Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Australia's Atomic Dawning - 20 Nuclear Power stations: Ziggy Report

November 21, 2006 - Bright future for Atomic power:

The Federal Government's review of nuclear power will be handed down on 21st November. Australia can look forward to 20 new nuclear power stations built as part of a wholesale switch to atomic power - according to the landmark report.

The nuclear power taskforce, headed by ex-Telstra boss Dr Ziggy Switkowski, has found that if Australia goes nuclear it would need a high-level waste dump. Prime Minister John Howard strongly backs nuclear power to help combat climate change.

In June 2006, Prime Minister John Howard, back from a nuclear enrichment meeting with US President George W Bush, commissioned the hand-picked nulear energy review. The Prime Minister argues that "nuclear power is clean and green", is being used overseas to generate electricity. He says China is expected to rely heavily on nuclear energy as its booming economy grows.

The report was initially expected to tackle a broader range of issues, but focuses more narrowly on the nuclear cycle. The public will have three weeks to comment on the report...

But Finance Minister, Nick Minchin, is sceptical about nuclear power. "It is simply, it is not commercially viable," he said. The Ziggy report estimates nuclear power would up to 50 per cent more expensive than coal-fired power stations. However, when the cost of carbon reduction to cut emissions is taken into account, nuclear power becomes competitive with coal energy. The report finds nuclear power "is the least cost, low-emission technology that can provide baseload power available today and can play a role in Australia's future generation mix".

Labor's Anthony Albanese says the inquiry is flawed because it will not reveal possible sites for nuclear reactors. "Where will the nuclear reactors go?" he asked. Greenpeace chief executive Steve Shallhorn fears that the report paves the way for nuclear power, which he says is not viable.

"The only way it is going to be viable in Australia is if there is massive subsidies," he said. "Nuclear power is the only technology that can light up your city and destroy your city." The report says nuclear power stations could supply 30 per cent of the nation's electricity by 2050.

Critics of nuclear power say nuclear energy is far too expensive and that the economic modelling does not factor the long-term cost of radioactive waste storage. The nuclear report taskforce found that Australia would most certainly have to build a high-level waste dump. However, it does not say where the nuclear dump should be built, nor where nuclear reactors should be placed. In 2004, South Australia won its battle to stop a national low-level nuclear waste dump being built near Woomera.

Another energy inquiry report, released recently found Australia can quadruple the value of its uranium exports by enriching uranium oxide before sending it overseas. Federal Opposition Leader Kim Beazley has ruled out developing a nuclear power industry. He says it is dangerous and has attacked Mr Howard for refusing to ratify the Kyoto protocol on climate change. The Labor Party is opposed to nuclear power in Australia and the creation of a uranium enrichment industry, although it is likely to debate this at the ALP national conference next year.

The US has been opposed to the idea of countries such as Australia joining restricted countries with the capacity for uranium enrichment. Once developed, the technology can be used to enrich material to the point where it can be used in a nuclear warhead - posing a weapons proliferation risk.

If Australia went down the nuclear path it would have a major impact on the coal industry which supplies most of Australia's electricity. Dr Switkowski's report also looks at labour shortages resulting from the long decline of the nation's nuclear industry.

Concerned environmentalists have intensified their opposition to nuclear power, and are planning to release a critique of Switkowki's findings. A new Energyscience Coalition of academics, environmentalists and others have joined green groups to campaign against the findings of the inquiry.

Former US vice-president Al Gore says that "nuclear energy is not the panacea for tackling global warming." Mr Gore said nuclear power was unlikely to play a role in the climate change battle.

"Even if you set aside the problem of long-term waste storage and the danger of operator accident and the vulnerability to terrorist attack, you still have two others that are more difficult," he said. The first problem was one of economics. "Nuclear power plants are the costliest to build and they take the longest time and at present they come in only one size — extra large. The second was nuclear weapons proliferation. "For eight years when I was in the White House, every problem of weapons proliferation was connected to a reactor program," he said.

The Prime Minister has recently talked up the uranium industry prospects of nuclear power plants being built in Australia, arguing the country cannot not afford to "sacrifice rational discussion on the altar of anti-nuclear theology and political opportunism".

International experience shows nuclear power is only possible with massive subsidies. The Australian Conservation Foundation said the report issued is cold comfort to those promoting nuclear power as the one-size-fits-all answer to climate change.

The ACF say the report does not address the full costs of nuclear power, which include "huge construction and insurance costs, de-commissioning and perpetual nuclear waste management liabilities and the reality that all nuclear facilities are potential terrorist targets," said ACF's Dave Sweeney.

Even if the report’s most ambitious reactor construction targets were realised – with 25 Australian communities living in the shadow of a new nuclear reactor – our greenhouse emissions would be reduced by less than 20 per cent – not even a third of the reduction needed by 2050 to avoid dangerous climate change, says the

"We have the potential to be a world leader in renewable energy generation and manufacture – a clean energy future that powers not only our appliances but also employment growth – especially in regional Australia," said Mr Sweeney.

Australia is home to around 40% of the world's known uranium deposits - much of it at BHP Billiton's Olympic Dam mine South Australia. Western Australia also has many deposits - yet the WA Labor government has a no mines policy.


PM warned on nuclear findings - The Age
Nuclear power review set for release - ABC
Nukes 'would cut greenhouse' - Sunday Times
Our coming nuclear dawn - The Australian
Plan to export enriched uranium - The Australian
Switch to 20 atomic power stations
Wikipedia: Ziggy_Switkowski
Ex-Telstra chief to head nuclear review - ABC
Push for action on nuclear power - The Age
The truth? 'Nuclear is not the answer'
The Energy Debate - Energyscience
Doctor’s nuclear prescription no solution to climate change - ACF

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