Today I was in Melbourne, joining a panel of five who are the chapter authors of a new policy monograph called “Australia’s Nuclear Options“. This event was to formally launch the 61-page report, which was commissioned and published by CEDA (Committee for Economic Development of Australia), edited by CEDA Chief Economist Nathan Taylor (who also writes a blog, The Naked Ape, and provided a terrific lead-in essay to introduce the report), with the chapters written by five independent Australia-based experts.
It was a very interesting event, with over an hour of questions and commentary after some opening remarks from each of the five panelists (me [Barry Brook], Tony Irwin [Visiting Lecturer in Nuclear Science, Australian National University and University of Sydney, and Chairman, Engineers Australia Nuclear Engineering Panel], Professor Tony Owen [Academic Director and Santos Chair of Energy Resources, UCL School of Energy and Resources], Tom Quirk [Ex-Oxford Don, Physicist and Director, Institute of Public Affairs] and Tony Wood [Director - Clean Energy Program, Clinton Foundation and Grattan Institute]). There will be a similar launch in Adelaide on 29 November.
Here is the summary:
Australia is at a critical moment in determining its energy future. Energy demand is forecast to rise substantially with continued economic and population growth, while policy makers grapple with how to decarbonise the economy. Meanwhile, global growth in energy demand is causing ongoing price rises in commodities. Given the long lifecycle of energy investments, policy decisions made to address these challenges will determine Australia’s economic competitiveness for decades to come.
The need to decarbonise the economy, and technological changes, have the potential to fundamentally alter the economic and engineering issues of nuclear power deployment, making it far more relevant for consideration in Australia.
This policy perspective is part of CEDA’s major research project on ‘Australia’s Energy Options‘ which examines a range of issues associated with Australia’s energy sector that will be released throughout 2011/12.
Join CEDA at the launch of ‘Australia Nuclear Options’ policy perspective and engage with a range of Australia’s leading thinkers on nuclear energy. We invite you to participate actively by contributing ideas and exploring how Australia can exercise its nuclear option.
If you are interested in some of the policy and technical issues around nuclear energy in Australia, then the report is worth taking the time to read — you can download the full-colour report here as a PDF. (Disclaimer: As always, I contributed the chapter, and my time for the events, gratis, as a fiercely independent academic).
There are also some snapshot summaries of the report here, which covers the following FAQs: (i) What should Australia do? (ii) Nuclear waste: Environmental problem or opportunity? (iii) Australia as the world’s disposal site? (iv) Weapons proliferation. (v) Nuclear safety. (vi) Environmental Opportunity. (vii) Economics of Nuclear Power – expensive to build, cheap to run. (viii) Construction and Nuclear Power. (ix) Nuclear renaissances in command and control economies. (x) The opportunities associated with Small Modular Nuclear Reactors. (xi) The economic opportunities in the nuclear fuel cycle.
The report got some media coverage, including two articles in The Australian newspaper (here and here — the latter provocatively titled “Nuclear back-up for renewables”!) and a media release from CEDA. So what is in the report? Here is the table of contents, to whet your appetite:
CEDA will follow up with two further reports, on renewable energy and on technological options for moving to a low-carbon economy. All in all, I think it’s great that an organisation like CEDA is willing to take a leadership role in bringing tough public policy issues to the fore, and getting core information to the business community and politicians (who were sent the report).
There is a lot of useful information in Australia’s Nuclear Options. Although the material in my chapter will be mostly familiar prose to regular BNC readers, I was asked to focus on what environmental ‘opportunity costs’ Australia would forgo by not pursuing nuclear power. One of the points I made was this (pg 17):
In 2010, nuclear energy was used to generate commercial electricity in 31 countries, providing 74 per cent of total supply in the case of France, and a global total of 2,628 terawatt hours. Based on standard emissions intensities for nuclear (20 kg CO2-e/MWh) and coal (930 kg CO2-e/MWh), this is an effective saving of 2.4 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide annually. Only hydroelectricity displaces more fossil fuels than nuclear (3,250 TWh). By comparison, wind generation in 2010 was 14 per cent that of nuclear, while solar generated just 1.5 per cent as much. In 2009–10, Australia exported 7,555 tonnes of uranium, all of which was used to fuel nuclear power plants. If this electricity had instead been generated from brown coal-fired sources, an additional 370 million tonnes of CO2 would have been released. Clearly, foregoing nuclear means overlooking an already significant global contributor to low-carbon electricity.
I’m sure you’ll get a lot that’s new out of the other four chapters, which cover many key issues (economics, options for value-adding to the nuclear fuel cycle, energy policy planning in government, and the significant opportunity for small modular reactors as a first entry for fission in Australia) in a rational, logical and evidence-based way. As good public policy documents should.