Monday, September 15, 2008

Australian Frustration Over Nuclear Energy

PCC CSIRO sml2 Leslie Kemeny at the Canberra Times notes that Australia is badly lagging the G8 in its refusal to consider nuclear energy for its energy needs:

Don Argus, chairman of BHP Billiton exhorted delegates to ''start talking seriously about using the country's vast uranium resources for domestic use'' and '' to engage in a debate about nuclear energy''. Without nuclear power Australia would face a century of environmental, economic and geopolitical disadvantage and would miss out on the optimal technology for electricity, water and hydrogen production.


In February 2008, despite growing global and Australian approval for nuclear power, Climate Minister Penny Wong reasserted the Australian Labor Party's opposition to it and promised to press for the greater use of ''alternative energy resources''. She stated, ''We don't need to go down the path of nuclear energy. What we do need to ensure is that we look at renewables, and the Government has a 20 per cent renewable energy target by 2020 to drive investment in the renewable energy sector. We will also be investing in carbon capture and storage so there is a clean coal future for Australia.''

Australia doesn't want to see its coal industry crater, so to speak, and who can blame them? While carbon capture and sequestration has potential, it would certainly benefit Australia - and any other company or country wanting to try it - to use nuclear energy to generate the impressive amounts of energy necessary to do it without knocking energy prices out of whack.

Of course, tucking away carbon and hoping the earth doesn't burp it out isn't the only thing you can do with it. For example, there are projects to recycle the emissions as hydrocarbons.

But however you slice it, Australia is missing the boat here:

Without such a provision [favoring nuclear energy] there will be little hope of meeting our stated emission reduction targets [20% reduction of emissions by 2020]. Adopting such an energy policy would transform the token political gesture of ratifying the Kyoto Protocol to the practical and ethical high ground of a real contribution to the global climate change problem.

Kemeny is the Australian foundation member of the International Nuclear Energy Academy - an interested party to be sure. But his argument is good.

Correction: Reader Luke lets us know that BHP Billiton does indeed include uranium in its portfolio. I've removed the parenthetical comment from the above that said it does not.

A post combustion capture facility. Picture courtesy of the Australian Coal Association. You can haul this big phone booth away with a truck to wherever you intend to put the emissions. Still experimental, but it shows that one should not underestimate an industry's ability to square its circles to stay relevant in a changing marketplace.


robert merkel said...

On the other hand, one of the few remaining barriers to uranium mining in Australia went away last week.

From a global perspective, whether Australia builds reactors or not has very little influence on the industry. What does matter is its stance towards uranium mining, given that a large fraction of the world's cheapest uranium resources are here.

Opposition to uranium mining (as distinct from nuclear power) comes from the left of Australian politics, in parts of the Australian Labor Party (roughly equivalent to British Labour) and the Australian Greens. The conservative side of politics supports uranium mining, and has done for many years.

The ALP decided, federally, that it would support new uranium mines. However, individual state Labor-controlled governments (who have the power to approve or prevent mining in their states) were free to make their own decision to oppose any new mines.

Australia's existing uranium mines are in South Australia and the Northern Territory. The South Australian government now enthusiastically supports uranium mining. The Northern Territory is a special case; the previous conservative government stripped the territory government of its ability to prevent mining, and the current federal Labor government hasn't given the powers back.

Western Australia has excellent uranium resources of its own, but the Labor government opposed uranium mining, and ran a ridiculous scare campaign on the issue during a state election.

They lost the election, and the new minority government wants uranium mining to help fund extra infrastructure in remote areas.

Good news for everyone - an expanded mining industry for Western Australia, additional, reliable uranium supplies for customers.

Luke said...

BHP Billiton certainly does produce uranium - if you visit the webpage as was linked above, it's tucked away under 'base metals'.

Anonymous said...

Interestingly, Malcom Turnbull has just taken over the leadership of the opposition from Brendan Nelson. Turnbull is a known pro-nuke.