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Nuclear push is about ideology, not solutions

  • 17 September 2019
Australia is experiencing an energy crisis on multiple fronts. In the short-term we are facing skyrocketing power prices, and grid stability issues. In the long-but-getting-shorter-by-the-day-term Australia's disproportionate contribution to climate change is still a massive problem. Neither of these situations is sustainable.

Fortunately, the government has a brains trust — featuring former Deputy-PM Barnaby Joyce — who are on the case. Recent months have seen a push by Joyce and his allies to alter existing legislation and allow the use of nuclear power. Joyce has even been so keen on the idea that he suggested giving those who can see a nuclear power station from their house free or reduced energy prices. Capitulating to the powerful conservative arm of his party, energy minister Angus Taylor has commissioned a parliamentary inquiry into the feasibility of nuclear power.

The problem with the discussion about nuclear energy is that it is a distraction; an ideologically driven misdirection by those who are more concerned with opposing renewables and the 'green-left' than solving our country's energy problems. Nuclear just doesn't make sense for Australia at this stage of the game. To suggest it does reveals a view so blinkered by anti-green, anti-renewable ideology that it is devoid of all logic.

There are a few regular arguments made for the adoption of nuclear power: it is a high-yield, reliable and essentially carbon-neutral option for power production. Coupled with this are Australia's vast repositories of uranium, which — so the argument goes — will ensure Australia's energy independence. Yet, by any objective metric, nuclear cannot hold a (uranium-powered) candle up to renewables.

Firstly, while there is some initial carbon produced over the whole lifecycle of any form of energy, the total lifecycle emissions of renewables, for example wind power, are significantly smaller than nuclear.

Renewable energy is also considerably friendlier to the environment in other ways. For starters, nuclear power relies on uranium, which must be extracted by environmentally damaging mining. This is an ongoing process and even though uranium is currently abundant in Australia, it is a finite resource; the sun and wind, are not. (As an aside, nuclear is less friendly to birdlife than wind farms, despite what you might hear from critics about turbines and their bird-blending properties.)

Moreover, we must consider the non-zero possibility of a catastrophic nuclear disaster. Though the reality of nuclear power is more often than not mundane, the phrase 'nuclear power' evokes a number of