Interview with Ben Heard, Founder of Bright New World. Nuclear’s new outlook.
Ben Heard is an eco-modernist based in Adelaide, Australia. He answering the question as to how do societies will deliver the ever increasing amounts of energy needed in an intelligent, ethical and cost-effective way?
Throughout his childhood, Heard held an anti-nuclear viewpoint. His involvement in his local Catholic community, which was active within the Peace Movement, exposed him to plenty of anti-nuclear material. Moreover, Britain was testing nuclear weapons on aboriginal land at the time, further strengthening the anti-nuclear stance held by the Australian government and society.
Heard’s growing interest in environmental ethics led to regular donations to GreenPeace and further anti-nuclear information as a consequence. In fact, Heard was anti-nuclear throughout his 30s. His views were deeply ingrained after decades of indoctrination, and it was uncertain as to whether his views would ever change, even when presented with new data.
Matthew Gordon talks to Ben Heard, 3rd July 2020
Heard had been working in occupational therapy, but he changed lanes to a career better suited to his passion for environmental sustainability. He worked for the climate change team within an engineering company. As part of his role on the team, he worked towards solutions for climate change adaptation and impact mitigation. This sparked one of his most interesting questions: what does it mean to become carbon neutral? He posed this question to energy decision-makers in cities across Australia, helping them define their plans in a more environmentally-friendly fashion.
He even worked on a carbon-neutral desalination plant in the city of Victoria. National droughts have always posed a major issue for the Australian people. The entire society is extremely water-conscious and tries to restrict their consumption. However, desalinated water requires a large amount of energy to produce, and Heard’s calculations, as part of his more senior role, quickly produced an indelible argument: solar and wind power were inadequate for the plant’s carbon-neutral energy needs. This sparked his exploration of nuclear power as an energy solution.
In order to change someone’s stance on nuclear power, it is important to be gentle says Heard. He remarks that in his case it was a gradual transition, and it was one that required a change in identity rather than a mere change in mind. Nuclear power is so polarising within both political and environmental discourse that one has to reassess ones position on all manner of topics.
Barry Brook’s ‘Brave New Climate’ blog was crucial in changing Ben’s identity. The blog made it apparent that believing in climate change and advocating nuclear energy were not mutually exclusive. Once he attended a pro-nuclear debate, it became clear that the articulate, fact-based positions were eminently more desirable than the cherry-picking ramblings of the anti-nuclear lobby.
In order to spark nuclear development in the energy space, change is going to have to come from the top down. Decentralised, small-bore solutions at a household level will be insufficient for what society ultimately requires to head towards a carbon-neutral society. The challenge is to balance the need to optimise constantly changing technology, prices and societal demands, with enough prescriptive certainty to actually get things moving. Fossil fuels will not be replaced in Australia. They will be retired. Within the future Australian renewable energy blend, there is a “virtually iron-clad argument for at least 10,000MW of nuclear power.” This is more than enough to get things started. Nuclear isn’t yet on the footing to deliver everything we need right now, but its ability to operate almost anywhere makes it an extremely useful potential solution.
There is still a role for large reactors and they are going nowhere, given the huge global energy requirements in major developed countries. However, for a smaller energy grid, like Australia, and in countries in the developing world, getting the political will to back a new, large, expensive infrastructure is far from easy. When nuclear power first started being operated commercially, it started off small before being ramped up. This can work if nuclear energy is a constant priority for a country. Smaller SMRs appear to move the nuclear reactor away from a construction paradigm and towards a manufacturing paradigm, which has already been extremely beneficial for wind and solar power. Moreover, the smaller scale allows the reactor units to overcome the ‘economies of scale’ requirement to achieve certain outcomes in such a large core size; pumps, valves and motors are bypassed by technology. It also means that manufacturers don’t need to request such large sums of money, making the funding process much more feasible. Many major governments are now looking at SMRs as a means of returning to domestic energy production after becoming so reliant on globalism. Canada and the United Kingdom are prime examples.
The funding for such developments in Australia will remain predominantly private through utilities. However, the government is beginning to understand that it must establish the conditions and do the bridging to help steer crucial industries towards the clean-energy future that it needs to be working towards.
What did you make of Ben Heard? What questions would you like us to ask him next time?
Company Website: https://www.brightnewworld.org/
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