A brief update on the nuclear debate

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.  

Senator Hanson-Young asked the question where will these reactors go? The next day in the Senate LNP Senator Gerard Rennick casually suggested a nuclear reactor for Chinchilla.

“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.”

LNP Senator Gerard Rennick – Wednesday 11th August 2021 – pg 77

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:

  • Dr Paul Dorfman wrote about the increased risks of operating nuclear in a changing climate.
  • David Vetter writing for Forbes asks experts about the need for nuclear – and then explores the hidden agenda of nuclear submarines in defence.
  • Ali Ahmad released research looking at the range of technical issues reactors are likely to face with global warming – adding to their unsuitability for addressing the climate crisis. Summary and some interesting technical debate can be seen here.
  • 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.