Friday 14th of June 2024

Australia Goes Nuclear

In today's Australian,

PROMINENT scientist Tim Flannery has called for an end to the
uranium debate, saying all alternative energy sources to fossil fuels
must be considered in the fight against climate change.

The author of The Weather Makers and director of the South Australian
Museum said yesterday he had softened his view on nuclear power.

Dr Flannery said the nation could not afford to get "bogged
down in a debate about the three mines policy" or nuclear power and
instead should develop a cohesive response to global warming. "People
say we can't have uranium mining because there's a danger of
proliferation and that's true," Dr Flannery said. "But we have to weigh
all of this stuff and deal with this in the context of threat to
climate change and that's why people are getting away with rubbish
about wind and uranium.

"Having travelled around the world looking at energy options, I
am more favourably disposed towards nuclear power than I was
previously, particularly when you look at the scale of the problem in
China and the use of coal."

Dr Flannery's comments come a day after the chief executive of
the nation's second-largest environment group, WWF Australia, accepted
the Government's planned expansion of uranium mining and exports to

In the Adelaide  Advertiser our Federal Treasurer told us how great a nuclear industry would be for South Australa:

Mr Costello said rising fossil fuel prices
could make nuclear power an attractive option and that uranium mining
was an issue of particular significance for SA.

"South Australia has the largest uranium mine in Australia," he said. 

"And just as the mining boom in gas and coal
and iron ore has been lifting states like Queensland and Western
Australia, the development of the Roxby Downs mine and the exploitation
of that resource could lift South Australia."

Mr Costello said one of the key reasons he approved the sale of
the Roxby Downs mine to BHP was to allow for its further development.

"I believe BHP could bring a lot of new investment to build capacity," he said.

Mr Costello believed global demand for uranium was likely to
increase as oil and coal prices continue to climb and countries look to
less environmentally damaging energy sources.

"The price of oil is so high that people are now looking to
alternative energy sources and the nuclear option will come right back
on the table," he said.

And he predicted environmental concerns associated with nuclear energy would be addressed.

He said there was no logic in Australia mining uranium for export when it could also be used here.


WWF: nuclear no solution

last things first :

the Australian article says :

"WWF Australia, accepted the Government's planned expansion of uranium mining and exports to China "

The statements by the Australian director of WWF were about acknowledging the harsh reality of our present government's unprecedented enthusiasm for massive expansion of the nuclear industry. Without endorsing this regrettable stance,

Mr Bourne said all Australians should demand transparency in any uranium export deals to ensure the mineral was being used for peaceful purposes only.

Unfortunately, however, the flawed international mechanisms intended to give this assurance are being further weakened by the latest trade deals brokered by the U.S.(a) and australia.

The article goes on to acknowledge :

He told The Australian yesterday that the current nuclear debate in Australia was a "red herring" drawing attention from the need to stem
climate change.
"We don't believe nuclear power is the solution to global warming," he said.

Green groups around the country were quick to respond, highlighting this fundamental component of Bourne's statement, and emphasising the fact that environmental groups around Australia remain opposed to the unsolved problems of nuclear weapons and unwanted long-lived radioactive waste which are an inevitable product of the nuclear industry. Groups such as Greenpeace, ACF and the Wilderness Society, in coalition with local environment centres around the country, were keen to point out that WWF International maintains a firm anti-nuclear policy.

I welcome the WWF's re-iteration of the reality that nuclear power won't help solve our global climate meltdown. However I am disappointed in misleading comments which could be misinterpreted to suggest there is some handy solution to the unsolved problems of weapons and waste.

Flannery : neither coal nor nuclear

Now to Flannery's comments, which appear to be a departure from previous comments, such as last September in SMH :
"Where the debate becomes utterly misleading is in terms of the generation of power within Australia, because neither coal nor nuclear, in my view, are viable future options for generating our local electricity in Australia. We have so many other possibilities."

and his celebrated 'weathermakers', which acknowledges the significant unsolved problems of long lived radioactive waste, decommissioning hundreds of aged reactors and the threat of catastrophic failure.

So it is disappointing to see Flannery quoted as paring off nuclear and coal in China.

As Flannery himself notes in Weathermakers:
Trillions of dollars will need to be invested to make the transition to the carbon-free economy and, once a certain path of investment is embarked upon, it will gather such momentum that it will be difficult to change direction.

It would therefore be disastorous to spend the precious time, energy and finances we have at hand on a non-solution such as nuclear.

Moving from fossil fuels to uranium just replaces one form of pollution with another. Nuclear power generates unwanted long-lived toxic radioactive wastes, which will require management for generations to come, beyond the foreseeable future.

Clearly we need to buy some time to build the inevitable sustainable renewable energy industries of the future - solar, wind, tidal, geothermal. But nuclear can't help : power reactors take a lot of precious time and public money to build. Viable sources of uranium are quite limited, and lower grade ores demand spiralling fossil fuel inputs for their extraction. It would be counterproductive to invest in a fuel that demands large volumes of carbon intensive activity to extract and manage.

The research shows that end-use energy efficiency is the single most important factor determining our future carbon profile. Improving electrical efficiency is nearly seven times more cost-effective than nuclear power for abating CO2 emissions. And unlike the nuclear non-solution, these ‘no-regrets’ measures can be deployed globally, rapidly, and at every scale.

Touring the country last year to promote his book, Flannery cautiously avoided nuclear questions, chosing instead to focus on these measures which can earn us immediate returns at minimal investment.

I refer anyone interested in the role nuclear power may play in facing our global climate challenge to :

the discussion over at webdiary, where I contributed the comment "Too slow, too limited, too dangerous"

and the excellent document compiled by Dr Jim Green for Friends of the Earth,
Nuclear Power - No Solution to Climate Change
available at