of its energy from natural gas.

  8. Lies, damn lies and statistics Neil.
    Germany’s energy consumption is about 1.5% renewable.
    Germany’s production is about 20% renewable as you note.
    Also very interesting data available from the EU

  9. According to the following, coal consumption in China is set to increase by some 38% over 2012 levels, and this when China already burns more coal that all the rest of the world combined.
    But never loath to have an each-way bet, of the more than 60 nuclear reactors currently under construction or planned in 13 countries, half of then will be going up in China.
    And Australia sells coal and uranium and gas to all comers. We are even about to get stuck into frakking, a method of gas extraction that has been shown to endanger aquifers.
    And to facilitate the export of all of the above, major dredging has just been approved for the Queensland coast. Big ships need clear sailing in and out of harbour, but is anyone thinking of the channels dredged to the Mississippi refineries that destroyed the off-shore islands protecting New Orleans from the full wrath of hurricanes? The big ships found it easy to come up river, and so did Katrina.
    7.2 billion and counting. People, that is.

  10. Some great links Paul, thanks for clarifying. However, the 1.5% reference in the Wikipedia article refers to hydro and wind only – solar and biomass consumption, one can only assume, are lumped in the ‘others’ category which itself accounts for 8.7% of total consumption, according to the figures there. Lies, damned lies and statistics indeed! Maybe more so when Wikipedia is involved.
    Estimates of lives saved due of nuclear power are interesting, though this is based on climate change abatement through avoiding CO2 emissions, which would equally apply to renewables.
    I simply think that our future energy supplies should tick the “does not have the potential to cause nuclear winter” box. Obviously we haven’t yet had the ultimate technological breakthrough to solve all of our problems, but we also shouldn’t mistake political intransigence for technological barriers when it comes to the progress we are, or aren’t, making.

  11. I think the paper Paul refers to is from NASA’s Goddard institute, well respected. Well worth a read for everyone interested in this discussion:
    Thanks Paul for promoting discussion on this issue. John Howard was howled down for suggesting we build up to 26 nuclear power stations, but not even he was wrong about every thing.

  12. New developments in energy storage mean that renewables can provide base load energy supplies. There are also enormous strides being made with electric vehicle technology so liquid fuels can be replaced with electricity.
    Here the sun shines, often and I don’t see a nuclear power plant delivering electricity to Barrow Creek or Tilmouth Well any time soon. So for us it should be solar.
    See for some good information including about nuclear options.

  13. Many thanks Paul for showing Pandora’s Promise tonight. I would highly recommend to others that they see it when they get the chance. Let’s hope the film stimulates further rational local debate on the nuclear topic – we certainly need it!

  14. Interesting films last night. I was a little disappointed with the very negative and emotive nature of Climate of Hope. It relied on scare tactics and I felt this detracted from the points they were making. It would have been nice to see the important questions developed a bit more.
    I think the reality for Australia is that we will never see a nuclear power plant built here. The broader political climate just wouldn’t let it happen.
    Australia’s biggest challenge is establishing a movement to renewables and maximising the power generated from these sources. There are still big issues with generating reliable base load from renewables (e.g. no sun, no solar) and transmission of power from where it’s generated to where it’s needed.
    Power can’t be easily stored and I’ve not yet seen any processes (e.g. liquid sodium solar) which are commercial or large scale.
    People also talk about hydro, which is very clean, but I think the chance of building a project like the Snowy Scheme now would be zero on the grounds of environmental impacts.
    A huge solar plant in the NW of Australia could generate much of our load requirements, but most of the population is in the SE, so how do you get the power there without massive cost and transmission losses?
    If anyone has good info on these issues I’d love to see it.
    One thing’s for sure. Whilst we argue and vacillate it plays right into the hands of fossil fuels in which we are becoming increasingly entrenched in Australia.

  15. There is a very good Lancet article about the health effects of different types of electricity generation. It can be found at
    Detractors of nuclear power argue that the effects of the waste last for thousands of years. Whilst this is true, the immediate effects from fossil fuel power stations are much worse, and if we believe what the climate change scientists are saying the ongoing effects of continued CO2 emissions could be significantly more disastrous. Also the effects of nuclear waste storage are contained in a small area, so if a waste storage facility is in the right place the overall effects will be minimised.
    Unless you live in an area where there is a 24×7 source for renewable energy (e.g. hydro-power or wave energy) and energy storage is not required then renewables are not nearly as ‘green’ as advertised.
    Until the energy storage problem is solved then nuclear energy will remain the cleanest and most cost effective generation technology for large scale 24×7 energy production.

  16. Yes, Germany has one of the highest recycling rates in the world and many Germans try to avoid in the sense of reduce, reuse and recycle.
    What still baffels me is that a country like Germany has windturbines and solar / photovoltaic on the roof everywhere you look and the climate over there is a lit diffent to here, where we get at least 50% more sunlight! Why doesn’t every roof, every household and every business have their own power source – the sunlight is for free!
    It should be a countrywide Australian law that no new building is allowed without proper insulation (walls, windows … because yes, it also works against the heat coming inside, not just to keep the cold out) and solar power and hot water!
    Some people are upset about high electricity prices but don’t even consider this or turning off appliances like the tv, stereo, lights when not in the house.
    There is so much that everyone can do to help protect our environment! Every little step counts!
    Say NO TO PLASTIC bags and (re)use your own!
    Cycle instead of driving the car and NO to nuclear power! It is NOT safe and leaves rubbish for thousands of years that is harmful to people and the environment!


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