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The Forum > Article Comments > Is nuclear the only way forward? > Comments

Is nuclear the only way forward? : Comments

By John Ridd, published 15/1/2013

Whether or not you're worried about climate change, nuclear offers a low risk alternative to carbon based fuels.

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What an interesting conclusion ! - "nuclear power is by far the safest way to produce energy"
There might be a few people in Fukushima who might disagree with this.

And - an even more worrying thought for all those Australian companies exploring and for and mining uranium. What will happen to our wonderful uranium industry when the world turns to thorium nuclear reactors? (Thorium reactors need only a little bit of plutonium and/or enriched uranium to get them started)

Well no matter - because it's not going to happen. A bit of creative accounting went on in this article - neglecting the economics of Thorium and all small nuclear reactors. They'd be economic only if sold on a mass scale. Very unlikely to be able to market them in large quantities.

The nuclear industry, world-wide is stagnating. In the leading nuclear power country, USA, the industry is paralysed, as the waste problem becomes more critical. In Europe similarly - division and distrust in public attitudes to nuclear.

In the "Third World" much hype - no doubt because countries like the idea of nuclear weapons capability.

Meanwhile, renewable energy, safe,clean, no wastes, is globally popular and getting cheaper all the time. Also - setting up solar panels and wind turbines is a pretty quick operation - compared to the years , indeed decades, taken to set up any kind of nuclear power.
This article is just one more desperate plea to stave off the death of the nuclear industry.
Posted by Noel.Wauchope, Tuesday, 15 January 2013 7:28:44 AM
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Though they may be familiar to many, it is good to see in this review a restatement of simple facts, or at least ‘near-certainties’: That burning fossil fuels represents a potential major threat to global climate (though of uncertain magnitude); that the world will keep needing more energy to satisfy human aspirations; that universal economic prosperity is a necessary condition for an approach to the ideal of a steady-state, or better, declining, global population; and that only nuclear energy can satisfy these requirements.

Just as certain will be the response from readers: That extra atmospheric carbon dioxide cannot affect climate, so why worry; that nuclear energy is just too dangerous; that renewable energy will eventually replace present fuels; that energy storage will defy the odds and new technology make it available at the scale needed; that human inventiveness will rise to the challenge; and so on.

The evidence is that opinions on such matters are rusted on and nothing will change them. Or almost nothing. There will eventually be environmental or economic pressures that do force a change and books like the two reviewed will then provide valuable support.
Posted by Tombee, Tuesday, 15 January 2013 7:55:12 AM
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Great article. High time Australia's energy policy was evidence based and not on fear. No mention of hot rock technology which also has some promise. Interesting also in connection with global warming, there is some fascinating research which indicates that it is the policy prescription which is crucial in getting agreement to a solution. For those who tend to be doubters, if the prescription is nuclear it is more likely to be accepted and vice versa for those who are convinced that it is man made,
One final point and one of usage, In the first sentence "in regards to" is grating. I was always taught "In respect of and with regard to" But then I am an old fart.
Posted by robborg, Tuesday, 15 January 2013 9:08:01 AM
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“Is nuclear the only way forward?”

Realistically, Yes. That is to say, nuclear power will be required to do most of the ‘heavy lifting’ if we want to cut emissions substantially by 2050. We realistically cannot do without nuclear power being the main component of decarbonising energy. It has to do most of the replacing of fossil fuels. There is no other realistic option.

We need to decarbonise energy at the rate of around 5% to 6% per year if we are to reach any of the advocated targets by mid century.

I also think Hargraves’ book “Thorium: Energy cheaper than coal” is excellent - although I do not support ‘picking winners’ of one nuclear power technology over another. Thorium and the other Gen IV technologies are decades from being a realistically viable option for large amounts of electricity generation. They are at the R&D stage and a long way from commercially viable. This UK NNL report for the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change explains the situation very well:

The world could replace most coal fired electricity generation by 2050 if we wanted to. The cost of nuclear generation could be about 1/3 the cost of coal fired generation by then.

Replacing coal with nuclear would deliver many other benefits as well (h/t Hargraves book for some of this):

• Avoid increasing the cost of energy through taxes and regulations (e.g. ETS)
• Avoid the compliance cost of carbon tax and ETS schemes ( )
• Avoid cost premium caused by partial participation in such schemes ( )
• Avoid the inevitable and ongoing domestic political interference, international cheating and dragging the chain.

• Faster GDP growth due to lower energy prices
• People rise out of poverty faster
• Reduce population growth rate and lower the peak population
• Reduce toxic pollution and black carbon (avoiding millions of fatalities per year)
• Reduce the transporting of coal and gas – less ships, trains and gas pipelines.
• Greater energy security.
Posted by Peter Lang, Tuesday, 15 January 2013 9:40:29 AM
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If we want to reduce emissions in anything like the time frame required by the greenhouse theorists then nuclear is about the only way to go, and the author is right to point out that very low levels of radiation have been unfairly demonised.

But politically it is just impossible in this country. It just isn't going to happen. Noel.Wauchope's comments in the first post are typical of the sort of wild-eyed nonsense that we can expect if anyone even breathed the possibility of building a power reactor here. Never mind that tsunamis and earthquakes are in short supply in Australia, the green movement will mount the most enormous scare campaign on whatever risks they can find.

As its the media's job to play up those scare stories (as a member of the media, I know this) and are ideologically disposed to the green side, the general public will soon be scared silly. Safety assurances simply won't matter. Let's stick with gas.
Posted by Curmudgeon, Tuesday, 15 January 2013 9:58:25 AM
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Agree with Tombee: Interesting, informative and well researched article.
Fukushima was due to an almost impossible to predict natural event, not the technology!
Modern pebble reactors use helium, and even if the coolant is stopped, are designed not to actually melt down.
They can be mass produced in factories and trucked on site as modules, that can begin to generate electrical power within days.
So, the garbage about needing years to go from design to finished plant, is just that!
And as mass produced modules, able to quite seriously undercut coal-fired power.
And indeed, negate the need for the carbon production doubling, great white elephant, that is the national grid!
Moreover, coal prices are set to rise and rise, with other fossil fuels and demand.
Meaning, we should already be running our major international and defence shipping, with pebble reactors, rather than guaranteed to rise and rise diesel.
Thorium reactors are cheaper to run than coal, albeit, there will need be some lead time before we can change over to them.
We have enough known thorium reserves to power the world for 600 years!
The world is not threatened by the odd nuclear meltdown, as tragic as they are, for significant numbers; but rather, mounting atmospheric carbon. [If anyone seriously believes any of us could survive a worse case scenario, 6.4C rise in average ambient temperatures, they have to have rocks for brains!]
Sure, we could deploy diesel engine replacing wind and solar voltaic, which seems to becoming more affordable almost daily!
Even so, common sense dictates, we will need to keep the diesel or gas powered generator as essential backup!
We live in a world where we will always have to compete, for our daily bread!
[We can't import everything; and, we can't all live on state welfare!]
And that means even cheaper power, as an absolute essential!
Posted by Rhrosty, Tuesday, 15 January 2013 10:12:19 AM
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