Australian news, and some related international items

Why Australia must retain its nuclear bans: Dr Jim Green explains to Senate Nuclear Inquiry


PRESENT The Hon. Taylor Martin (Chair) The Hon. Mark Banasiak The Hon. Mark Buttigieg The Hon. Wes Fang The Hon. Scott Farlow The Hon. Mark Latham The Hon. Natasha Maclaren-Jones The Hon. Mick Veitch (Deputy Chair)  JIM GREEN, National Anti-Nuclear Campaigner, Friends of the Earth Australia, affirmed and examined  DAVE SWEENEY, Nuclear Policy Analyst, Australian Conservation Foundation, affirmed and examined CHRIS GAMBIAN, Chief Executive, Nature Conservation Council of NSW, sworn and examined Monday, 11 November 2019 Legislative Council Page 30 

The CHAIR: Would anyone like to begin by making an opening statement?

Dr GREEN: Yes, we all would, with your permission. I am going to speak about nuclear power. Dave will speak about uranium, and Chris will speak about New South Wales energy issues—opportunities, road blocks and so on. I am going to quickly run through issues canvassed in our joint submission, and in particular the reasons why we believe that State and Federal bans against nuclear power should be retained.

The first one is that those bans have saved Australia and saved New South Wales from the catastrophic cost over-runs with every reactor project in Western Europe and the United States over the past decade. It is a sad truth that every one of those reactor projects is at least A$10 billion over budget. That’s $10 billion—with a ‘B’. It is hard to believe that but it is true. Perhaps the most catastrophic of all those catastrophic projects was in South Carolina, where they have had to abandon a reactor project mid-stream, having already spent over A$13 billion.

Nuclear power could not possibly pass any reasonable economic tests, and it certainly would not pass the tests set by Prime Minister Scott Morrison. It could not possibly be introduced or maintained without massive taxpayer subsidies. There are a couple of examples. Hitachi has recently walked away from a project in Wales in the United Kingdom, despite the offer of staggering, unprecedented subsidies. Also in the UK, the lifetime subsidies for the Hinkley Point project alone—a 3.2 gigawatt project—are estimated by the European Union to be A$55 billion for a two-reactor project. Other credible estimates put those lifetime subsidies at A$91 billion. These are extraordinary figures. I know it is hard to believe but it is all documented.

The other economic test set by Prime Minister Morrison is that nuclear power would need to reduce electricity prices, and clearly it would do no such thing. It would clearly increase electricity prices. Legislation banning nuclear power should also be retained because of the lack of a social licence, and in particular numerous polls over the past 10 years have found that only 20 per cent to 28 per cent of Australians would support living in the near vicinity of a nuclear power plant. As the Clean Energy Council put it, in its submission to this inquiry, it would require “a minor miracle” to win community support for nuclear power in Australia.

There is a lot more that could be said about nuclear economics and I am happy to field questions on that issue. There is plenty of information in our joint submission and in the separate Friends of the Earth submission dealing specifically with small modular reactors. There is one point that I would particularly like to make to the committee and to the secretariat, which is that there is an excellent critique of some of the claims made by nuclear lobbyists, both to this inquiry and to the Federal inquiry. This article neatly corrects and debunks those claims. The article is by Giles Parkinson. It was published at on 23 October. It is called, “Why the nuclear lobby makes stuff up about cost of wind and solar”. Our joint submission also does some of that work— debunking highly questionable claims made by nuclear lobbyists about nuclear economics. In particular I would draw your attention to sections 3.5 and 3.6 of our joint submission.

The next issues is that we believe legal prohibition should be retained because the pursuit of a nuclear industry would almost certainly worsen patterns of disempowerment and dispossession experienced by Australia’s First Nations. To give just one example of that, the National Radioactive Waste Management Act dispossessed and disempowers traditional owners in many different ways. To list one of many, the Act states that the nomination of a site for a radioactive waste dump is valid even if Aboriginal owners were not consulted and did not give consent. I would ask this Committee to consider recommending that those appalling and indefensible clauses of the National Radioactive Waste Management Act be repealed.

Legislation banning nuclear power should also be retained because no-one could have any confidence that satisfactory solutions could be found for waste streams. Globally, no country has a repository for high-level nuclear waste. There is one deep underground repository for long-lived intermediate level waste in the United States. It was set up in the late nineties. Almost as soon as it was set up, safety standards and layers of regulatory oversight were peeled away, and those failures led to a chemical explosion in an underground waste barrel, which shut the repository down for three years. Direct and indirect costs amounted to about $3 billion. The thing that I really want to focus on there is that safety standards and regulatory standards fell away straight away—and you are dealing with plutonium, with a half life of 24,000 years. We need to safely manage this waste for millennia; they failed to safely manage it for one single decade.

I want to make a quick point on wastage of another sort. That is that nuclear power reactors are voracious consumers of water. A single reactor typically consumes 50 million litres of cooling water every single day. Their water intake pipes are slaughter houses for fish and other marine creatures. Arguably, the best way to destroy a local fishery is to build a nuclear power plant nearby. This is just considering routine operations of a nuclear power plant. In the case of Fukushima, that disaster has crippled and almost killed the local fishing industry. Currently fishers in the region are fighting plans to dump vast amounts of contaminated water into the ocean surrounding the nuclear plant.

I have one final point. Legislation banning nuclear power should be retained because the introduction of nuclear power would delay and undermine the development of effective economic energy and climate policies based on renewables and energy efficiency. A December 2018 report by CSIRO and AEMO found that the cost of power from small modular reactors would be more than twice as expensive as power from wind and solar PV, even with some storage costs included. CSIRO and AEMO are about to release another report, which firms up that conclusion and also considers the costs of a higher degree of storage attached to renewables. They have canvassed the findings of that report. They find that, even with a considerable amount of storage factored in, renewables are still far cheaper than nuclear, comparable to the costs of existing fossil fuels and are almost certain to become cheaper than fossil fuels because of the clear cost trajectory of renewables and storage.

So nuclear simply is not even in this debate. There has been a big spat about the CSIRO and AEMO costings with respect to small modular reactors. Their costing is $16,000 per kilowatt of installed capacity, and the nuclear lobbyists are furious with that and strongly contesting it. What I would say is that if you average the cost of small modular reactors, which are actually under construction in China, Russia and Argentina, that average is higher than the figure given by CSIRO and AEMO. Also, if you look at the reactors being built in the United States—the large reactors—one again, the CSIRO and AEMO figure for nuclear is lower than the real-world cost for reactors that are actually under construction in the US. So the CSIRO and AEMO figure is entirely defensible. In conclusion I quote the senior vice-president of Exelon, which is the largest nuclear company in the United States, who said:

I don’t think we’re building any more nuclear plants in the United States. I don’t think it’s ever going to happen … They are too expensive to construct …

That is in the US where they have a vast amount of infrastructure and expertise but nuclear has clearly priced itself out of the market. The calculations in Australia would certainly be worse because we do not have that infrastructure, we do not have that expertise and we are blessed with renewable energy resources. As the Climate Council, comprising Australia’s leading climate scientists, puts it, nuclear power reactors “are not appropriate for Australia—and probably never will be.” I will leave it there.

December 7, 2019 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, politics

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