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What price nuclear power ?

August 23, 2019 - 17:52 -- Admin

As I mentioned a while ago, the Standing Committee on Environment and Energy of the Commonwealth Parliament is inquiring into the prerequisites for nuclear energy in Australia. There’s a similar inquiry happening in NSW.

All the evidence suggests that this isn’t serious exercise. Rather it’s something intended to appease the National Party or troll the Greens, depending on where you are coming from.

Still, it’s a Parliamentary inquiry on an important issue, so I decided to take it at face value and make a submission. My central recommendation is a combined policy

  • Introduce a carbon price, rising gradually to $50/tonne of CO2
  • Repeal legislative bans on nuclear power

I’m pretty confident this package will have close to zero supporters in Parliament, but it ought to appeal to two groups.

First, anyone who seriously believes that nuclear power should be adopted as a response to climate change. That’s a small, but non-empty set, since most nuclear fans are climate deniers. But for those people, it should be obvious that nuclear power is never going to happen except with a carbon price high enough to wipe out coal, and compete with gas.

Second, renewable supporters who want action now, and are prepared to give nuclear a chance in 15-20 years time if it’s needed. The carbon price would push a rapid transition to solar PV, wind and storage, and would be neutral as between these technologies and nuclear. On present indications, that would be sufficient to decarbonize the electricity supply at low cost. But if a fixed-supply technology turned out to be absolutely necessary, one or two nuclear plants might possibly happen.

I looked over the other submissions. The anti-nuclear ones raise the obvious points about waste, accident risk and proliferation.

What’s striking about the pro-nuclear submissions is the absence of any mention of existing technologies or the main alternative, small modular reactors, on which I spent a fair bit of time.Rather, the nuclear fans are talking about vaporware such as thorium, Gen IV and even Gen V, described by Wikipedia as ‘ reactors that are purely theoretical and are therefore not yet considered feasible in the short term, resulting in limited R&D funding. ‘