Climate change

November 15, 2009

Follow Britain’s nuclear lead

Brook_FissionHere’s an Op Ed I had published in the Adelaide Advertiser newspaper. A supporting piece from the paper’s reporters is here.

For more on the British plans for new nuclear power, see here and here.

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WHETHER you are primarily concerned about climate change, or energy security, the British Government’s choice to build 10 new large nuclear power stations by 2025 should come as welcome news.

Nuclear power is the only proven electricity generation technology that can simultaneously meet reliable baseload demand, anywhere, and yet emit no carbon dioxide when operating.

Along with hydropower from dams, it is the only clean energy technology that has been shown to be scalable. France, for instance, derives nearly 80 percent of its electricity from 59 nuclear plants.

Nuclear-powered France is the world’s biggest electricity exporter, has the cheapest power rates in Europe, and has the lowest carbon footprint per person.

On this basis, it is easy to understand the UK government’s decision to pursue nuclear power in a big way. A resolution, I might add, that has bipartisan political support. Australia, take heed.

Worldwide, in 2008 nuclear power avoided 2.7 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, compared to what would have been emitted if coal-fired stations had instead been used.

What of the economics of the UK plan? Like any large capital infrastructure project, it will be expensive.

Yet aside from concrete, steel and labour, much of the cost of new nuclear comes from regulatory risk.

The UK wisely plan to cut through this red tape by reducing planning permission times from seven to one year, and vetoing the right of local authorities to block construction.

They’ve clearly learned valuable lessons from history.

The UK is now paying dearly for their dash for gas, following the coal mine closures of the 1980s. Their once-abundant North Sea fields are rapidly depleting.

Again, Australia should take note of this warning. We must not go down the natural gas-for-coal substitution route. It would be long-term economic suicide.

Also, gas is a carbon-based fossil fuel, releasing 600kg of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour.

Unlike the situation for uranium power, the electricity price is strongly tied to the fuel price for gas. A spike in the gas price means big jumps in power prices.

Cheap uranium energy is a much more secure proposition. Gas is best reserved to meet occasional peak power demands, not baseload needs.

Lazy, recycled objections to the UK nuclear plan come from the usual suspects – Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth.

I’ve been forced to conclude that these so-called environmental organisations are not actually interested in climate change mitigation or clean energy supply.

Their founding principles are to oppose nuclear technology in all forms. They are immune to arguments based on logic or scientific evidence.

They ignore technological developments that solve the long-lived nuclear waste problem (it is burned as energy in fast spectrum reactors).

They can’t seem to accept the fact that there is enough uranium to provide the whole world with zero-carbon power for millions of years.

All they care about is being anti-nuclear.

Fortunately, the world is passing them by. Australia should too. It’s time to go nuclear green.



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