Last week’s special report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a spicy broth of green politics and tamed science that might give some people dyspepsia. However, within it is a refreshing view on nuclear power’s role in helping to mitigate global warming. It’s refreshing because the green lobby has been such a closed-minded opponent.
The Conservative Party has long-advocated the consideration of nuclear power as part of Australia's energy mix.
An opinion piece in The Australian says, in calling for a quixotic limiting of 'global warming' to 1.5C, the report outlines several pathways that could lead to it. In the section on nuclear it states: “Nuclear power increases its share in most 1.5 degree pathways by 2050.” This is based on an estimated 2.5 times expansion in nuclear generation.
This is significant: nuclear already generates more than 10 per cent of the world’s electricity. The inescapable inference from the report is that without its contribution, there would be no possibility of achieving the objective the IPCC calls for.
30 countries use nuclear power to generate electricity and 13 others are building new capacity. Nuclear is the fastest-growing electricity source in China, where its generation increased by 25 per cent in 2016 and 15 per cent last year.
An additional 50 reactors are being built or are planned. There, due to pollution and climate change factors, nuclear is considered a desirable alternative to coal because it’s clean — almost free of carbon emissions.
The World Nuclear Association published an update on the economics of nuclear power in August saying: “Nuclear power is cost competitive with other forms of electricity generation, except where there is direct access to low-cost fossil fuels.”
It should be noted that nuclear plants are capital-intensive to build but relatively cheap to run.
Little mention is made in the report of the advent of small nuclear reactors, defined as being of less than 300MW, whose technology has arisen out of nuclear installations on ships. Because they’re manufactured in a factory to a standard design, they have potential for economies. Since they have lower requirements for access to cooling water and are deliverable on trucks, they can be used remotely. They are also more easily financed than larger plants. And they can be readily placed in brownfield sites where coal-fired plants are decommissioned. Australia could well consider them.
In one of its flaws, the IPCC fails to describe the devastating effect on electricity prices and availability caused by the rush to renewables, notably in South Australia. The intermittence in electricity supply from renewables can be crippling. Nuclear offers a steady, reliable baseload capacity that could complement them.
But all this nuclear progress is passing us by and we cannot allow that. The endorsement by the IPCC of the role that nuclear power can play in meeting its ambitious targets should focus attention of our politicians on when and how it can be harnessed here. At the very least, the legislation passed 18 years ago prohibiting nuclear power in Australia should be repealed.
Conservative Party leader Cory Bernardi has told Sydney radio station 2GB, there’s 30 per cent of the world’s uranium resources in this country, something like 20 per cent in South Australia alone. We could radically change Australia’s economic future. You can do it perfectly safely and for those who want to stop carbon dioxide emissions, it would cure that problem too.
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