Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Australia not ready for nuclear; WA to ban uranium mining/power plants

June 5, 2007 - The head of ANSTO, Australia's peak nuclear science body, Dr Ziggy Switkowski, says Australians are not yet convinced of the need for a nuclear energy industry. He says building a nuclear energy industry in Australia would take at least 15 years to implement. Despite 50 years into the best funded development of any energy technology - nuclear energy is still beset with problems.

WA Premier Alan Carpenter has said the WA Government’s position is very clear: "we are against uranium mining and nuclear energy. I will do all I can to ensure WA remains free of nuclear power facilities."
Dr Ziggy Switkowski says building a nuclear energy industry in Australia would take at least 15 years to set up a regulatory regime, do the appropriate environmental checks and vendor selection process - "getting into the queue, ordering reactors and building them, which we know takes a number of years... 10 at the earliest, 15 more likely," he told ABC television.

Dr Switkowski - chairman of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), reported to Prime Minister Howard last year on the viability of a nuclear industry in Australia. He also cast doubt on the effectiveness of a planned government advertising campaign to push nuclear power.

"It would be unprecedented to take a national community, such as we have in Australia, that starts out feeling wary about nuclear power and making them positive about nuclear power within a year or two," Dr Switkowski said. "This is a journey that countries usually take over several years and I think it will take more than one electoral cycle..."

As the nuclear power issue radiates across the country, some say Howard is deliberately diverting funds and attention away from real solutions - by insisting that Australia consider domestic nuclear power generation.

Mr Howard seems intent on pushing something currently illegal, inordinately expensive, reliant on massive government subsidies and far too slow to respond to the immediate challenges of climate change. Indeed, the Federal Government continues to force the issue of nuclear power into the States and Territories, having recently claimed it could override the States on the development of nuclear reactors.

However, the WA Premier says nuclear power stations will be banned in Western Australia under new legislation to be introduced. The Premier said the legislation would also include a referendum trigger if the Commonwealth Government ever tried to override the new State laws. Premier Carpenter said the "anti-nuclear legislation", to be introduced when Parliament resumes in June, would:

"prohibit the construction or operation of a nuclear facility in WA; prohibit the transportation of certain material to a nuclear facility site; and prohibit the connecting of nuclear generation works to an electricity transmission or distribution system..."

"To thwart any attempt by John Howard to override WA, there will be a trigger in the new laws which will see a referendum held if the Commonwealth tries to override the State’s anti-nuclear stance," he said. "“The people of WA will then be able to have their say on the issue if the Commonwealth moves to develop nuclear power facilities in this State. In other words, it could be at the Commonwealth’s political peril if they ever proceeded with such a move."

Mr Carpenter said the State Government is committed to developing natural gas, clean coal and renewable energy sources including geothermal, solar, wave and wind as future energy sources.

Elsewhere in Australia, the possibility of nuclear power is hindered. In Victoria the Nuclear Activities (Prohibitions) Act 1983 prohibits the construction or operation of any nuclear reactor, and consequential amendments to other Acts reinforce this. In NSW the Uranium Mining and Nuclear Facilities (Prohibitions) Act 1986 is similar. In 2007 the Queensland government enacted the Nuclear Facilities Prohibition Act 2006, which is similar (but allows uranium mining).

Other countries using nuclear energy are discovering problems with the industry. In the USA, direct subsidies to nuclear energy totalled $115 billion between 1947 and 1999, with a further $145 billion in indirect subsidies.

In contrast, subsidies to wind/solar combined during the same period amounted to only $5.5 billion. During the first 15 years of development, nuclear subsidies amounted to $15.30 per kWh generated. The comparable figure for wind energy was 46 cents per kWh during its first 15 years of development.

Professor Ian Lowe - Australian Consevation Foundation President - says that despite being 50 years into the best funded development of any energy technology, nuclear energy is still beset with problems.

"Reactors go over budget by billions, decommissioning plants is so difficult and expensive that power stations are kept operating past their useful life, and there is still no solution for radioactive waste. So there is no economic case for nuclear power," said Professor Lowe in 2005.

Dr Jim Green - national nuclear campaigner for Friends of the Earth - says the problem of radioactive waste management is nowhere near resolution. "Not a single repository exists for the disposal of high-level radioactive waste, which is produced at an annual rate of about 10,000 tonnes in nuclear power reactors worldwide," says Dr Green.

"Technologies exist to encapsulate or immobilise radionuclides to a greater or lesser degree, but encapsulated radioactive waste still represents a potential public health and environmental threat that will last for millennia," says Dr Green.

A recent study, conducted by a research team from Georgetown University, Stanford University and UC Berkeley, analysed the costs of electricity from existing US nuclear reactors. It reports that no new nuclear power plants have been built in the United States in nearly 30 years years, in part because they've proved to be poor investments, producing far more expensive electricity than originally promised.

The US nuclear industry provides a direct link to the perils of nuclear weapons. "During my eight years in the White House, every nuclear weapons proliferation issue we dealt with was connected to a nuclear reactor program," says former US Vice President, Al Gore. In 2005, about 19 percent of U.S. electricity generation was produced by 104 nuclear reactors.

Neverhteless, renewable energy is a growing industry. According to Dr Jim Green, renewable energy, mostly hydroelectricity, already supplies 19 per cent of world electricity - compared to nuclear's 16 per cent.

"The share of renewables is increasing," he says, "while nuclear's share is decreasing. Wind power and solar power are growing by 20-30 per cent every year.
In 2004, renewable energy added nearly three times as much net generating capacity as nuclear power," says Dr Green. "In Australia, only 8 per cent of electricity is from renewable energy - down from 10 per cent in 1999."

WA Premier Media Release
The Age
Sunday Times
The Australian
Lateline - ABC
UIC - Briefing Paper 44
Beyond Nuclear - PDFNuclear power: no solution to climate change

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