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Uranium Mining in NSW? Why Not

December 12, 2011

The Federal ALP Conference has voted to allow uranium to be exported to India. South Australia under a Labor Government is excavating the world’s largest uranium mine. Industrialisation of the developing world through coal-fired power could likely leave us with five degrees warming by 2100.

I support nuclear power because I take global warming so very seriously.

Nuclear power is the least cost, low emission technology that can provide base load power. It is well-established and should certainly play a role in Australia’s future mix of energy sources.

Yes, it is on average 20 to 50 per cent more expensive to produce than coal-fired power – but only without a carbon price. There’s a view that with a price of only $20 per ton attached to carbon, nuclear becomes economically viable.

Leave that debate for the time being. There can certainly be no objection to NSW mining uranium.

Exploration – as proposed by Barry O’Farrell – will confirm whether there are big deposits around Broken Hill and Orange, two locations where the existence of uranium has been suggested. That means a contribution to regional economic development – both are centres of mining excellence – and the State being able to carve out for itself a bigger share of the mining boom.

Banning any exploration in mining made sense in the climate of concern about nuclear safety that marked the 1980s. But it is coal that is threatening our global home right now.

  1. Tom Round permalink
    December 12, 2011 2:36 pm

    Would Peter Garrett be the federal Minister signing off on approving the export permits?

  2. December 12, 2011 2:38 pm

    Feds support exploration through financial incentives I believe. So it really is a case of the tail wagging the dog.

  3. Sean permalink
    December 12, 2011 5:38 pm

    Bob, your awesome but I have to disagree with nuclear power. Just look at the problems in Japan.

  4. December 13, 2011 2:54 am

    The elephant in the room is surely Japan. Two years ago if you ranked the “plants most likely to melt down” I’m sure everyone would have ranked the facilities of Japan squarely last. High tech, socially accepted, and redundantly engineered to soak up earthquakes … what could possibly go wrong?

    Turns out, plenty. It wasn’t just a tsunami that dealt the damage. Like most technical disasters, human factors play a huge influence. It was also a lesson in the ability for humans to willfully deny they are in any kind of trouble until it’s too late (a stunning example of this is can be seen in the transcript of the Air France 447 disaster:

    Nuclear is clearly one of the only viable options we have, but I don’t yet feel confident we truly understand how to safeguard this power. And the thought of India with its corrupt bureaucracy suddenly building hundreds of new plants, fueled by Australian ore? It’s easy enough to dig uranium out of the ground, but we can’t in good conscious turn a blind eye to where it goes next.

  5. TerjeP permalink
    December 13, 2011 7:53 am

    Nuclear power killed nobody in Japan. Whilst people driving cars or riding trains were wiped out on mass by a wall of water. If what happened in Japan is a logical reason to stop nuclear power than it is a logical reason to stop driving cars and riding trains. Nuclear phobia is out of all proportion to the reality of nuclear power.

    • Sean permalink
      December 13, 2011 5:29 pm

      No one was directly killed to my knowledge however, I think the mutated 3eyed fish may disagree. Remember it is classed as a level 7 (the highest) nuclear event for a reason,

      Comparing it to cars etcs is silly, the radiation effects will be still be around for over 100 years in the region. The biological effects will last much longer and are somewhat still unknown, i.e., the effects on animals are still being studied at Chernobyl.

      • TerjeP permalink
        December 15, 2011 9:06 pm

        The iodine 131 has a radioactive half life of 8 days and will be all gone within a few months. The cesium 137 will be radioactive for over a century but it has a short biological half life and any organism that ingests it will soon excrete it again. The strontium is more of a concern. However all of them are diluted by the vast dispersal area and nobody outside the exclusion zone is ever likely to get a dose approaching anything harmful. Certainly no worse than the natural radiation you would encounter on a trans pacific airplane flight. And whilst it isn’t an excuse for sloppiness low dose radiation is actually proven to have health benefits.

        This was a level 7 accident caused by a massive tsunami. The real world experience is that trains and cars that are hit by tsunami lead to vastly more death and destruction than nuclear power plants that are hit by tsunamis. Even really old and poorly managed nuclear power plants are incredibly safe. And nobody is proposing that Australia build 1960s nuclear reactors. We would build something more like a modern Westinghouse AP1000 or a CANDU. Or better still an LFTR when they are commercialised.

  6. December 13, 2011 3:50 pm

    I agree Bob, particularly on your thoughts about controlling global warming.

    The Chinese have just developed the technology to build ‘melt down’ free power stations.

    With the refuse from the stations encased in hermetically sealed lead capsules (uranium eventually deteriorates to lead, which also ensures that the radioactivity is ‘unleakable’) it seems that the storage problem is now resolved as well.

    My only concern is that the geological location of the plants need to be ensured as safe or we will have more Fukushimas.

    Any thoughts anybody?

    • TerjeP permalink
      December 15, 2011 1:20 pm

      Disposing of nuclear waste is actually a waste. 99% of it is usable in fourth generation nuclear power plants like LFTR or IFR as a fuel. As such it is in fact an assets that should be stored for the medium term not a waste to be managed for the long term.

      And even the 1% that would be left if you put it through an LFTR or IFR would be radioactive above the level of natural rocks for only 300 years. Glass is chemically stable for 1200 years so glass encasement becomes a reliable disposal option. And the volumes are tiny. A piece of thorium the size of a golf ball if used in an LFTR has enough energy to provide the lifetime needs of an average American including not just electricity but all other energy usage like petrol and jet fuel. Consider how much we throw away on an daily basis and 1% of a golf ball over an entire life time becomes a mere triviality.

      Mean while wind power is hurting people in serious numbers and even killing people:-

    • December 16, 2011 8:51 pm

      Fukushima was built to that standard 40 years ago.

      The bulk of unit 1’s nuclear fuel went through the bottom of the reactor vessel as well as about 70 centimetres of the drywell concrete below, according to the analysis released today. However, the corium did not breach the steel containment vessel 1.9 metres further down within the concrete, or the boundary of secondary containment some 7.6 metres further still.

  7. December 17, 2011 2:39 pm

    Mr Carr,
    I would prefer you were on the side of the considered thinkers in the Nuclear Energy debate, and were arguing for the Clean, Green, and Safe Nuclear Power alternative provided by the Pebble Bed Reactors powered by Thorium.
    Bill Gates has seen the light. So should you.
    However, it should still be OK for NSW to mine Uranium to supply the Reactors overseas which still need it. We don’t need it here. We have the largest, or second largest, supply of Thorium underground, just waiting to be safely exploited for power, in the world.

  8. Frank walmsley permalink
    December 17, 2011 3:44 pm

    Yes Bob, Yes… Finally rationality in the debate. Two critical things that any economy needs to grow energy and education. That’s cheap available base load power and low cost education for the majority. Plus the absence of socialistic interventionist politicians bailing out banks, hedge funds and failed enterprises.

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