Australian news, and some related international items

The need to refute nuclear marketing man Martin Ferguson

the issues raised by The Australian need to be addressed well before the National Conference (Dec 1-2).

Behind nuclear’s new face Climate Spectator, 14 Feb 2011 Julie Macken “……With Martin Ferguson calling for a nuclear power debate at the ALP National Conference and the Weekend Australian’s front page headline reading, “Nuclear power’s friendly new face,” it’s looking like the nuclear lobby has been busy. Of course that’s what lobby groups do – lobby. Except in this case the lobbying is being done by the Minister responsible for Australia’s renewable energy portfolio and the story in The Australian was written by a reporter, not a lobbyist.

It would be tempting to think that, after four weeks of fire, floods, and historic storms, the national debate would be focusing on how to make our country more resilient with tough, flexible housing options, infrastructure designed for the 21st century and a sustainable, cheap, low-risk energy mix.

But no. The months leading up to the Labor Party’s National Conference will now be filled with environmentalists calling on the Prime Minister to clarify her position on nuclear power – with all the accompanying leadership speculation that will encourage. And it will be necessary to spend precious time and resources once again outlining the reality of nuclear power.

If it remains on the agenda, it looks like nothing but a train wreck for federal Labor. However the issues raised by The Australian need to be addressed well before the National Conference (Dec 1-2).

As the headline suggests, the story is about the possibilities still open to a nuclear power industry – nuclear power as friendly and small. But there are five central assertions made by the nuclear industry in the article that, in the interests of an informed debate, need closer examination……

Nuclear power is declining in market share. In fact, while expansion is happening in China, Korea and Russia, in the rest of the world, the number of reactors are stagnating or decreasing. In Europe, for example, there has been a net decrease of nuclear capacity by 7,200 MW since year 2000. Twenty years ago, in 1989, there were 177 reactors in what is now known as the EU-27; today there are only 144. What we see is a decline of nuclear power, not an expansion.

Secondly, there is the suggestion that “mini reactors may be one way to go, supplying specific locations.”

Mini nuclear plants are the stuff of science fiction. None of them have even developed enough on paper to be seriously considered for construction. None are licenced, which by itself is a process that takes many years.

Thirdly, the article raises the potential of Generation IV reactors, saying they are “now under research for possible future development.” The Generation IV project covers several technologies that now lie more in the realm of theory, such as gas-cooled fast reactors, and others that would be helium-cooled instead of the present water-cooling.

Nobody seriously thinks about deployment of Gen IV before 2030 – including the International Energy Agency in its most recent scenarios (World Energy Outlook 2010, or Energy Technology Perspectives 2010)…

No established environmental groups support nuclear power, quite the opposite. During the climate conference in Poznan in 2008, more than 300 NGOs signed a declaration against nuclear power and its inclusion in the CDM – including every  large group such as WWF, Friends of the Earth, CAN, etc.

The fifth point they make is that “Finland has several plants already and is expanding its complex at Olkiluoto from two to three plants.”

The third reactor of Olkiluoto has been a disaster for Europe’s “nuclear renaissance”. Promoted as a flagship of brand new, improved, reliable and economic Generation III+ reactors, the project was passed through the Finnish parliament in 2002 with a price tag of €2.5 billion. When the construction started in 2005, the contract was already at €3.2 billion. Since then, thousands of technical problems have caused massive delays, so the construction is now officially four years behind schedule (the reactor should have started in May 2009 but will not be in commercial operation before 2014), and the cost has climbed up to €6 billion so far, with more troubles, delays and extra costs very likely to come.

Next, the article asserts that “a true environmental cost-benefit analysis is difficult because of the uncertainty inherent in the long-term storage and disposal of waste.“

“Uncertainty” is the operative word. What we do know is the UK government is preparing to pay well over $A110 billion to clean up some of its old installations. Though it’s fair to say that while no one knows how much it costs to safely store nuclear waste for over 100,000 years, it‘s probably a lot.

Finally, the article says that: “Nuclear power provides an environmental benefit by almost entirely eliminating airborne wastes and particulates generated during power generation. This is offset by the relatively small volumes of radioactive wastes that are produced that must be managed prior to ultimate disposal.”

This is not true. The largest volumes of nuclear waste are generated during the fuel chain, ie. during uranium mining, processing, enrichment and fuel fabrication. Very roughly, operation of one reactor of 1,000 MW capacity results in hundreds of thousands of tonnes of radioactive waste in the front end of the cycle (ie. before the fuel eventually reaches the reactor), then has routine emissions during operation (namely tritium – and this is not negligible, there are solid and strong epidemiological studies proving increased incidence of childhood cancer in the neighbourhood or uclear reactors).

The most dangerous waste, however, comes in the form of spent fuel: One 1000 MW reactor generates about 20 tonnes of spent fuel every year. This is enough to poison millions of people, and will remain deadly for over 100,000 years. Those 20 tonnes of spent fuel also contain 200 kg of plutonium – enough to build 20 nuclear bombs.

The nuclear energy debate in Australia is diverting attention away from the real need to plan how we harness our unparalleled renewable resources. The real question is, in whose interest is it? One thing is for certain, it’s not the Australian public.

Behind nuclear’s new face | Climate Spectator

February 15, 2011 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, spinbuster

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