Categories
Media Headlines

latest push for nuclear

The latest push for nuclear power in Australia came last week in the New South Wales Productivity Commission economic recovery plan “white paper”. The Productivity Commission recommend lifting the ban on nuclear power. The National Branch of the Electrical Trades Union responded in a media release: Expensive and dangerous: Nuclear doesn’t stack up.” The ETU said the Productivity Commission had lost the plot and criticised their evaluation of the issue and their findings. See summary below.

Also last week, the politically appointed chair of the Climate Change Authority Grant King told the Minerals Council of Australia that there is a “secret society” who have been lobby the government to lift the ban on nuclear power.

This week the Adelaide Advertiser has had another go at putting some spin on nuclear power as a climate solution with yet another poll claiming support for nuclear power in South Australia.

The latest push for nuclear will not be the last as there is a clear ramping up of efforts by nuclear apologists to lift the ban on nuclear power.

Summary of the NSW Productivity Commission’s view and our response (thanks to Dr Jim Green of Friends of the Earth).
NSWPC: While nuclear energy continues to be a significant energy generation source across Europe and Asia, its commercial use poses some issues.

Response: Nuclear power’s contribution to global electricity supply has fallen from a 1996 peak of 17.6% to 10% currently.

NSWPC: The biggest issues arise with large-scale nuclear reactors. High fixed costs and long delivery times mean such reactors tend not to be feasible for private investors.

Response: The same could be said about SMRs, hence the paucity of private-sector investment. Read more about SMRs here

NSWPC: Existing nuclear reactors have been delivered either by state-owned or regulated monopolies, with consumers and taxpayers shouldering some of the risk. Low-cost renewables now pose an additional risk to the economics of large reactors.

Response: The Productivity Commission report notes (p.221) that electricity produced by SMRs would be far more expensive than renewables. 5‒6 TIMES MORE EXPENSIVE!

The Minerals Council of Australia says that there will be no market for SMRs above a cost of A$60‒80/MWh. The figure relied on in the Productivity Commission report (sourced from the CSIRO and Australian Energy Market Operator) is ~A$300/MWh.

NSWPC: Prospects are better, however, for smaller nuclear generators that can firm energy systems and support overall security.

Response: The prospects for SMRs are poor, hence the paucity of investment and the paucity of SMR construction projects. Expert opinion is highly sceptical as evidenced by a 2017 Lloyd’s Register report based on the insights of almost 600 professionals and experts from utilities, distributors, operators and equipment manufacturers … they predict that SMRs have a “low likelihood of eventual take-up, and will have a minimal impact when they do arrive”.

Likewise, a 2014 report produced by Nuclear Energy Insider, drawing on interviews with more than 50 “leading specialists and decision makers”, noted a “pervasive sense of pessimism” resulting from abandoned and scaled-back SMR programs. Dr. Ziggy Switkowski ‒ who headed the Howard Government’s nuclear review in 2006 ‒ noted in 2019 that “nobody’s putting their money up” to build SMRs and “it is largely a debate for intellects and advocates because neither generators nor investors are interested because of the risk.”

NSWPC: Proponents say: Their modularity generates economies of scale, with pre-fabrication of individual components at specialist facilities.

Response: Diseconomies of scale are an inevitable consequence of scaling down, hence the high cost of the small number of SMR construction projects, and hence the paucity of investment.

NSWPC: They (SMRs) are less risky in the face of earthquakes and floods and can incorporate contemporary fail-safe mechanisms that largely eliminate potential for catastrophic failure.

Response: This is industry propaganda which has no basis in reality. See: SMR safety issues.

NSWPC: Their reduced consumption of water for cooling avoids the requirement to build near large water sources, which can be flood prone.

Response: There is no reason why water consumption (per unit of energy produced) would be lower for SMRs compared to large reactors.

NSWPC: This technology is currently being developed in the United States, where NuScale Power expects to have its first small modular reactor operating by 2026

Response: NuScale does NOT expect to have its first SMR operating by 2026 – the date has been repeatedly pushed back. NuScale was founded in 2007 yet still hasn’t raised the funds to build its first reactor. Construction could not proceed in the absence of massive taxpayer subsidies. A WSP / Parsons Brinckerhoff study commissioned by the South Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission estimated a cost of A$225 / MWh for NuScale power. The Minerals Council of Australia acknowledges that there will be no market for SMRs above a cost of A$60‒80/MWh.

NSWPC: A further option for firming capacity is small-scale nuclear reactors, an emerging form of baseload generation.

Response: No existing SMRs have firming capacity.

NSWPC: RECOMMENDATION 5.12. LIFTING THE BAN ON NUCLEAR ELECTRICITY GENERATION: Propose the national ban on nuclear generation be lifted for small modular reactors that satisfy safety conditions

Response: This is an irresponsible recommendation based on a superficial analysis.

Categories
Media Headlines

green energy nuclear debate

The green energy nuclear debate is unfolding in Europe in the lead up to COP26 in Glasgow and as the European Commission decides on what energy sources are ‘sustainable.’

The European Union (EU) is developing what they call a “taxonomy for sustainable finance” this is like a guide for investors and financial institutions to understand what activities are sustainable and would contribute to meeting the EUs goals to move to a low carbon economy.

There has been mounting pressure from the nuclear industry for nuclear power to be included in the “Sustainable Finance Taxonomy” which would mean nuclear power would be more likely to attract investment. Of course none of this would change the fact the nuclear power is expensive, dirty, dangerous and lacks social license.

The EUs Joint Research Centre – conducted a review of nuclear power considering whether nuclear power “does no harm” with a limited and narrow scope the report has been heavily criticised by environment groups. The nuclear industry has used the JRC report to increase pressure to include nuclear in the taxonomy.

While the JRC report focused on “do no harm” the Commission has 6 environmental objectives defined in the Taxonomy which a sustainable energy source must “substantially contribute to at least one of the six environmental objectives” as well as “do no significant harm to any of the other 5 environmental objectives” and “comply with minimum safeguards.”

I. Climate change mitigation: a company’s impact on the environment
II. Climate change adaptation: the environment’s impact on a company
III. Sustainable use and protection of water and marine resources
IV. Transition to a circular economy, waste prevention and recycling
V. Pollution prevention and control
VI. Protection of healthy ecosystem

In response to the controversy over nuclear the EU Commission has decided to exclude nuclear and gas from the “taxonomy for sustainable finance” which will be tabled on the 21st of April 2021. However the Commission has left the door open to consider gas and nuclear and other transition energies for inclusion in a separate piece of legislation later in 2021.

Why nuclear should not be funded

Nuclear is not economic new investment would lead to a number of new nuclear builds which may prove to be uneconomic and require bail out after bail out. For example in the European Union there are just four new nuclear projects – all have had major cost blow outs and are significantly behind schedule:

Flamanville
The deadline for the startup of unit 3 at France’s Flamanville nuclear power plant has been postponed until 2024 – 12 years later than the original target date. The 1600MWe Flamanville 3 reactor was originally expected to cost €3bn and to be ready in four years. However, the latest estimate from October 2019 puts the cost of the Flamanville EPR project at €12.4bn.

Olkiluoto
Unit 3 is an EPR reactor and has been under construction since 2005. The start of commercial operation was originally planned for May 2009 the latest estimate for start of regular production is February 2022. In December 2012, the French multi-national building contractor, Areva, estimated that the full cost of building the reactor will be about €8.5 billion, or almost three times the delivery price of €3 billion.

Slovakia
Construction start of two projects dates back 35 years, Mochovce-3 and -4 in Slovakia, and their startup has been further delayed, currently to 2020–2021. Bushehr-2 originally started construction in 1976, that is 44 years ago, and resumed construction in 2019 after a 40-year-long suspension. Grid connection is currently scheduled for 2024.
(World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2020, pg. 48).

Nuclear power is not only dangerous, leaves behind a trail of radioactive legacies from uranium mining, processing, reprocessing, nuclear waste and fuel for nuclear weapons, but it is expensive and unable to be deployed quickly. Nuclear is no solution to climate change.

Categories
Media Headlines

Fukushima 10 years on

Fukushima 10 years on – there is much to reflect on. It was 10 years ago that the Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami tore through the country and led to the nuclear disaster that continues to unfold at the Fukuhsima Daiichi reactors. In this post we’ve compiled some events and articles. We will update this post with more – so please check back.

Reflecting and continuing to bear witness to what is happening in Fukushima is an important reminder about why Australia should not go down the nuclear path, why nuclear power cannot solve the climate crisis.

Actions:

Send a message to Ambassador: don’t dump contaminated water into the pacific. The Australian Conservation Foundation is calling on people to send a message to the Ambassador of Japan in Australia a message calling on the Japanese government not to dump radioactive water from the Fukushima Daiichi reactors into the Pacific Ocean.

Articles:

Australian uranium fuelled Fukushima, by Jim Green and David Noonan, The Ecologist.

Australia is deeply connected to the Fukushima nuclear accident. by Yumi Oba, SBS.

The Fukushima Disaster in maps and charts by Alia Chughtai, Al Jazeera.

How the 2011 tsunami destroyed Japan’s trust in nuclear power by Michael Penn, Al Jazeera.

It’s time to clean up not start up! by Kerri Ann Garlick, Fremantle Herald

Ten years on from Fukushima, nuclear power continues to struggle with deeper problems by Ketan Joshi. Ten years on from Fukushima, the problem with new nuclear remains economic: it costs too much to build.

10 years after Fukushima: Are Japanese nuclear power plants safe? by Jun Tateno, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

A Fukushima lesson: Victim compensation schemes need updating by Hirokazu Miyazaki, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

Fukushima today: “I’m glad that I realized my mistake before I died.” by Thomas A. Bass Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

A decade after Fukushima nuclear disaster, contaminated water symbolizes Japan’s struggles, by Simon Denyer – Washington Post.

Legacy of the Fukushima nuclear disaster by Tatsujiro Suzuki, Nagasaki University. East Asia Forum.

Fukushima 10 years on an overview. Peace Boat.

To secure a green future, Japan must reckon with its nuclear past – by Tsuyoshi Inajima, Stephen Stapczynski, and Shoko Oda, the Japan Times and Bloomberg Green

Fukushima Mieruka video Project – Voices of the People. Friends of the Earth Japan.

Japan Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center, information on Fukushima.

Friends of the Earth Australia’s information sheet on the Fukushima disaster.

Events:

Global Conference for a Nuclear Free, Renewable Energy Future: 10 Years Since Fukushima: Thursday 11th March 2021. 20210311.genjiren.com/en/
Facebook event  www.facebook.com/events/252576426450139/
Twitter: twitter.com/GenjirenE
Enquiries: genjiren2021@gmail.com

Categories
Media Headlines

Energy Policy Chaos

This week the Coalition governments energy policy chaos has been dominated by fringe fossil fuel and pro nuclear interests.

This latest resurgence of pro nuclear propaganda has followed from a recent move by a few Nationals MPs to push legislation that would allow the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to fund nuclear power, along with gas, coal and carbon capture and storage. Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese described the move as “more chaos” in energy policy from the Liberal National coalition.

Dr Jim Green wrote in Renew Economy: “There’s conflict within the Coalition, as demonstrated by the unwillingness of the federal and NSW Coalition governments to repeal legal bans, and submissions opposing nuclear power to the federal inquiry from the SA and Tasmanian conservative governments as well as the Queensland Liberal-National Party. Coalition Senator Matt Canavan is at war with himself, previously noting that nuclear power would increase power bills but now supporting taxpayer funding for nuclear power through the Clean ­Energy Finance Corporation.” There is a frightening lack of any consistent energy policy that seeks to reduce carbon emissions, instead the actions of the coalition seem entirely geared towards supporting the gas, coal and uranium mining sector.

Pro Nuclear Pollies

You may be interested to know who in the federal government has come out as pro nuclear and or joined the “Friends of nuclear power parliament group” – you might like to write to them on the important issue of climate change and that nuclear is no solution. Read the joint statement opposing nuclear power and calling for urgent action on climate change to help draft your letter. We need to move past the energy policy chaos from this government.

NSW – LNP

  • John Alexander – Federal Member for Bennelong. PO Box 872 Epping NSW 1710 (02) 9869 4288 john.alexander.mp@aph.gov.au“trying to fight Muhammad Ali with one arm tied behind your back if you are going to ignore ­nuclear energy…This is a new era; let’s be right at the cutting edge,”
  • Trent Zimmerman – Federal Member for North Sydney. PO Box 1107, North Sydney, NSW, 2059. 02 9929 9822 Trent.Zimmerman.MP@aph.gov.au
  • Jason Falinski – Federal Member for Mackellar. Shop 1 1238 Pittwater Road Narrabeen NSW 2101, (02) 8484 0300 Jason.Falinski.MP@aph.gov.au
  • Andrew Bragg – Federal Senator for NSW. GPO Box 5411 Sydney, NSW, 2001, (02) 9159 9320 senator.bragg@aph.gov.au
  • Dave Sharma – Federal Member for Wentworth. PO Box 545 Edgecliff NSW 2027, (02) 9327 3988 Dave.Sharma.MP@aph.gov.au
  • Barnaby Joyce – Federal Member for New England. PO Box 963, Tamworth NSW 2340,  0267613080
  • Craig Kelly, Federal Member for Hughes. PO Box 1014, Sutherland, NSW 1499, (02) 9521 6262, craig.kelly.mp@aph.gov.au
  • (Co-Chair of the Friends of Nuclear Power parliament group) The Hon Dr David Gillespie MP (Nationals) – Federal Member for Lyne Corner of High and Hastings Streets, Wauchope NSW 2446. (02) 65864462 david.gillespie.mp@aph.gov.au

NSW – Labor

  • (Co-Chair of the Friends of Nuclear Power parliament group) Mrs Meryl Swanson MP (Labor) Federal Member for Paterson (Shadow Assistant Minister for Defence) – 35 Sturgeon Street Raymond Terrace, NSW.  02 4983 2401. meryl.swanson.mp@aph.gov.au
  • Joel Fitzgibbon (Labor) Member for Hunter (NSW) 3 Edward Street Cessnock NSW 2325. (02) 4991 1022. Joel.fitzgibbon.mp@aph.gov.au

Queensland – LNP

  • Andrew Laming – Federal Member for Bowman. PO Box 8024
    Cleveland, QLD, 4163 – 07 3821 0155 andrew.laming.mp@aph.gov.au  “I’m very keen to see the prohibition lifted…It is something that has to be taken to an election so Australians realise there is a significant change in energy policy.”
  • Gerard Rennick – Federal Senator for Queensland. PO Box 2350 Chermside Centre, QLD, 4032. (07) 32527101 senator.rennick@aph.gov.au
  • Ted O’Brien – Federal Member for Fairfax. PO Box 1978 Sunshine Plaza, Maroochydore Qld 4558 (07) 5479 2800 ted.obrien.mp@aph.gov.au
  • Matt Canavan – Federal Senator for Queensland. PO Box 737 Rockhampton QLD 4700, (07) 4927 2003, senator.canavan@aph.gov.au

Queensland – Minor Parties

  • (Deputy Chair of the Friends of Nuclear Power parliament group) The Hon Bob Katter MP (Katter’s Australian Party), PO Box 1636, Innisfail QLD, 4860/ PO Box 2130, Mt Isa QLD 4825. (07) 4061 6066 (07) 47433534 Bob.Katter.MP@aph.gov.au
  • Pauline Hanson (One Nation) Federal Senator for Queensland. GPO Box 228 Brisbane, QLD, 4001. (07) 3221 7644. Senator.hanson@aph.gov.au

South Australia – LNP

  • Rowan Ramsey, Federal Member for Grey. PO Box 296, Port Pirie, SA 5540. (08) 8633 1744 rowan.ramsey.mp@aph.gov.au
  • Tony Pasin – Federal Liberal Member for Barker. Shop 5, Murray Bridge Green, Riverview Road, Murray Bridge SA 5253, (08) 8531 2466, Tony.Pasin.MP@aph.gov.au

South Australia – ALP & Centre Alliance

  • Alex Gallacher (Labor) Federal Senator for South Australia. 265 Churchill Road
    Prospect, SA, 5082. (08) 8269 6022. senator.gallacher@aph.gov.au
  • Stirling Griff (Centre Alliance) Federal Senator for South Australia. 110 King William Rd, Goodwood SA 5034. 08) 8272 7575. Senator.griff@aph.gov.au

Tasmania

Victoria – LNP

  • Tim Wilson – Federal Member for Goldstein. 368 Centre Road Bentleigh, VIC, 3204, (03) 9557 4644, Tim.Wilson.MP@aph.gov.au
  • Katie Allen – ­Federal Member for Higgins. 1/1343 Malvern Rd, Malvern 30144, katie.allen.mp@aph.gov.au, (03) 98224422 “said, it was “hugely significant” the US was progressing with prototypes for small modular reactors.”
  • Kevin Andrews – Federal Member for Menzies. PO Box 124 Doncaster Victoria 3108, (03) 9848 9900, menzies@aph.gov.au
  • Bridget McKenzie – Federal Senator for Victoria. 172 High Street, Wodonga VIC 3690, (02) 6024 2560, Senator.McKenzie@aph.gov.au “We compete against the world with one hand behind our back while other nations avail themselves of cutting-edge, low-emissions technologies. For too long, Australia has blocked energy innovations such as nuclear and carbon capture technologies in addition to allowing (HELE) projects…. for too long, Australia has blocked energy innovations such as nuclear and carbon capture technologies’.”

Victoria – ALP

  • Kim Carr (Labor) Federal Senator for Victoria. 62 Lygon Street Carlton South, VIC, 3053. (03) 9639 2798 senator.carr@aph.gov.au
  • Raff Ciccone (Labor) Federal Senator for Victoria. 1A Blackburn Road, Blackburn Victoria 3130. 03 9894 2098. senator.ciccone@aph.gov.au

West Australia

  • Vince Connelly – Federal Liberal Member for Stirling. Po Box 989 Innaloo WA 6918, (08) 93442373, vince.connelly.mp@aph.gov.au said Australia was being “held back by an outdated ideology that seeks to paint nuclear technology as inherently evil”.
Categories
Media Headlines

Final Report on environment laws

The final report on environment laws in Australia has been made public this week.

In Summary, the Final Report:

  • recommends that “nuclear actions” remain a Matter of National Environmental Significance (MNES) this means all proposals that are a “nuclear action” eg uranium mining, need to be assessed and approved in accordance with national environmental laws (The EPBC Act). 
  • recommends that State and Territory Governments be accredited to assess and approve projects in-line with the EPBC Act and with “National Environment Standards.” National Environmental Standards do not yet exist but would be legally enforceable standards. In the case of nuclear it is likely that National Environmental Standards would be derived from national and international standards on the nuclear industry. o Nuclear projects, including uranium mines would then be assessed and approved by state and territory governments, not the federal government. 
  • recommends a second phase of reform that “the EPBC Act and the regulatory arrangements of the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) should be aligned, to support the implementation of best-practice international approaches based on risk of harm to the environment, including the community.”
  • describes the section 140A prohibition on some nuclear actions (like nuclear power and reprocessing) reflects a policy choice and that to change this would also be a ‘policy’ or political decision – but notes that legislative changes would be required. Important to note that there is emphasis on elected parliamentarians making policy choices, a subtle hint on the lack of a mandate to lift the prohibition.

Initially “nuclear actions” will have to be assessed and approved based on “the whole of environment” impact – this means they would require a full environmental assessment. It is unclear if this would be retained under the proposal to make ARPANSA the regulator and with National Environmental Standards for nuclear actions or whether assessments and approvals would only be required for aspects of a project that involve radiation.

Categories
Media Headlines

Victorian Inquiry into Nuclear

The Victorian Inquiry into Nuclear has concluded that there is no justification to remove the prohibition on nuclear power or invest in any further review of nuclear power. Below are the key findings for the inquiry.

The report notes “The (Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation) Act recognises the protection of the environment from nuclear actions as a matter of national environmental significance…The EPBC Act specifically prohibits approval of actions involving the construction or operation of a nuclear fuel fabrication plant, a nuclear power plant, an enrichment plant, or a reprocessing facility.” This Act is also under review at a national level – the review committee to remove has not recommendation this prohibition be removed, aka the prohibition should remain, this is a key outcome of state and national reviews on nuclear power.

Parliament of Victoria
Inquiry into nuclear prohibition
https://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/epc-lc/article/4350
Legislative Council Environment and Planning Committee
November 2020

Findings
FINDING 1: Regardless of technology development, priority should be given to the security, stability and accessibility of energy supply and the need to lower carbon emissions due to climate change and to ensure affordable energy.


FINDING 2: Current estimates of the cost of nuclear energy in Australia are unreliable and accurately costing the full cost is not possible without a detailed business case being undertaken.


FINDING 3: Notwithstanding the ambiguities of the costings, the Committee received substantial evidence that nuclear power is significantly more expensive than other forms of power generation and it is recognised that, currently, nuclear is at the high end of the cost range across all technologies.


FINDING 4: A business case is unlikely to be undertaken, given its costs and resources required, while a prohibition of nuclear energy activities remains and there is not likelihood of a plant being able to be built.


FINDING 5: Without subsidisation a nuclear power industry will remain economically unviable in Australia for now.

FINDING 6: Discussion about Victorian participation in the nuclear fuel cycle is entirely theoretical while the Commonwealth prohibitions remain in place.


FINDING 7: Until there is a change in the Commonwealth position, detailed discussions about emerging technologies in Victoria related to the nuclear fuel cycle and power generation are unlikely to advance.


FINDING 8: The success of any radioactive waste strategy relies on a level of acceptance and confidence across government, industry and the broader community of its legitimacy, effectiveness and integrity in its ability to deal with all facets of waste management, storage and disposal, including the long-term health and safety of workers, affected communities, particularly First Nations Peoples, and the environment.


FINDING 9: Those who propose a policy shift have not presented any argument, data or proof in support of their position that cannot be nullified by those arguing against. Any advantages are speculative in nature, and do not outweigh the identified and proven risks.


FINDING 10: The nuclear medicine industry is not hindered significantly by the current prohibitions against uranium or thorium exploration and mining. Current legislative prohibitions only prohibit mining and the construction or operation of certain nuclear facilities, such as nuclear reactors. This does exclude Victoria from hosting a nuclear research reactor or other nuclear facilities which could be used to increase supply of radioisotopes for medical or industrial purposes. The Committee notes that if Victoria did seek to establish a research reactor, Victorian and Commonwealth prohibitions would need to be repealed to allow this to happen. Therefore, a repeal of just Victorian legislation would not be sufficient to expand
our involvement in nuclear medicine beyond what is currently permissible.


FINDING 11: The current market for this material is receiving enough supply from international import and the OPAL reactor at Lucas Heights. The Committee does not believe that fully repealing the Nuclear Activities (Prohibitions) Act 1983 would have a material influence on the nuclear medicine sector, as it is unlikely Victoria’s involvement would increase beyond its current capacity.


FINDING 12: The Committee is not convinced that thorium exploration and mining is economically or technologically viable.

Categories
Media Headlines

Report: Nuclear power “no solution for a cleaner world”

Market Watch reports that a recent Nature Energy study collected data from 123 countries over a 25-year period, examining how the introduction of either nuclear-power or renewable-energy sources affects each country’s levels of carbon emissions.

The results show that a larger-scale national investment in nuclear-power plants not only fails to yield a significant reduction in carbon emissions, it actually causes higher emissions in poorer countries that implemented this strategy.

For renewables, the opposite is true. In certain large country samples, the relationship between renewable energy and reduction in CO2-emissions is up to seven times stronger than the corresponding relationship for nuclear power.

Read the MarketWatch article here

Categories
Media Headlines

Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty

Honduras has became the 50th country to ratify the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty, the treaty will now become international law making nuclear weapons illegal. An Australian NGO, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) has been critical in building the case for a ban treaty with a focus on the humanitarian harm of nuclear weapons. You can track the development of the treaty coming into law through ICAN.

Nuclear weapons cause devastating humanitarian harm in so many different ways. Professor Tilman Ruff writes about the effects of nuclear weapons on climate demonstrating diverse and complex ways that nuclear weapons would impact life on earth:

less than 0.5% of the global nuclear arsenal,
targeted on cities in just one region of the world, would
ignite massive firestorms that would loft millions of tons
of smoke high into the atmosphere, beyond the reach of
rain and snow. This smoke would blanket the entire globe
within a few weeks, and cool, dry and darken the world
beneath for more than two decades. The dark smoke in
the stratosphere and above would be warmed by the sun,
heating the upper atmosphere by more than 50℃, and
rapidly depleting the ozone which protects us from the
Sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation.1

Professor Tilman Ruff, “Nuclear Weapons and our Climate”.

The link between nuclear power and nuclear weapons is inextricable. Al Gore, former US Vice President made an important connection between nuclear power and weapons in the context of addressing climate change:

“For eight years in the White House, every weapons-proliferation problem we dealt with was connected to a civilian reactor program. And if we ever got to the point where we wanted to use nuclear reactors to back out a lot of coal … then we’d have to put them in so many places we’d run that proliferation risk right off the reasonability scale.”

Al Gore, former US Vice President

Former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, in his final years became a strong advocate for the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty. Like many others he wrote about nuclear weapons and climate change being the greatest existential threat the world faces. In one essay he wrote:

Like preventing rampant climate change, abolishing nuclear weapons is a paramount challenge for people and leaders the world over; a precondition for survival, sustainability and health for our planet and future generations. Both in the scale of the indiscriminate devastation they cause, and in their uniquely persistent, spreading, genetically damaging radioactive fallout, nuclear weapons are unlike any other ‘weapons’. They cannot be used for any legitimate military purpose. Any use, or threat of use, should be a violation of international humanitarian law

Malcolm Fraser, former Prime Minister of Australia.

The Australian Labor Party, has released a statement in response to the 50th ratification of the nuclear weapons ban treaty. It says the ALP is committed to sign and ratify the treaty, pending a suite of pre-requisites. The Australian Greens have unequivocally supported the Treaty and are calling for the immediate signing and ratification of the Treaty. The Liberal Government has been as silent as they can be, but in UN forums the Australian Government have actively sought to derail the treaty.

Dr Mark Diesendorf and Richard Broinowski AO have written recently on the nuclear power push in Australia and make links to conversations and some public debate about Australia developing a nuclear weapons program under the guise of “nuclear deterrence.”

The two greatest threats to our survival on earth are climate change and nuclear weapons, reflected in the Doomsday Clock, set by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. Proposing nuclear power as a solution to climate change is folly. You cannot address one by exacerbating the other.

This treaty sets, for the first time, a pathway to the elimination of nuclear weapons. Congratulations to ICAN and the countries who have ratified the treaty – thankyou.

Categories
Media Headlines

IEA World Energy Outlook

In September the International Energy Agency released the edition of the 2020 World Energy Outlook. For the first time it has pegged solar as the king of future electricity markets. Conversely, nuclear power looks set to continue its decline. Last year, according to the IEA nuclear power capacity fell by 3,900 megawatts (MW) or 1%. This year, nuclear is performing even worse. The World Energy Outlook reports that nuclear power declined by 3.5% in the first quarter of 2020 and anticipates a decline of 3% for 2020 (compared to 2019).

And it only gets worse from there. With an ageing fleet of reactors, many of them set to be shut down over the next 10-20 years, the World Energy Outlook notes that nuclear power could fall from 280,000 MW now to just 90,000 MW by 2040. One quarter of current nuclear capacity is set to shut down over the next five years.

The IEA notes that extending the lifespan of ageing reactors for 10 years ranges from US$500 million to US$1 billion per reactor.

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has described the risk of nuclear reactors as a bathtub curve – new reactors have a high risk at the very beginning of their life-cycles where design and construction faults may emerge, then a period of relative safety, then risks begin to increase with the age of reactors. They document a number of examples in the US where utilities attempted to retrofit ageing reactors only to find intractable problems, prohibitive costs and in the end opted for permanent closure

Another recent report, the World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2020, states that that 176 additional new reactors would have to be connected to the grid just to account for closures over the next decade – three times the rate achieved over the past decade (58 reactor startups between 2010 and 2019). The nuclear industry is running just to stand still. In future energy scenario’s nuclear is simply too expensive to matter.

World Energy Outlook meme, solar too cheap to meter.

John Quiggin, Professor of Economics at University of Queensland, said in response to the IEA WEO report: “Once a solar module has been installed, a zero rate of interest means that the electricity it generates is virtually free. Spread over the lifetime of the module, the cost is around 2c/kwh (assuming $1/watt cost, 2000 operating hours per year and a 25-year lifetime). That cost would be indexed to the rate of inflation, but would probably never exceed 3c/kwh. There is, then, a real possibility that solar PV and other renewable technologies could fulfil the promise made decades ago by the promoters of nuclear power: that it will deliver electricity “too cheap to meter”. (Even with access to cheap capital, nuclear power never delivered on that promise.)”

Categories
Media Headlines

Uranium mining

In Australia uranium mining has been plagued with leaks, spills, accidents and met with fierce opposition from First Nation communities and the public. There is a national review of Australia’s environment laws which threatens to defer powers to state and territory government and reduce the scope of environmental protections. Below are details about why we need stronger, not weaker, laws to protect the environment from uranium mining risks.

Associate Proffessor Gavin Mudd has written extensively on the failures of uranium mining in Australia in a recent article “Expensive, Dirty and Dangerous.” and calls for ongoing federal oversight.

On a regular day uranium ends up as nuclear waste on a bad day uranium ends up as nuclear fall out. Uranium mining in Australia accounts for 0.2% of national export revenue and accounts for less than 0.02% of jobs in Australia – less than a thousand jobs. This marginal sector puts workers, communities and the environment at risk here at home in Australia and the countries where it is exported to.What starts in a dump truck in the outback ends up as a radioactive legacy fuelling risks at nuclear power reactors and pilling up as nuclear waste and weapons grade material around the globe.

First Nations Opposition

First Nations communities have led the fight against uranium mining in Australia at Ranger on Mirrar country, Olympic Dam on Kokatha country, Beverley mines on Adnyamathanha country, Mulga Rock, Yeelirrie and Wiluna on Wongatha country and Kintyre on Martu country. Some communities have been fighting for over 40 years to stop mines others for over 40 years and been forced to live with mining. For more on the First Nations led resistance to uranium mine see the Australian Nuclear Free Alliance.

Uranium Tailings

One of the greatest risks of uranium mining is the tailings. Tailings are the waste from uranium processing, they sit in tailings ponds until mine closure when they are supposed to be rehabilitated. The best national standard for tailings is at the Ranger uranium mine – where there is a requirement to “the tailings are physically isolated from the environment for at least 10,000 years.”

However, during the operation of the Ranger mine ERA and Rio Tinto have failed to secure those tailings, with evidence showing that up to 100,000 litres of tailings leak from the site everyday. Ranger is preparing for rehabilitation to begin in 2021 it is expected to cost close to $1 billion dollars.

In 2019 the Australian National Committee on Large Dams (ANCOLD) gave BHPs Olympic Dam uranium mine tailings a ranking of “Extreme” consequences category, a ranking that is given for facilities that, if the dam fails, would cause the death of 100 or more people. Despite this extreme risk BHPs proposed additional tailings facility at Olympic Dam was granted approval in 2019 without an environmental assessment.

Uranium tailings threaten the environment, public and workers health and safety across generations. What make them even more dangerous is the push to weaken environmental regulations.

Uranium Mine Rehabilitation

There is no example of a uranium mine in Australia that has been successfully rehabilitated. Mary Kathleen (QLD) and Rum Jungle (NT) Narbalek (NT) have all undergone, to varying degrees, rehabilitation and are all sites with ongoing pollution. The NT and Commonwealth government are now preparing for a third attempt to rehabilitate Rum Jungle which is expected to cost well over $300 million dollars – and it is only expected to reduce, not eliminate, the pollution. For more details on the legacy of Australian uranium mining read the joint submission to the 2020 Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation review.

Australian Uranium Fuelled Fukushima

In October 2011 Dr Robert Floyd, director-general of the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade confirmed “that Australian obligated nuclear material was at the Fukushima Daiichi site and in each of the reactors.”

The UN Secretary-General called on Australia and all uranium producing countries to conduct “an in-depth assessment of the net cost impact of the impacts of mining fissionable material on local communities and ecosystems.”

Uranium Mining and Health

There is a dangerous trend in seeking to normalise uranium which has consequences for health and safety. Establishing a culture that seeks to normalise radioactive material and diminishing the risks puts workers at harm. This is evident in a paper written by consultant radiologist and ARPANSA Radiation Health and Safety Advisory Council member Dr Peter Karamoskos who identifies that it “is estimated that up to 50 per cent of underground uranium miners in Australia do not use their masks, and thus drastically increase their risk of lung cancer while underestimating their actual radiation dose (since this is calculated assuming PPEs are used).”

The most widely accepted model for understanding radiation exposure and health outcomes is the “linear no threshold” which suggests that the greater the radiation exposure the greater the risk of adverse health outcome. Richard Monson Professor of Epidemology at Harvard School of Public Health explains that “The health risks – particularly the development of solid cancers in organs – rise proportionally with exposure. At low doses of radiation, the risk of inducing solid cancers is very small. As the overall lifetime exposure increases, so does the risk.” Workers are exposed to low doses every year.

The BEIR VII report concluded that “there is a linear dose-response relationship between exposure to ionizing radiation and the development of solid cancers in humans. It is unlikely that there is a threshold below which cancers are not induced.”

Uranium Price

uranium price chart and quote on low uranium price

In March 2020 the uranium price began to increase the rise was short lived and has begun to come back down. Following decisions to closure two rectors 10 and 20 years earlier than expected was another blow to the uranium price. Arena reports that “the near-term outlook for the uranium market held by many traders, producers, and utilities immediately shifted from a cautiously optimistic outlook to a more bearish view.”

Cameco the worlds largest uranium producer has said “the decisions many producers, including the lowest-cost producers, have made to preserve long-term value by leaving uranium in the ground.”