Australian energy projections through 2035 show a big shift away from coal and towards gas, that will lower emissions, but what’s the place of nuclear energy?
If the only challenge humans faced with respect to energy was greenhouse gas emissions, maybe nuclear energy would be an option in every country. But like any solution to a problem, there’s always the opportunity to create a bigger problem with the solution. Think ‘rabbits’ and then ‘myxomatosis’ and ‘calici virus’.
That is not to say that nuclear energy necessarily presents more problems than it solves, but with the massive intensity and potential ramifications of nuclear energy, it is certainly a consideration deserving of respectful consideration.
For population dense countries or where there is a massive amount of heavy emitting industry concentrated in a single location, there is sense in having massive amounts of concentrated energy generation alongside. Nuclear energy provides that option.
But there are other options, not least of which is the ongoing effort towards energy efficiency, including design and manufacture innovations that may massively reduce energy use. Other options that are not widely discussed for fear of causing offence are efforts to limit population growth which is placing ever increased pressure on resource use as every one of the 7 billion of us seeks to improve our standard of living.
Countries like Australia, with small populations dispersed across a large area are not suited to the incredible expense of even the most meagre nuclear power station. Distribution losses across the gird are of such significance that even the concept of the national grid is a little suspect, requiring additional energy generation at the ‘thin ends’ of the grid.
Practically, there is no place for nuclear energy in Australia for the foreseeable future and if energy efficiency and alternative energies are successfully commercialised, there never will be. I will not be losing any sleep over that.
The point of this argument is lost in the emotions wrapped around the use of nuclear energy.
To start lets put nuclear energy debate to rest. Europe, which is geologically stable in most parts, relies extensively on nuclear power and without much hoopla. Japan also relies on nuclear power but its landmass is unstable, but nuclear plants and tectonic plates don’t mix and they have reaped the consequences.
The important part of the heading statement is that Australia will be using less coal and more gas. However, Australians are addicted to cheap coal and consuming energy. The idea of power stations moving to burn gas instead of coal will need significant investments, not only by existing power stations close to the coal fields, but also by new investments in smaller power stations nearer consumers. The current structure of energy supply is such that it is easier to push energy through the grid, albeit with considerable loss of energy, than it is to move coal far from the mines. With gas it is easier to push gas through a pipe with virtually zero waste than the use a national power grid with considerable transmission losses.
While coal is so cheap by comparison to other energy sources, there will be little motive for industry to sink significant investments for change unless the tenacity of every government is such that it will accept the loss of popularity by forcing up power costs through ensuring change does occur.
Accepting reality rather than pontificating about emotional arguments, the cold truth is that any government of any persuasion is going to have its work cut out cutting the apron strings of consumers sucking on the endless supply of cheap coal and moving to the less polluting, but more expensive, gas option. No one is going to be happy so lets hope the scientists have got their facts straight.
After WWII Australia wanted to be in the nuclear club and there was a government consideration to build a nuclear power station at Jarvis Bay on the south coast of NSW. The counter argument to the negative impact such a project would have on the coal industry was that the facility would be a tourist attraction and bring visitors to the region, not only from Australia, but also from overseas. Has this line of thought really changed much in 60 years for the proponents of the nuclear industry?
It would be advisable to take a cold shower (saves energy) when talking about leaving coal and using more gas, let alone building nuclear reactors in Australia.