The nuclear industry in decline
There are nine fewer nuclear power stations operating worldwide today than there were in 2002. There are 33 fewer nuclear power stations in Europe now than there were in 1989. The US has not built one in 36 years and the Japanese have virtually stopped building them.
Nuclear industry has no future, Mr Barnett – The West Australian, by Scott Ludlam January 13th, 2011,”…..In reality, there is no global nuclear renaissance, and we should hope there never will be. Since the early 1980s, the industry has been sinking under the weight of the vast costs of this obsolete and risky technology. There are nine fewer nuclear power stations operating worldwide today than there were in 2002. There are 33 fewer nuclear power stations in Europe now than there were in 1989. The US has not built one in 36 years and the Japanese have virtually stopped building them.
In August 2009, the International Atomic Energy Agency listed 52 reactors as “under construction”. Thirteen of them had been listed as “under construction” for more than 20 years. Twenty-six have hit construction delays, many of them serious. If we’re going to debate the issue again in Australia, we’ll need some answers on why much of the rest of the world has rejected the technology, four countries account for two-thirds of the reactors supposedly “under construction”.
South Korea, one of the four, is forging ahead with a handful of reactors under threat of a terrible artillery bombardment from its unstable and paranoid northern neighbour. The consequences of a missile strike on a fossil or renewable power station is that the lights go out. Nuclear plants are different. They have been described as “pre-deployed radiological weapons” since the release of even a small percentage of the core’s isotope inventory in a country as densely populated as South Korea would kill an incalculable number and require the resettlement of several million people.
Then, of course, there is the question of cost. Coal, gas and all renewable energy technologies that I’m aware of are getting less expensive with each new generation as expertise develops and economies of scale kick in. Nuclear power, on the other hand gets more expensive with every generation. Why?
A report presented at a solar industry conference in Canberra in November by Dr Mark Diesendorf, deputy director of the Institute of Environmental Studies, found the cheapest renewable energy sources, including landfill gas, onshore wind, conventional geothermal and hydroelectricity, are already cost-competitive with conventional nuclear energy power plants. By 2020, offshore wind farms, solar thermal and solar photovoltaics are all projected to be less expensive than nuclear energy.
A key challenge for the nuclear industry is water. Water scarcity is already a serious problem for power generation in Australia, particularly with our overdependence on water-intensive coal-fired power plants. Nuclear power generation consumes more water than does coal. In December 2006, a report by the Commonwealth Department of Parliamentary Services noted the water requirements for a nuclear power station were greater than those of other power stations by margins ranging from 20 to 83 per cent. Those calculations don’t include the vast consumption of water involved in operating uranium mines. In 2007, the Roxby Downs mine in South Australia was using 35 million litres of water daily.
As always, the eternal problem of long-lived radioactive waste is ignored by nuclear cheerleaders. Will the nuclear advocates vouch for the capacity of a dump site to keep the dangerous waste secure for centuries? We’ve already seen the brutal way in which the Federal Government has sought to force a domestic radioactive waste dump on a Northern Territory community.
In the light of the State Government’s comprehensive failure to regulate the shipment of lead, it’s no wonder many people are baulking at the idea of uranium shipments bound for overseas power stations or potentially being transported to power stations within Australia. From beginning to end, this is an industry that deserves no place in a modern, renewably powered Australia.
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