Ben Fowler writes about the issues related to nuclear power in Australia. He spends 8 paragraphs discussing the issues on the “Right” side of politics – of which 6 concern the an Australian nuclear weapons capability and then spends 3 out of 5 paragraphs related to the “Left” side explaining that he thinks that everyone who opposes nuclear power is a Luddite.
Ben didn’t bother providing any links or statistics to back up his claims, so I’ll assist him in analysing these issues by providing some facts that we can discuss.
In March Spain had wind power provide 27% of all electricity (making wind power the main source of power for the country). I blogged about this at the time. While Spain has an ongoing program of building new wind power stations the majority of wind turbines in Spain are quite old (the Model T of wind power) and not nearly as efficient as modern turbines that would be installed for Australian power plants.
The Danish government has announced plans to use wind power for 75% of their electricity. Denmark has a much smaller land area than Australia, which means that generating so much electricity from wind power is more technically challenging for them than it would be for us. A larger land area means that when one area has low wind speeds other areas can be used to provide power.
For home electricity generation wind turbines have not yet been proven to be practical. The linear speed of the blade is determined by the wind speed and the rotational speed is therefore a factor of the wind speed divided by the radius of the blades. This means that smaller turbines have higher rotational speeds which causes more noise (bad for getting council approval), also to avoid turbulence a wind turbine will ideally be some distance above the ground (8 meters is good) which again gives problems when getting approval. The O’Connor Hush Turbine is supposed to solve the noise component of this problem. It will be interesting to see whether home based wind power becomes practical in future – if so I would like to get an O’Connor turbine on my house!
Home solar power has been proven to work well, in the form of both solar-electric and solar hot water (I know several people who have been happily using them for years). You don’t get cold showers when the sun isn’t shining, you instead use gas or electricity to heat the water (it’s a standard feature in a solar hot water system). Also your home electricity doesn’t go off when the sun stops shining, you have batteries that are charged during sunny times to run things overnight, and when they get flat you pay for power from the grid.
It is quite realistic to stick solar power systems on every roof in the country. The added cost to the process of building or purchasing a house is negligible and the benefits include having electricity when mains power is unavailable (NB water is used in generating electricity from coal or nuclear power plants so a bad drought will eventually become a time of limited mains power). Even the smallest home solar electric system will produce enough electricity to power a fridge and freezer 24*7 so it’s a very useful backup for essential power. The government is subsidising the installation of solar electric systems, so it seems that they expect everyone to get one eventually.
Dr. Ziggy Switkowski (the main advocate of nuclear power in Australia) says “the introduction of a carbon tax could make nuclear power the cheapest option by the 2020s”. In consecutive paragraphs Ben derides “carbon trading” and claims that nuclear power is “practical”. Unfortunately the main advocate of nuclear power in Australia does not believe that it is practical without a carbon tax. Ziggy also states that it would take at least 15 years to complete a nuclear power plant, unfortunately we don’t have the luxury of waiting for 15 years before starting to try and reduce the damage that we are doing to the environment. The Stern report makes the economic consequences of inaction quite clear.
I am not a Luddite. I oppose nuclear power because of the risks related to accidental release of radioactive material and the routine release of radioactive material as part of the uranium mining process, and the dangers related to long-term storage of nuclear waste (let’s not assume that Star Trek science can make it all non-radioactive). Nuclear power is not cost effective for Australia and will take so long to develop that it won’t save us from the serious economic damage predicted by the best scientific models as presented in the Stern report.
For large scale power generation wind power works now, can be easily implemented and has no hidden costs or risks. There will never be a Chernobyl type accident with wind power, it is inherently a safe technology. For small scale power generation (something you can add to your home) solar power works well, is not expensive (when considering the price of a house and especially when the government subsidy is counted) and has the potential to seriously reduce the amount of carbon dioxide produced.