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Confronting energy realities

By Tristan Prasser - posted Friday, 9 February 2018

The graph below highlights that it is predominately countries (e.g. France, Sweden, Switzerland, Slovakia, Canada) with a large share of nuclear power , which have low emission electricity generation. Hydro is also significant, but is restricted to places with high mountains, rivers and large bodies of water (e.g. Norway and New Zealand). Note that the renewable wunderkind Germany is not even in the top 10. This is why leading scientists and environmentalists such as James Hansen, Ken Caldeira, Barry Brook, Michael ShellenbergerMark Lynas and Ben Heard have argued in favour of nuclear power.

Source: BP Statistical Review — 2016 Data,


Many continue to point to innovations in solar and wind, yet ignore the innovation in reactor designs. In the US and Canada, there is plenty of venture capital flowing into new startups with smaller, safer, cheaper and more efficient designs. Companies such as Terrestrial EnergyTerrapower(Bill Gates), and NuScale, through new generation 4 designs, are aiming to tackle the main issues that have plagued the nuclear industry for the past few decades — cost, build time, safety, weapon proliferation and waste.

To date, Australia refuses to be part of this narrative thanks to bans found in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act and the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act. This is despite being a world leader in lifesaving nuclear medicine, despite having the world’s largest known supply of uranium and despite exporting four times its electricity demand in clean energy (uranium) to the rest of the world in 2015–16 (3,683 Petajoules of uranium equals roughly 1,029 TWh and Australia generated 257 TWh).

Alternative Narrative

There is an alternative narrative if our political leaders are truly interested in cheap, reliable and clean energy. It starts with Australia getting over its hang up with nuclear energy. It also means acknowledging that renewables and batteries alone are not going to clean up the electricity sector, let alone any other sector, while coal and gas continue to be the main game in town. Finally, it means stop sacrificing Australia’s comparative advantage in cheap energy on the alter of carbon emission reduction. The reality is if Australia shut up shop tomorrow, its impact on global carbon emissions would be negligible. It would not stop climate change.

It is time our political leaders confronted these realities and find the courage to break away from gesture politics and return to real pragmatic policy making that actually delivers for consumers and businesses. If we want future generations to have jobs here, for Australian companies to flourish and others to continue to invest here, having an energy policy that delivers cheap, reliable and clean energy will underpin this. At the end of the day, most people do not care where their energy comes from as long as they can afford it. As the hot summer days continue, all they will care about is that the beer is still cold and the air-con is running.


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About the Author

Tristan Prasser is co-editor and contributor for Urban Source. He is a graduate of UQ and ANU and has worked previously in the Queensland State Government and higher education sector in Australia and the UK. He has a keen interest in energy and urban policy and advocates the use of nuclear power in Australia.

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