The nuclear power debate

It has been clear for many years now that global warming is a real and current threat; and while there have been some incredible advances in renewable energy sources, are they happening fast enough?

It is estimated that approximately 13 per cent of our nation’s energy last year was generated from renewable sources. That’s not an unimpressive number, although we are still far from being one of the cleanest countries on Earth. For instance, in 2011 New Zealand was ranked as the 6th cleanest nation by the International Energy Agency and their renewable energy sources more than double Australia’s. So if we want to be an environmentally friendly and energy proficient nation, perhaps it is time to look at another option. The nuclear option.

Studies have shown that when a nuclear power plant is operating correctly and safely, the nearby population does not suffer increased occurrences of cancer or radiation sickness. However, many people remain wary of nuclear energy and rightfully so; radiation is a very real danger, as are nuclear plant meltdowns and the question is often asked: what if there is a meltdown, akin to the infamous Fukushima disaster of 2011?

Well, this is where Australia has a unique advantage. Our entire continent is located on a single tectonic plate, which means we don’t experience earthquakes of the same severity as that which started the Fukushima incident. While this does not guarantee safety, it is a valid argument for the use of nuclear energy.

The other major safety issue with nuclear power plants is the radioactive waste they produce and how it can be properly stored. The half-life of this waste can be up to hundreds of thousands of years, during which time it remains highly and dangerously radioactive. Therefore, it must be buried in a secure location to essentially sit for indefinite periods of time. Once again, Australia has a natural advantage here. While the idea may be unsavoury to most, we have plenty of practically unused outback that could be adapted for this kind of storage.

Finally there is the economic standpoint. It is common knowledge that Australia is one of the world’s largest uranium exporters, behind Canada and Kazakhstan. What is lesser known perhaps is that we also have the largest proven uranium reserve at 31 per cent of the entire globe’s reserve. Therefore, if Australia chose to become a nuclear powered nation, there would be no concerns about importing expensive uranium.

Despite all these arguments for a nuclear powered Australia, I’m not necessarily stating that this is the way to go. Other than all the various risks and costs, uranium is ultimately not a renewable resource, therefore nuclear energy can only be a temporary measure. But as nuclear energy is incredibly clean, emitting less greenhouse gases than even solar power, I can’t help but wonder if it’s a choice that should be considered until total renewable energy becomes a viability.

Words: Max Kobras.

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