Tuesday, 17 September 2019
Nuclear Power vs Climate Change (As told by Green Eggs & Ham)
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Nuclear Power vs Climate Change (As told by Green Eggs & Ham)

Dan Henricson, Operations Manager, Enterprise IS

Many will be familiar with this story; Guy I Am (Guy) is pestered by Sam I Am (Sam) into trying something new (green eggs and ham), only to be repeatedly told he doesn't like it, even though he hasn't tried it and won't look into it. After an adventure through the house, the woods, a train ride, a car and a finally a sinking boat, Guy finally agrees to try it and what do you know?! He actually likes it. I think the story is somewhat analogous to the current debate we are having regarding climate change and the use of nuclear power.

Firstly, climate change is real, let me get that straight up front so people don't lose the message. The net, measurable impact of humans on the climate is debatable, but our impact on the planet in terms of terraforming the earth is undeniable. On one hand this has enabled us to go from small semi-nomadic tribes to the connected, global cities we now have today. Whilst on the other hand, it has also impacted bio-diversity and done some significant damage too. It's a balancing act that we still have yet to perfect.

With that in mind, if we accept the stated goals of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and other related bodies that our primary goal is the reduction of CO2 emissions caused by human activity as soon as possible, then surely it follows that we must look at all avenues to do so?

We accept that the largest emissions from power generation are the largest component and thus using simple reasoning should be our main focus. However, when it comes to this discussion, the only thing accepted by our Guy's (remember him from the story) is solar, wind, hydro and maybe biomass. The "green eggs and ham", nuclear, is not part of this accepted mantra, particularly amongst the professionals from the renewable / low carbon debate.

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In this case you can call me Sam, for I'm calling on all sides of the debate and interested members of society to take the time to consider our green eggs and ham. Whilst it will not be the solution for every country, possibly not even Australia, it is one that is too important to simply say, "I do not like it Sam I Am!"

 

I've talked about the key objections to nuclear power previously, cost and waste management, (see the link to my previous post below), but I'd like to add one more to the mix as it illustrates the odd position we find ourselves in with regards to the use of facts in this debate. It is of course, the great political football we call, "not in my backyard". Which is where even those who might be inclined to support nuclear power are too afraid of committing to making decisions because they are afraid that their community won't like it, again regardless of the facts. Here in Australia, this argument is a strong one as who would want a nuclear reactor in their backyard? But wait, we've already got one...

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Yes, Sydney has a nuclear reactor in their backyard! That handles and manufactures nuclear products! And manages nuclear waste! ANSTO has been operating in NSW since 1958, which has produced products for nuclear medicine and scientific use, first using the HIFAR and now the OPAL reactors.

OK, so now we've got Sam and Guy off the train and onto the car. Where to from here? Hint, it rhymes with goat.

That's right, with all of the discussions on the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, surely nuclear power and the ocean do not mix? Well it turns out that the US Navy has been operating nuclear power surface vessels and submarines since 1955. In fact there are now 140 active marine vessels that are powered by 180 small scale reactors. Since 1955, over 12,000 reactor years of operation have been conducted, with the level of incidents involving these vessels significantly lower than conventionally powered vessels. Including in Australia waters, most recently with the July visit of the USS Ronald Reagan to Brisbane. These vessels are powered by dual-nuclear reactors that provide 194 MW of power, approximately the same output as the Hallet gas-fired power station that provides up to 5% of South Australia's daily power. So whilst, nuclear powered vessels have successfully visited Australian ports numerous times without a single terrorist attack or reactor leak, our stance remains - "not in our backyard".

Of course the nuclear industry has had issues, there's not denying this, but there's also no denying that there have been incidents in the renewable sector. For example, a report from the Caithness Wind Information Forum (ref below) identifies 193 fatalities from wind turbine incidents between 2000-2019. Which is not to say any fatalities are acceptable, but we do need to keep the debate pertinent to the facts (by comparison fatalities at Fukushima in 2011as a result of radiation exposure have been identified as 0).

If we're serious about our use of scientific knowledge, reasoning and open debate, we can no longer simply turn our noses up and say, "I do not like them Sam I Am!" when it comes to the options for the future of power generation. Lately we have started to see some positive discussion regarding looking at the potential use of small-modular-reactors in an Australian context, which is a positive step forward. I hope this continues and look forward to the day when we might see an open debate on this particular blend of "green eggs and ham."

 

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