Nuclear power has been demonised. This was understandable in the early days, during the time of the Cold War, of “Mutually Assured Destruction” and “the Balance of Terror”, but those days are over and nuclear fuel can be processed in such a way that it cannot be easily weaponized. Another issue was waste disposal, but, as the World Nuclear Association points out:
- Nuclear power is the only large-scale energy-producing technology that takes full responsibility for all its waste and fully costs this into the product.
- The amount of waste generated by nuclear power is very small relative to other thermal electricity generation technologies.
- Used nuclear fuel may be treated as a resource or simply as waste.
Nuclear waste is neither particularly hazardous nor hard to manage relative to other toxic industrial waste.
- Safe methods for the final disposal of high-level radioactive waste are technically proven; the international consensus is that geological disposal is the best option.
But despite nuclear energy being the safest, cleanest, best managed source of base-load power, it is still a bogey man in the minds of ordinary people. As Michael Shellenberger points out in his book and in this article in Forbes Magazine this could well be due to the funding of the anti-nuclear lobby by Big Oil.
Another reason is the “born again” euphoria which presently surrounds alternative energy. There is a religious quality about this. Evidently we have all sinned by polluting the Earth’s atmosphere with CO2 from fossil fuels and the earth is doomed as a result. However, suddenly we have seen the light; alternative energy will save us!
There is certainly something slightly weird going on when our new Minister for Energy tells us that alternative energy is cheap and nuclear energy is expensive. Really! Only six months ago South Australia (70 percent alternatives) recorded a spot price of $5000 per MWh, $5.00 per unit, 50 times the average price.
The Minister was confusing two different things, installation cost and price paid by the consumer. In a free market economy they are unrelated because price is determined by supply and demand. In a command economy they may be related (by decree) but this leads to poor products and shortages as in Eastern Europe following WW2. The Energy Regulator is presently switching from the Free Market Model to the more Socialist model with the resulting shortages in NSW already evident. We are told that some energy producers have been “gaming the system”. Evidently, under a Labor Government power cuts are preferable to condoning immoral behaviour. The heresy, that alternative energy is intermittent and so unsuited to grid distribution, will not be uttered.
The plain fact is that an industrial society can never be powered by solar and wind alone because of their randomly intermittent supply. Some industries cannot tolerate power interruptions. For example, n December 2016 the Portland Aluminium Smelter was damaged when it lost power for more than 5 hours due to fault on the Victorian transmission network. It has been operating below its design capacity since then.
It is time that we as a nation came to grips with our energy problems, put our ideological convictions aside and adopted a common sense, engineering approach. One way of doing this would be to disconnect renewables from the grid and use them instead to generate hydrogen for ammonia synthesis. Another is to install modern nuclear power stations to replace fossil fuel power stations.