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.
Additionally, here’s a related perspective on the levelised extent of resources needed for renewable capacity.
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.
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You know, it’s interesting to get a comment of this nature, because it brings to mind Hans Rosling’s biting observation about washing machines. I wonder if many people saw washing machines as an extravagance when they were first adopted? Steam showers look like the sort of luxury that comes with guilt over extra electricity and water usage. But what if that electricity is low-carbon, and that water is freshly desalinated as a by-product of clean energy generation?
Thanks for the kind words, by the way!