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The Business of Green

Money matters in the green world, by Leon Gettler.

Nuclear energy and climate change: the debate continues


Credit: sxc.hu

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In the entire debate about climate change, nuclear energy is the elephant in the room.

Proponents of nuclear energy say nuclear is the only way to go to combat climate change. Ziggy Switkowski is the chairman of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation says that with demand for electricity increasing at two per cent a year, we have little choice. The options available for baseload electricity are limited: burning coal, gas and oil, hydroelectricity or nuclear power and because we cannot assume reliable future water flows, the only option open to us is nuclear power.

Switkowski writes: “It solves our greenhouse gas challenge in the electricity sector completely, provides for energy security and independence, creates a modern high-technology industry and establishes the energy platform which can charge electric cars and produce hydrogen fuel dependably and cleanly as will be required in the latter part of this century.”

This debate is fast gaining traction with leading environmental campaigners in the UK now calling for a switch to nuclear power with Patrick Moore, one of the founding members of environmental campaign group Greenpeace, adding "we were right that the nuclear industry had problems, but that didn't mean we should be against nuclear energy completely.”

Add to that the projections that Australia could be the world’s biggest uranium supplier in a decade.

But of course, switching to nuclear power can be risky. Greens Senator Scott Ludlam says fourth generation nuclear power is decades away and then, there is the problem of nuclear proliferation.

Ludlam says: “Nuclear power reminds me of the old woman who swallowed a fly — a "solution" that only worsens the problems. We need safe, sustainable energy solutions — much can be done with existing technology, and we also need further research and development to extend the capabilities of sustainable energy sources and to bring down costs. Nuclear power would at best be a distraction and a delay on the path to a sustainable future.”

As I see it, the other big problem with nuclear power is economics. Nuclear power plants are expensive to build and they take the longest time and at present they come in only one size — extra large.

Still, with power prices rising because of climate change, we can expect this debate to continue. Indeed, we can expect it to become more intense.