We need your help to defend the ban on nuclear power.
Since 1999 domestic nuclear power has been prohibited by Australian law. This ban has served us well and helped avoid the high cost, high risk nuclear sector. But right now, these sensible protections are under threat from a concerted push by Coalition politicians.
A group of Nationals and Liberals – including climate deniers and skeptics – are now championing nuclear power as a climate response.
In reality, promoting nuclear delays effective climate action. The challenges and opportunities around building a non-fossil energy future are pressing and real. We cannot afford to waste more time on culture wars and false solutions. Please add your voice to defend the nuclear ban.
A new Senate Inquiry looking at this push by Matt Canavan and others to get rid of the nuclear protections is taking comment until December 12.
We can’t let them get a foot in the door or it will become more than a distraction – it will become a diversion of resources, funding and focus.
To help defend the ban on nuclear power and keep Australia nuclear free here are some key points and helpful links highlighting why nuclear is no solution to the climate crisis.
Nuclear is the most expensive energy option
Nuclear is slow. It can take decades to build and would require a decade or more to develop the legislative framework
Nuclear is dangerous. Either through human error, disaster, or as a military target the catastrophic consequences of a nuclear disaster would permanently pollute.
Nuclear is unwanted. There is long standing popular opposition to nuclear power in Australia because of the issues above as well as the unsolved problem of nuclear waste and the link to nuclear weapons.
Alternatives like renewables, storage and energy efficiency are faster, cheaper, more deployable and enjoy much more public support
The nuclear debate in Australia continues to rage on. Last week the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released their 6th report on Climate Change with dire warnings about the rate of global warming and its impacts. The following day in the Australian parliament there was, again, the push for nuclear power. Senators McMahon, Hughes and Lambie all – instead of making constructive contributions in response the IPCC report began the tireless chant for nuclear power and lashing out at opponents. Northern Territory Senator Sam McMahon went as far as to put forward amendments to the already stalled and controversial Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment Bill – seeking to lift the prohibition on nuclear power. Outside the Senate Matt Canavan reckoned Gladstone would be a good spot for a reactor.
“If we could get a rail line up through there, we could open up new coal deposits. Also, if we didn’t want more coalmines, we could look at putting a nuclear power station in Barakula State Forest, which is just north of Chinchilla. It’s the biggest state forest in the Southern Hemisphere. If you had a big water source there, the Nathan Dam, you could open up a lot of possibilities.”
This is a spectacular display of the lack of vision of the National Party who don’t care if you dig up coal or uranium – they just want something dug up and burnt. One day nuclear is a solution to climate change on another day climate change is a hoax and we should dig up more coal. Of if you’re Gerard Rennick you can have both coal and nuclear in the same breath.
Weeks earlier Liberal MP Angus Taylor announced the signing of a letter of intent with the UK to form a partnership on low emissions solutions. Small Modular Nuclear Reactors (SMNRs) were among the technologies listed in the partnership to receive research funding. At the end of 2020 Minister Taylor released the Technology Investment Roadmap – in which SMNRs were listed as a technology to watch – within 9 months, without independent evidence or advice or public debate, the government’s position on nuclear has gone from watching brief to fund. Using the public purse to fund a prohibited technology in the absence of any public debate and without any mandate is a new, but unsurprising, low.
Outside of the strange debates in the Australian Parliament more and more voices are adding to the detailed and informed discussion on the realities of nuclear in a changing climate:
Allison Macfarlane, former US Nuclear Regulatory Chairperson wrote “Nuclear Energy Will Not Be the Solution to Climate Change – There Is Not Enough Time for Nuclear Innovation to Save the Planet”
And Market Insiders reported on more planned nuclear shut downs because of economic failure – reflecting nuclear may not have a role in energy transition…
No doubt the debate will continue to rage on in the lead up to COP26 and as the nuclear industry try to seal their fate. May the reality of the failures and risks of the sector be louder than the false promises of safe & cheap reactors that continue to ignore the feasibility, the increasing risks and the ever mounting stockpiles of nuclear waste and weapons.
Below is a summary of key findings from the research titled “Advanced isn’t Always Better” by Edwin Lyman from the Union of Concerned Scientists. The study considered non light-water reactors (NLWR) aka Advanced nuclear or Generation IV reactors. It concludes that NLWRs are a long way from commercialisation and in their current form do not reduce safety or weapons risks and in many cases these risks are increased.
Former US Nuclear Regulatory Chairperson – Allison Macfarlane has recently made similar findings “But when it comes to averting the imminent effects of climate change, even the cutting edge of nuclear technology will prove to be too little, too late. Put simply, given the economic trends in existing plants and those under construction, nuclear power cannot positively impact climate change in the next ten years or more. Given the long lead times to develop engineered, full-scale prototypes of new advanced designs and the time required to build a manufacturing base and a customer base to make nuclear power more economically competitive, it is unlikely that nuclear power will begin to significantly reduce our carbon energy footprint even in 20 years—in the United States and globally. No country has developed this technology to a point where it can and will be widely and successfully deployed.”
“Little evidence supports claims that NLWRs will be significantly safer than today’s LWRs. While some NLWR designs offer some safety advantages, all have novel characteristics that could render them less safe.“
“The claim that any nuclear reactor system can “burn” or “consume” nuclear waste is a misleading oversimplification. Reactors can actually use only a fraction of spent nuclear fuel as new fuel, and separating that fraction increases the risks of nuclear proliferation and terrorism. “
“Most NLWR designs under consideration do not offer obvious improvements over LWRs significant enough to justify their many risks. “
“Once-through, breed-and-burn reactors have the potential to use uranium more efficiently without reprocessing, but many technical challenges remain.“
“High-assay low enriched uranium (HALEU) fuel, which is needed for many NLWR designs, poses higher nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism risks than the lower-assay LEU used by the operating LWR fleet. “
“The significant time and resources needed to safely commercialize any NLWR design should not be underestimated.“
Lyman, Edwin. 2021. “Advanced” Isn’t Always Better: Assessing the Safety, Security, and Environmental Impacts of Non-Light-Water Nuclear Reactors. Cambridge, MA: Union of Concerned Scientists. https://doi.org/10.47923/2021.14000. Pg’s 9 – 11.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org“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,”
(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 email@example.com
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. firstname.lastname@example.org
Andrew Laming – Federal Member for Bowman. PO Box 8024 Cleveland, QLD, 4163 – 07 3821 0155 email@example.com “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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Ted O’Brien – Federal Member for Fairfax. PO Box 1978 Sunshine Plaza, Maroochydore Qld 4558 (07) 5479 2800 email@example.com
(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.firstname.lastname@example.org
Katie Allen – Federal Member for Higgins. 1/1343 Malvern Rd, Malvern 30144, email@example.com, (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, firstname.lastname@example.org
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 email@example.com
Raff Ciccone (Labor) Federal Senator for Victoria. 1A Blackburn Road, Blackburn Victoria 3130. 03 9894 2098. firstname.lastname@example.org
Vince Connelly – Federal Liberal Member for Stirling. Po Box 989 Innaloo WA 6918, (08) 93442373, email@example.com said Australia was being “held back by an outdated ideology that seeks to paint nuclear technology as inherently evil”.
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.
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.
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.
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.