‘Give Nuclear a Chance’July 28, 2015
Barack Obama’s former energy adviser, Steven Chu, recently referred to Australia’s stance on nuclear power as terribly strange. It’s not surprising. If any country in the world should embrace nuclear power, it is Australia. We have millions of tonnes of uranium, a government capable of responsibly regulating the industry over the long term, and a stable landmass in which we could safely store nuclear waste.
But instead we have banned both the processing of uranium into nuclear fuel and nuclear power plants. It is akin to Saudi Arabia banning oil refineries and cars.
Nuclear has proven to be far safer than just about any other form of power generation.
Almost certainly, at least one person working on a solar installation in Australia fell to their death from a roof this year. This will go unrecorded as being related to solar energy, either in the media or in any records concerning mortality in power generation. What’s more, the accident will be repeated dozens of times in many places around the world.
By comparison, it is likely that there were few if any deaths related to nuclear industries anywhere in the world. Deaths due to accidents in mining uranium, processing it into nuclear fuel, and turning it into power, are rare.
By way of confirmation, no-one at Fukushima was exposed to enough radiation to get so much as a runny nose.
Similarly, environmental problems associated with nuclear power are greatly exaggerated. It is true that Fukushima will be costly to clean up, but renewable energy like solar and wind farms routinely occupy huge swathes of land for relatively small returns. You need to have drunk a particularly strong ideological kool-aid to believe a technology that covers the landscape in metal is good for the environment.
The volume of nuclear waste produced by nuclear power is smaller than most people are led to believe, it can be safely stored, and it is likely to become re‑usable as technology develops. In contrast, producing solar panels generates significant amounts of waste, including heavy metals of the kind that are a major environmental and public health problem in China.
Nuclear power is also better for the global environment. It is puzzling to encounter greenies professing to be alarmed about carbon dioxide emissions, yet are opposed to one of the few genuine solutions. It seems some people are less afraid of climate change than having to admit they’re wrong about nuclear power.
Many environmentalists have worked out that the scare campaigns about nuclear power’s safety and environmental impact lack credibility. That’s why, when politicians from the Greens speak about nuclear energy these days, they’re likely to spend most of their time talking about the economics of nuclear power.
However, taking advice from the Greens about economics is like getting tips from ISIS on human rights.
Studies suggest nuclear power may be more expensive than coal fired generation in this country, but nuclear continues to demonstrate its viability in other countries and, with the construction of dozens of new reactors across Asia, is likely to become more competitive.
If it is true that nuclear power is not and never will be economically viable, the Greens should have no problem repealing laws prohibiting nuclear power plants. This costs nothing.
I’m not arguing taxpayers’ money should be thrown at nuclear power. The best path to cheaper electricity and the return of Australia’s competitive advantage in energy production is to stop throwing taxpayers’ money at any power generation.
Even if Australia does not adopt nuclear power, we have enormous opportunities to add value to our mining by processing uranium. We also have enormous opportunities to store nuclear waste, which faces no ban. As Bob Hawke once pointed out, the storage of nuclear waste has the potential to be a multi-billion dollar earner for Australia.
Some environmentalists – like George Monbiot and Mark Lynas – have looked at the facts and ended their opposition to nuclear power. But the ideological warriors struggle on. They claim nuclear power is on the way out, cherry picking examples from a few countries but ignoring the fact that more than 60 reactors are being constructed right now, including 20 in China.
Whether nuclear power becomes viable in this country, there are enormous opportunities in the nuclear fuel cycle that we are leaving to our developing neighbours. Apart from anything else, this means Australia will increasingly find it hard to have any influence on policies for nuclear safeguards.
All we are saying, is give nuclear a chance.