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Nuclear is essential

By Charles Hemmings - posted Tuesday, 23 April 2024

Many citizens believe that “renewables” (really weather-dependent intermittents whose costly equipment has to be replaced every 25 years or less….not renewable) are the answer to our energy future because they have been told that, and it gives them a nice cosy feeling.  The technology, which is above politics (the technology is based on the basic laws of nature), says differently and many want to reject it because the reality is somewhat unpalatable.  If you don’t like reality, read no further.

Between 1950 and 2021 the world’s consumption of energy increased almost 9 fold, an exponential increase.  The 3 main fossil fuels (oil, coal and gas) made up 78% of the total or 136,000 TWh in 2021, despite the decades of tax breaks, subsidies and mandates for ‘renewable’ energy.  What is wrong?  The main answer is that “renewables” are really weather-dependent intermittent energy sources, the implications of which are high or unaffordable costs due to the redundancy required (only operate part time) and the inherent unreliability (blackouts, load shedding).

100% power generation using “renewable” utilities has not been achieved anywhere (excluding a few instances of hydropower).  Please don’t ignore this fundamental fact.  At least some dispatchable generation is required in an electricity utility.  The only dispatchable, carbon-free generator presently available for general conditions at industrial scale is nuclear fission.  Nuclear fusion would be the gold standard but at this time it is not, and perhaps never will be, a reality.


In all facets of life we trade-off risk against possible benefits.  Just because a risk exists, it is not necessarily beneficial to throw out the baby with the bath water.  This is what we have done in Australia.  Due to a small number of disasters overseas we have said noooo to nuclear without considering the whole picture.  At COP28 nuclear was considered as an acceptable carbon-free electricity generating method and seen as an indispensable part of our energy future.

Simply legislating to reduce emissions and refusing to use generators other than “renewables” will not achieve net zero.  Besides, the vital metric is not our net zero, which we will probably never achieve, but is the global atmospheric concentration of CO2.  Unless that is stabilized (increasing at the moment at slightly less than 3 ppm, but increasing) or reduced, all our national efforts to stabilize our climate will be in vain: a total waste of money and effort. Reducing or arresting CO2 emissions is a global responsibility on which the future existence of humanity depends.

The choice is either:

1.      use nuclear fission for dispatchable power (while no other general-use technologies are available) or

2.      increasing the CO2 blanket in our atmosphere and living on a planet with an increasingly warming surface due to anthropogenic greenhouse emissions.

My personal preference is for option 1.


The optimistic approach is to hope that new effective technologies are developed to fill the need of dispatchable, carbon-free electricity generation.  But that is for tomorrow or the day after.

Real action is needed, globally, now.  It is simply ridiculous that rich countries are making themselves poorer with solar and wind, while nearly everywhere else is increasing fossil fuel use, whatever the promises are about emissions.  The atmospheric CO2 value is like DNA, it does not lie.


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About the Author

Charles Hemmings has a background in metallurgy, earth sciences and business. He is retired.

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