Monday, January 10, 2011

Ron Smith: Slow steaming and perishable trade

Weekend stories concerning a progressive slow-down in the effective operating speed of container ships from New Zealand suggest a growing problem for our exporters of perishable goods, such as chilled lamb or kiwifruit. Not surprisingly, the overall driver of the problem from a shipping company point of view is profitability, which is currently under stress, but the principle factor appears to be rising fuel costs, perhaps exacerbated by increasing sensitivities about global warming (however ill-founded these latter concerns may be).

There is a solution, here, and it is one that I have mentioned before: nuclear propulsion. Nuclear propelled ships produce no carbon emissions and are not vulnerable to rapid changes in the cost of fuel. Not only that, they are designed to operate at much higher speeds and would do so because the financial incentives in their operation would undoubtedly point that way. Of course, there are, presently, no such ships available (beyond ice-breakers and military vessels of various kinds) but the sorts of consideration just outlined explain why the project has become live, again, with several groups in China, UK and US examining possible designs for tankers and large container ships.

So it is not an immediate solution to our problem but it is still worth thinking about in New Zealand because, as matters stand, we should not be able to use such ships, even if they offered considerable advantage, in regard to economics and time. This, of course, is because of section 11 of the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament, and Arms Control Act, 1987, which provides that:
“Entry into the internal waters of New Zealand by any ship whose propulsion is wholly or partly dependent on nuclear power is prohibited.”

This would be an absurd situation to be in. We have had for nearly twenty years an official report (the1992 Somers Report on ‘The Safety of Nuclear Powered Ships: report of the special committee on nuclear propulsion’) which unequivocally concluded that:
“The likelihood of any damaging emissions or discharge of radioactive material from nuclear powered vessels if in New Zealand ports is so remote that it cannot give rise to any rational apprehension.”

We also know that the ban on nuclear-powered ships has been a source of continuing friction with a major ally (‘friend’) and substantial trading partner, which, given the above, ought to have been sufficient reason to amend the law but, as recent Wikileaks have reminded us, in the end, it was not. Surely, we could not also sacrifice a significant part of our agricultural trade to the god of nuclear purity? Well, we have time to think about it, although I note that the World Nuclear Association review of the prospects finishes with, ‘Lloyds expects to “see nuclear ships on specific trade routes sooner than many people currently anticipate.”

2 comments:

Ray said...

Why wouldn't we adopt nuclear powered ships as an alternative to internal combustion engine powered ships. The prospect of starving for want of imports or making no money from exports
might surely change the thinking of those who would otherwise resist adopting the technology.
However, I have in the past taken the stance about resistance to nuclear power generation naysayers that they should "freeze in the dark", I would amend that to " let them "starve and freeze in the dark". Anyway, progress with nuclear power in any form won't be in my lifetime unfortunately.

Brian said...

The situation in New Zealand over the whole nuclear debate is so choked up with emotional clap trap that any way out politically seems at the present time, especially under the MMP electoral system completely blocked. For any such change would mean a complete loss of face by all our Politicians, and certainly not to be contemplated in an election year.

World Shipping Companies are unconcerned with New Zealand Nuclear Stance, and any stand against nuclear shipping will merely mean “AGAIN” that our Exporters and Primary Producers will bear the brunt on this inane policy of “cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face”.

This attitude is reminiscent of the 19th century when automobiles first made an appearance on British roads they had to have a man (apologies to the other sex) with a red flag preceding their vehicle. Perhaps to enable Commerce to continue we may have to adapt a similar policy with our “Green” comrades escorting nuclear propulsion cargo ships into New Zealand ports under their strict rules and supervision. (United States being the exception of course)

No doubt after most countries have accepted nuclear powered ships as normal; this country will like Rip Van Winkle, awake to find that in reality nobody cares what we do or say, let alone know our position on a world map.

What a pity Vaudeville has disappeared over the last hundred years, Gilbert & Sullivan would have had a field day with our blatant hypocrisy. Not that we should abandon hypocrisy, to do so would eliminate the great comic writers from Moliere to the present day. At the same time it would deprive our Parliament of an essential ingredient of free speech, and would be a far poorer place debate wise?

Brian