Nuclear expert calls out politicians for stalling while carbon burns

While Australia heads to another election cycle grappling with energy and climate policy, the one solution with serious potential to meet our high baseload power needs with zero emissions is being ignored.

According to Dr Benjamin Heard, who specialises modelling energy systems and climate change adaptation and mitigation, Australia must consider nuclear energy as part of the mix if we are to have a meaningful impact on our emissions, while keeping our power supplies affordable and reliable.

“It’s not that complicated,” Dr Heard said. “Other countries are doing this all over the world. By using the right mix of technologies, including nuclear, the affordability-emissions reduction challenge is completely doable.”

Speaking at IMARC 2018 in Melbourne, Dr Heard said fear and politics was the wedge that stood between people having a realistic understanding of the risks of modern nuclear power.

“In Australia it’s against the law for the Federal Minister to approve a nuclear power facility – so there’s absolutely no appetite for anyone to even consider it.”

Dr Heard said nuclear energy systems were evolving at a rapid pace, in terms of their capital cost, operating efficiency, and environmental and health performance. In Australia, there is a real opportunity to become specialised in deploying Small Modular Reactors that produce around 60 MWe, which could suit our diverse geography, and supply cost effective, clean energy that would support regional areas and our mining industry.

“We are not a huge nation, so we do need to be picky in terms of what we invest in. If we positioned ourselves as one of the best jurisdictions in the world to design, test, commercialise, manufacture, deploy and operate small modular reactors, this would be incredibly powerful.

“If we also accepted the revenues available from taking used nuclear fuel, and developed and commercialized the most advanced recycling as waste conditioning and disposal options, like boreholes for disposal of short-lived, conditioned fission products, we would be an absolute powerhouse of innovation and excellence.”

Dr Heard said the school of thought that Australia’s CO2 emissions were too small to matter, therefore we should not consider these when seeking lower energy costs, was false logic.

“What is rational in isolation becomes deeply irrational as a collective of smaller nations. Purely on the maths, we must play our part as must they,” he said.

“As to the politics, our ability to influence the energy trajectory of a nation like Indonesia or India is paltry when we, one of the richest nations on earth, has one of the dirtiest energy supplies. So the moral example we set matters very much.”