Australia's rejection of nuclear energy originates from fear, a lack of understanding, and a lack of vision. What was once a hazardous technology will soon be safer and more efficient than ever before. The economic, safety, and security concerns that once cast a pall over nuclear energy will cease to exist.
Australia's political consensus is that nuclear energy is too capital and labour-intensive to implement. The public's consensus is that nuclear energy is hazardous and harmful. These positions however, are largely uninformed, underpinned by history's few nuclear tragedies and a lack of foresight.
Look to the future, not the past
Nuclear energy discussions consistently refer to incidents such as Chernobyl, failing to consider how far technology has advanced in the past 30 years. While it's true traditional nuclear reactors are priced out of Australia's current energy economy, Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) have been designed to alleviate capital costs. More importantly however, they have been designed with efficiency and safety chiefly in mind. While their final release will not be until 2019, the World Nuclear Association has already canvassed their enormous potential.
Small light-water modular reactors
By virtue of their small form factor, they're a more affordable and marketable investment. The modularity of their design provides for in-factory construction, decreasing assembly time and cost, while increasing quality. They have passive cooling systems, removing electricity and mechanical maintenance from the equation – furthering economic viability as well as safety. They have the capacity to be situated underground or underwater, providing passive protection from both natural and man-made hazards – rendering tsunamis, earthquakes and terrorist attacks a non-issue. They have lower water requirements, widening geographic suitability, and demand smaller emergency evacuation zones (300m as opposed to the traditional 16km). Accordingly, they may be located in closer proximity to population centres, such as military bases. They have significantly higher burn-up rates, reducing and reprocessing the quantity of waste produced. They are designed to run on non-weapons grade uranium and thorium.
Nuclear energy is superior energy
Nuclear energy is remarkably efficient per square kilometre. The United Kingdom's Department of Energy and Climate Change estimates a 1.8km² nuclear facility generates the equivalent energy of a 527km² solar farm, or a 1012km² wind farm. In a world confined by space, spatial efficiency is a key.
What forces drove history's disasters?
Technological failure. Chernobyl, arguably the most significant nuclear disaster, was a no-longer-used fast breeder reactor with faulty cooling technology. SMRs, as mentioned before, however, passively cool, and are therefore at no risk of overheating from any mechanical fault.
Mother nature. Fukushima represents the most recent nuclear tragedy, which resulted from a 9.0 magnitude earthquake, and seven 15m tsunamis clocking speeds of 100km/hr. This was an unprecedented, 'once-in-a-million' disaster, the components of which Australia is yet to experience.
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