JOHN HYNDMAN: THE NUCLEAR OPTION
Climate Change is arguably the most controversial topic in the history of science. Pressure groups – in particular, the fossil fuel lobby – have fought a pitched battle with climate change scientists for more than 40 years. It is now clear that climate change is the greatest threat mankind has ever faced and we must turn our full attention to dealing with this challenge. This is a fight we cannot afford to lose.
I believe a 2º centigrade temperature increase above pre-industrial levels is inevitable. Irreversible feedback loops may soon be triggered which could lead to a 4 - 6º centigrade rise within 100 years. The consequences of this would be devastating for humanity and the planet.
What can we do? The answer is simple - stop putting greenhouse gases (in particular, CO2) into the atmosphere. It is as simple as that.
Ideally, we would stabilize and reduce the human population but that is a secondary consideration. We have the means to feed ourselves and provide all the energy we need. We can solve the problem of Climate Change without adversely affecting the quality of our lives.
For more than 200 years fossil fuels have been a cheap and reliable energy source. However, we must now find climate-friendly alternatives.
Nuclear Energy is an option that could solve the world’s climate change problem. Nuclear is the safest form of electricity generation yet devised by man. Many countries are making plans to expand their nuclear capacity – in particular, Sweden, South Korea, Russia, China and France.
The latest Generation 4 reactors are particularly safe. It is no longer sensible or relevant to hark back to the problems of Chernobyl, Fukushima or Three Mile Island.
The USA was well on the way to a nuclear powered future until the 1970’s when protests and regulations stalled development. Germany, due to internal political pressure, unwisely cancelled its nuclear programme in favour of renewable energy.
Opponents cite the nuclear waste disposal problem. This is a non-issue in real terms. The USA produces approximately half an Olympic swimming pool of nuclear waste each year. Drill a deep hole into geologically stable rock and seal it in concrete. The technical solution is easy; the political will is the problem.
Nuclear Energy has been pilloried by the fossil fuel lobby for many years. It is now time to dispel the myths and power our increasingly electrified society with nuclear energy.
A generation from now mankind may have harnessed nuclear fusion. That would be a dream come true and would provide the world with an infinite supply of safe, usable energy.
In short, nuclear energy is a no brainer. To allow climate change to irreparably damage our planet is irresponsible and unforgivable. We can fix the problem by using nuclear energy to provide the world’s electricity needs.
Australia is giving serious consideration to building nuclear plants. After all, a nuclear powered submarine in each Australian harbour negates the ‘no nuclear in our back yard’ argument. Australia has a looming freshwater problem which could be solved by nuclear desalination plants. Nuclear could also mitigate Australia’s Climate Change liability.
In my view, nuclear generation of electricity is safe, economic and eminently feasible. NZs proposals to combat Climate Change are draconian and risk damaging our economy. We need to educate the public about the difference between the peaceful application of nuclear power and the weaponization of nuclear energy. The latest generation of nuclear powered plants have minimized risks and the disposal of nuclear waste is manageable. Organizations such as Greenpeace and the Green parties need to change their antiquated attitudes towards nuclear energy and reprioritize their environmental objectives.
We are fortunate in NZ. Our ‘base power’ can be provided by our abundant hydroelectric and geothermal sources. As fossil fuel electricity generation is phased out, intermittent renewable sources such as wind and solar are coming onstream. However, as our population and energy demand grows, our supply of base power electricity will remain static.
I am not persuaded by the arguments for hydrogen, tidal and wave generation and the Onslow water battery.
Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) range in size from 16 to 300 MW. Small units will fit on back of a truck and the largest ones are the size of a football field. They cost around $3-4 billion dollars and can be factory built and transported to the generation site. Construction time is estimated to be 2-3 years. It would be feasible to site a few of these around Auckland and one near each of the main cities. SMRs are due to be available for deployment by 2030. The argument that NZ is ‘too small to go nuclear’ is no longer relevant with the advent of SMR technology.
New Zealand has a golden opportunity to review its energy future. We have sufficient renewable generation to carry us through the next decade or so. As our population and energy demand increases, we should consider supplementing our energy mix with nuclear generation.
· We aim to electrify everything. The mantra should be “Electrify, electrify, electrify”.
· Continue with the current hydro, geothermal, wind and solar generating plants.
· Do not proceed with the $16 billion Lake Onslow water battery.
· Commence public discussion on our nuclear future with a view to commissioning SMR plants.
We could be generating nuclear ‘base power’ electricity in NZ by 2035. We need to change our negative mind set and consider what is best for mankind and our planet.
Many readers will dismiss climate change as a ‘hoax’. However, the reality is that governments around the world do not agree with you and are phasing out of fossil fuels and replacing them with renewable energy. Wouldn’t it be simpler, cheaper and safer to consider the nuclear option?
Dr John Hyndman is an environmentalist with a special interest in climate change and long-term energy sustainability.