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going nuclear « Previous | |Next »
November 22, 2006

At the National Press Club yesterday Ziggy Switkowski, the chairman of the Prime Minister's Nuclear Task Force, stated that Australia's energy future could well be based on a network of 25 nuclear reactors along the east coast meeting 30% of baseload power. Coal would continue to generate 50%. The nuclear power stations would have to be built near the sea or rivers that could supply the water they would need for cooling and would have to be built reasonably close to Australian cities and major electricity transmission lines. "Reasonably close" means tens of kilometres.

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Geoff Pryor

This Report was not a serious study of energy options for Australia as the terms of reference set by the federal government restricted the panel to a study of nuclear power. Switkowski said that given Australia's large reserves, and an expected increase in global demand for uranium, there is a case for having a domestic nuclear industry, that Australia had the capacity to add value to exports by enrichment and fuel fabrication. But it is sceptical of the latter because of cost reasons (subsidies are required) and it indicates the political difficulties of siting nuclear waste management facilities in Australia.

However, Switkowski said that it would take at least 10 years and probably 15 to get a plant up and running and the nuclear scheme would only be economic if the Commonwealth Government introduced a system of charging existing power stations for their carbon dioxide emissions. That charge (in the range of $10-$40 per tonne) would have to push up the price of coal or gas-fired electricity by between 20 and 50 per cent. This is what the Howard government has ruled out. Yet Howard says the nuclear case is obvious and compelling.

Therein lies a major contradiction. The Howard Government has run into a wall in terms of its defence of the coal industry's pollution. The nuclear industry has no chance without government subsidy and the Report's estimates (of that the carbon price range envisaged in the report ( $15 to $40 per tonne of carbon dioxide emitted) - is probably far too low to make nuclear power competitive with dirty (conventional) coal-fired power stations. Advocating subsidies for nuclear, when subsidies for renewables is continually ruled out, is political dynamite.

Presumably, 25 nuclear reactors along the east coast near the nation's major coastal cities would required the consent of the state governments, and the proposal is not welcomed by the states such as South Australia, Queensland and Victoria. Victoria and NS\W have legislation banning nuclear power and enrichment in their states. However, the Commonwealth can use its corporations and interstate and commerce powers to overide state legislation and render them impotent.

Peter Hartcher in the Sydney Morning Herald offers an explanation for Howard's contradictory responses. He asks:

Why this befuddling series of thrusts and parries? Because Howard faces two imperatives. One is the need to address a growing community concern about global warming, and the other is the need to win an election in about a year from now.So his overriding concern is to find way of appearing to have a positive action plan, without appearing to threaten voters with unpalatable costs. This means being as vague as possible about such hard choices as carbon taxes and conservation until after the election.And to defend this position, he chooses, as ever, to go on the attack. Nuclear power gives him the tool of attack...

If the interests and political power of the big greenhouse gas emitters continue to rule energy policy, then Howard is using nuclear as a wedge issue that places the ALP in another anti-Howard scare campaign to save Australia.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 10:11 AM | | Comments (4)
Comments

Comments

Interestingly, I noted that the report favoured siting the plants near existing coal fired power stations.

I would lay a large sum on the fact that nearly every coal fired plant in Australia is located in a relatively safe ALP electorate.

No pain for the coalition there.

BigBob,
here is a map of the projected locations of the 25 proposed nuclear power plants. The Sydney Morning Herald says:

The most suitable sites would have to be on the east coast because nuclear reactors need large amounts of water for cooling. They also needed to be near main electricity transmission lines to keep infrastructure costs down, have good rail and port access for transport of imported fuel rods, and be built close to a big load centre such as Melbourne, Sydney or Newcastle.The prolonged drought and the unreliability of inland water sources meant it was impossible to build reactors away from main urban centres.

AS MANY as 25 nuclear power plants could be built by 2050, producing one-third of Australia's power and slowing the growth of greenhouse emissions, at a cost of more than $75 billion. says the SMH.

Yeah right,as if.

What kind of idiots do they take me for? How does the worlds most powerful energy source produce only one third the amount of energy as barbeque bricks do?

For gods sake, when is this country going to grow up.

Gadget,
the Stern Report has changed the climate change debate.The scientific evidence is clear cut, the first impacts are being felt, and the need for a serious policy response is obvious.

What the Stern Report made clear was that the costs of doing nothing outweigh the costs of stabilizing the climate to prevent a 2% increase in the temperature.

Howard's response --the nuclear option--can be read as him trying to do something even though its economic feasibility depends upon some kind of price for carbon emissions.

Howard continues to talk about the unacceptable economic consequences of pricing carbon emissions --he hasn't take on board Stern's argument that this costs less than doing nothing.