Monday, 31 March 2008

New Zealand - Are we ready to join the nuclear family?

A fairly objective report examins the question.

Full report from Stuff by Nikki MacDonald.

As demand heats up for climate-friendly energy solutions, there are growing murmurings in favour of at least reopening the nuclear debate.

Moral and environmental objections aside, three key components would be needed for New Zealand to produce nuclear energy, [French nuclear expert Bertrand] Barre says:

* An appropriately sized national grid - generally at least 10 times bigger than any one nuclear plant. That could be a problem here, given increasing reactor size. As at the end of 2007, New Zealand's total electricity generation capacity was 9350MW. At 1435MW, Huntly is the largest existing power station.

* A strong monitoring agency: "Nuclear power can only be safe if there is complete certainty that the regulatory authorities are independent and can have real power to shut down a plant."

* A skilled, trained workforce.

At the moment, taking into account all the costs from uranium importation and reactor installation to waste disposal and decommissioning, [Engineer and Sustainable Energy Forum member John Blakeley ] doubts that nuclear would stack up financially. But if the choice comes down to nuclear or relying on imported liquefied natural gas (LNG), that may change. Contact and Genesis power companies are applying for resource consent for an LNG plant in Taranaki, but it would be a last-ditch option.

[S]hould we at least give it more than cursory consideration?

Comments to this article are still open for those who may be interested in a polite response. As usual I left a response - captured below for posterity.

Thanks for a fine report.

The claims made by Bunny McDiarmid are false and misleading. Eliminating every nuclear power plant on Earth would have a negligible, if any, impact on nuclear weapons proliferation. For example, no one is denying Iran their right to nuclear power, only the sensitive technology to enrich uranium that could be linked to weapons technology. And in North Korea, nuclear power plants are being offered by international negotiators as a reward for abandoning their weapons programme.

Conversely, expansion of nuclear power poses a similarly minimal risk. Claims to the contrary are principally rhetorical, emotive fear mongering.

Also, nuclear subsidies exist on par ($/kw generated) with subsidies for other technologies such as renewables and coal. But, in the UK, a massive nuclear expansion programme is underway with no such subsidies.

Maybe nuclear power has a role to play in New Zealand, maybe it does not. But if seriously considered, it should be done so objectively, with credible facts and peer reviewed science.

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