Change in the air for Australia?

So yesterday I stumbled on this article from the SMH, which is talking about Australia’s new Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel. Recently annoucned, Dr. Finkel will be moving into the position in 2016. The main point of this article is a couple of statements made by Dr. Finkel regarding Australia’s use of coal, and the need to move towards a carbon-free energy system.

His position seems to be that that we should transition to entirely renewable energy, but that nuclear should ‘absolutely be considered’. Both parts of these comments are very good to hear, not only is there now a voice that will push seriously for renewable energy, it is also a pragmatic voice that is OK with using nuclear power as an interim, low-carbon, constant supply energy source.

At this point it is really quite shocking that Australia hasn’t moved towards using nuclear energy. Of all the countries in the world, we are perhaps one of the best suited for nuclear energy: we have an incredible amount of empty land, that is currently going unused, far away from any people and any risk of accidental health effects (which is also a good place to store any waste); we are right in the middle of a tectonic plate and as such do not suffer from frequent earthquakes that can damage nuclear reactors (I’m looking at you Japan); and we have 31% of the world’s uranium, an incredibly valuable resource that we currently make no use of.

It is becoming a little frustrating to live in Australia at the moment, around the world we see huge developments and steps forward towards combating climate change, from China’s push to build nuclear reactors, to the recent announcement of the world’s largest solar array being built in Morocco. Something has got to give soon, but we are already too late.

Say something controversial.

Matt

Location, location, location: Why doesn’t location get talked about in the nuclear debate?

VICE’s technology arm recently posted a story called: “​How Volcanic Eruptions Threaten Nuclear Power Plants“, which details the debate going on in Japan about the proximity of some of their nuclear power plants to active volcanoes. Despite the fact that they are not close enough to be affected by actual lava or pyroclastic flows, (as reiterated by vulcanologists), these plants are close enough to be negatively affected by ash from the eruptions. This article gave me something to think about, how location affects the nuclear debate.

Volcanoes are not the only problems that Japan’s nuclear power industry faces. Japan has a lot of volcanoes because it is on the edge of what is called the ‘Ring of Fire’. The ‘Ring of Fire’ runs around the boundary of the Pacific Ocean, and is where numerous undersea tectonic plates meet with the continental tectonic plates. The result of this is that there is a lot of volcanic activity as well as lots of earthquakes.

What else comes with earthquakes though? Tsunamis. As everyone is probably aware, Japan has to deal with tsunamis at comparatively frequent rate. We only need to recall the Fukushima Daaichi disaster to see how true the fear of natural disasters affecting nuclear power plants is. To be fair, Fukushima was unlucky enough to be hit by an earthquake and then a tsunami. But it does beg the question, is it wise to build a nuclear reactor, no matter how well designed and how many precautions have been taken, in a place where these sort of natural disasters are commonplace?

Compare Japan with Australia on that map above. Australia sits right in the middle of a continental tectonic plate, and the centre of Australia is pretty much as far from the sea and large earthquakes you can get.

If Australia were to build nuclear reactors somewhere in the vast unused land area that in the middle of the outback, it is almost guaranteed (touch wood) that there would be no natural disasters that could affect it, the main issues that would remain would be dealing with the heat, getting water to the site and getting the energy back to the coast.

But this point rarely, if ever, comes up in debates. Anti-nuclear advocates are allowed to go on about the possible dangers of natural disasters (an in places like Japan, they are probably right), but the pro-nuclear side never seems to rebut this with the idea that we build somewhere where that these things are unlikely to happen.

Say something controversial.

Matt