Going Nuclear? What’s so scary?

Isn’t it interesting that anyone who asks where the Liberal Party’s nuclear power stations will be constructed, is immediately accused of running a scare campaign?
What’s so scary about asking? Nuclear advocates know their argument can only be waged in the abstract realm of theory. As soon as we get down to the messy reality of siting, project costs, radiation health, nuclear weapons proliferation and radioactive waste dumps, the arguments become impossible to sustain.

Of course we should be rapidly developing alternatives rather than the Rudd Government’s proposal to hand $20 billion-plus of taxpayer funds to Australia’s worst polluters so they can continue polluting. These alternatives will include familiar technologies like wind and solar PV, but will also embrace a baseload portfolio of geothermal, wave energy, solar thermal plants and biomass energy which are the hottest clean-tech picks worldwide.

The question is why nuclear energy, which has been in decline in Europe since 1989 and in decline globally since 2002, should suddenly jump to the front of the queue. Nuclear energy has a declining share of the global electricity market which will continue falling as obsolete reactors are closed before they become too dangerous to run. The prohibitive costs of building new ones have stalemated the industry, as the scandal surrounding Europe’s flagship Olkiluoto project shows.

In May 2008, Moody’s Corporate Finance made cost estimates for the US market, and they arrived at a price for nuclear “potentially exceeding” 7,000 US Dollars/kW – more than three times the cost of wind, and more than double the cost of solar. Chernobyl and Three Mile Island may have ruined the reputation of nuclear power, but what really killed the industry was cost.

Nuclear energy is the last place private investors are putting their money right now, so it is difficult to see why taxpayers should step in and bail out this failing industry.

As for the scare campaign, I’m no NIMBY: I don’t want these things in anybody’s backyard.