Here’s the IQ2 debate from 2012 concerning nuclear energy, please cue to 1:16:18, to John Morgan’s salient question: “Given that the rate at which we decarbonise determines the amount of warming we will ultimately experience, and given that we can decarbonise faster with renewable energy and nuclear power than with renewable energy alone, how many degrees of planetary warming do you believe it is worth to avoid the use of nuclear power?” Feel free to listen to the remainder of the debate if you haven’t before, but you might probably guess that this point was entirely avoided by the nuclear opponents that night.
Right about now we could really do with a proper department of energy and climate change, and someone like David MacKay working for it. His approachable, honest accounting for the realistic contribution which can be made by diffuse renewable energy capacity in a European setting really needs to be translated down into that of Australia, to properly anchor the necessary debate on the future of energy.
In terms of fossil fuels, Professor MacKay makes the three points of global supply constraint, greenhouse gas emissions and foreign supply dependence. Broadly speaking these are all issues which can be addressed with buildout of modern nuclear energy, but for Australia (among many other countries) I would add a fourth aspect for which nuclear capacity would be the most efficient and value-adding option available, and that is drought proofing. Despite the sobering information above, renewable technologies do need to be part of our future clean energy mix – and have seen some success in powering desalination in south Australia – but we need thermal capacity to drive the expanded scale required for the future. And therefore we need to be legally allowed to consider the only deployable, large scale, CO2-free method available.
Several developing countries and emerging economies, in particular in the Asia Pacific region, are looking to nuclear power as a solution to their energy supply and security concerns. Of the 34 OECD countries, 18 operate nuclear power reactors. Of the remaining 16 countries, 12 are importing electricity from neighbouring nuclear countries to provide electricity and stability to their grids. Of the remaining four, Iceland predominately uses geothermal power, and New Zealand generates most of its power in the form of hydro-electricity. Israel’s geographic location has, to date, precluded the use of nuclear power. Australia is the only other OECD country that does not have an alternative, base-load low cost, low emission energy source, and has policy settings that exclude nuclear power.
Energy optionality based on technology neutral policy settings must be maximised if Australia’s energy security and future economic competitiveness needs are to be met. Nuclear energy meets all the requirements for energy security by providing an adequate, affordable and reliable energy supply.
I’d like to draw attention to a couple of fellow bloggers today. The first is Rod Adams, who I think must be the father of privately-funded nuclear energy advocacy on the Internet. This is a bit overdue considering his gracious welcome for yours truly a few months ago (make sure to check the comments for a wildly unrelated but informative debate regarding nuclear plant insurance). Rod hosts the Atomic Show, the nuclear energy podcast which regularly features various industry professionals and no-nonsense topics.
The most recent guest post from nuclear physicist Patrick Walden brings to light the lack of standards required by institutional environmentalists in their increasingly desperate attempts to maintain the circulation if fear, uncertainty and doubt. How many ordinary folks, concerned about climate change and their kids’ future, get distracted by the radiation hysteria and nuclear conflation and miss the chance to consider energy from modern reactors as safe, clean and plentiful? (Make sure to follow the links to YouTube posts featuring exploration of the Chernobyl exclusion zone.)
The second mention goes to Suzy Hobbs Baker of PopAtomic Studios who is leading an important revolution in nuclear energy outreach over at the Nuclear Literacy Project. We are currently in the midsts of the #Atoms4Earth campaign in the lead up to Earth Day. If you have a good idea for a succinct, educational and factually-sound nuclear-promoting meme, please share it!
Radiohead was one of the bands when I left my teens. I had OK Computer to rely on during some of my most emotionally isolated years. Paranoid Android is exactly my sort of song, full of awesome guitar, theme-shifts and evocative lyrics. Thom Yorke formed a supergroup a couple of years ago, called it “Atoms For Peace“, and made it clear that he was anti-nuclear.
I now feel strongly enough about the staggering potential benefits of modern nuclear technology that I maintain a blog and network with many other advocates from various countries (in the approximate minute I have spare each day). And that it’s become difficult to enjoy listening to Radiohead now. And I know that’s kind of silly. But for forty-odd years there have been rock concerts opposing nuclear energy. Not specifically nuclear weapons (you’ll find many advocates will admit losing sleep over thoughts of international instability culminating in catastrophic war), but civilian energy generation.
This seems forgivable in the 70s, 80s, maybe the 90s. But if you’re in a band, you have internet access, and it takes a mouse click and 15 minutes reading for a nuclear professional to clearly inform you that nuclear fuel cannot be used for weapons and that reactors can’t explode. I understand committed activists denying any and all nuclear energy benefits when they’re being paid to do nothing else; I can also understand middle-aged folks for whom reassessing nuclear would not just be a considerable effort, but would be to admit a grievous, decades-long error of judgement and assumption on their part. But if one is a public figure or person of influence, music-related or not, ill-informed opinions regarding modern nuclear, radiation, spent fuel or the realistic consequences of accidents like Fukushima Daiichi invariably bolster anti-nuclear sentiment at a time when sober consideration of how this technology can abate anthropogenic climate change is years overdue.