Nuclear debate rages on in Australia

This week the Nuclear debate is back on the table in Australia after Australian PM John Howard made recent comments to the Canadian PM . Various political proponents here in Australia have taken positions on the topic from “requires consideration” to an “outright no”. My personal opinion for John Howards stance is that raising the issue may help fuel the worldwide interest in nuclear energy as an approach to reducing world wide emissions, but also to the benefit of Australia selling our uranium resources to the world.

As for Australia’s domestic political reasoning, based on our markets I don’t think nuclear is going to be a solution for the next 15 years for Australia. But something has to replace emission based coal generation in that timeframe. Initiating the debate is important in order to help determine where we should direct large scale energy financing over the next 10 years. A debate about nuclear energy is a debate about energy and will hopefully fuel a balanced discussion.

My opinion of what will happen in Australia is on the basis that:

  • We have no existing nuclear energy generation, nuclear energy industry or personnel, asides from a small medical and research reactor at Lucas Heights
  • We do not have an impending problem with supply of energy.
  • We have 40% of the known reserves of uranium.
  • There’s no net technology export from Australia in nuclear
  • We rely heavily on coal and petrochemicals for our energy production, yet only around 35% of our emissions come from electricity generation.

So given theres no impending energy problem what we are more likely to see in Australia is a repricing that will occur due to a emissions targets, carbon price or increasing demand. Hence our current cheap energy is likely to go up in price and that will influence the investment case for renewables, efficiency adoption in business, new research etc, which is good for the domestic renewable industry.

Looking at the rest of the world, in a recent article in New Scientist Magazine (22 April – apol: online article is paid sub) the question of the economics of nuclear came up and its a good read. The article states that a good deal of the resurgence in the US and UK at the moment into nuclear is to replace aging reactors around the world to avoid a gap in generation. Countries that are investing heavily are China, Japan, Russia and India.

More renewable MW of wind generation were put into Spain and Germany in 2004 than MW of nuclear generation will be added from 2000 to 2010. Industry projections indicate that by 2010, renewable and low-carbon sources will offer 177 times as much added capacity as nuclear”

The other side of the coin is the ‘negawatt’ effect, or the ability to reduce consumption of energy. According to the New Scientist article energy some US states have had significant success with this, ie consumption in California has been flat for 30 years. I don’t have any Australian Stats, but I believe that Australian industry can achieve the same savings.

The nuclear debate here in Australia is important to have and lets hope that we can broaden it to discuss investment into our clean energy industry and find a way to reduce our emissions, build export capability in Cleantech and maintain Australia’s economic prosperity.

Nick Bruse is the General Manager of Clean Technology AustralAsia Pty Ltd, the organiser of the AustralAsian Cleantech Forums and Dealer Forums, and the leading advocate of Cleantech in Australia. Nick does a weekly blog column on Cleantechblog profiling innovative Australian cleantech, energy, water and environmental technology companies.

2 replies
  1. mike
    mike says:

    I view the ALP and general Australian left view on nuclear energy to be extremely short sighted considering the only serious alternative for baseload power is Coal with associated greenhouse gas problems. Yes I believe that we should do all we can to encourage renewable energy, but that will not be enough considering that given peak oil more and more enenergy needs will be transferred to electricity i.e. coal.France is a left of centre nation with a very successful nuclear industry as it is state supported with strong oversight. I do not believe nuclear energy generation can be left to “market forces” but I do believe it is an essential transition technology towards fully renewable energy sources. However the current Liberal Party approach is not necessarily the best for the nation and requires in depth examination given their corporatist leanings – and evidence from the recent SMH article (discussed on my blog) that nuclear and coal industry representatives were influential in shutting down Australia’s renewable energy quotas.Mike @ energyfutura

  2. Mitra Ardron
    Mitra Ardron says:

    The nuclear debate is an important one to have, but unfortunately it is being presented as an alternative between Nuclear Power or the twin problems of Peak Oil and Climate Change. The real debate should be what are the most environmentally preferable alternatives to Climate Change i.e. Nuclear v. Renewables+Efficiency. I've written a short summary of the arguments that Nuclear is not the solution, and would indeed be much more expensive than renewables if the full costs were reflected in the price of nuclear electricity rather than being born by society and taxpayers .

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