Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Ziggy goes nuclear

Dr. Ziggy Switkowski was recently interviewed by Monica Attard on ABC Radio:

This is a fairly long interview and includes some relevant detail on the justification for nuclear, role of investors and assigning plant locations.

You can access the full text or audio files via the link above.

Some exerpts:

MONICA ATTARD: Can you put up for me the case: why do we need nuclear power stations?

ZIGGY SWITKOWSKI: Well there are two reasons. Firstly, the demand for electricity in Australia will continue to grow, doubling by the year 2050. So we need to have new sources of energy and particularly of the base load of variety, steady, always on electricity, and there are only a number of alternatives. Coal, gas, perhaps hydro-electric, although that's at risk now with the water issues, and nuclear. There are no other sources of base load electricity.

Secondly, if we are going to provide for continuing growth in electricity demand, and that really goes with prosperity and economic growth, and we are going to do it in an environmentally responsible way, that is moving towards low greenhouse gas emitting technologies, frankly, the only points you can go to is nuclear power.

So that argues for having nuclear in the debate. Then you travel around the world and you find there are 31 countries already that are nuclear powered, another eight in the queue to put in their first reactor. In this part of the world, China, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, India, all have nuclear reactors. Vietnam and Indonesia are going to be next.

Australia, having nearly 40 per cent of the world's uranium and making a substantial business out of that, not being part of the nuclear fuel cycle, while being concerned about greenhouse gas emissions, appears to be inconsistent.
MONICA ATTARD: And they [Chernobyl type accidents, acts of terror and proliferation] are all valid concerns, aren't they?

ZIGGY SWITKOWSKI: They are all valid concerns, and they are still there, but they have actually been overtaken in the last few months, I think reflecting the nature of the debate.

And now, when people challenge me in forums about the validity of nuclear power in Australia, they say things like, "well it's going to cost too much". Secondly, they say, "well if the first reactor is 15 years away, that's too far away to make a difference to our climate change challenges". And the third concern is, "well if we are going to have 20, 30 or 40 reactors, where will you put them"?

MONICA ATTARD: Exactly, where would you put them?

ZIGGY SWITKOWSKI: Well, here are the criteria. You need to have, nuclear powers are big reactors, they are like big coal-fired power stations, you need to have them near the electricity grid, you need to have them near the markets they are going to serve, big population centres, and because they have to be water-cooled, as does coal, they need to near water. But it can be seawater. That points you to up and down the eastern seaboard.

MONICA ATTARD: Gee, that'll be popular.

ZIGGY SWITKOWSKI: And, what other countries have done is to collocate their nuclear power stations with the coal power stations.


ZIGGY SWITKOWSKI: That becomes less controversial.

MONICA ATTARD: So that means we're talking about, in Sydney terms, for example?

ZIGGY SWITKOWSKI: Oh, I don't know where the first reactor might go, partly because the questions are not appropriately directed to me or the Government, because the first or the early reactors will be the reactors that the energy utilities have built a business case for and decided that this is the best location for them in terms of their greater electricity generation strategy...

MONICA ATTARD: So they're the people who should make the decisions, ultimately, as to where they should be located?

ZIGGY SWITKOWSKI: They will be the people that will present the business cases that will then be reviewed by whatever regulatory bodies are in place in terms of environmental impact and other considerations that will be put in place to oversee the industry, if we go that way.

MONICA ATTARD: Right. What about the community? Should the community have a voice?

ZIGGY SWITKOWSKI: Oh absolutely.

MONICA ATTARD: But in what form, if there are determinants other than what the community wishes, in relation to where these reactors should be?

ZIGGY SWITKOWSKI: What the experience around the world has been is that, once a country or community has a nuclear power station in their environment, that their acceptance to nuclear power progressively improves, and quite quickly.

And so it is that first nuclear reactor which is quite the big challenge, because the experience of the industry, which is now 50 years old, is that nuclear power is clean, it's efficient, it's not intrusive. In fact, when you tour a modern nuclear power facility, it feels like you are going to a semi-conductor fabrication plant - highly automated, very clean, relatively few people running it and with a small physical footprint into the landscape. So when people see that, in history or examples from overseas, suggest that they become comfortable with nuclear power.

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