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Nuclear Power/Nuclear power in Australia

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Question
Hi Mr Linnell
I am a student in grade 12 in Australia and am currently trying to answer my question which is 'Should Australia adopt nuclear power?' As I understand, we currently have no nuclear power plants operating in Australia. I was wondering if you could provide me with an insight into the benefits and disadvantages of nuclear power in a country that has never used it before. Specifically cost, effectiveness versus other forms of energy, safety and environmental impact. I am currently studying physics and chemistry and have an understanding of how nuclear power plants work, so any scientific input you could add would also be extremely useful.

Thank you

Answer
Hi Jaya,
I've added an article that I wrote a couple of years ago as it might give you a little more material that you may use--it has more scientific information:  

While the use of nuclear power can be justified in such applications as submarines or aircraft carriers, it cannot be justified for producing electricity, as it is the most expensive way to make electricity.

The construction costs alone for new nuclear plants are so high that no investor will ever get their money back.  Even without considering the costs of maintenance, waste disposal, decommissioning, and health and safety hazards, the price of new nuclear power is more expensive than any other form of power.

(See "Forget Nuclear" by Amory Lovins, Imran Sheikh, and Alex Markevich, available from the Rocky Mountain Institute.)

For a current example, consider the new plant under construction in Finland. It was supposed to be the flagship of a new generation of nuclear plants. It was supposed to be completed in the summer of 2009. It is fifty per cent over budget, and the end is nowhere in sight. After thousands of defects and problems, Areva, the French Company that is building the plant, will no longer predict when the plant can be finished.  A similar plant under construction in Flamanville, France, is experiencing similar difficulties.

In short, the nuclear industry can't even build one new plant, unless it has unlimited resources. In some Asian countries where decisions are made centrally, and decision-makers have access to public funds, there are more plants under construction.  But unlimited funds do not make nuclear power economical, they just waste more money.

Some claim that nuclear is the answer to global climate change, but there is a fundamental flaw in their reasoning:  while it is true that nuclear does not produce greenhouse gases, it is too expensive to displace fossil fuels effectively.  In other words, if you want to displace fossil fuels, you can displace a lot more of them if you use any other form of power generation other than nuclear.  Since nuclear is the most expensive energy, it is the least effective.  Precious financial resources should be spent on alternative energy such as wind, solar, biomass, cogeneration and hydropower.

Some point to France, which produces most of its energy from nuclear, as a nuclear success story. But read the Charpin Report, issued in 2000. This French Government report states that reprocessing of nuclear fuel is not economical. It further states that reprocessing does not reduce the amount of nuclear waste. In other words, France has a growing pile of nuclear waste that it cannot dispose of, and, as seen above, it can't afford to even finish building a new nuclear plant.

In the United States, even with huge government subsidies and loan guarantees, Wall Street Investors are leery of investments in nuclear. Investment agencies promise to downgrade bond ratings of any utility that invests in nuclear.

Here's an useful comparison: In 2007, world wide private investment in new windpower was $71 billion. During the same period, private investment in nuclear was zero.

Finally, nuclear is an economic loser, and can't be justified. Any other investment in energy is better.

------original answer follows...

Thank you for your question. I have studied nuclear power since 1985, when the United States Department of Energy attempted to locate a high-level nuclear waste dump near my town. The more I learned, the more I realized that it is far too dangerous- and expensive-- to make in the first place. Then, coincidentally, I was in Russia the day that Chernoblyl blew up.  Here's my answer- feel free to contact me for any follow-up questions.

Nuclear Power = Russian Roulette

Like Russian roulette, an operating nuclear plant can instantly lead to irreversible catastrophe.  No amount of Clorox, bulldozers, concrete, rubber gloves, respirators, lobbyists, campaign contributions or promises can clean up the radioactivity at Fukushima, Japan:  the groundwater and soil there are irreparably contaminated for hundreds of thousands of yearsófar longer than recorded history.  And while the sea has dispersed huge amounts of leaking radiation, the same radiation is re-concentrating in the food chain. Fukushima residents should never return to their homes, ever:  the evacuation zone is really a relocation zone.

There have been five meltdowns in the last 34 years: Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and three at Fukushima.  Thatís about one every 7 years. Like plane crashes, it is not really a question of if, but of where and when the next meltdown will occur.

Nuclear disasters are less frequent than other disasters, but meltdowns are further-reaching, and eternal.  Think of the Katrina disaster in New Orleans, the earthquake in Haitióboth areas are virtual paradises compared to Fukushima.  They can be cleaned up; Fukushima cannot.  

Nukes also have money problems- the industry has atrophied to the point where construction costs alone have made nuclear plants the most expensive form of new energy.  Nukes are then the least effective way to displace fossil fuels.  Any other source of energy is more effective against climate change. Solar, wind, renewables, and efficiency are all cheaper than new nuclear power plants, viable now, and much safer.  We donít have to choose between nukes and oil or coal.

The grid allows us to use many different sources of power on a given day. Nukes are not needed, too expensive, and way too dangerous. We should expedite the shutdown of all nukes-before the next meltdown forces a permanent exodus from our homes. We should certainly not entertain the thought of creating more of them.

Remember- Nuclear power is just an expensive, dangerous way to boil water. Every place where radioactive waste has been placed has leaked. The industry has suffered the greatest collapse of any enterprise in the industrial history of the world. The only places that are still building nuclear plants are where centralized decision-making (translation: socialized government) is ignoring the free market and helping themselves to public money.


Best of luck, Jaya,
and don't hesitate to contact me again.

Bill Linnell

William S. Linnell
Chernobyl Survivor &
Spokesperson,
Cheaper, Safer Power
1905 Congress Street
Portland, ME  04102
207-409-0100
CaptLinnell@yahoo.com  

Nuclear Power

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Willliam S. Linnell

Expertise

I can answer questions about the viability of nuclear power versus other forms of energy, about the economics of nuclear plants and public policy issues.

Experience

Only two Commercial nuclear plants in the United States have shut down early. I led the successful fight to shut down one of them-the Maine Yankee plant which shut down 12 years early.

Organizations
NIRS (Nuclear Information & REsource Service) Cheaper, Safer, Power: Co-founder and Spokesperson

Publications
Maine Nuclear Watch

Education/Credentials
B.A., American Studies, Colby College

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