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Fix nuclear paradox

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Fix nuclear paradox

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									The Australian 6 June 2005


Leslie Kemeny:
Fix the nuclear paradox
June 06, 2005

A NUCLEAR power symposium on Wednesday, organised by the Australian Institute of
Energy, could not have been better timed given recent calls by NSW Premier Bob Carr
and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer for a debate on domestic nuclear power
generation.

Senior scientists and executives will speak on all nuclear issues, including safety,
proliferation and potential terrorism risks, as well as the Generation Four nuclear power
plant that has optimal technical characteristics for electricity generation and water and
hydrogen production.

In the early 1950s, Australia was set to become the first nation south of the equator to
build and operate a nuclear power plant for electricity generation. That project and many
other planned ventures connected with the technology and commercialisation of the
global nuclear fuel cycle industry have not eventuated.

For many countries the reliability, safety, economy and greenhouse gas-free operation
of nuclear plants has made nuclear energy inevitable. Unfortunately for Australia, which
supplies 13 countries with uranium fuel, the technology has not been properly
considered.

The paradox of a nation endowed with more than 40 per cent of the world's economically
recoverable uranium fuel but which strenuously resists its use in its domestic energy
policies bemuses the global community. This is especially true of countries such as
France and Japan, who manage to minimise their own greenhouse emissions through
the use of Australian uranium.

This year may mark a defining moment in Australian attitudes towards nuclear energy
and cause the federal Government and the Council of Australian Governments to sit up
and take notice. A global resurgence in nuclear power station construction is driving
uranium prices to new peaks and Australian uranium producers are the focus of the
international market.

In February, Don Argus, chairman of BHP Billiton, an important global producer of
hydrocarbon fuel, confirmed at its annual meeting that it was interested in nuclear fuel.
Within one month, this interest emerged as a $9 billion takeover bid for WMC, the owner
of the world's largest uranium resource, the Olympic Dam project in South Australia.

Even Australia's anti-nuclear activists are beginning to change attitudes. They have little
alternative, as one by one the leaders of the world's environmental movements speak
out in favour of the nuclear option.

Recently, Patrick Moore, one of the founders of Greenpeace and subsequently its
president, has berated those lobbying against clean nuclear energy. He said "activists
have abandoned science in favour of sensationalism", observing that "nuclear energy is
the only non-greenhouse emitting power source that can effectively replace fossil fuels
and satisfy global demand".
Despite popular misconceptions, nuclear power has an unmatched safety record relative
to all base load fuels. Per megawatt hour generated it is far safer than hydrocarbon fuels
and globally, in 2005 it has achieved 12,500 reactor years of operation.

Consider the immense contribution to greenhouse gas emission minimisation made by
nuclear power stations; 2398 TWh or 16 per cent of total electricity generation or 5 per
cent of total primary energy production. The amount of avoided carbon dioxide emission
because of the use of nuclear energy in 2001 was 2.4 billion tonnes. This is 10 per cent
of total emission.

Japan's 54 nuclear power stations alone save the equivalent of Australia's total
greenhouse emissions. And the secret of this success is uranium fuel imported from
Australia. Over a critical window of the next 20 years no other energy technology can
achieve such results and satisfy the immense growth in energy demand by the world's
developing nations.

Fear of nuclear risks is usually focused on accidental releases of nuclear radiation.
Potentially this can occur in incidents ranging from terrorist acts or geological instability
to plant failure and human operator mistake.

Nuclear plants are, however, incredibly robust. Japan's 54 nuclear power stations
withstand earth tremors and will automatically shut down in the case of an earthquake.
Reinforced concrete reactor containment domes are designed to withstand the impact of
a crashing aircraft and nuclear submarine propulsion units have been recovered from
deep ocean without any radiation release.

Australia is a country thirsty for water and hungry for energy. The nation's sustainable
development, its value-adding industries and its rural production are largely dependent
on these two commodities. Among the world's leading scientists and engineers there is a
growing consensus that a greenhouse gas-free and cost-effective supply of energy,
water and even hydrogen can best be sourced from judiciously sited Generation Four
nuclear power plants.

Few countries have as much to gain from the introduction of nuclear power technology
and the commercialisation of the nuclear fuel cycle as Australia. Ease of access to
energy and water supplies will be the key to geopolitical stability in a potentially turbulent
21st century and nuclear power could help to ensure this. It is incumbent upon the
federal Government to update its energy and water policies to include nuclear power.

The full approval of the COAG and its expert advisers should be sought to facilitate the
introduction of nuclear power plants for the co-generation of electricity and the
production of fresh water and hydrogen. For at least the next 100 years Australia's
sustainable economic development will depend substantially on its greenhouse friendly
technology.

Leslie Kemeny is the Australian foundation member of the International Nuclear Energy
Academy.

								
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