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Our nuclear energy ban means there is no prospect of net zero

19 February 2022

9:00 AM

19 February 2022

9:00 AM

OK Macron; you’re right and ScoMo’s wrong on nuclear power – but this time it’s not about submarines. When the French President last week put a stop to Europe’s overall retreat from nuclear power generation by announcing plans to build six new nuclear reactors, with possibly a further eight to come, he was, according to the Wall Street Journal, making nuclear energy the cornerstone of France’s response to climate change. This is not only the opposite from Germany’s  program of nuclear generator closures that is to continue apace as the anti-nuclear obsession of the Green section of the new ruling coalition translates into action, it is also a distinctly different course from those nations like Australia that have, irrationally, banned the nuclear industry.

So the Morrison government’s decision to go nuclear on submarines (to France’s disadvantage and anger), is, curiously, accompanied by our continued banning of the benefits of nuclear energy – the least polluting of all reliable base-load power generating alternatives – and the raw material for which, uranium, we have about one-third of the world’s reserves. While our governments, federal and state, mirror the German (and Belgian) example and bow down to the anti-nuclear noise from the Left (despite recent Australian opinion polls at last showing majority support for it), Macron is running the political risk in an election year of seeking to reverse the Western world’s irrational climate-damaging slide in public support for nuclear power. No Australian political leader has such courage.

This represents a radical change for Macron, says the National Review. Only a year ago he was all for cutting the nuclear share of France’s electric power from its current 75 per cent down to 50 per cent. But now he is ‘relaunching construction of nuclear reactors in our country… to guarantee France’s energy independence, to guarantee our country’s electricity supply and achieve our objectives, in particular carbon neutrality in 2050’. France is not alone; whereas a few months ago nuclear power was excluded from the European Union bureaucrats’ ‘taxonomy’ that defines which energy sources would be considered carbon-free (i.e. valid substitutes for fossil fuels) now most EU nations except the fanatical Germanic states have reversed themselves to include it. France already gets seventy per cent of its electricity from nuclear power (from plants averaging 37 years old) and needs not only a new generation to replace them, but also to meet its greenhouse gas emissions targets.

As climate realist Björn Lomborg has warned, the anti-fossil fuel campaign compounded the post-pandemic supply crisis that has seen energy costs soaring world-wide and will just be a taste of things to come unless the climate change crusaders change course. ‘Only when green energy is cheaper than fossil fuels will the world be able and willing to make the transition’. Otherwise, as Bloomberg editorialised recently, if the transition to zero carbon is unduly disruptive or seen as a big threat to living standards, support for the effort could collapse.

But to achieve, ‘over the next several decades, an orderly, affordable and politically sustainable transition to zero-carbon electricity… requires a much bigger nuclear component…. In this light, retiring nuclear plants ahead of schedule is crazy’. Bloomberg notes that the immediate consequences of the German-led European flight from nuclear power are that wholesale energy prices have increased by a factor of four since the start of the pandemic. ‘There might be worse to come. Germany will shut down the last of its nuclear capacity this year. Aside from the shock of higher costs, Germany’s sudden dependence on gas from Russia has undermined the Western alliance and led the German government to outright appeasement of President Vladimir Putin as he threatens war against Ukraine’.

Bloomberg adds that governmental bureaucratic delays that have discouraged nuclear power investment ‘reflect the post-Fukushima consensus, as expressed in endless new red tape, that adding nuclear capacity is foolish. The prejudice against nuclear is indeed wrong — and dangerously so – and the rules should be changed. Nuclear power can make a vital contribution to fighting climate change. Without further delay, governments need to acknowledge this truth and act on it’.

In the US Congress action is on the way; nuclear power has re-emerged on the political agenda as energy costs soar across the country, supply chain problems continue and President Biden pushes what the Washington Times describes as ‘a robust climate change agenda’ to curb greenhouse gas emissions by 50 per cent over the next decade. The evident need for a stable and cheap energy source that is not reliant on other nations has signalled a shift in public opinion on nuclear power. It quotes Senator Tom Carper, Delaware Democrat and chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that ‘Nuclear energy is by far the largest source of reliable, clean energy in our country — generating over half of our nation’s carbon-free electricity’. His committee has ‘significant bipartisan support’ for proposed nuclear energy bills that would streamline federal regulations on the construction of nuclear reactors and power plants, while authorising more money for struggling facilities. and cleaning up nuclear waste.

There is also growing support for the nuclear cause in Australia, particularly after last year’s nuclear submarine deal and especially where it matters – within the federal Coalition party room. A government-dominated committee recommended the partial removal of the nuclear ban over Labor objections and Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce has also promoted nuclear energy. But Prime Minister Morrison has said that without bipartisan support from Labor the government would not propose lifting the nuclear moratorium, with the result that Australia remains the world’s third-largest exporter of uranium but its own use for energy generation (to achieve ‘climate saving’ emissions-free targets) is banned. This lack of political consensus is despite last year’s poll showing about half of Australia’s left-of-centre voters would support nuclear power when it is connected to lower emissions of greenhouse gasses.

There is also increasing community interest in the issue, with last week’s meeting of the Royal Society of NSW hosting a discussion with nuclear power proponent Robert Parker in which he demonstrated that increasing energy costs and uncertainty over reliability mean that nuclear energy is not only viable in Australia as the most efficient dispatchable low-carbon generating source, it is also vital if our carbon emission targets are to be met. He outlined how the 20 gigawatts of coal-fired power plant capacity reaching retirement over the next 25 years can readily be replaced with emerging small nuclear power plants. ‘The repeal of legislation preventing the use of nuclear energy in Australia should be followed by establishing suitable methods of financing capital intensive power plants that can last in excess of eighty years in a market that currently does not value low carbon emissions, reliability, capacity or long-term sustainability’. Don’t hold your breath waiting for any Australian government, state or federal, to act on his advice.

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