Failing to consider nuclear power is irresponsible
NUCLEAR power is the only proven generation technology offering solutions to all three sectors of the energy trilemma: security and reliability, affordability and environmental sustainability.
Despite this, Australia is the only G20 country with a federal ban on nuclear power.
In the lead up to the federal election, energy-climate policy has been the subject of public debate. The Labor and Liberal National parties have set their own emissions-reduction targets, predominantly relying on the deployment of large-scale renewable wind and solar-power generation projects. Absent from both party policies, however, is a technology-neutral discussion of the potential role of nuclear power.
The large-scale rollout of renewable power is a great thing. But when considering any substantial growth in the market share of renewable power within the National Energy Market (NEM), the favourable cost reductions and "green" aspects are arguably offset by the challenges and instability introduced when integrating such intermittent power sources.
The stability of Australia's energy grid and the intended positive effects of renewable energy adoptions are being critically undermined by premature and ill-thought through market shifts toward intermittent energy sources without first having addressed grid functionality issues.
No energy technology is issue-free, and it would be untruthful to say nuclear power is a perfect solution. There are genuine and real concerns about management of waste products and its storage in perpetuity. These concerns however, need be to be compared from a technology-neutral standpoint to assess the best long-term power generation options available.
France, a world leader in nuclear technology, has generated more than 70 per cent of its power requirements in the last five decades from nuclear sources.
The waste products generated total 44,300 cubic metres, of which the majority is low-to-medium level waste with short lifetimes, and 2300 cubic metres is high-level waste currently requiring indefinite storage.
Comparatively, there is currently no plan of what to do with massive quantities of solar panels at the end-of-life (currently landfilled), and we look the other way at billions of metric tons of invisible waste from coal and natural gas dumped into the atmosphere annually.
The waste is an issue, but the scale is significantly smaller. A report by the International Renewable Energy Agency on the end-of-life management for solar PV panels estimated that by the end of 2016, global PV waste streams would exceed 40,000 metric tonnes a year - a number that will skyrocket up to 6 million tonnes per annum by 2050.
One could argue the same cradle-to-grave accountability applied to the nuclear industry should be applied to all generation technologies.
Except for hydro and geothermal, which are geographically constrained, nuclear power is the only generation technology proven to provide stable baseload, low-carbon and reliable electricity. When considering baseload power, fossil-based systems are incapable of achieving the very low emissions of nuclear, and it far outperforms any solar and wind combined, with energy storage in all three of the energy trilemma: security and reliability, affordability, and environmental sustainability.
Nuclear power not only has the lowest greenhouse gas emissions of any energy generation source, it also has the lowest mortality rate per unit of energy supplied
The world has reaped the economic benefits of energy-dense fossil fuels for over a century, and now the environmental bailiffs are the door. It is inconceivable that in an effort to save the environment, we would knowingly fail to consider all options at our disposal.
Australia's current position on nuclear energy limits the sustainable energy pathways for the country. The act of not considering nuclear as an option against its counterparts is surely irresponsible.
Poorly informed choices on the NEM can lead to expensive mistakes that could hinder our prosperity as a nation for many years to come.
Brett Parkinson is a chemical engineer.