Australia can no longer stay a lone nuclear denier

Posted on January 24, 2011. Filed under: International Watch |

The Canberra Times

Last May, at a United Nations conference in New York, the veteran Japanese diplomat and director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Yukiya Amano, glowingly endorsed civilian nuclear power.

He said, “More than 60 countries are now considering the introduction of nuclear power to generate electricity. It is expected that between 10 and 25 new countries will bring their first nuclear plants online by 2030.”

Nuclear power “must be accessible not only for developed countries but also for developing countries”, he said.

Japan has 54 nuclear power stations, two more under construction and 12 planned. The nuclear share of its electricity generating capacity will increase from about 30per cent today to more than 41 per cent by 2017.

This in an Asian nation that has experienced the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and which is regularly tested by nature’s destructive forces. When I visited Kyoto in 1997, my Japanese colleagues reminded me that the nation’s 54 nuclear power stations averted emission of 287million tonnes of greenhouse gases a year. Relying on Australian uranium fuel, this “carbon offset” was then more than all of Australia’s emissions.

I recently addressed the World Renewable Energy Summit in Kuala Lumpur. High on the agenda was nuclear power for Asia.

An official paper from Korea entitled A Green Nuclear Utopia reminded delegates that in Korea 20 nuclear reactors produced about 17,700MW of electricity, meeting about 40per cent of the country’s needs. Six more were under construction and six more planned.

This would ensure that the nuclear share of electricity generation would be in excess of 60 per cent by 2030.

Korea is now capable of marketing its own nuclear plant design to the world. Its order book for the construction of four advanced pressurised water reactors for the United Arab Emirates represents a contract worth more than $US20billion ($A20.2 billion).

Operation of these plants over the next 60 years is also worth about $A20.2billion. By 2050, the Korea Electric Power Corporation expects to have contracts worth more than $A506 billion.

China now contributes almost a quarter of the world’s CO2 emissions.

Its volume of emissions over the past 10 years is greater than that of Brazil, Germany, France, Canada, Spain, Britain, Australia and Italy combined. China’s energy policy is based on a 74per cent dependence on coal in 2010. By 2030, it is planned to reduce this to 50per cent, mainly by use of nuclear power. This will mean increasing the present nuclear installed capacity of 9000MW electric to about 190,000MW(e). Australia, in a similar bondage to the hydrocarbon industry, must learn from China’s vision. It should start by introducing at least 5000MW(e) of nuclear power by 2020 and adopt a fixed carbon tax of between $10 and $20 over the next decade. Only in this way can we meet our United Nations emission reduction obligations.

In India 20 nuclear power plants supply more than 5per cent of its electricity. Four more reactors are being built, and the energy policy seeks at least 20 more by 2030.

A 2008 nuclear cooperation agreement with the US raises the possibility of foreign involvement in projects to generate as much as 63,000MW(e) of nuclear power by 2030.

Vietnam has firm plans for 15,000MW(e) of nuclear power by 2030. Indonesia is budgeting $A8.09 billion for four plants totalling 6,000MW(e) by 2025. The Philippines plans to rehabilitate an established but mothballed plant of 620MW(e) at a cost of about $A1.09billion.

Thailand plans to build at least 4000MW(e) of nuclear power commencing in 2014. Malaysia, which now produces almost two- thirds of its electricity from natural gas, has budgeted $A7.08 billion to build a large nuclear power plant by 2023.

As Asia “goes nuclear” the new years’s challenge for the Australian Government’s Climate Change Committee is to tackle the problem of global warming with sound technology and informed realism.

This means re-examining and rejecting the pseudo-scientific and political attraction of “clean coal” and the semantically seductive utopian appeal of the costly “renewables”.

Above all it means that the Australian Government must soon accept and endorse a now globally proven principle that at the heart of any successful emissions abatement project is the deployment of safe, secure and cost-effective nuclear power.

In Australia’s case, an 80per cent historical base-load energy reliance on fossil fuels and chemical combustion must be replaced by the superb nano-technology of nuclear fission.

Recent polling clearly indicates that support for nuclear power in the Australian community is growing dramatically. Support for the technology is also beginning to emerge from both sides of Federal Parliament and from the offices of state premiers. Australia, the home of the world’s nuclear fuels, can no longer sustain an appalling clean energy policy which makes it the sole “nuclear denier” among the planet’s top 25 economies.

Professor Leslie Kemeny, a consulting nuclear scientist and engineer, is the Australian foundation member of the International Nuclear Energy Academy.

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