Monday, June 05, 2006

Ignore prejudice & consider the nuclear option

I have already put the case for Australia to re-consider its nuclear power options and criticized Labor Party policy. My fear was really that the opposition would use the nuclear debate to attempt to bury the coalition by engaging in a hysterical debate that would leave the benefits of nuclear power unexamined. The case for nuclear power is, indeed, not clear cut – there are enormous environmental benefits from switching to nuclear power by substituting a miniscule level of nuclear waste for the virtual elimination of greenhouse gas emissions – but, yes, nuclear is very capital cost expensive.

The predicted hysteria from the Australian Labor Party was initiated today with a scare campaign launched by Kim Beazley (an intelligent man who should know better) and the Queen of the Populist Left, my hopeless local member, Jenny Macklin. ‘Where are the facilities to be located?’ they scream in a pathetic duet, ‘come clean’ Mr. Howard.

People who behave in this dishonest, cynical way should not be considered as an alternative Australian Government. Moreover, it looks like Labor Party’s stupidity on this issue will determine a degree of self-destruction anyway. It is a pity that we lack a responsible and capable opposition in this country. There are issues to debate but populist hysteria won’t help.

John Howard has faced up to probable flack and put the interests of Australia first in instigating the needed inquiry.


pedaller said...

Is there really much difference ultimately between switching between one abundant, yet non-renewable, fuel source and another?
With coal we have one set of pollution issues, with uranium we have a different set of pollution issues, but at the end of the day we will still have pollution issues to deal with.

Robert Merkel said...

In the interests of balance I'd have to say that the Liberals have not exactly covered themselves in glory on energy related issues.

Aside from Howard's favourite approach to global warming (turning down his hearing aid and singing "la la la I can't hear you" in an increasingly loud voice), their favourite pet technology (until two weeks ago) for "solving" the global warming problem was geosequestration. However, they never managed to explain how this technology was going to be adopted when the alternative - releasing into the atmosphere - was going to continue to cost nothing. I don't how clever technology gets, it's pretty tough to beat zero cost.

Neither major party has covered themselves in glory on this issue.

Pedaller, you've drawn a false equivalence. Nuclear waste, if we managed to *completely* screw up waste disposal (which we won't, it's not that hard and there's not that much of it) could potentially render some local area uninhabitable by humans for a while (but great for wildlife - wildlife is absolutely thriving around Chernobyl).

By contrast, global warming could screw up climate worldwide, resulting in much more frequent catastrophic weather events (which did more damage, Chernobyl or Hurricane Katrina?), and imperil agriculture and domestic water supplies. Which would you prefer?

patrick patently not the lefty said...

I'd prefer some reality intruded into the debate and we abandoned the word 'renewable'.

It suggests that certain things are going to run out and not be replaced - which is theoretically true, but irrelevant in practice where nothing ever runs out because we get better and better at finding it and using it until we don't need it.

It also suggests that the fact that they won't run out makes some energy sources 'inherently superior' and that all we need do is whack down a solar panel and we're set for 100,000 years.

Of course, maintenance costs of both generation and grid will remain, and they aren't so insignificant. Although to be fair, surely our efficiency of usage will drastically improve as well.

Environmental considerations are fine, but call them that. We really should stop hiding behind such an emotive and relevant-information-poor word as 'renewable'.

pedaller said...

"non-renewable" is the perfect word to use when discussing fossil fuels and mineral resources as they are indeed not renewable in the foreseeable future.
If you have a finite amount of anything, and you continue to use it, irrespective of how effeciently you use it, a time will come when you have used it all.
The annual fuel requirement for a l000 MWe light water reactor is about 25 tonnes of enriched uranium oxide. This requires the mining and milling of some 50,000 tonnes of ore to provide 200 tonnes of uranium oxide concentrate (U3O8) from the mine.
At the mill, dust is collected and fed back into the process, while radon gas is diluted and dispersed to the atmosphere in large volumes of air, ie, radioactive air pollution.
Residual wastes from the milling operation contain the remaining radioactive materials from the ore, such as radium. These wastes are discharged into tailings dams designed to retain the remaining solids and prevent any seepage of the liquid. Eventually the tailings may be put back into the mine or they may be covered with rock and clay, then revegetated.The tailings are around ten times more radioactive than typical granites, ie, radioactive soil pollution.
About 25 tonnes of spent fuel is taken each year from the core of a l000 MWe nuclear reactor.Spent fuel is first stored for 40 years under water in large cooling ponds at the reactor site.The ultimate disposal of vitrified wastes, or of spent fuel assemblies without reprocessing after this, requires their isolation from the environment for long periods of about 1,000 years. The most favoured method is burial in dry, stable geological formations some 500 metres deep.
I'd suggest that not only are you favouring a method of producing energy that produces large amounts of waste, but you are trying to delay the pollution problems inherent in the process for future generations. Hardly the actions of a responsible, ethical, citizen.

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