Antinuclear

Australian news, and some related international items

Regional security threat haunts nuclear power debate

we cannot ignore when weighing up these arguments that recent events at Zaporizhzhia help bolster the case against nuclear power. We would not want any future nuclear facilities to become hostage to the vagaries of war.

 https://www.theage.com.au/national/regional-security-threat-haunts-nuclear-power-debate-20220808-p5b82t.html Editorial, August 8, 2022, The alarm sounded by the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Mariano Grossi, that fighting between Russian invaders and Ukrainian forces near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant carried “the very real risk of a nuclear disaster” is one with relevance far beyond the war raging within Ukraine’s borders.

The conflict has already served as a grim warning for powers such as Germany and the United States of the costs of relying on fossil fuel-producing nations with despotic leaders for energy supply. But Russia’s seizures of Zaporizhzhia and the defunct power plant at Chernobyl in the early days of the war – though Chernobyl later returned to Ukrainian control – have highlighted that a decision to increase reliance on nuclear power would carry risks even beyond the familiar ones.

As Industry and Science Minister Ed Husic pointed out during Grossi’s recent visit to this country, Australia has an exemplary record on nuclear safety. But one of the most important reasons for this is that we have a ban on using nuclear fission for power generation and have committed not to develop a nuclear arsenal under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

In recent times both these bans have returned to the spotlight, as the Coalition in opposition has raised the possibility of domestic nuclear power plants to address our energy needs. This followed the Morrison government’s signing of the AUKUS deal with London and Washington last year. The deal envisions Royal Australian Navy submarines being fuelled with weapons-grade uranium.

Peter Hartcher reported for The Agethat the first question US President Joe Biden raised when the AUKUS proposal was put to him was whether it breached non-proliferation commitments. The key to addressing this question has been paragraph 14 of the IAEA’s safeguards agreement with Australia, which creates a loophole allowing weapons-grade material to be used without the usual safeguards in “non-proscribed military activity”. Concerns were raised earlier this month, at the latest meeting to review the treaty, that regardless of Australia’s good intentions, this would set a precedent for further transfers of highly enriched nuclear material to other nations.

Grossi has pointed out that Iran, which first informed the IAEA of its interest in naval nuclear propulsion in 2018, cited the AUKUS deal to argue for its own plans at meetings in 2021.

Some argue that this is a form of proliferation, and even our allies and neighbours, from New Zealand to Indonesia, have expressed strong reservations about the AUKUS arrangement. Australia has said that the nuclear material in its submarines will be handled only by existing nuclear states. Nevertheless, the deal could lead to a perception that nuclear “haves” will simply ignore “have-nots”.

The case for nuclear power more broadly – replacing coal and gas with another non-renewable resource in uranium – faces its own hurdles, from the cost, to the emissions involved in mining and waste management to the question of where highly radioactive waste might be stored.

As The Age has pointed out, nuclear power generation globally is declining. One major reason is the expense. A recent CSIRO report underlines that renewables are far cheaper, even after transmission and storage are taken into account.

All sides of politics agree that Australia faces an increasingly complex and challenging security environment, from talk of Chinese bases in Cambodia and Solomon Islands to cyberattacks by rogue international actors targeting key infrastructure, while general-turned-Coalition senator Jim Molan has outlined an even more apocalyptic scenario, a “second Pearl Harbour” aimed at establishing Chinese supremacy in the western Pacific.

The Age has agreed in the past that Australia should be prepared to have another look at the arguments for nuclear power. That remains our position. But we cannot ignore when weighing up these arguments that recent events at Zaporizhzhia help bolster the case against it. We would not want any future nuclear facilities to become hostage to the vagaries of war.

August 9, 2022 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, safety

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