Climate change and Australia’s energy future

Terry Krieg is a retired geography and geology teacher from Port Lincoln, in South Australia. He suggests that Australia should embrace nuclear power.

Robyn Williams: Port Lincoln in South Australia is about to celebrate 200 years since Matthew Flinders discovered the place in 1802. He himself was a Lincolnshire man. Terry Krieg lives in Port Lincoln, having retired as a secondary school teacher of geography and geology. He’s here to tell you today why he thinks nuclear is a wise option for Australia, and the rest of the world for that matter. South Australia is of course one of the most well-endowed places on earth, when it comes to mineral resources. Terry Krieg, your opinion?

Terry Krieg: Years of debate on whether or not man is the major cause of global warming has my head spinning. The believers of AGW say “the science is settled” The skeptics say “it isn’t” and there’s plenty of evidence world wide of past global warming and cooling which occurred well before the Industrial Revolution. An examination of the many now stranded shorelines in the south east of South Australia is evidence enough. And while walking around Lake Eyre in 1982, I found many quartz and chert flakes, products of Aboriginal stone tool manufacture. 20,000 years ago Lake Eyre was filled with fresh water, Aborigines lived along its shores then, now it’s an arid salt lake. No doubt the climate debate will continue and ultimately we may learn the truth about the cause of the current apparent warming.

At present most nations accept AGW and following Kyoto, Copenhagen and Cancun are now putting costly measures in place to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions and as a sceptic it seems I’ll have to accept that Australia will introduce a costly carbon tax or some other CO2 mitigating measure. It’s obvious there will be no success in emissions reduction without global action but to ask Australia to lead the world with an economy wide carbon tax seems economically quite reckless.

However, of most concern to me in this debate is what major type of electricity generation Australia will adopt to ensure a secure emissions free energy supply. Most unwisely in my view our governments are pinning their hopes on the inadequate and very expensive renewables – sun and wind – still developing technologies, CCS and geothermal and gas, a fossil fuel. Around the world most of these measures have proved costly and largely ineffective. I believe Australia should get serious about developing its uranium reserves for future energy supplies. Here are my reasons.

Currently around the world sun and wind contribute just .6% of world energy total. And that’s expected to reach 2.8% by 2030. US energy experts wrote solar off in the 1980s suggesting it would never deliver more than a fraction of their energy needs. They’ve been proved right despite some continuing research. Germany today presents a very disturbing and confusing picture. Solar subsidies in 2007/8 totalled $4.3 billion US and for just .7% of its electricity

Meanwhile nuclear producing 23.8% of their energy was taxed to support the alternatives. In November 2010 Germany wisely reversed its nuclear phase-out policy. But now, following the Fukushima disaster and in a state of panic, they’ve closed 8 of their older reactors and now plan to close down nuclear generation completely. One wonders what they will use to provide the 23.8% energy loss, Russian gas, French nuclear, local coal? And despite anxieties about Fukushima there have been no deaths from radiation poisoning. And when the dust of radiation has settled and safety and reactor protection measures have been reviewed and strengthened, the nuclear industry will resume the rapid building program currently in place and especially in China and India.

And nuclear naysayers need to understand that nuclear’s safety record is better than that of any other generation method with only one incident causing fatalities (Chernobyl), it’s now 60 years old, is growing rapidly and is here to stay. Now with wind power the Danish experience is instructive. They have the most expensive power in the EU, have stopped building wind farms, have been unable to reduce their emissions and have now closed five turbine manufacturing plants with a loss of 3000 jobs.

Meanwhile here in South Australia we are going for wind big time. Advocates of wind power are guilty of exaggeration and omissions when claiming what wind can deliver. The ‘clean energy report’ in the Australian newspaper last October noted that “the $1 billion 420 mega watt wind farm near Hamilton will power 220,000 average Victorian homes”. Wind advocates never tell us the capacity and load factors. Around the world the capacity factor averages about 25%. The Hamilton Farm will thus deliver about a quarter of the power claimed and in the same report Paul Balfe, Executive Director of ACIL Tasman, expects 9,500 mega watts of wind generation built by 2020 in South Australia and Victoria. He added that this will need 6,650 mega watts of open cycle gas turbine in support. Wind always needs back up support for when it’s not blowing. So we’re going to back up a dilute discontinuous supply with a fossil fuel. That seems irresponsible and wasteful to me. Why not use one safe concentrated, emissions free form like nuclear power?

In other late 2010 moves around the world Spain has slashed payouts for wind projects by 35% and denied support for solar thermal projects. France has put a cap on the amount of solar that can be built. US state regulators in Florida, Idaho, Kentucky, Rhode Island and Virginia have cancelled or delayed renewable energy projects. In Ontario, Canada one major back up plant for wind has been cancelled. Now developing technologies CCS and geothermal, may eventually make a contribution. Wave and tidal power are interesting ideas but could give only a tiny fraction of our needs.

Gas will be a major source for many decades but it is a fossil fuel and emits about 40% of the emissions of coal. In contrast, Olympic Dam uranium alone used in fast neutron reactors could power the entire planet for thousands of years with no emissions. So, what should we do in Australia?

In my opinion Australia needs to invest in affordable and low emission generating technologies like nuclear power and not indulge in very costly carbon taxes or emissions trading schemes or dilute discontinuous and expensive renewables and not yet commercial technologies. The fact is, for the next 50 years, apart from nuclear there is nothing, not a hint of anything on the horizon that can be harnessed at the scale required. If we want a future and secure emissions free energy supply nuclear is our only option. Already there are 53 countries who have or soon will have nuclear in their energy mix. 20 Countries are currently building 67 reactors; at least 400 others are planned for the next 20 years. China is building 27 now and plans another 245 by 2050 at a cost of $550 billion. Clearly, the world is going increasingly nuclear. Australia should be part of that rapid worldwide nuclear increase.

Unfortunately our government’s energy thinking is still captive to the wrong headed Greens, the anti-nuclear and coal lobbies who continue to dictate our future energy policy. It beggars belief that with the world’s biggest uranium reserves and best nuclear waste disposal site, both in South Australia, that Australia hasn’t already had the good sense to develop nuclear power. So said champion Green James Lovelock during the 2007 Adelaide Festival of Ideas. Successive Australian governments have been negligent in failing to develop nuclear power. Most disturbing of all the Labour Party and the Coalition have each only ever used the nuclear issue to wedge the other.

Meanwhile, the Australian Greens have kept their minds closed and are unaware that more Greens around the world are calling for nuclear power. It’s time for some real bipartisan support for nuclear from all political parties, including the Greens. It’s time our politicians got on with doing something good for the country together. A secure, clean energy future for Australia is too important for the continuous division which exists between our political parties.

A recent comprehensive study of all available energy forms in nuclear Canada, handed down by the Canadian Society of Senior Engineers in October, 2010 concluded that for provinces without hydro power, the best energy alternative by far is nuclear followed by natural gas, oil, coal, biomass, geothermal, wind, solar and tidal in that order. And in a February 2010 a paper Australia and the Nuclear Fuel Cycle by Keith Alder, the former Director of Lucas Heights and John Reynolds, Executive Director of the Victorian Chamber of Mines noted that “Nuclear offers immediately electricity supply that is reliable and continuous, cleaner and safer than others, generally competitive and alleviates CO2 emissions. With advances in fast neutron reactor technology and the capability to ‘breed’ fuel, it should become the world’s major energy source for a long period. Australia should now position itself to benefit to a much greater degree from its massive uranium resources through active participation in the rapidly expanding nuclear fuel cycle industry. We should not forego the opportunities it offers and simply remain a supplier of the basic raw material for this very important global industry”.

In concluding, South Australia has juxtaposed in our north-west desert the biggest uranium deposit and the best nuclear waste disposal site on the planet. Using both more completely will see major jobs, infrastructure and economic growth in Australia. Tens of thousands of jobs, hundreds of billions in investment dollars over coming decades will make us a much more productive and prosperous country.

Australia has been blessed with enormous mineral and fuel resources including uranium which the world needs. It could be argued that Western Australia is the iron ore capital of the world and Queensland the coal/gas capital of the world. With development of the full nuclear fuel cycle, South Australia could be the future clean energy capital of the world. Australia’s economic, environmental and social future is bright once we’ve had the good sense to develop more fully our uranium reserves. It’s time for Australia to wake up and get on with including nuclear power in its secure, emissions-free energy future.

Robyn Williams: I think he’s convinced. That was Terry Krieg, who taught geology and geography in Port Lincoln as a high school teacher. And if you have a different set of statistics on one of those examples he gave on the various technologies, do feel free to go to the ‘comment’ section of the Ockham’s Razor website.

Next week: more radiation, but this time from mobile phones and other EM devices. Lyn McLean explains why she’s worried. I’m Robyn Williams.

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