<a href="http://www.greenlifestylemag.com.au/blogs/leon#">The Business of Green</a>

The Business of Green

Money matters in the green world, by Leon Gettler.

The future of nuclear power


The Japanese crisis has thrown up questions about the future of nuclear power, particularly withFrance's ASN nuclear safety authority ranking the nuclear disaster as the second worst, after Chernobyl.

As Giles Parkinson points out in Climate Spectator, this could actually provide a boost for renewable energy by producing significant shifts in energy policy around the world with more focus on LNG and renewables. All you need is one reactor to melt down every few years and governments will head in that direction.

In my opinion, the crisis will certainly rewrite the debate on climate change, at least for now.

Proponents of nuclear energy argue that it’s the only energy production form that doesn’t generate carbon dioxide. But now environmentalists, like British campaigner Mark Lynas, who have championed nuclear power are saying that the way ahead looks grim. "It's too early to make a final diagnosis of what is happening in Japan, but what is obvious is that this will be a colossal setback for the nuclear industry at just the moment at which climate change is sparking a real renaissance," he told The Guardian.

The other problem is economics. Reactors come in one size – bloody big – and they are expensive to build. They take years to build and often result in budget blowouts. They need government support, and many governments are now reconsidering their position in the wake of Japan’s crisis. The German government, for example, announced it is shutting old new nuclear power plants built before 1980.

The picture however is not that clear. Experts have told Agence-France Press that while Japan's nuclear crisis will boost interest in clean renewables such as solar and wind power, it might also sharpen demand for coal, oil and gas which will increase greenhouse gas emissions.

But the question remains whether nuclear power can actually stop climate change. Peter Bradford, a former member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission told the New York Times last year that it might reduce emissions but that harnessing nuclear power for that purpose was like using “caviar to fight world hunger”.

Nuclear power is expensive and risky. Investing the money instead in wind and solar power, and renewable energy would be less costly and more productive.

Still, this does not mean the end of the nuclear industry. Rising energy consumption and climate change will ensure that countries will still invest in nuclear power. The debate will continue. However, the crisis might just be a boost for the renewable energy industry.