For too long nuclear power - a potential source of clean electricity generation - has been sidelined, particularly in Australia's recent energy and climate change debates. For too long the "debate" has been stuck in an endless cycle of renewables vs coal, coal vs renewables , so on and so forth. The Prime Minister Scott Morrison has recognised this in his recent comments regarding lifting the current ban on nuclear power. Indeed, nuclear power could prove to be the circuit breaker that both the government and the nation needs in constructively solving Australia's energy crisis.
The PM's remarks opens the door for the nation to have serious conversation based on facts rather than fear regarding the role that nuclear power could play in any future energy mix. For those who are not aware, Australia placed a self-imposed ban on nuclear power back in 1998. The current pieces of legislation - the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act and the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act - prohibit the approval, licensing, construction, or operation of a nuclear power plant among a list of several other facilities, in Australia. To even contemplate nuclear power, these pieces of legislation need to be amended.
The hypocrisy of this current ban as pointed earlier this year by Urban Source is that Australia remains an active miner and exporter of uranium to countries such as India. These countries use this uranium to produce terawatts of clean electricity to millions every year. Meanwhile, despite the fanfare of renewables and batteries, Australia remains dependent on coal for baseload generation and on gas and diesel for back up generation. Australia also currently operates the research reactor at Lucas Heights and has done so for around 50 years. Crucially, it is a key supplier of isotopes used in nuclear medicine in hospitals around the world. As highlighted by Dr Ben Heard of Bright New World, Australia is already a nuclear nation and embedded in parts of the nuclear cycle. It is time we embrace it.
It is true that the costs for large scale nuclear power plants have increased over the decades, particularly in the wake of Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and Fukushima and in the face of militant anti-nuclear activism. Fear of another Chernobyl or Fukushima is always cited as a key reason for not going nuclear. Yet is for this very reason that nuclear should be considered, again a point hammered home by Dr Ben Heard in last Sunday's 60 minutes program. Despite everything that went wrong at Fukushima, not one person has died from radiation. This is in contrast to other energy sources, in particular coal. And these are concerns that haven't constrained other countries such as China, India, South Korea and UAE in building new nuclear power, even while in the west nuclear power plant construction has stagnated or ceased.
It is equally true that nuclear power plant technology has evolved since the days the Chernobyl and Fukushima plants were designed and built. Small Modular Reactors (SMRs), such as those being developed by Terrapower, Terrestrial Energy and NuScale, offer an alternative entry point for nuclear power. These SMRs are designed to be inherently safer and cheaper than older plants because they are manufactured in factories to a standardised design. Their modular design allows them to be easily transported to and installed on site. They are also designed on the laws of physics rather than human intervention, thus significantly reducing the risk of a meltdown or serious accident.
Nuclear power already plays a significant role in reducing carbon emissions. The International Atomic Energy Agency highlights that the "use of nuclear power avoids the emission of nearly 2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide every year - the equivalent of taking over 400 million cars off the road per year." Without it, the world would be in a much more serious state with regards to air pollution and carbon dioxide emissions. This is a fact that is conveniently ignored by certain environmental groups as it does not fit their renewable narrative. If Australia is serious in tackling its carbon dioxide emissions, while ensuring reliability and affordability, than nuclear needs to be at least considered in the energy mix.
Lifting the ban on nuclear power is an opportunity to provide an alternative pathway to the current energy quagmire that Australia currently finds itself in. It would signal Australia's intent to seriously address it's carbon dioxide emissions by seeking solutions based on science rather than ideology. It would also offer opportunities to foster new industries and develop new technologies. All of this however is only possible if Australians and their leaders are prepared to have a frank and fearless discussion on nuclear power. That time is well overdue. It is time to go nuclear.
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