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the nuclear option « Previous | |Next »
March 18, 2007

There's a lot of spin about nuclear power isn't there in Australia where coal is king.Those promoting nuclear power say that it is a 'climate friendly' energy option. It is held that electricity generation from nuclear power is now a well established safe technology used worldwide which, from an environmental and resource point of view, Australia should be embracing as soon as possible.

The cartoon refers to the news that a private company---Australian Nuclear Energy---has been formed to set up the first nuclear power plant in the country, with South Australia and Victoria identified as potential locations. The economic reality is that nuclear power in Australia will never start up without government subsidies.

One argument against is that there are significant concerns about whether an acceptable waste disposal solution exists. From a sustainability perspective, while the nuclear waste issues remain unresolved, the uranium/nuclear power industry is transferring the risks, costs and responsibility to future generations.

What is needed is a commitment to the sensible alternatives that produce sustainable cost-effective reductions in greenhouse pollution: wind power, solar water heating, energy efficiency and gas. Nuclear power is expensive, slow and dangerous, and it won't stop climate change.

I suspect that the real motive of many who have called for a debate about nuclear power is to persuade Australians to accept a possible expansion of uranium mining, primarily BHP Billiton's planned expansion of the Roxby Downs uranium mine in South Australia based on building a de-salination plant.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:55 PM | | Comments (13)


Very nicely put. My question is what do you do with the uranium, which will be a secondary product of the Roxby Downs development. Is it ok to export and not use it here in Australia and vice versa. I was in Port Augusta last week and some of the people I talked to welcomed the opportunity a nuclear power plant would bring. They didn't seem too worried about some of the downsides.

Gary, Have you heard Lovelock's idea of dumping waste in areas that require preservation? I think it has merit.

4WDing will stop on Fraser Island if nuclear waste is dumped there.

A diverse array of solutions must be considered if we are serious about reducing emissions linked to climate change. Which could lead to global catastrophe should the status quo be maintained or worse – extended (i.e. more coal plants, and only coal plants for base load generation).

I’m not saying go nuclear today, but rather that we should not dismiss anything yet solely on principal. We owe it to ourselves (as well as those future generations) to take an objective look at all options with respect to costs, benefits, capability, safety, sustainability and risk.

Don’t fall for the rhetoric, seek objective data.

For a more in-depth discussion of Australia’s nuclear option; please visit the blog linked below.

Nuclear Australia

Nuclear Australia,
I would have thought that I wasn't falling for the rhetoric as I was raising a serious policy---what do we in Australia do with the nuclear waste?

Do you acknowledge this to be a serious issue?

The report of the Switkowski review set up by the Prime Minister said nuclear would be 20-50 per cent more costly than coal or gas-fired power. The report said:

This gap may close in the decades ahead, but nuclear power, and renewable energy sources, will only become competitive in Australia in a system where the costs of greenhouse gas emissions are explicitly recognised.

So why go nuclear instead of solar in Port Augusta? Isn't that a reasonable question?

What iif the public had the choice between economically favourable low-carbon energy policy options that don’t carry the huge risks involved with nuclear reactors?

No I haven't. I've read your post. I reckon you'd have a hard time swinging storing the waste of nuclear power plants in Kakadu. If the people of Port Augusta want a nuclear industry in their town let them store the waste in their town since they are not fussed by the waste.

Dumping waste in national parks to keep humans out is an impossible political and economic sell. Yet we have many examples of that through political/economic/technical collapse.

What we need is a Snappy advertising campaign to get people saving Electricity for starters.
Then introduce rebates for people to take up solar power units for their the water tanks and those solar water heater grants.
Then look at it again and see if we really need nuclear power yet. And by Yet I mean at some point in the future we may be able to operate the power plants with less waste.


It is not just a hard sell. Why would you want to sell that in Australia? Lovelock, I fear, has lost the plot.

National Parks are a preservation of wilderness in a world that sacrifices wilderness for exploiting natural resources for economic growth. Dumping the leftover waste from economic growth in highly valued wilderness areas indicates that Lovelock has no understanding of the need to protect wilderness, or what wilderness signifies.

I appreciate that Lovelock see nuclear power as a normal and inevitable part of the environment. I would argue that nuclear power is part of the technological mode of being.

Lovelock claims that:

Opposition to nuclear energy is based on irrational fear fed by Hollywood-style fiction, the Green lobbies and the media. These fears are unjustified, and nuclear energy from its start in 1952 has proved to be the safest of all energy sources...We have no time to experiment with visionary energy sources..

Irrational fear? What about the economics? Solar power is not visionary--it's up and running.

the federal government has been reducing the rebate on solar panels on households. Crazy.

I run my airconditioner when it is hot in summer time. It is peak loads ---everybody is doing the same. So it make sense to draw on solar power on my roof, and not from the main grid that draws from Victorian power stations using coal fired power stations.

Howard and Costello's defence of the coal industry is economically irrational.

if your concern is the environment, significant progress is quite easy:

use a bicycle or electric scooter for short one-person trips.

build homes and offices that don't need air conditioning, or heating.

use every minute of daylight, and no unnecessary lights after dark.

and plenty more.

but our political masters are captives of commerce and industry, and their solutions will always involve high energy, and high profits. ozzians will let them get away with it- a nation of sheep/subjects won't suddenly become a nation of citizens.

It seems to me that Oz could save a lot of electricity perhaps 20% if we took on the same sort of Gusto as Water Saving....But I guess the power companies having 20% less turnover would be a bit of a may even have the effect of raising prices.


Sorry it's taken me so long.

I think waste is a significant issue, yes. A waste management plan must be in place prior to any nuclear power plant construction, but this hurdle is not that high. Waste stream processing already exists in Japan, Russia, France and the UK (who all reprocess their waste). A similar approach is now being fast-tracked (as much as anything nuclear can be) in the USA.

To be fair (and objective), the waste from fossil plants – according to many – poses much more significant risk. This carbon waste has not been thoroughly dispositioned, yet the plants continue to come on-line (one large coal plant every 5 days in China alone according to a recent James Lovelock article). Further, the effects of this ‘other’ waste are projected to cause devastating effects for thousands of years with a very high degree of certainty (sound familiar?).

I read and hear a lot of hype about nuclear risks, yet I see no tombstones, no lists of resultant animal extinctions. Again quoting James Lovelock, “Nuclear has the best safety record of any energy industry – including Chernobyl.”

As I say in the linked blog, I prefer renewables like wind, solar, tidal, biomass etc. as the first wave of carbon-free alternatives. But looking at the maths, I do not believe we can get there without nuclear.

Given the information available to me, I much prefer a 1000 MWe nuclear power plant, with all of its spent fuel stored in interim storage casks, sited right smack in my own backyard – not a problem at all.

If it's a choice between this and a similar sized coal station belching CO2 and other pollutants (including its own radiation, released from impurities in the coal) freely up to the heavens and beyond… you can have the dirt burner.

(I’d mention wind and solar, but my backyard isn’t all that big. I’d be happy to host my fair portion though. I've got solar hot water already.).