The nuclear zombie, undead yet again

Zombie ideas never die. Among the hardiest, it seems, is the suggestion that nuclear power represents a possible solution to Australia’s energy problems, including the need to decarbonize energy supply. I just received an invitation to an event entitled Going Nuclear: Reconsidering Australia’s Energy Mix being organized by the by Centre for Market Design at the University of Melbourne.

The speakers are Renaud Coulomb of the University of Melbourne talking about public attitudes and, more interestingly to me, Mr Tony Wood, Director of the Energy Program at the Grattan Institute.

I was struck by the suggestion that Wood planned to discuss his, report; ‘No easy choices: which way to Australia’s energy future?‘, which I hadn’t seen come out. I looked it up, and it turns out to have been published back in 2012.

It gets worse. Wood’s cost estimates are based on cost estimates from a February 2010 report by the US-based Electric Power Research Institute, drawing on its internal database from 2009. No details are given, but it’s safe to assume that the original data would be from 2008 at the latest, making the estimates a decade old.

A decade ago, nuclear still looked like a plausible option, certainly to me. But that was before the massive decline in the cost of renewables, and the collapse of the nuclear renaissance in the US and elsewhere. The number of nuclear plants under construction is dropping steadily as projects are completed or abandoned while hardly any new ones take their place. Even existing nuclear plants are closing down.

The illusory nuclear power option has only ever served to derail debate around energy policy in Australia. Reviving this zombie now, and using outdated information to do it, is totally irresponsible.

27 thoughts on “The nuclear zombie, undead yet again

  1. There’s certainly some nuclear power research going on, which seems a misdirection of scarce resources. For example, Australia is a member of the Gen IV Forum, researching the unicorn idea of a further generation of nuclear reactors. Given that Gen III was a complete failure, this seems like a waste of time, but even more see for a country that has no nuclear industry or prospect of one.

    Since ANSTO receives revenue from isotopes, it’s obviously reasonable to ask whether this part of the institution covers its own costs, and why such a massive subsidy is needed.

  2. Apropos of zombie ideas and the indefatigable Ben Heard of pro-nuke Eco activist site Bright New World…

    On Monday 7 May 2018, Graduation Day at the University of Adelaide included one Benjamin Paul Heard for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy. Part of a cohort of candidates whose theses titles included “Development and Applications of CRISPR/Cas9 Genome Editing Technology”, “Multi-Temporal Remote Sensing for Estimation of Plant Available Water-holding Capacity of Soil”, and “Molecular Characterization of Metastatic Endometrial Cancer by Mass Spectrometry”.

    On the other hand, Heard’s thesis title is “Clean. Reliable. Affordable. The role of nuclear technology in meeting the challenge of low greenhouse gas electricity supply in the 21st century.” The degree was conferred by the Chancellor of the University, Kevin Scarce, former Commissioner of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission.

    Following the ceremony, Dr Heard hit the Tweetersphere and remarked that he’s looking forward to continuing his work with his Bright New World NGO that Dr Jim Green has reported on. His other tweets make interesting reading of the pro-nuclear alternative universe variety at

    “In 2016, Heard launched Australia’s first pro-nuclear not for profit environmental organisation, Bright New World. Bright New World’s board is Chaired by Martin Thomas AM, former Vice President of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE). Fellow board members are Rachael Turner, Stephanie Bolt and Corey Bradshaw.”

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