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The Nuclear Thing

December 1, 2010

Australia has a theological objection to nuclear power. It’s illogical but deeply entrenched. Still polls have been moving and younger people are more open-minded than those who come of age politically in the 1980s. It remains the only serious base-load alternative to incinerating more coal.

One should applaud every move in India and China to try nuclear plants instead of coal-fired. It gives the ice-caps a chance ( of course, it’s not happening fast enough – both India and China are throwing up coal-fired plants with abandon ).

You need two things.

One, a longer term education campaign by a coalition of pro-nuclear industry, science, union and indigenous groups . Second, a Lib-Lab consensus.

A fourth generation reactor, with its high level safety and minimal waste, is environmentally preferable to a coal-fired plant belching carbon into the choked upper atmosphere.

  1. Phil permalink
    December 1, 2010 7:23 am

    Perhaps I’m typical of many voters, but I do have an aversion to nuclear power. The idea of something going wrong at nuclear reactor and the potential consequences simply chills me to the bone.

    However, reading your blog this morning made me realise that I did not not know enough about both sides of the argument. My knowledge was limited to what I had heard from a friend; being that it took 20 years of operation before the reactor had produced more energy than it had taken for it to be built in the first place. This prompted some further reading which I thought readers might benefit from.

    I came across these 2 pages that present differing views on the topic. The first is a speech to the National Press Gallery by Professor Ian Lowe AO, ACF President back in 2005. Times may have changed since his speech, but the gist of his speech really drove home that nuclear did not compare favourably against renewable sources.

    The second link (and much more recent) is from a group of Physicists from the School of Physics at the University of Melbourne.

    It argues for the use of nuclear power as a much cleaner alternative than fossil fuels. Of particular interest is the paragraph on the “4th generation” reactors:

    “These reactor concepts are at various levels of development. The first deployments of Generation IV reactors are not expected until 2015. Most will not be ready before 2025. However the long term potential of these projects is enormous. For example one Molten-Salt Reactor designed to consume one tonne of Uranium per year, could supply sufficient Hydrogen to supply 3 million passenger vehicles. The waste from the plant’s year’s operation would occupy half the volume of a typical domestic refrigerator. The radioactivity of the waste would diminish to background levels in about 500 years.”

    Gen IV reactors may solve the crisis long term, but in the short term? Perhaps a mix of the 2 technologies is the answer?

    I’m left unconvinced on the case for nuclear energy. I think the average punter would not take the time to understand the ins and outs of nuclear power, leaving the objection that you alluded to. Ultimately I think is what will make the issue divisive in the electorate – if people can’t easily understand the concepts, then they will be likely to turn away.

  2. Stooartbaby permalink
    December 1, 2010 3:48 pm

    There is an alternative –>

  3. John permalink
    December 1, 2010 4:26 pm

    Many people are also concerned about the amount of carbon required to build and decommission nuclear plants. Not to mention the comparative costs:

  4. Jacob permalink
    December 2, 2010 12:37 pm

    I agree that nuclear is definitely part of the answer for Australia’s energy future.
    But a problem arises when we need to consider the disposal of nuclear waste. We need to have a guaranteed option for disposal before we move ahead. Otherwise we could end up like America, and have to deal with a Yucca Mountain scenario.

  5. December 2, 2010 7:31 pm

    Your first sentence made no sense.

    South Australia is the place for the most advanced reactor possible, in terms of output, safety and waste treatment. What better advertisement for the wares of Olympic Dam? What better opportunity to wean Port Pirie and Whyalla off toxic industries that poison their children?

    I wish there had been some Lib-Lab consensus when this idea had its strongest push, in the late 1960s under Gorton. Still, Jervis Bay was the wrong place for it and the weaponisation idea was deeply suspect.

    A nuclear industry requires skills Australia doesn’t yet have. Given that our skills development isn’t what it could be, what chance a whole new industry?

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