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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

It's strange isn't it « Previous | |Next »
June 7, 2006

Well we know that nuclear power is not commercially viable in Australia without substantial government subsidy. (the Government's own Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation showed that the taxpayer would need to subsidise 21 per cent of the cost of a nuclear power station for the first 12 years to make it viable).

And we know this much about the location of nuclear power in Australia from previous government reports:

Map1.jpg

And we also know that the ALP states have refused to host a nuclear reactor in their territory--for good reason. So why the big nuclear push by the Howard Government?

And we know that it was only a month or so ago that the Howard Government Howard was resolutely defending Australia's vast fossil fuels industry in the Kyoto debate. And it's energy white paper was centred around advocating technologies that will improve the cleanliness and viability of fossil fuels. Hasn't the Howard Government also consistently ruled out a carbon tax on coal because it would impact negatively on the economy?

Why bother with an inquiry just into nuclear power? What is the point of such an inquiry? It likes an economic inquiry about wealth creation, not one addressing the problem of climate change.

Update
I see that the nuclear crowd are saying that the debate on nuclear power and national energy policy is essential to the prosperity of the nation and that it's disappointing to hear Kim Beazley say the ALP will fight the next election on an anti-nuclear platform. Really? But we never had a good debate on national energy policy.That policy has been run by the fossil fuel industry.

Guy Webber, in an op. ed. in The Australian argues for a rational assessment of energy options. He usefully weighs up the case for and against nuclear power. The case against adopting nuclear power is that:

we have large reserves of good quality coal and gas, and access to wind, geothermal, hydro, solar and tidal alternatives. The establishment and decommissioning costs of reactors are high. And there is the ever-present issue of security, waste handling and storage. The development of nuclear power may act to defer or discourage expansion of alternative and renewable technologies or, at least, skew the economics against their establishment.

Webber says the case in favour of nuclear power:
when mining and carbon emission impacts are assessed, the costs are potentially less expensive and less environmentally harmful than other energy sources. A nuclear program would require an increase in the technical and scientific capacity of the nation. This would be critical, particularly given that we have problems fielding enough skilled workers with our present industrial and technical mix. There is strong argument to suggest the real benefit of a nuclear power program would be the concomitant boost to education, research and technical expertise, especially in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and manufacturing) fields.

Note the way energy has been reduced to nuclear. He's not really interested in energy policy --only the nuclear industry. The arguments in favour also apply to renewable energy--wind and solar.

Webber goes onto say that:

The debate on the merits or otherwise of nuclear power needs to be a rational, objective assessment based on hard science, economics and fact. It must be open and public so that the issues, supported by reference material that is peer-reviewed and unbiased, can be appraised. As with any other public policy development, it cannot and should not be subjected to the harm of political expediency or the agenda of interest groups.

Webber's op ed is not a contribution to such a debate. He main arguemt is that we have no choice. We have to go nuclear. But why nuclear and not renewable? Renewables are not even mentioned.

We can only infer that Webber is pushing the agenda of an interest group---the uranium industry.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:05 AM | | Comments (16)
Comments

Comments

At the same time, why shouldn't we have an inquiry?

Gary, It seems to me that the resurrection of the nuclear monster is the final nail in the coffin of all the various liberation movements of the 60' and 70's. The multi faceted movement which challenged the hard edged Myth of the Machine (Mumford) and its drive to total power and control.The right wing think tanks have done their job very effectively.

Nuclear power being one with the call for a return to "manliness" which is the title of a new book by Mansfield. Non of this touchy feely stuff. Lets get on with trashing the planet for real.

WeekbyWeek,

Aren't you being a little coy here? The immediate-term prospect of nuclear power plants is a furphy as they are at least 25 years away. It looks more an inquiry to see how the nuclear industry can grow and expand.

It is stated that the task force would examine every stage of the uranium cycle except how many nuclear power stations might be needed and where they would be built. From what I can gather the point of the inquiry is to discover if nuclear power is viable in Australia, which has a comparative advantage in cheap coal.

Don't we know the answer to that already? Nuclear is not cost competitive. Why should Australia build nuclear power stations unless the industry is cost-competitive with coal? That's the argument aginst re newables. Shouldn't new crippling carbons taxes to level the playing field be ruled out, as they are with renewables.

Why one criteria for renewables and another for nuclear?

If the salesman's big emphasis on nuclear energy as the solution to climate change and global warming is to be taken seriously then, the inquiry needs to be opened up to considering the best way to address the climate change issue. It would ask: what sort of energy mix is needed, or which one is best? What is the best bang for the buck?

That would show the energy issue is being taken seriously in a public policy sense. But it's not is it?

So the point of the inquiry? It's about wealth creation by expanding the nuclear industry.

John,
I couldn't agree more. Nuclear power is about control and domination of nature whilst ignoring the environmental consequences. As Heidegger would say its an expression of the technological mode of being.

Maybe the point of theinquiry is to use it to increase the number of uranium mines and to encourage the creation of an enrichment industry?

That is what the mining industry would like to see happen.

How can you look at the economics of a proposal like this without identifying how many plants a re needed and where you put them. It's a total nonsense.

If you need an enquiry into energy, you need an overall look at all options, and then start drilling down on the one's that are most practical/have the best cost/benefit ratio.

Personally, I think the whole thing is just a lead up to enrichment on shore and taking back nuclear wastes. It just opens the door for these to be pushed through on the back of a possible nuclear industry here.

Politically, I don't think this is going well for Howard, at all.

If you think there is public pressure over the Snowy Hydro, imagine the pressure over the prospect of nuclear power stations - most probably in conservative held seats.

BigBob
re: Personally, I think the whole thing is just a lead up to enrichment on shore and taking back nuclear wastes. It just opens the door for these to be pushed through on the back of a possible nuclear industry here.
I concur. That is what the talk in Australia was before Howard was in Washington.

You can in these remarks by Howard in response to the ALP saying no to nuclear power stations about Australia considering ways to value-add to uranium, instead of simply exporting it to countries that have embraced nuclear power:

I've always maintained that holding the reserves of uranium that we do, it is foolish to see ourselves as simply an exporter of uranium... We should also look at the value-added process, which is principally enrichment, and we should also look at whether a nuclear power station in Australia (would) become economically feasible.

There is no sign of any economic analysis of nuclear power, or one of a tax on carbon pumped into the atmosphere by other energy production by coal-fired power stations.

A big tax on carbon is the only way that nuclear willget off the ground. But if they do put a tax on carbon then renewable energy also becomes cost effective. But they are not looking at that.

So it is a report driven by politics not public policy.

I can't believe what I read sometimes .The nuclear power debate is about softening up the public to use Australia as a dumping ground. Bob Hawk floated this idea months ago,and its off and running. As per plan. Pangea will be behind this latest debate any bets? Sooner or later some investigative reporter will make the connection.

Australia with nuclear re-actors OH YEA and where pray tell is the money coming from? The Australian tax base is not big enough to support this industry, and if the government subsidizes it there wont be enough money left over for a fucking mars bar. What arrant fucking nonsense. If they are payed for by some overseas source what are you going to pay per unit?

Honey Im just off to the bank to arrange a mortgage to pay the electricity bill. 50 yrs hey maybe, Jesus wept what bollicks. Phill

Phill,
I think that you are right with this, namely your political judgement that "The nuclear power debate is about softening up the public to use Australia as a dumping ground" It's what the American state wants isn't it? Howard signalled as much when he was in Washington.

Here is the argument run by Guy Webber in The Australian today:

Moreover, the harsh reality is that in a world hungry for energy, we may not be allowed to sit on 40 per cent of global uranium (and large reserves of thorium). Economic and other pressures may force our hand regardless, especially if we continue to be net importers of high-end technical products. The potential to lease fuel and return it to Australia for processing, in conjunction with a global waste repository, may have many benefits including greater control over global management of nuclear fuels and significant financial advantages to rural Australia.

Webber's phrase, ' to lease fuel and return it to Australia for processing, in conjunction with a global waste repository, is a recycling of what Bush was saying when Howard was in Washington.

Does the mine expansion at Roxy Downs involve the transformation of a site into one that mines and generates powe?. Tthere are recent plans to fund a huge water project to Roxby, with the expansion not being based on a greater use of water from the Great Artesian basin. Instead WMC Resources Limited and the South Australian Government are seeking private sector interest in the proposal that envisages catering for domestic, industrial and agricultural water requirements on the Eyre Peninsula and in the Upper North.

So the planned desalination plant is part of the largest infrastructure project in Australia, the $5 billion Olympic Dam copper mine expansion. Is there an economically viable uranium mine/nuclear power plan on one site? Are the foundations and site designs for the mine expansion more in line with a power station than just a mining operation?

If so, then the SA Government would know about this. It is not saying much at all in the current "debate" apart from arguing in support of the expansion of Olympic Dam. But it opens up a gap in the ALP position of supporting the mining and export of uranium from three or more mines, but opposing nuclear power being generated here. What then or uranium enrichment?

No wonder the SA Government is staying quiet.

Gary,agree your comments with this added bit of indulgent gazing .And I just know Im gonna get howled down here, but Im from farming stock my brother still grows oranges.

The Australian bush is dying as we speak,apart from marginal areas the land is turning into a salt encrusted dust bowl.Crops that need forward planning for i.e. wheat,are a risky investment. Now we have had in some years bumper harvests to be sure, but this is becoming hit and miss and not the norm. As I have said before, my brothers scientific appraisal of the river murray (and he still utilises it and would know) and the darling and murray river basin probably the most important eco system in Australia .It is rooted.

In Quensland where I can only assume incest is still rife cause they out number the national average of imbeciles per square kilometre they are still removing trees with gay abandon, and there will be more marinas there than people soon. Of course they don't have the same weather patterns as the rest of the world just ask them .Sunny one day, no trees the next.

Now Howard with all of his faults (and I must confess I can't stand the man) is not that stupid (is he?) that he is not listening Kyota not withstanding. He must be aware the Australian bush is past its use by date and hence the consumate capitalists wet dream, of an free enterprise savior.The mines to drive nuclear energy and the dumping grounds of same.This may help to keep his vision of free enterprise alive for another hundred years. We will have our own re-actors to be sure but not in my life time.
Phill.

Phill,
there is no doubt that global warming is going to make things a lot drier in the Murray-Darling basin, due to lack of rain and runoff.

Thsi inquiry is not about this issue. The economics, as outlined by Kenneth Davidson in The Age, indicate that Australia is unlikely to build nuclear power stations unless the electricity generated from nuclear power is competitive with electricity generated from coal-fired power stations. However, nuclear power has a long way to go before it comes within cooee of electricity generated from coal or the much less greenhouse-polluting natural gas, which Australia also has in abundance.


Davidson says:

Electricity generated from nuclear power stations operating now costs about $70 to $100/MWh compared with about $13/MWh from the Latrobe Valley. Brown coal produces 0.8/MWh and black coal from NSW produces 1.5/MWh for every tonne of CO 2.

He adds:
To make even the most efficient nuclear power stations competitive with coal-fired power stations would require a carbon tax equal to about $40 to $50 a tonne. This would double the wholesale price of electricity and, assuming the retail margin would be squeezed to hold the mark-up constant in dollar terms, the carbon tax would add about 50 per cent to the retail price of electricity-- in today's dollars the annual household bill would increase from about $800 a year to about $1200 a year.

The implication of this is that the required carbon tax to make nuclear power competitive would cut the demand for electricity so severely that the need for nuclear power stations to meet additional demand would disappear.

Moreover, the higher cost of electricity would encourage households to invest in insulation and solar energy. At present, solar installations have a payback period of 10 years. With a $40 carbon tax, the payback period would be about four years.

We have invested in insulation but not solar power. It is too expensive--around $20,000 capital cost.

Gary,I have been told by an engineer (electrical)that it presently creates more co2 building solar panels than the savings after installation.Is this true????????????
Phill.

Ummmmm......nuclear reactors are viable when you take into account the damage that coal fired power plants do to the enviornment.

France has been relying on nuclear energy for the last 20 years, and there hasn't been a problem.

You lefties need to get over it!

Crazy Jim Smith,
France does not have the abundant supplies of cheap coal that Australia has--that's why Australia exports coal.

That kind of economic knowledge is well known to the Howard Government and is why Costello is going around talking down the idea of imposing lots of taxes on the use of coal by the energy intensive industries.

They also know thata nuclear power is only economically viable in Australia with massive public subsidies.

Strange, I thought that righties were supposed to be all about the free market, against corporate welfare and for economic responsibility?

"France does not have the abundant supplies of cheap coal that Australia has--that's why Australia exports coal."

And they still use the expensive alternative............Nuclear Energy!

"Strange, I thought that righties were supposed to be all about the free market, against corporate welfare and for economic responsibility?"

Yep that is strange......almost as strange as a bunch tree loving lefties throwing their support behind coal fired power plants.

CJS
Australia is not France, as you well know judging by the advice you offer about investing in the Australian stockmarket to build up your capital. Nor is the Australian electricity grid connected to that of France.

The post criticizes Guy Webber's op. ed. in The Australian, which argues for a rational assessment of energy options, for not considering renewable energy. It is a reasonable response to Webber's piece, as it was flagged by him to be a contribution to a public debate about energy and global warming.

Nowhere does my post suggest that coal fired power stations in their current form is a rational way to address global warming.

You just made that up. Inventing fictions to shoot down is a strange way to engage in a public debate on an important public issue.