The nuclear option
Unsurprisingly, evidence that the Rudd government is serious about emissions trading has produced a new round of calls for the development of nuclear power in Australia. There is certainly a case to be made that an expansion of nuclear power should be part of the global response to climate change. But the latest chatter isn’t part of a serious response to the problem of climate change; rather it’s an attempt to duck the issues raised by an emissions trading scheme.
The crucial points to bear in mind are these
* Nuclear power will never be viable in Australia without a high price on carbon and a clear commitment that the price is going to remain high. So, there is no point in raising the nuclear option as a cover for opposing emissions trading
* There is no way that Australia is going to lead the rest of the developed world (in particular the US, but the same points apply to most of Europe and Japan) on this. The US is attempting to restart its nuclear industry on existing brownfield sites. This process started with the passage of new legislation in 2002 and, if all goes well, construction on the first plants might begin in 2010 and (very optimistically) be completed by 2014. Given our lack of any regulatory capacity, construction and management expertise and so on, we won’t even be able to get started before the US industry shows the way on new greenfield sites and produces a significant number of operating plants, say by 2020. With a fast paced program, we might get plants on line by 2030
* It follows that whether or not the Rudd government (or whoever is in government for the next 5 to 10 years) changes its policy on nuclear power will make no difference to anything of substance