The adage goes that if nuclear power is the answer then you've asked the wrong question.
At the recent COAG meeting our Premier has gone out on a glowing limb in a bid to revive the debate on nuclear power. Now there's nothing wrong with a healthy debate, but this debate has been had repeatedly and the answer is always the same. It is time to put this tired talking point to bed and get on with the energy transition we can no longer ignore.
In 2016 the SA Government's Royal Commission into the Nuclear industry found that "it would not be commercially viable to develop a nuclear power plant in South Australia…"
A decade earlier in 2006 the Switkowski Report found that "Nuclear power is likely to be between 20 and 50 per cent more costly to produce" than existing power sources and acknowledged that the reality that disposal of "high-level waste including spent nuclear fuel remains an issue in most nuclear power countries."
Both these reports were initiated with a pro-nuclear agenda. Both sought to progress the contested nuclear industry within Australia. Both found insurmountable barriers including cost, time, contest and the complexity of nuclear waste.
None of these key factors have changed and they are not likely to. Many in the community remain deeply sceptical of nuclear power – and in the shadow of the Australian uranium fuelled and continuing Fukushima nuclear crisis - this too is unlikely to change.
A mystery akin to whale beachings is why do conservative politicians periodically wash up demanding that 'we should include nuclear in the debate' when we all know that the numbers simply do not add up?
Well, in short it is not a real proposal rather a headline grabbing convenient distraction from the very real issue of the need to rapidly transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
The reality is that we do not have the decades that nuclear reactors take to build, license and start. Our emissions are rising alongside global temperatures and the global climate clock is ticking loud.
The Premier's latest foray into the nuclear space shows how little he understands about the risks – both nuclear and climatic. In 2015 when there was talk of West Australia possibly hosting Australia's nuclear waste his reaction was effectively 'don't worry about it as it's just a couple of X-rays'. The national nuclear waste problem in Australia has zero to do with x-rays and everything to do with spent nuclear fuel from the Lucas Heights reactor in Sydney – material that is far more serious and long lived.
In 2008 the Barnett Liberal Government lifted the state ban on uranium mining. Eight years later, after millions of taxpayers dollars have gone into exploration grants and government support for hopeful uranium miners, there is nought to show for it.
With the uranium price trading at US$18.25lb (down from $34.50 at the beginning of 2016) none of WAs four proposed uranium mines are feasible and none are operating. Each faces their own site specific risks and challenges and all lack social licence.
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