Saturday, December 30, 2006

Labor rudderless in the uranium debate

I agree with The Weekend Australian’s Steve Lewis – the Labor Party’s Kevin Rudd has enjoyed an early electoral honeymoon but is gradually showing himself to be a lazy populist. My guess is that the Australian electorate will sense that he lacks ticker and that Rudd will not be our next Prime Minister.

Rudd has reaffirmed Labor’s total opposition to nuclear fuels in the face of Ziggy Switowski’s report which presents a sensible (and very conditional) case for considering the nuclear option. Key findings of the report:

1. Downstream steps of uranium conversion, enrichment and fuel fabrication could add $1.8 billion of value annually if all Australian uranium was processed domestically. Commercial and technology barriers could make market entry difficult and current legal and regulatory impediments would need to be removed. Even then there may be low opportunity for Australian companies to extend profitably into these areas.

2. Nuclear power is between 20-50% more costly to produce than power from a new coal-fired plant at current fossil fuel prices. This gap may close but nuclear power, and renewable energy sources are only likely to become competitive if costs of greenhouse gas emissions are recognised. Even then, private investment in the first nuclear reactors may require some form of government support or directive.

3. The earliest that nuclear electricity could be delivered is 10 years with 15 years more probable. Deployment of nuclear power starting in 2020 could see 25 reactors producing 1/3 of our electricity by 2050.

4. New reactor designs are safer and more efficient with lower volumes of radioactive waste. The future holds the promise of significant further innovation.

4. The greenhouse gas emission reductions from nuclear power could be 8-17% of national emissions in 2050.

5. Many countries have implemented straightforward solutions for disposal of low-level radioactive waste. Disposal of high-level waste including spent nuclear fuel can be achieved by deep (500–1200 metres underground) repositories. Australia has areas suitable for such repositories, which would not be needed until around 2050 should nuclear power be introduced.

In all 30 countries already use nuclear power to provide 15% of the world’s energy needs. Australia has 40% of the world’s uranium reserves but Rudd has affirmed that Australia should not be allowed to value-add to this resource. The claim is that nuclear fuels are too ‘dangerous and expensive’. Both of these issues are addressed in the Switowski review. Safety issues seem not to be a concern and yes there are problems with the economics of nuclear if we do not accept carbon pricing. But these emissions should be priced.

Rudd can look to the opinion polls which will give short-run support to his lazy line. According to The Weekend Australian only 35% of Australians support a nuclear option, 50% are against it and 11% are uncommitted - women and Labor voters dominate the opposition. But these figures will change and an old-fashioned fear campaign (Rudd and Australia’s worst state premier Beattie have already demanded to know ‘where will the reactors be located’ – there will be none at Noosa apparently!) is inconsistent with the facts on nuclear power and is easy to respond to. Indeed, even though Rudd opposes the stupid 3-mines uranium policy (the ‘clean’ and ‘dirty’ uranium policy) he will not force the Labor states to allow uranium mining – a blow for Western Australians in particular - they will love Rudd come election time. John Howard will be smart enough to exploit inconsistencies between a Labor Party committed to dealing with global warming and with promoting Australian manufacturing but unwilling to even consider the nuclear option. Howard has already begun to attack both the Labor ban on uranium mining as well as the opposition to clean nuclear power.

Rudd is proving to be a bland, populist and protectionist clone of Beazley. He won’t budge on either industrial relations or on uranium mining – the key foolish policies of Labor that mark it as a party of the past. Howard knows that Rudd won’t win with this stance and will throw inept Labor nuclear (and other) policies back at Rudd.

3 comments:

Bring Back CL's blog said...

Harry,

I am somewhat perplexed.

Howard wants nuclear power but will not put forward a carbon tax.
Ipsofacto then nuclear power is a no goer.

Unless there is a carbon tax there cannot be nuclear power.

Perhaps you are being a lazy professor!!

hc said...

Firstly, Happy New Year Homer!

The carbon tax should come but, even if it doesn't, the real cost of relying on coal is above the market price.

You could have nuclear if a government stepped in to fill this gap with a subsidy. Definitely inferior to a carbon tax but it would still work.

I think Howard (and the world community) will eventually accept the necessity for a carbon tax. Its also the way to drive the reforms he seeks in the coal industry.

Bring Back CL's blog said...

Profuse apologies Harry Happy New year to you also.

Don't disagree Harry but Howard has not said he will subsidise nuclear power nor impose a carbon tax which makes nuclear power a big nono