Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The nuclear option: Should nuclear energy be part of Australia's low carbon future?

The debate about nuclear power has really heated up in the last few days. Should it be part of a low carbon future? Is it essential for providing future baseload power? Is it economically viable? Or do other renewable technologies render it unnecessary?

Here's a round up of some interesting articles:

Prof Barry Brook in The Australian summarizing a paper he has recently published, he claims nuclear will be the cheapest baseload power source.

Prof Mark Diesendorf in the SMH summarizing his paper that in fact nuclear power is not economically viable and is soon to be (are already is) being out-competed economically by renewable energy.

Surprising though it may be, both could be (at least partially) correct. Nuclear power is economically viable in places like China, where they can build the plants quickly and cheaply. History and current facts show the west builds plants slowly and expensively (ie: overtime and over-budget). The nuclear industry is saying new 3rd gen plants will fix this, only time will tell. Conversely, most future predictions of cheap renewable power require a continuation of the sharp drop in price of renewables, Brook is somewhat skeptical about this, Diesendorf I gather, is not. Given the drop in price that comes from economies of scale, industry learning curves and R&D some continuation of the drop in price seems highly likely.

Furthermore there was an interesting debate article in the SMH this week about nuclear power featuring Barry Brook (again), Ann Henderson-Sellers, a Greenpeace spokesperson and someone from the uranium industry.

Meanwhile the Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering has released a report into making alternatives to coal power financially viable. The author Dr John Burgess has found that both renewables and nuclear power are likely to be viable in the future. But he also points out the most important part of this whole debate, whether you want a nuclear future, a renewable future, or just a low carbon future, is to put a price on carbon to ensure the stuff gets built.

Ps: Since this is a controversial area I should point out that any opinions expressed about nuclear power are mine alone and are not an official position of Transition Kenmore.

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