It does not take a disaster to understand that nuclear energy has no future in Australia. Excessive construction and waste disposal costs, as well as a lack of engineering capacity, rule it out, writes Sean O’Rourke, a 26-year-old from Melbourne.
The Fukushima nuclear meltdown has led to a vociferous debate on the role of nuclear power in Australia.
However, it is unnecessary to plumb the depths of Japan’s ongoing natural and nuclear disaster to mount a credible argument on the problems associated with nuclear energy.
In the US, the nuclear industry has been facing an inexorable decline for many years due to the costs associated with developing nuclear power plants.
Building a nuclear power plant in America rose from $400 million in the 1970s to $4 billion in the 1990s, with construction times doubling over the same period. Prior to 2008, construction costs for nuclear power plants were increasing by 15 per cent a year.
But these figures do not include the costs of nuclear waste disposal.
In the US, housing the waste from 104 operational nuclear power reactors in a repository cost $58 billion in 2001, rising to $96 billion in 2008 – equating to about $923 million per nuclear reactor.
It is clear that any potential nuclear option in Australia would be laborious and costly. The basic institutional and regulatory requirements are not in place in Australia to develop nuclear power generation.
It is estimated that it could take 15 to 20 years for a nuclear reactor to be operational in Australia. Given the price increases occurring in the US from nuclear reactor construction, one shudders to think what the cost of such a development in Australia might be in 15-20 years time.
There has been concern that Australia should not embark upon any energy options that would place it at a disadvantage internationally. It has been estimated that of the 439 nuclear reactors operating worldwide, 285 will have closed from 2008 to 2025. By comparison, investment in renewable energy globally has doubled over the last five years, reaching US $243 billion in 2010.
It does not take a disaster to see that nuclear energy has no future in Australia. The excessive costs associated with construction and waste disposal, the lack of engineering capacity and global signals on energy generation show that nuclear energy is currently economically unviable, and will remain so into the future.
Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. All articles are published in a spirit of improving dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
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