April 18, 2005 | Graham

Nuclear a green fuel?

I ask this question because I went to a lecture by Greg Bourne, CEO of WWF, at the Brisbane Institute. The same one Jennifer Marohasy went to. Bourne gave a very impressive presentation – lots of graphs. One of those graphs purported to show how we could meet the world’s energy needs, sustain standards of living and lower greenhouse emissions by adopting alternative energies.
During Bourne’s presentation everything was colour-coded, and just about everywhere I looked on graphs, if it was “progressive”, it was green – literally. So I was a little surprised to see on what I’ll call the “Fuels for the Future” graph that the luminous green triangle, expanding along with wind and solar, amongst others, coming to the rescue, was nuclear.
I thought about asking a question, and didn’t. Then I spied Michael Duffy’s comment on the bottom of Jennifer’s account of the meeting. Duffy says, “Jennifer, I agree with the head of WWF that Australia ought to be closing down coal-fired power stations because they pollute the air and there is an economic and safe alternative in nuclear power. Was this mentioned during his speech?” Perhaps the green code wasn’t out of line with the rest of the speech.
Nuclear has been off the green agenda virtually since before it was invented. I certainly remember moving motions against Australia’s uranium mining policy when I was an eager Young Liberal. And it was excluded from Kyoto as a means of reducing greenhouse gases for nations that didn’t have it (even while European countries that did, could take the benefits of it). I’ve always liked the bumper sticker for a brand of sunglasses that said “Thermonuclear energy not nuclear” and figured one way or another the sun could provide all of our energy needs.
I’m not so sure after reading Alan Mitchell’s piece in the Weekend Fin where he displays a graph from Jon Stanford of the Allen Consulting group. It shows the cost of various forms of energy generation factoring in a cost of CO2 abatementof $30 per tonne, on a “before and after” basis. Nuclear is the third lowest after Geothermal and Combined Cycle Gas Turbine, on around $55 per MWh. Subcritical black coal looks to be around$65 per MWh, while my favourites – wind and solar – run at $80 and $260 (yes that last is right, not a misprint).
Of course, there’s room for error here. Nuclear is assumed to have the same cost with or without the abatement charge (which I assume is factored in via carbon trading credits), but as this article in OLO points out, there is a lot of CO2 emitted while building one of these power stations, so if this were taken into account there should be a difference between the before and after figures.
Then there are other problems with nuclear. According to another OLO article there is a supply shortage of uranium, and in an interview yesterday on Terry Lane’s National Interest, it was claimed uranium would run out in 5 years, but then later in the same programme, it was also claimed that a conventional coal-fired generator emitted enough uranium during its lifetime to power a nuclear one!
In my Young Liberal days I always thought the problem with nuclear was primarily waste disposal. At least on this front there appears to be hope. According to the ABC News Online, ANSTO has won a UK contract to dispose of plutonium waste with its Synroc product, which essentially stores nuclear waste by turning it back into a mineral and making it safe for millions of years. Maybe the slogan of the future will be “Nuclear, not thermonuclear”.

Posted by Graham at 6:44 am | Comments (2) |
Filed under: Environment


  1. Greg Bourne and WWF Australia are wrong AND right. “Stabilizing the earth’s climate within two degrees Celsius of pre-industrial levels” by cutting our GHG emissions “by 60% by 2050” is nonsense. The Sun’s variable eruptive activity is the dominant driver of our ever-changing climate. There was no stable pre-industrial climate; and humans can’t stabilise future climate until they stabilise the Sun. WWFA would better serve the environment by protecting habitat in highly biodiverse regions – Sumatra, Borneo, PNG and Australia. But in China, for instance, nuclear electricity makes very good sense – although not here.

    Comment by Bob Foster — April 18, 2005 @ 11:38 am

  2. Let us hear more on this subject. Nobody can pronounce support on insufficient info.
    As with the electric car, there has been wonderful development ~ we should all keep informed on the latest, and retain an open mind.
    It seems the way of the future; but not unless safeguards against nuclear accidents or terrorism can be included.

    Comment by Rosemary de Meyrick — April 18, 2005 @ 5:55 pm

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