Sunday, 10 June 2007

Kevin Rudd & Ziggy Switkowski on climate change and nuclear energy

In a speech on the climate and nuclear power's relevance within his party's political agenda, Kevin Rudd commented on what is becoming an often heard theme about emissions reductions via some sort of cap and trade scheme.
Mr Rudd said once the target was set, the emissions trading scheme and the market could establish the most cost-effective means of achieving that target.
I agree with this, but more importantly so does John Howard and the Liberals as was outlined in their recent report from the Task Group on Emissions Trading. It's great to see some consistency and agreement between the two parties - being an optimist, I'll interpret this as a high probability that some tangible action is on the horizon.

Not much further down in the article however there is another quote from Rudd [emphasis is mine]:
"On the question of nuclear ... our position on that is for Australia, with this rich array of other alternative energy options available, we can achieve our overall carbon target without taking on the extra safety and environmental risks which the nuclear option for Australia would represent.''
There's nothing new here. But it does not appear to be consistent with the first quote above. If nuclear is ruled out in advance, wouldn't Labor be open to the accusations regarding 'picking winners'?

Additionally, I'm not certain what Mr. Rudd means by 'available' but I doubt it has much to do with the demonstrated, technical capabilities of those 'other options'.

Most nuclear advocates believe all no/low carbon energy options, including nuclear must be subjected to life-cycle comparisons. Such comparisons include all cost, risk, capability, reliability, waste, etc. associated with each technology. This data has been derived and well publicised for nuclear, but sadly not so much for other technologies. Furthermore, the comparisons must be based - to the extent possible - on real world experiences [from prototype, demonstration or actual full scale commercial facilities]. A thorough consideration for them all is indeed justified. Anything else would be irresponsible, inefficient, ineffective or some depressingly perverse combination thereof.

My optimism gets strained, however, when I hear Ziggy Switkowski continuing to move away from Australian emissions reductions. Take for example this recent speech. He - like others so aligned - continues to beat the tired drum of Australia's minuscule contribution to global emissions - pointing instead to the USA and China.

As I've said here, I do not - in the slightest - understand the rational for this argument. If 1000 MWe of carbon based energy capacity is displaced by a no/low carbon technology, please tell me why the global climate is better off if that reduction takes place in the USA, China, India, Brazil or Australia? Obviously, locations and technologies must be selected based an a multitude of other factors including some that are fairly objective; cost, energy security, physical security, capacity and reliability as well as those that tend to be a bit more subjective; impact on economy, public acceptance and impact on the environment.

I claim economic impact is subjective because some [typically the 'haves'] tend to interpret this as maintaining their standard of living, or even maintaining consistent GDP growth; while others [typically the 'have nots'] interpret it as their right to achieve a standard of living equal to that of the 'haves'. [NNadir, a left leaning pro-nuclear advocate has a fair amount to say with regard to nuclear power's ability to address the latter.]

Public acceptance is often linked to environmental impact - but not always. Some people loath wind-farms for example because of the simple fact that they don't like the look of them [not me though, I can't stop looking when I am lucky enough to be within sight].

Typically the environmental impact is almost totally subjective. Nuclear is criticised for its lack of an operational waste strategy [despite the recycling/reprocessing taking place in many countries around the world] and the 'risk' this poses to the perhaps millions of people that live within a few hundred kilometers of a power station. However, since the dawn of the industrial revolution fossil plants - mostly coal stations - have been indiscriminately dumping their waste which has lead to the premature deaths of countless people and continues to poison the atmosphere and change our planet. Current predictions are that 30% of all species will face extinction by the turn of the next century and billions of people will be adversely impacted by climate change. To many this reality dwarfs the 'risks' associated with nuclear - whose safety record is second to no other energy technology. So in calling it subjective, I think I'm being fairly generous. See this NEI post for more.

One final quote from Ziggy:
"And, frankly, if we're going to have a nuclear industry in this country you really need to have alignment between the federal government, the state governments and the broader community and we're a fair way away from achieving that."
We sure are, but I remain optimistic.

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