Guest essay by Eric Worrall
Nuclear power should be a no-brainer for climate activists – scalable zero carbon energy which most Conservatives and climate skeptics would find acceptable. But despite the obvious advantages, greens in Australia and elsewhere continue to shoot their credibility in the foot, by placing their distaste for nuclear power ahead of what many of them claim is an existential global climate crisis.
Is nuclear energy an essential weapon in the fight against climate change — or a toxic white elephant?
Mike Young sometimes wonders why nuclear power has become such an accepted part of life in his native Canada when it is still so deeply controversial in his adopted home of Australia.
- There are calls to overturn Australia’s longstanding ban on nuclear energy, which produces no emissions
- Nuclear power provides about 10 per cent of the world’s energy needs, though none in Australia
- Critics say extremely high construction costs and time delays make nuclear power uneconomic
For Mr Young, it is an attribute that should put the nuclear option firmly on the table as the world tries to wean itself off fossil fuels such as coal, diesel and gas.
“It needs to be part of the mix,” Mr Young said.
“You have to remember that by 2050, the forecast is we’ll double electricity demand.
Mr Buckley is the director of energy finance studies for Australia at the Institute of Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), a think tank funded by environmental philanthropists.
He said the high capital cost of nuclear power stations and their tendency to suffer budget and time blowouts made them uneconomic.
“The cost of nuclear is almost always double whatever anyone estimates,” Mr Buckley said.
“There’s not a nuclear power plant in the world, that I’m aware of, that’s been built without massive government subsidies.
“Why? Because a corporate can’t take a $20 billion punt.
“And we’re not talking Aussie dollars; we’re talking euros, or pounds or American dollars — serious money.
“No company can afford that, particularly if there’s a 10-year delay
Future ‘renewable, not nuclear’
Mr Buckley remains unconvinced by the arguments for small nuclear reactors.
He said the technology was yet to be proved at a pilot stage let alone a commercial level.
Mr Buckley said renewable energy costs would continue to drop, making other options including nuclear power unviable.
“This is not a single plant operational in the world, and there’s a very good chance there won’t be even a demonstration small scale nuclear reactor plant this decade,” Mr Buckley said.
France and Sweden’s nuclear programmes are unequivocal proof that the “high cost” of nuclear power in most jurisdictions is mostly the cost of the red tape, not the cost of plant construction and operation. France still generates around 70% of their power from nuclear plants. It took just 10-20 years for France to eliminate most of their fossil fuel power generation starting in the 1970s, and they did it without breaking the bank – a feat which could easily be replicated throughout the world, by copying the strategies France employed to keep costs under control.
We know affordable small nuclear reactors are possible, because they have been built many times, by research institutes and even universities – which is more than you can say about affordable renewable energy systems.
But people like Think Tank director Mr. Buckley continue to hang their hopes on the fantasy of renewable energy cost reductions they believe will occur in the near future.
If Greens genuinely wanted immediate bipartisan support for zero carbon energy right now, they could drop their fear mongering and prevarication and join forces with their political opponents, to wholeheartedly sell the idea of nuclear power to the public.
But despite decades of renewable energy failures, most greens continue to oppose the one form of zero carbon energy which could make an almost immediate substantial dent in global CO2 emissions. They continue to pin their hopes on imaginary renewable technology advances which they claim are imminent.