This post is my reply to her comment. It's size exceeded Blogger's 4k character limit, but I thought a semi-comprehensive reply was appropriate.]
I would gladly accept a world free of risks from nuclear waste, weapons proliferation, or exposure to man-made, ionizing radiation. But the fact is, the benefits from nuclear technologies—both energy and non-energy related—far, far outweigh these often perversely exaggerated risks.
Let’s take an example—as you predicted, I’ll ‘dig someone up’ and tag him as an “environmentalist”. Actually I’ll go one better, I’ll call him a globally respected “Scientist”. Here’s what Prof. James Hansen [from the USA’s Colombia University and NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies] has to say on nuclear energy’s role in the battle against climate change. From his book Storms of My Grandchildren:
“Germany provides useful empirical evidence about progress in quitting the fossil fuel addiction. Germany is making a major effort to improve energy efficiency. It is also trying hard to promote renewable energy, with large subsidies for wind and solar energies. Wind provides up to 20% of the country’s electric energy in winter, but on annual mean [yearly average] the wind and sun produced only 7.3 precent of Germany’s electricity in 2008. That renewable fraction is still growing, but at a cost—some industries have cited increased electric rates as a reason for relocating outside Germany.
But what is disturbing about the empirical evidence from Germany is that, despite technical prowess and strong efforts in energy efficiency and renewable energies, there are no plans to phase out coal. On the contrary, there are plans to build new coal-fired power plants, which the German government claims will be necessary once the country closes its nuclear power plants. The bottom line seems to be that it is not feasible in the foreseeable future to phase out coal unless nuclear power is included in the energy mix.”
Apparently Germany realised this and made the difficult [and most likely politically costly] decision to recently reverse its nuclear phase-out policy. Meanwhile Australia continues to build coal powered stations despite our politicians and “environmentalists” claiming how ‘blessed’ we are with non-nuclear options.
With respect to your claims [too late, too dirty, too expensive]; the vast majority of climate scientists—held in high regard within the scientific community—project mid-century as the critical date to achieve dramatic decreases in greenhouse gas emissions and the subsequent decreasing trend in atmospheric CO2 concentration. Considering the rate of deployment of nuclear power plants worldwide in the 1970’s, technology advancements since that time and the proven ability to steadily deploy nuclear energy stations in Asia [most notably in Korea and Japan] over the past few decades; there is little reason to doubt that nuclear energy—even in Australia—is well positioned to help phase out fossil fuel use.
Also, lifecycle emissions from nuclear energy—including mining and fuel production—have been independently and repeatedly shown to be among the lowest of available energy generation technologies. [See the Reports linked in the lower right margin of the Blog]
Regarding cost—I can’t speak for anyone else, but all I ask is that Australia make it legal to pursue nuclear energy here and to also put a realistic price on carbon to properly account for its threat to the planet. Utilities can then decide to continue to produce power using expensive and dangerous fossil fuels, transition to renewables, encourage efficiency and conservation, or opt for nuclear energy. [I would also expect the enacting of laws that require utilities to pay into a decommissioning and nuclear waste fund to coincide with other laws permitting utilities to use the technology.]
Considering the extreme weather events of just the past few years, I am surprised by campaigners who continue to see nuclear energy as the great threat of our time. Baseless nuclear scepticism does not add value to efforts to rid the world of dangerous fossil fuels. If you believe the risks from the introduction of nuclear energy are comparable to those from our continued addiction to fossil fuels, please explain your rationale. If you claim nuclear-free options that will permit the phase-out of fossil fuels have been demonstrated, please cite some real world examples.
I’ll give the final word to Hansen:
“Coal is exceedingly dirty stuff. Its mercury, arsenic, sulfates, and other constituents are a major source of global air and water pollution, leading to increased birth defects, impaired intelligence, asthma, and other respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Coal’s effect on air and water pollution is global—nobody escapes its reach. Mercury and other pollutants are deposited on land and in the ocean, infiltrating the food chain and building up in the bodies of long-lived animals and fish.”
“Leading world air-pollution experts at our workshops at the East-West Center in Honolulu agreed that there are at least one million deaths per year from air pollution globally. It is difficult to apportion the deaths among different pollution sources—such as vehicles and power plants—because people are affected simultaneously by all sources. But to get an idea of the numbers, let’s first assign 1 percent to coal-fired power plants. That’s ten thousand deaths per year—every year.
Actually, all experts agree that coal is responsible for far more than 1 percent of the air pollution. In fact, recent data show that more than 1 percent of some air pollutants in the United States comes from Chinese power plants! I point this out to emphasize that pollution and climate change are global problems—we must work together with other countries to solve them. Assigning 10 percent of global air pollution deaths to coal is probably still conservative—that’s a hundred thousand deaths per year, every year.
Yet there are no two-hundred-thousand-person rallies against coal, no nightly “No Coal” concerts. Death by coal is probably not as sexy as death by nuclear accident. Perhaps we have greater fear of nuclear power because it is more mysterious than that familiar black lump of coal—even though we know coal contains remarkably bad stuff.”