Leading climate scientist argues for their use to combat global warming
Barry Brook, the publisher of the widely read blog Brave New Climate, (right) has a paper in Energy (Elsevier) advocating that Australia should make large scale investments in nuclear power in response to the challenge of climate change.
According to a brief summary of the paper published in the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) on Nov 25, this would mean the construction of up to seven 1,000 MW reactors in a coastal stretch involving locations in Sydney, Newcastle, and Wollongong.
“I have a paper coming out shortly in the journal Energy, co-authored with Martin Nicholson and Tom Biegler. It is called “How carbon pricing changes the relative competitiveness of low-carbon baseload generating technologies” (DOI: 10.1016/j.energy.2010.10.039).”
“The core message of this paper, based on a standardized meta-review of the last 10 years of authoritative assessments of leveled cost of electricity (LCOE) and life cycle emissions (LCE), is that nuclear is the lowest-cost option for mitigating carbon emissions.”
Dim prospects for nuclear energy
Brook wrote the paper in an attempt to push Australians to think about nuclear energy as a realistic alternative to its use of coal to generate electricity. Brook is not optimistic about the prospects for change. He thinks it make take another decade or longer for public opinion to come around to his point of view.
Anti-nuclear groups were quick to confirm his view of the dim prospects of nuclear energy in Australia. According to the SMH, Ian Lowe, president of the Australian Conservation Foundation, argued “there is no convincing argument for it.”
He said solar and wind projects can be built in a year or two, but a nuclear plant can take more than a decade. He also said Australia has no solution for management of spent nuclear fuel and added building nuclear reactors might create tensions with Australia’s neighbors who might worry that nation would want to make a bomb.
Australia’s energy profile
Australia has no commercial nuclear power plants though paradoxically, it is a global leader in uranium mining. Much of the country’s mined output of yellowcake is exported to the U.S., Japan, and European Union countries.
The abundance of uranium raises two issues. First, why hasn’t Australia sought to move up the value chain to produce enriched uranium and fabricated fuel? Second, why has it stuck to its fossil energy profile?
The answer to these two questions may be that fossil energy is simply too profitable in the short term. The fossil energy supply chain is too influential to allow nuclear energy to compete on as a fuel source.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration, in 2009 Australia was the world’s largest coal exporter and fourth largest exporter of liquid natural gas (LNG).
According to figures published by the Australian government, for 2007, 46% of gross energy consumption, by fuel type, came from coal, 34% from oil, and 20% from natural gas. Renewables supplied 5% of total energy.
Brook is a Professor on the faculty of the University of Adelaide. He is an environmental scientist, holding the Sir Hubert Wilkins Chair of Climate Change at the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, and is also Director of Climate Science at the University of Adelaide’s Environment Institute.
His research and teaching interests centre on climate change impacts and adaptation, computational and statistical modeling, systems analysis for sustainable energy, and synergies between human impacts on the biosphere.
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