Archive for the ‘spinbuster’ Category

Australian media blindly accepts nuclear lobby spin about “medical isotopes”

September 4, 2017

Misconceptions about radioactive medical isotopes, , By Noel Wauchope -29 August 2017

Australians get their information about medical isotopes straight from The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation(ANSTO) via handouts faithfully retailed via the mainstream media. Some recent examples of media coverage:

The message is straightforward and goes like this:

The purpose of the Opal nuclear reactor at Lucas Heights is to make medical radioisotopes to treat cancer. Australia needs a national radioactive waste dump in rural South Australia, thousands of miles away from Lucas Heights, to dispose of the low-level medical radioactive wastes produced. And this will be a bonanza for the lucky rural community of Kimba.

Is this story true?

No. It is misleading on a number of counts.

First of all, a nuclear reactor is not essential for making medical isotopes. The IAEA lists 39 countries that use cyclotrons to produce them. That includes Australia, which has them not only at Lucas Heights itself, but also at hospitals in Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, and Western Australia.

From the invention of the cyclotron (1931) , and discovery of artificial radioactivity (1934), non nuclear particle accelerators were used to produce them. Globally, particle accelerators produced the vast majority of radioisotopes with medical applications until the 1950s. Radioisotopes of medical interest began to be produced as a byproduct of nuclear weapons reactors during World War II. After the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, the USA Atomic Energy Commission (AEC)’s main mission was promoting the military use of nuclear material, but “giving atomic energy a peaceful, civilian image” was also part of it. In1948 the AEC took over, and isotopes for biomedical research, cancer diagnostics and therapy were made in nuclear reactors and even became free of charge.

Australia was a bit slow to jump on the medical isotopes bandwagon. The Lucas Heights nuclear reactor began its life in 1958 as the start of a plan for nuclear weapons for Australia.Then it was promoted as research for nuclear power, and later as for making medical radiopharmaceuticals. Lucas Heights and ANSTO itself are very much part of the nuclear lobby’s plan to promote the entire nuclear industry in Australia.

Australia does not need a national radioactive waste dump for medical wastes. Nearly all medical radioactive wastes are very short-lived – a matter of days, or even hours. There is no need to transport them across the continent. Australia does have a problem with higher level wastes: Spent reactor fuel sent to France, USA and UK for processing must be returned. This is the type of waste that needs deep and very secure disposal. That is sure to be the underlying purpose of the South Australian waste dump plan.

The planned national radioactive waste dump will not benefit the local community. Yes, there will be bribes – so far, not much – a $2 million Community Benefit Package to fund local projects, but I’m sure that the Feds will come with better than that. Jobs, no doubt. However, the underlying problem remains. The community is being asked to accept a temporary nuclear waste dump, which is to be set up long before any permanent dump is set up, if it ever is. Kimba, the proposed dump site, is likely to suffer the fate of so many sad sites in America –stuck with “stranded wastes” of radioactive trash. Think what that would do to Kimba’s environment and reputation as an agricultural area.The nuclear lobby has argued persuasively that the Lucas Heights area has held nuclear wastes for decades. However, the Lucas Heights residents did not grasp the implications when the nuclear reactor was set up. They do now – that’s why they want the wastes sent far away.

The global nuclear lobby is fighting a losing battle. The industry has always struggled to win over public opinion. In Australia, the industry’s “foot in the door” is the Opal reactor at Lucas Heights. Following the South Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission’s failed attempt last year, to introduce radioactive waste importing, the next sortie is to use Lucas Heights to get a national nuclear waste dump happening. To justify this, the argument put forward is the medical argument.

In the slick salesmanship from ANSTO and the nuclear lobby in general, they don’t mind a few lies and half truths,. For example, they’ll say ” The most important isotope technetium-99m can be made only with nuclear reactors” – conveniently forgetting that Canadian researchers achieved this with a cyclotron in 2015.

They’ll say that cyclotrons are too expensive to set up, conveniently forgetting that the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor was set up at  tax-payer expense, and that tax-payer will have to fund its waste management virtually for eternity.

They’ll ignore the facts that cyclotrons produce negligible wastes.  As most medical radioisotopes have very short half lives – it makes sense to produce them in a decentralised way – in cyclotrons close to the hospitals where they will be used.  The transport of isotopes from cyclotrons is much less of a problem, than from the centralised nuclear reactor.

The nuclear reactor produces radioactive wastes suitable for use as nuclear weapons fuel –  and present a safety problem, with the reactor itself also a target for terrorism.  Cyclotrons do not have these risks, and this need for huge, and expensive security measures.

Canada, having abandoned nuclear reactor production of medical isotopes, is now leading the way in their production and export without use of a nuclear reactor.  ANSTO’s boast of a future thriving export industry in isotopes is sounding hollow.

We should bear in mind that medical radioisotopes are used 80% for diagnosis, and only 20% for actual treatment of cancer. They are an additional means of diagnosis, but not the only means.

We should also be mindful that radioactive isotopes in medicine carry a small increased risk of cancer for the patient, staff, and sometimes the patient’s family.

Therefore our enthusiasm for nuclear medicine should be tempered with an understanding of its limitations and risks, both at the individual patient level, and in the broader context of nuclear fission and its health and environmental dangers.


Jim Green debunks the hype about Generation IV “new nuclear”

September 4, 2017

James Hansen’s Generation IV nuclear fallacies and fantasies, REneweconomy, Jim Green, 28 Aug 2017,

The two young co-founders of nuclear engineering start-up Transatomic Power were embarrassed earlier this year when their claims about their molten salt reactor design were debunked, forcing some major retractions.

The claims of MIT nuclear engineering graduates Leslie Dewan and Mark Massie were trumpeted in MIT’s Technology Review under the headline, ‘What if we could build a nuclear reactor that costs half as much, consumes nuclear waste, and will never melt down?’

MIT physics professor Kord Smith debunked a number of Transatomic’s key claims. Smith says he asked Transatomic to run a test which, he says, confirmed that “their claims were completely untrue.”

Kennedy Maize wrote about Transatomic’s troubles in Power Magazine: “[T]his was another case of technology hubris, an all-to-common malady in energy, where hyperbolic claims are frequent and technology journalists all too credulous.” Pro-nuclear commentator Dan Yurman said that “other start-ups with audacious claims are likely to receive similar levels of scrutiny” and that it “may have the effect of putting other nuclear energy entrepreneurs on notice that they too may get the same enhanced levels of analysis of their claims.”

Well, yes, others making false claims about Generation IV reactor concepts might receive similar levels of scrutiny … or they might not. Arguably the greatest sin of the Transatomic founders was not that they inadvertently made false claims, but that they are young, and in Dewan’s case, female. Ageing men seem to have a free pass to peddle as much misinformation as they like without the public shaming that the Transatomic founders have been subjected to. A case in point is climate scientist James Hansen ‒ you’d struggle to find any critical commentary of his nuclear misinformation outside the environmental and anti-nuclear literature.

Hansen states that 115 new reactor start-ups would be required each year to 2050 to replace fossil fuel electricity generation ‒ a total of about 4,000 reactors. Let’s assume that Generation IV reactors do the heavy lifting, and let’s generously assume that mass production of Generation IV reactors begins in 2030. That would necessitate about 200 reactor start-ups per year from 2030 to 2050 ‒ or four every week. Good luck with that.

Moreover, the assumption that mass production of Generation IV reactors might begin in or around 2030 is unrealistic. A report by a French government authority, the Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety, states: “There is still much R&D to be done to develop the Generation IV nuclear reactors, as well as for the fuel cycle and the associated waste management which depends on the system chosen.”

Likewise, a US Government Accountability Office report on the status of small modular reactors (SMRs) and other ‘advanced’ reactor concepts in the US concluded: “Both light water SMRs and advanced reactors face additional challenges related to the time, cost, and uncertainty associated with developing, certifying or licensing, and deploying new reactor technology, with advanced reactor designs generally facing greater challenges than light water SMR designs. It is a multi-decade process …”

An analysis recently published in the peer-reviewed literature found that the US government has wasted billions of dollars on Generation IV R&D with little to show for it. Lead researcher Dr Ahmed Abdulla, from the University of California, said that “despite repeated commitments to non-light water reactors, and substantial investments … (more than $2 billion of public money), no such design is remotely ready for deployment today.”……  ,

Australia’s Lucas Heights nuclear reactor is simply NOT NECESSARY for making medical isotopes

August 23, 2017
85% of ANSTO Lucas Heights isotope production is for Technetium 99. This can also be made in a cyclotron by using electricity – which makes NO Intermediate Level Waste & NO long lived LLW – thereby negating a national radioactive dump facility
Having the CRIC located on the same site as SAHMRI’s cyclotron will enable new shorter half-life compounds to be used in research. There are now several compounds being developed using the cyclotron for conditions such as dementia, cancer and cardiovascular disease which need to be tracked by advanced imaging machines.

State’s most advanced clinical imaging centre, worth $13m, opens at SAHMRI, Brad Crouch, Medical Reporter, The Advertiser February 15, 2017   THE growing South Australian Health and Biomedical Precinct takes another step forward today with the opening of the most advanced clinical imaging centre in the state.

The $13 million Clinical and Research Imaging Centre at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute has been established in partnership with Dr Jones and Partners Medical Imaging.

Space on the ground level of the SAHMRI building on North Terrace has become a Dr Jones & Partners clinic, with dedicated time allocated to SAHMRI researchers for clinical research without compromising the scheduling of patient treatments.

State-of-the-art imaging equipment in the centre includes CT, MRI and PET/CT platforms.

Officials say the arrangement is moving SAHMRI in a new direction of commercialisation with industry partners to create a facility to benefit researchers with the aim of improving the treatment and diagnosis of patients. (more…)

American nuclear front group propaganda in Australia

May 29, 2017
Todays’ AUSTRALIAN touts a nuclear promotion by Jessical Lovering:
“Jessica Lovering is director of energy at The Breakthrough Institute, a US environmental and energy think tank. She is visiting Australia to discuss nuclear innovation with energy policy experts, parliamentarians and government agencies.”
Just let’s be clear on who Jessica Lovering represents, and who is paying for her visit.
Well, the visit is paid for by  the Minerals Council of Australia, also sponsored by the breakthrough Institute.
The Breakthrough Institute is a pretend-environmental group that propagandises for new nuclear power It’s interesting that Jessica will be speaking in Sydney on May 30th, and in Adelaide on May 31st –   coincidentally, just as the Parliamentary Committe is about to give its blessing to Australia signing up to join in developing new :”Generation IV”  nuclear reactors
The Breakthrough Institute  launched the Breakthrough Energy Coalition at the start of the COP21 climate talks in Paris, with collective wealth of three hundred and fifty billion dollars.
The Breakthrough Institute is a billionaire’s club of “new nuclear” proponents, (to name just a few):
  • Bill Gates who owns Terra Power LLC,  a nuclear design and engineering company
  • Richard Branson, publicly touts nuclear energy and put his name on Pandora’s Promise as executive producer.
  • Mukesh Ambani an investor in Terra Power
  • Jeff Bezos investor in  nuclear fusion
  • Chris Hohn’s TCI hedge fund invested in J-Power, a Japanese utility company whose assets included nuclear power stations.
  • Vinod Khosla loves nuclear power and is on record blaming environmentalists rather than nuclear energy’s obviously disastrous economics, for its failure.Chinese billionaire
  • Jack Ma of Alibaba, involved in  China’s investment in the UK’s planned Hinkley-C nuclear power plant.
  • Ratan Tata  investing in nuclear energy in India

Nuclear propagandist Ben Heard caught out in shoddy misinformation on nuclear waste importing plan

February 4, 2017


The only way to avoid gambling hundreds of millions or billions of SA taxpayers’ dollars would be in the wildly improbable scenario that potential client countries would take that gamble.

Taipower clearly states that it would not consider sending waste to another country unless and until that country has developed a repository. Yet the economic case developed by Jacobs and MCM collapses if revenue (and waste) is not received before construction of a repository.

Finally, Mr Heard’s promotion of fast breeder reactors is beyond stupid….. Most of the countries that invested in fast breeder reactors have given up, deciding not to throw good money after bad. Last year, Japan decided to give up on the Monju fast breeder reactor, a fiasco that will cost Japanese taxpayers A$17.3 billion in construction, operation and decommissioning costs despite the fact that the reactor rarely operated.

The Royal Commission completely rejected proposals advanced by Heard and others for ‘advanced fast reactors’, noting in its final report that such reactors are unlikely to be feasible or viable in the foreseeable future; that the development of such a first-of-a-kind project would have high commercial and technical risk

Friends of the Earth Australia has today written to all Members of the SA House of Assembly and Legislative Council, and SA political representatives in the Federal Parliament, responding to the latest round of misinformation from those proposing to turn SA into the world’s high-level nuclear waste dump.


To: Members of the SA House of Assembly and Legislative Council

From: Jim Green
National nuclear campaigner
Friends of the Earth, Australia     Feb. 3, 2017


Dear Members of the SA House of Assembly and Legislative Council,
The Advertiser has today run an article including false claims from nuclear lobbyist / uranium industry consultant / PhD student Ben Heard that Jay Weatherill’s plan to turn SA into the world’s high-level nuclear waste dump could be pursued without the need to gamble hundreds of millions or billions of dollars with no guarantee of any return on the investment.

Mr Heard is quoted saying that the “notion of high upfront cost to South Australia is a persistent and deliberate lie first peddled by deceitful environmental groups and now, sadly, taken up by the Liberal Party.”

In fact, the necessity of gambling hundreds of millions or billions of dollars ‒ without the slightest guarantee of any return on the investment ‒ is clearly spelt out by Jacobs, the economics consulting firm commissioned by the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission.

Jacobs Project Manager / Consultant Tim Johnson told the SA Joint Select Committee that “total expenditure prior to the decision to proceed” is likely to be from around A$300 million to in excess of A$600 million, depending on the timing of the decision to proceed. (Letter to Joint Standing Committee, 5 July 2016.)

Dr Johnson told the Joint Select Committee that the project entails very significant economic risks: “It isn’t a risk-free process to go into this. There is a very significant risk.” Yet the nuclear waste dump lobby persist with the fabrication that the project can be pursued without economic risks.

Jacobs noted the potential for initial outlays in the billions in its report for the Royal Commission: “Under the cash-flow assumptions of the baseline, where no revenues ahead of delivery are assumed (a deliberately conservative assumption), there is an initial outlay of A$2.4 billion (real) in net terms.” (Jacobs, Paper 5, sec 4.4, Cash flow profile for the baseline, p.205.)

Any suggestion that the nuclear waste dump project could be a quick fix for the SA economy were dispelled by the Royal Commission’s report, which stated (emphasis added): “Careful characterisation over several decades is required to confirm the suitability of the geological conditions.”

The only way to avoid gambling hundreds of millions or billions of SA taxpayers’ dollars would be in the wildly improbable scenario that potential client countries would take that gamble. If anyone needs any convincing as to the improbability of that scenario, it came late last year in correspondence from the Taiwanese government’s energy and nuclear agencies. As Daniel Wills reported in The Advertiser: “TAIWAN’S state-owned energy company has bluntly rejected Investment and Trade Minister Martin Hamilton-Smith’s claim the country would consider paying to help set up a nuclear waste dump in SA, saying in a letter that it “hereby declares this is a false information”.”

Taipower clearly states that it would not consider sending waste to another country unless and until that country has developed a repository. Yet the economic case developed by Jacobs and MCM collapses if revenue (and waste) is not received before construction of a repository. The Final Report of the Royal Commission states (p.300) (emphasis added): “Figure J.8 also demonstrates that a facility configuration scenario is viable only with the establishment of a surface interim storage facility capable of accepting used fuel prior to construction of geological disposal facilities. Configurations 3 and 4, which did not include interim storage facilities (see Table J.1), did not generate profits because of the delay in receiving waste and associated revenues.”

Taiwan’s Atomic Energy Council is clearly sensitive to SA public opinion, pointing to the Citizen Jury’s rejection of the proposal and noting that: “Without the understanding and support from Australian … nuclear waste storage cannot be developed.”

The nuclear waste dump lobbyists are hanging on to the ludicrous proposition that potential client countries will gamble hundreds of millions or billions of dollars on a waste dump plan that is:
* Opposed by three political parties in SA (Liberals, Greens, NXT) and by many within the ALP.
* Opposed by a majority of South Australians (e.g. 31% support vs. 53% opposition in the SA Government’s statewide consultation process; and a November 2016 poll commissioned by the Sunday Mail found just 35% support.)
* Opposed by a vast majority of Aboriginal Traditional Owners on whose land the high-level nuclear waste dump would necessarily be located. (The SA government’s Community Views Report said: “There was a significant lack of support for the government to continue pursuing any form of nuclear storage and disposal facilities. Some Aboriginal people indicated that they are interested in learning more and continuing the conversation, but these were few in number.”)
* Rejected by two-thirds of the 350-strong Citizens’ Jury “under any circumstances”.

Taiwan has clearly stated that it has no intention of gambling vast sums of money on a nuclear dump in SA and it is equally improbable that any other potential client country would do so. In which case South Australians would need to gamble hundreds of millions or billions of dollars on a project with no guarantee of any return on the investment.

Late last year, Mr Heard had to correct a statement falsely claiming that most South Australians support the high-level nuclear dump plan and he begins 2017 with another falsehood. He should have the decency to apologise to the Liberal Party and to environment groups for his latest falsehood and slander. Interestingly, the statement falsely claiming that most South Australians support the high-level nuclear dump plan was endorsed by SA’s Chief Scientist, Dr. Leanna Read. Shamefully, the state’s chief fact-checker didn’t bother to check her facts.

Mr Heard also conveniently ignores real-world experience with nuclear waste projects:
* Estimates of the clean-up costs for a range of (civil and military) UK nuclear sites including Sellafield have nearly doubled from a 2005 estimate of £56 billion (A$91.6 billion) to over £100 billion (A$163.6 billion)
* In 2005, the French government’s nuclear waste agency Andra estimated the cost of a deep geological repository at between €13.5 and €16.5 billion (A$19.0‒23.2 billion). In 2016, Andra estimates the cost of the repository at between €20 billion to €30 billion (A$28.1‒42.2 billion). As with the UK, the latest French estimates are nearly double the earlier estimates.
* Between 2001 and 2008, the estimated cost of constructing the Yucca Mountain high level nuclear waste repository in the USA and operating it for 150 years increased by 67%, from US$57.5 billion to US$96.2 billion (A$75.1 billion ‒ $125.7 billion). Yucca Mountain was abandoned – so the USA wasted US$13.5 billion (A$17.6 billion) and still doesn’t have a repository.

The Nuclear Economics Consulting Group report commissioned by the SA Joint Select Committee concluded that the nuclear waste import project could be profitable under certain assumptions but the report then raises serious questions about most of those assumptions. The NECG report notes that the Royal Commission’s economic analysis didn’t even consider some important issues which “have significant serious potential to adversely impact the project and its commercial outcomes”; that assumptions about price are “overly optimistic” and if that is the case “project profitability is seriously at risk”; that the 25% cost contingency for delays and blowouts is likely to be a significant underestimate; and that the assumption the project would capture 50% of the available market had “little support or justification”.

Finally, Mr Heard’s promotion of fast breeder reactors is beyond stupid. For all the rhetoric about Generation IV fast breeder reactors, and the US$100+ billion invested worldwide, only five such reactors are operating worldwide (three of them experimental) and only one is under construction (in India). Most of the countries that invested in fast breeder reactors have given up, deciding not to throw good money after bad. Last year, Japan decided to give up on the Monju fast breeder reactor, a fiasco that will cost Japanese taxpayers A$17.3 billion in construction, operation and decommissioning costs despite the fact that the reactor rarely operated.

The Royal Commission completely rejected proposals advanced by Heard and others for ‘advanced fast reactors’, noting in its final report that such reactors are unlikely to be feasible or viable in the foreseeable future; that the development of such a first-of-a-kind project would have high commercial and technical risk; that there is no licensed, commercially proven design and development to that point would require substantial capital investment; and that electricity generated from such reactors has not been demonstrated to be cost competitive with current light water reactor designs.

South Australian Liberals criticised unfairly by Ben Heard

February 4, 2017


In his latest pro nuclear spiel, on his front group “Bright New World” Ben Heard attacks South Australia’s Liberal Party. He attacks them for ignoring the evidence of (so-called) “Independent” experts.

Those experts are in fact, highly biased pro nuclear lobbyists. Dr Tim Johnson of Jacob Consulting, a leading advocate for underground nuclear storage in S.A. Jim Voss the ex-MD of Pangea Resources – a failed joint venture attempt to bring High Level nuclear waste to Australia in the late 1990s. Voss has global links in the nuclear industry at the highest level. Through UCL he lectured South Australians on the glories of nuclear.

“Environmentalists” Ben Heard and Barry Brook now openly spruiking for nuclear reprocessing in South Australia

January 21, 2017

logo-bright-new-worldThese two nuclear spruikers have been at it for decades – promoting the nuclear industry under the cover of pretending to be environmentalists.

Now they’re at least ‘coming out’ about being nuclear lobbyists.   It is surprising that  the Australian National University is publishing  (in the Asia and the Pacific Policy Studies journal)  their claims about recycling nuclear waste as a multi $billion windfall for South Australia. They even claim that nuclear waste reprocessing for South Australia would have ‘significant environmental benefits’!

Ben Heard enthuses that South Australia can ‘commercialise leading technology’ Ben Heard worked on this with former Liberal Senator Sean Edwards.

They’re trying to make a mark on the international scene with their new project “Bright New [Nuclear] World”.   But this is their new project’s first foray into the Australian scene.

Nuclear lobby’s confidence tricks – film “THE NEW FIRE”

January 1, 2017


The “New Nuclear” lobby is kicking off its New Nuclear propaganda for 2017 with its favourite tactic – FILM.

They started this method with great success in 2013 with a very glossy and quite seductive advertisement calld “Pandora’s Promise”  That has now been rehashed many times, e.g on Youtube. It pretends to be a documentary about c limate change, but is really a hymn to new nuclear “Generation IV” technology, especially Small Nuclear Reactors, and to endless consumption of electricity.

Then came the even more sophisticated and glossier television series, “Twisting the Dragon’s Tail”,  a subtle nuclear advertisement promotion that featured Australia quite strongly. Cleverly introducing the negative aspects of the nuclear industry, it finishes with that same message for boundless energy consumption via New Nuclear.

These  so-called “independent documentaries” are  quite lavishly and expensively produced. Who pays for them?  That is a well-kept secret. Do  presenters like Derek Muller (Dragon’s Tail) understand how they are being used?

“The New Fire” is currently under production, using, as those other ads did, very capable media professionals. We have no idea who is behind this project, but, with billionaires now in the Small Nuclear Reactor business, we can suspect those in the nuclear front group “Breakthrough Energy Coalition” 

The theme of those first two nuclear propaganda films was about the “need for ever-rocketing
electricity consumption, and how new small nuclear reactors will meet that need.”

Thee theme of this 2017 nuclear advertisement will be that “only via new nuclear power can the world be saved from climate change”  It will focus on the new smart young people who reject the boring old people’s anxiety about nuclear power.

THE NEW FIRE  – “is an independent documentary that will introduce audiences to young nuclear engineers who are developing next-generation reactors which they hope will provide clean and safe solutions to the world’s future energy needs. Could these audacious innovators be the agents of change the world has been waiting for? With unprecedented access to key people, places and events, award-winning filmmaker David Schumacher has traveled the globe to capture a powerful, eye-opening story that needs to be told now—before it’s too late.” 

Critique of Preliminary Report SOUTH AUSTRALIAN SEPARATION EVENT, Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO)

December 19, 2016


Dennis Matthews, 18 Dec 16 , 1 DECEMBER 2016. 

The “separation event” was the disconnection of the Heywood interconnector into South Australia.

The following uses the same headings as the AEMO preliminary report.

1. Overview

A short-circuit in a Victorian 500 kV (kilovolt), alternating current (AC) transmission line connected to the Heywood Victorian-SA interconnector resulted in the SA electricity network being disconnected from the Heywood interconnector.

At the time of the “incident” the Victorian electricity network was highly vulnerable to disruption. One of the two circuits served by the Heywood interconnector had been taken out of operation for maintenance. To make matters worse, one of the circuits supplying the Alcoa aluminium smelter at Portland was also out of service. Like all aluminium smelters, the Portland smelter had a very heavy electricity demand (about 480 MW).

The vulnerability of the Victorian electricity network meant that the SA network was also vulnerable to an abrupt loss of 230 MW. Nevertheless, no measures had been put in place to immediately replace power supply from Victoria in the event of disconnection from the Haywood interconnector. As with the SA state-wide blackout two months earlier, there was more than sufficient generating capacity available in SA but it was not on standby.

A short circuit in the remaining transmission line in Victoria to the Heywood interconnector resulted in SA and the Portland smelter being disconnected and the shutdown of two wind farms in Victoria.

The “incident” in Victoria, together with inadequate contingency plans resulted in the loss of 230 MW to SA, BHP’s Olympic Dam project losing 100 of its 170 MW for 3 hours, Portland smelter being disconnected for 4½ hours and disconnection of two wind farms (Portland generating 3MW, and Macarthur generating 4MW) in Victoria.

2. Pre-event Conditions

“Immediately prior to the incident there were two planned outages.”

Use of terms such as “incident” and “event” is reminiscent of the nuclear industry’s avoidance of terms such as “failure” , “accident”, and “meltdown”.

“Planned outage” refers to deliberate disconnection of parts of the system for maintenance or repairs. Such deliberate disconnections should be permitted only if they do not expose the system to serious disruption and only if there is sufficient backup in case of a fault developing in the remaining parts of the system. For SA no backup was put on standby in the case of SA being disconnected to the Heywood interconnector.

One of the “outages” referred to was that one half of the Heywood supply to SA (a 500 kV busbar) was out of service. This left SA and Victoria vulnerable to a fault developing in the remaining half of the Heywood supply. The other “outage” was the Heywood to Portland 500 kV transmission line servicing the Alcoa aluminium smelter.

Both outages were given permission by the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO).

These two decisions left the aluminium smelter vulnerable to a fault developing in the remaining half of the Heywood transmission line in Victoria. There was no backup plan for maintaining supply to the smelter in this contingency.

At the time, SA was importing about 240 MW from Heywood in Victoria.

3. Event

“A single phase to earth fault occurred on the Morabool-Tarrone 500 kV transmission line causing the line to trip out of service.” In other words, there was a short circuit in the only remaining transmission line in Victoria to the Heywood interconnector.

“It is believed that the line tripped as a normal response to this type of fault”. The short circuit caused the transmission line to Heywood to be disconnected (trip).

The short circuit was caused by the breaking of an electrical cable. The reason for the cable breaking was not known to the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO).

The “trip” of the transmission line left the Portland smelter still connected to SA, the power flow reversed so that instead of 240 MW into SA from Victoria there was 480 MW from SA to Victoria to supply the Portland smelter. A control scheme then disconnected the smelter from SA.

5 Operation of SA when Islanded

Islanded means that SA was on its own as far as power supply was concerned, in particular, it means that it was not receiving power from Victoria. In fact, SA was still receiving about 220 MW through the high voltage, direct current (DC), Victoria-SA, Murraylink interconnector.

Critique of ‘BLACK SYSTEM, SOUTH AUSTRALIA’ Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) Report

December 19, 2016


Soon after the state-wide blackout, people in SA were subjected to unedifying performances from Federal politicians who tried to blame the blackout on the renewable energy industry, wind energy in particular. Months later, and in the face of factual evidence supplied by AEMO, these politicians still show no sign of repenting.

Dennis Matthews, December 2016 BLACK SYSTEM, SOUTH AUSTRALIA, 28 SEPTEMBER 2016.
3rd Preliminary Report, December 2016 Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO)


The “Black System” referred to by AEMO is what is more commonly known as the South Australian state-wide blackout. AEMO also refers to it as “the event”. The AEMO report contains considerable technical jargon and use of acronyms. Constant referral to a list of terms and abbreviations at the beginning of the report is necessary.

AEMO Executive Summary

According to the executive summary, the SA blackout was “initiated by the loss of three transmission lines involving a sequence of faults in quick succession”. These electricity transmission lines are the high voltage power lines that feed into the low voltage distribution system that services homes and many small to medium businesses.

The damaged transmission lines were in the mid-north of SA.

The sequence of faults led to many wind turbine electricity generators in the mid-north initially trying to continue to generate. Within 7 seconds, these initial attempts to “ride through” the problems caused by transmission line damage were followed by wind turbines deliberately shutting down (tripping), or decreasing their output, in order to protect them from serious damage. This caused a decrease of power generation by about 460 megawatts (MW). Prior to the transmission line damage, the total generated grid power available to SA was about 1830 MW. Domestic, off-grid, solar photovoltaic power was about 50 MW.

Although it seems reasonable that wind turbines should have an ability to shut down to protect against serious damage, according to the report “AEMO was not aware of the protective feature of these generating units”. Consequently, AEMO had not taken steps to replace the lost power in such a situation.

The loss of about 460 MW of generating capacity resulted in an attempt to import extra power through the Heywood, high voltage, alternating current (AC), connector with Victoria. Such connectors between states are essential for the operating of an electricity market. Without interconnectors there would be no National Electricity Market (NEM).

The Heywood interconnector was already supplying about 610 MW to SA and was unable to supply an extra 460 MW. The Heywood interconnector then also “tripped” in order to protect the interconnector from serious damage. This resulted in a loss of about 900 MW from Victoria to SA leaving only 330 MW of gas-fired (thermal) generation to cope with a demand for about 1830 MW. This thermal power was being produced at three power stations at Torrens Island and a 40 MW thermal power station at Ladbroke Grove in the south-east of SA.

Corrective measures such as disconnecting major demand (load shedding) at places like Roxby Downs (170 MW demand) were too slow to stop the remaining power stations from “tripping” to protect them from serious damage. This resulted in a state-wide blackout.

SA had considerably more thermal power than was on-line at the time of the blackout but they were not on standby or ready to take up shortfalls in power supply. Some thermal power stations, such as one of the relatively new Pelican Point power stations, have been mothballed because of low wholesale electricity prices.

The cause of the loss of the electricity transmission lines appears to have been two widely separated (170 km apart), 190-260 km/h, tornados which brought down more than 20 towers supporting the transmission lines. The report makes no mention of actual sightings of the towers being brought down by the tornados. There is an unanswered question as to whether the collapse of a tower brought down other towers in a domino-like effect or whether is was just the tornados.

In the late 1900’s almost all of SA’s electrical power came from fossil fuel (coal and gas) thermal power stations that produced “synchronous” alternating current (AC) flow. According to the report, the increasing proportion of generators (solar and wind) producing “non-synchronous” direct current (DC) is leading to a “lower resilience” of the electricity networks in SA.

Considering the performance of the electricity transmission grid, the Heywood interconnector, thermal power stations in SA, and AEMO, it would seem that “low resilience” is not a characteristic peculiar to solar and wind power.

Soon after the state-wide blackout, people in SA were subjected to unedifying performances from Federal politicians who tried to blame the blackout on the renewable energy industry, wind energy in particular. Months later, and in the face of factual evidence supplied by AEMO, these politicians still show no sign of repenting.

The following is a more detailed discussion of relevant chapters in the report.

2. Pre-event

AEMO procedures depend very heavily on the distinction between “credible contingencies” and “non-credible contingencies”. For credible contingencies, plans are put in place to take corrective measures, whilst for non-credible contingencies no corrective measures are considered necessary. A contingency may be switched from credible to non-credible as circumstances change but if the switch is left too late then any corrective plans may be too slow to be effective.

The loss of certain groups of wind farms is considered a credible contingency if they are “connected to the grid by a single transmission line” and the disconnection of a single transmission line “is always treated as a credible contingency event” but the loss of both Heywood interconnector lines “was considered a non-credible contingency”. Consequently, AEMO was unprepared for either the loss of multiple transmission lines in SA or for the total loss of interconnection through the Heywood interconnector.

AEMO had also assumed that all wind farms were capable of riding through multiple faults “provided the faults were within the size and duration specified in the generator performance standards”. AEMO did not know that some wind farms had limits on the number of successive faults that they could ride through.

The loss of “any single element (generator, transmission, etc)” is considered a credible contingency, but the “coincident loss of multiple generating units or transmission lines, are termed non-credible contingency events”.

The above classifications may be changed if circumstances change but no changes were made during the events leading up to the state-wide blackout. Bureau of Meteorology wind speed forecasts were upgraded during the day of the blackout but AEMO did not see the need to change its classifications or procedures.

3 Events Resulting in Black System

The loss of three transmission lines resulted in low voltage being experienced at wind turbines. The wind turbines responded as designed by remaining connected to the network and helping to restore the voltage. This “ride-through” response varied according to the turbine settings. Ten of the thirteen on-line wind farms activated their ride-through response three to six times.

“All wind turbines successfully rode-through faults until the pre-set protection limit applied to most on-line wind turbines was reached or exceeded.”

“If the pre-set limit was exceeded in the event, each wind turbine either disconnected from the network, stopped operating (remained connected with zero output), or reduced its output.”

“Five wind farms successfully rode through the faults, they did not recover to the pre-disturbance level immediately and took several hundred milliseconds to recover.” “All wind turbines that exhibited this behaviour remained connected and operational until the SA power system was fully lost”.

In regards to the shutting down and separation and of the Heywood connector from SA the report notes “unforseen separation and complete loss of the Heywood Interconnector has occurred five times in the 17 years since 1999”. Prior to the SA blackout, this amounts to an average of once every 4 years. Since the SA blackout there has been another instance of disconnection of the Heywood Interconnector on 1st December which means there were two disconnections in two months. Disconnection of the Heywood interconnector in 2016 has occurred at a rate 24 times the average in the 16 years up to 2016. The latest disconnection occurred as a result of a transmission cable breaking in Victoria plus a Victorian transmission system made vulnerable by simultaneous maintenance work on transmission lines and power stations in the vicinity of Heywood and Portland.

The report states that the key difference between the SA blackout and previous Heywood disconnections was the lower number of on-line thermal generators prior to the SA blackout. As mentioned earlier, there was sufficient thermal generation available at the time of the SA blackout, but it was not operating.

It is not commonly known that there are two SA-Victoria interconnectors, The Heywood, high voltage, alternating current (AC) interconnector and the Murraylink, high voltage direct current (DC) interconnector. The Murraylink DC connector is much more resilient than the Heywood AC interconnector.

There was negligible effect of the SA transmission line failures and subsequent loss of wind generator output on transmission through the Murraylink DC connector, which continued to transmit 114 MW until the SA system collapsed. The eventual disconnection of the Murraylink interconnector occurred because of AC connections at both the SA and Victorian ends of the interconnector.

In regards to preventing overloading of thermal generators in SA by disconnecting large electricity users (load shedding) the report states 1150 MW could have been disconnected but the disconnection mechanism was too slow; “the amount of load shed and the timing at which these loads were disconnected was not sufficient to avoid system collapse”.

There was “practically no changes in the overall operational demand for the last 10 seconds before the event” including the initial loss of the transmission towers in the SA mid-north.

7. Preliminary Recommendations

“During extreme weather conditions, more rigorous processes to be put in place to monitor weather warnings for changes in order to trigger reassessment of reclassification decisions where necessary.”

Reclassification refers to change from a non-credible to credible event. Such a change, if initiated several hours before the blackout, would have led to more SA thermal power stations being on-line, preventing overloading of the Heywood interconnector.

As with many of the recommendations, classification as a credible event involves a trade-off between maintaining integrity of the system and short term financial benefits to power producers. It would appear that the classification system was too heavily weighted towards the latter. If so, given the financial losses caused by the blackout, then it was very short-sighted.

The report also noted “the level of risks associated with wind turbine over-speed protection, while not a major issue in this event, needs to be considered more closely.” Over-speed protection refers to the well-known dependence of wind turbine output on the wind speed and to the fact that they may have to shut down if the wind speeds are too high or too erratic. The wind turbines rode through the extreme weather as well as faults in the transmission lines. Multiple faults eventually caused large changes in wind farm output.

The report also looked at the possibility of “constraining flows through the Heywood Interconnector”. Importation of electricity from Victoria is usually maximised for short term economic gain, due to the relatively inexpensive nature of electricity from coal-fired power stations. This may change after the closure of the Hazelwood coal-fired power station in Victoria. In any event, over-reliance on importing power through the Heywood interconnector has proved to be short-sighted and costly, not just during the SA blackout but also with the recent power disruption caused by transmission line failure in Victoria.

It is noteworthy that SA’s biggest electricity user BHP has flagged that it is negotiating a wholesale electricity contract to purchase electricity from one of the thermal power stations (Pelican Point) that was not on-line during the events leading up to the SA blackout. This may decrease the dependence of SA on imported electricity, provided existing power stations stay on-line.