Whilst it is always amusing watching the Liberals fight amongst themselves (this time in regards to voting on the ETS); I have been thinking on the issue of alternative energy sources. After all, the two primary opponents of the ETS in the business community are the Energy & Mining sectors. Rio Tinto’s recent submission (alongside the government’s own Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation) calls for reconsideration of the use of nuclear power in supplying Australia’s energy needs, especially in light of the ETS legislation.
Now personally, I am against nuclear energy for reasons of “disaster avoidance”. Chernobyl is still off-limits and will be for quite sometime. I am well aware that there are much more secure options in creating nuclear reactors, but I am a risk averse person. The idea of using an energy source that is as dangerous as nuclear fission (with long lived side-effects / waste) is a scary notion. I feel the same way about creating energy from nuclear fusion, should it ever become feasible. After all, the H-bomb is much more powerful than the standard nuclear fission weaponary.
That said, I try to be practical wherever possible. I personally don’t like driving yet own a car because, in today’s age, it is pretty much necessary for my children. I don’t the clergy (or those that act in that role) of several religions, yet I can understand their role in many people’s lives and am friendly toward them so far as we don’t insult one another’s beliefs. And so on. Nuclear energy may not be my favourite method of generating energy, but I like my technology and something has to power it. Coal is something I think needs phasing out, so I need to look at the alternatives.
In looking into nuclear energy though, I am finding that it is not the panacea it is made out to be by it’s proponents. Mostly because, like oil, there is a limited supply of uranium worldwide and the International Atomic Energy Agency predicts that (with current technology) there is only enough to keep a consistent supply (for current usage rates) for the next 85 years at most. This time period would, of course, be drastically reduced if we were to increase our use of nuclear energy to the levels required to reasonably reduce our carbon emissions. They temper this with a claim that “fast reactor technology” could lengthen this period to 2500 years.
However, from my (possibly defunct) research – fast reactors are few and far between and their development has not been pushed for some time (possibly due to the currently “low” cost of uranium). In particular, research & development into a breed of reactor Tony introduced me to, the Integral Fast Reactor, has been shut-down completely by the USA. Given the patent system being the way it is, it is unlikely that anyone else but the USA could re-instate this program. It would appear the fact that this reactor can easily produce weapons grade fissile material is of higher gravitas than its environmental benefits over standard thermal reactors to the USA and, as such, it is not likely we are going to be able to use this technology.
I am interested in other people’s perspective on this. As I said, I have a personal preference against it because of the disaster possibility. I am, however, open to reasonable arguments for the use of nuclear. I, however, get the feeling that there are alot more politics on the international level preventing the adoption of nuclear energy than there are domestic issues. The issues surrounding the development (or lack thereof) of the IFR nuclear option are a case in point.
Of course, feel free to talk about anything else as well – I’m just trying to kick start conversation and think this topic would be reasonably interesting to all.
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