Australian news, and some related international items

No benefit to Australia in planning for nuclear power – Tilman Ruff

Nuclear Promises, by Tilman Ruff, Back on the political agenda in Australia, but for what benefit? ARENA,  17 Oct 2019

In 2006 the Howard government commissioned nuclear enthusiast and former chair of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation Ziggy Switkowski to undertake a review of nuclear power for Australia. …..

Switkowski’s review recommended twenty nuclear power stations up and down the east coast of Australia. Perhaps mostly intended as a political wedge for Labor and a distraction, proposed postcodes were not forthcoming from the government. At the first shadow cabinet meeting just weeks after its 2007 loss to Labor, the Coalition quickly and quietly dropped the nuclear-power dalliance that had proved distinctly unpopular.

So why are there currently four inquiries under way federally, in New South Wales and Victoria, looking for prospects to resurrect a decomposing corpse? If there were a level playing field, nuclear power would have been cremated a long time ago. The findings of recent inquiries and decisions in Australia and internationally underline this point.

A July 2019 report by the German Institute for Economic Research found no role for nuclear power in battling the climate catastrophe, given nuclear power’s innate connection with nuclear weapons: ‘…nuclear energy can by no means be called “clean” due to radioactive emissions, which will endanger humans and the natural environment for over one million years’. All nuclear energy production, it went on to say, ‘harbors the high risk of proliferation’. Its survey of the 674 nuclear power plants built between 1951 and 2017 showed that,

private economic motives never played a role. Instead military interests have always been the driving force behind their construction… In countries such as China and Russia, where nuclear power plants are still being built, private investment does not play a role either.

The study found that, even ignoring the expense of dismantling nuclear power plants and the long-term storage of nuclear waste, private investment in nuclear power plants would result in significant losses: ‘investing in a new nuclear power plant leads to average losses of around five billion euros’. It concluded that ‘nuclear energy is not a relevant option for supplying economical, climate-friendly, and sustainable energy in the future’.1

A December 2018 report by CSIRO and the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) found that the cost of power from small modular nuclear reactors would be more than twice as expensive as power from wind and solar PV with some storage costs included (two hours of battery storage or six hours of pumped hydro storage).2 …….

In 2016 the highly pro-nuclear South Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission found that nuclear power was not economically viable.4 While most recently, in January 2019, the Climate Council, comprising Australia’s leading climate scientists and other policy experts, issued a statement arguing that nuclear power reactors ‘are not appropriate for Australia and probably never will be’:

Nuclear power stations are highly controversial, can’t be built under existing law in any Australian state or territory, are a more expensive source of power than renewable energy, and present significant challenges in terms of the storage and transport of nuclear waste, and use of water.5

So what’s going on? Objectively, nuclear power is uniquely associated with a litany of profound dangers. Now that it is already at least twice as expensive as solar and wind power plus storage, each with negligible downsides, a natural death should have occurred long ago.

The current flurry of promotion of nuclear power in Australia seems to have several drivers. It is a convenient distraction for a government beholden to vested fossil-fuel interests, with no serious energy policy, overseeing still-ballooning Australian greenhouse-gas emissions. It is a sop to ideologues claiming credit for bringing the Coalition unexpectedly back to power. And it is a little nod to the goblins that keep alive the potential need for Australia to acquire its own nuclear weapons, recently given a fillip by Hugh White and a large amount of airplay.

So it is necessary to remind ourselves of some of the reasons that the most hazardous way to boil water to make electricity has no place here, or anywhere.

Nuclear power fuels nuclear proliferation   It was recognised way back in 1977 by the Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry, which preceded the expansion of commercial uranium mining in Australia, that nuclear power contributes to an increased risk of nuclear war, and that ‘this is the most serious hazard associated with the industry’…..

Australian history underscores the inseparable ‘Trojan horse’ consequences. The government of Prime Minister John Gorton commenced construction of Australia’s first nuclear power reactor at Jervis Bay in New South Wales in the late 1960s, largely to accelerate Australia’s capacity to build its own nuclear weapons. Australian Atomic Energy Commission (AAEC) chair J. P. Baxter spoke of ‘the indissoluble connection between the peaceful and military uses of nuclear materials’. A briefing to the minister for the interior in 1969 stated: ‘From discussions with the AAEC officers it is understood that in establishing the Australian nuclear power industry it is desired to provide for the possibility of producing nuclear weapons…’.10 Gorton later admitted: ‘We were interested in this thing because it could provide electricity to everybody and it could, if you decided later on, it could make an atomic bomb’…….

As the costs of nuclear power have risen to become more than twice as expensive as either wind or solar power with storage, it has become increasingly obvious that some governments maintain civilian nuclear infrastructure and workforce expertise principally to support their nuclear-weapons programs and naval propulsion, including nuclear missile–carrying nuclear-powered submarines. Such governments include those of France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States

Nuclear reactors create enormous radiological hazards over geological time Every phase of the nuclear fuel chain from the mining of uranium to radioactive waste disposal emits radiation and involves risks to health and the biosphere. In seventy years, no deep geological repository or other final disposal solution for highly radioactive waste from nuclear reactors is operating. The capacity of any repository to effectively and reliably isolate waste from the biosphere for a million years and keep it secure from use in radiological weapons over periods orders of magnitude longer than the longevity of any previous human institution cannot be sure. And this is a significant impost on future generations.

In addition to many near-misses, at least fifteen accidents have occurred involving fuel or core damage, with substantial risk of uncontrolled radioactive release, in a variety of reactor types in Canada, Germany, Japan, Slovakia, the United Kingdom, Ukraine and the United States. …….

Nuclear reactors and their spent fuel pools contain large amounts of radioactivity that is more long-lived than that produced by nuclear weapons. Both require continuous cooling. Unlike the several layers of engineered containment around nuclear reactors, spent fuel pools have no containment other than a simple roof over them. At the Fukushima Daiichi plant severely damaged in the 2011 nuclear disaster, 70 per cent of the total radioactivity at the site was in the spent fuel pools…….

The web of links between nuclear weapons, nuclear reactors, and the materials that power both are deep and inextricable. Nuclear power cannot solve our climate crisis, and it aggravates the existential danger posed by nuclear weapons. Jumping out of the climate-crisis frying pan and into the fire of radioactive incineration, nuclear ice age and famine is a lose-lose dalliance with extinction. Promotion of nuclear power as a claimed climate-friendly energy source is a lose-lose proposition. As noted in 2010 by the board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, ‘Nuclear war is a terrible trade for slowing the pace of climate change’.17 Nuclear power is pushed along because of powerful vested interests and a desire to keep powder dry for nuclear weapons. The twin concurrent existential threats of climate disruption and nuclear war demand win-win solutions. A healthy and sustainable future for life on earth requires that we rapidly transition to renewable energy systems and net zero carbon emissions, and that we prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons, with the utmost urgency.

October 21, 2019 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, politics

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