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Australia needs new nuclear power stations? « Previous | |Next »
May 18, 2006

Everywhere you turn these days you hear the siren calls of the nuclear power industry. It's the answer to greenhouse, energy security, etc etc. This message is increasingly being coupled to the claim that the nuclear option is back on the agenda with a vengeance. The criticism of the position is being pushed to the margins of public debate--to the little magazines and the blogs. This is the effect of the force of power in the public sphere.

This talk is even prevalent in Australia where coal is plentiful and cheap. And it's not just about selling uranium to China or India, or even becoming a dump for the radioactive waste for other nations. The talk is about a nuclear power in Australia. Nuclear power is even becoming the new Labor energy message in NSW---with the suggestion of building a new generation of power stations. In doing so they want to give the green light to nuclear power. Little mention is made of the unsolved waste problem; the occupational and public-health risks; the difficulty of making uranium work for peace without making it available for war.

As Tom Burke argues in The Guardian it is economic to build nuclear power statations:

Nuclear power stations are financially very risky projects. You spend hundreds of millions of pounds for at least a decade before you start to recover any earnings. Since you have to pay for the financing as well as the direct construction costs, this makes nuclear much less attractive to investors than other forms of electricity generation. This is especially so when you cannot be sure of the price you will get for that electricity in the 30 years or so it will take to recoup your investment. Nor can you be sure what the station might cost.

Burke adds that the nuclear industry will build new nuclear power stations provided the government makes it attractive for them to do so. This means paying for its higher costs. There are only two ways to do this: either the taxpayer pays or the consumer pays.

Since a neo-liberal government would rule out the first option, that leaves the second. As the nuclear industry will build new power stations if the revenue from selling its electricity is guaranteed for the next 30 years or so, then this means commiting Australian businesses and households to paying more than they might otherwise have to for their electricity.

Chris Scanlon in Arena Magazine has another argument. Referring to James Lovelock he says that:

Lovelock doesn’t regard nuclear power as a silver bullet that will eliminate CO2 emissions. Rather, he views it as a stop-gap measure, allowing us the breathing space to address the heating of the planet. Lovelock’s is an authoritative argument, but nuclear power isn’t a solution to global warming. As Alan Roberts argued in issue 78 of this magazine — the original, expanded version of which can be found in issue 23 of Arena Journal — even if it were possible to convert all the power stations in the world to nuclear power stations without adding to the levels of greenhouse gases, the impact would still be marginal, since generating electricity plays a ‘significant but subsidiary’ role in generating greenhouse gases.

Scanlon ends by saying that far from being a band-aid, nuclear power is an infected dressing, polluting the wound that it was intended to heal while causing new sores. And then we have this:
The only tenable solution to climate change is a change in the culture of unfettered consumption and unending development that has produced it. Or, as Lovelock succinctly puts it, ‘As always, we come back to the unavoidable fact that there are far too many of us living as we do now’.

Presumably he means there is a pressing need to make the shift to more ecologically sustainable forms of development?


| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 1:43 PM | | Comments (2)
Comments

Comments

both Lovelock and the ex-Greenpeace guy Moore have jumped on the Nuclear bandwagon it is true, but from where i sit they both have a serious credibility deficit, Lovelock simply because he cannot write, and Moore because he claims to be a scientist but is really just a consoltant looking for a fat per diem (from what i can see)

The Australian Tim Flannery seems to have the right idea though, how is he generally regarded down there? probably not that well given what i know of your PM Howard

There are show-stopping arguments on Nuclear but they must be presented without hype - on the cost side if de-commissioning is factored in then they lose all feasibility

be well, david.

David,
the world looks as if it is on the cusp of a major wave of innovation in the energy supply and demand sector. Global warming has been the key to nuclear power's renaissance as clean and green. Still, the economics doesn't stack up in Australia because coal is more competitive.

I notice that Patrick Moore, one of the founders of Greenpeace, has said that California will need more nuclear energy if it hopes to cut emissions of greenhouse gases and fight global warming:

How long will it be before this state we're in, California, accepts that if it wants to stop importing 20 percent of its power from out-of-state coal plants, it must build nuclear plants?

Moore is calling for giving the technology another chance and he considers radioactive waste a lesser evil than climate change.Why is solar power rejected by Moore for sunny California?

The economc question is: will investing in nuclear give us the best return on investment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions compared to other potential energy sources and demand management options? It would appear nuclear energy does not merit any more investment because it is too expense compared to alternatives including wind and solar energy sources.