Australia's nuclear options: CEDA policy perspective

9 Nov 2011


In the following policy perspective CEDA examines the environmental and economic issues associated with nuclear power and sets out a real options approach to enabling its future development.

Australia's energy options

Australia is at a critical moment in determining its energy future. Energy demand is forecast to rise substantially with continued economic and population growth while policy makers grapple with how to decarbonise the economy. Meanwhile, global growth in energy demand is causing ongoing price rises in commodities. Given the long lifecycle of energy investments, policy decisions made to address these challenges will determine Australia’s economic competitiveness for decades to come.

The nuclear debate

Nuclear power is widely used throughout the world and represents one of the most reliable means of replacing fossil fuels. Only hydropower displaces more carbon emissions than nuclear energy, and Australia is already utilising all its reasonable hydropower resources. To not consider the nuclear option when trying to decar- bonise the economy is tantamount to committing economic and environmental vandalism.

Detractors of nuclear power may consider the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor as sufficient cause to ignore it. However, the Fukushima Daiichi reactor was of 1960s vintage and modern reactor designs have passive safety features that preclude such a scenario occurring. Australia cannot afford to make policy decisions based on technology more than 40 years old. It would be equivalent to critiquing the rollout of the national broadband network based on assessments of the telegraph system.

Concerns that exporting greater amounts of uranium will contribute to nuclear weapons proliferation are also groundless. Nuclear power has already achieved widespread deployment and the nuclear genie is well and truly out of the bottle.

There is a substantial opportunity for Australia to play a more fundamental role in the global nuclear fuel cycle. Australia’s twin stabilities of political and geographic systems make it uniquely placed to hold nuclear waste material. This would not be a global dumping ground but a sophisticated storage facility of relatively little material. Furthermore, technological developments in nuclear reactors may result in future generators using the waste products of current reactors as fuel.

Related identifier: ISBN 0 85801 277 4

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