Deputy NSW Premier John Barilaro is in the headlines for acknowledging a simple fact, that nuclear energy is inevitable in Australia. Hysterical opposition from those with little knowledge about nuclear power has already begun.
The problem with any discussion on nuclear power is that it is fraught with misinformation promoted by hysterical nuclearphobes. Nuclear power evokes fear of the unknown, because we don’t have nuclear power here in Australia. We’ve also been repeatedly told that it’s scary and something to fear.
We may live in an age that values feelings over facts, but psychologists tell us that the best way to tackle a phobia is to confront it; to take a closer look, and to understand the details, thus removing the mystery upon which irrational fears rely.
Those willing to do that find nuclear power is no big deal. In much of the rest of the world it’s just a normal means of energy production, growing from 3.3 per cent of global electricity generation 40 years ago to 10.6 per cent today. It is a significant energy source in countries like South Korea and Sweden, while in France it provides 75 per cent of electricity generation. The United States, United Kingdom and China are expanding their use of nuclear power by developing small modular reactors which are cheaper, safer, more flexible and generate little waste.
There are 400 nuclear reactors in the world now, and will be over 500 within 10 years. More than 60 are under construction currently and China plans another 200 by 2050.
This global growth in nuclear power is occurring despite the 2011 disaster in Fukushima, Japan, where an earthquake and tsunami killed 20,000 people. It’s often forgotten that the resulting meltdown of an old and poorly located nuclear power plant, while it prompted significant upheaval, actually killed no one.
It may contradict the beliefs of the flower power generation, but the nuclear power industry is significantly safer than other large scale energy-related industries. Fossil fuel power, hydro power and wind power are each more deadly, both in absolute terms and relative to the power they produce. A 2006 review commissioned by the Howard Government came to that conclusion and it remains true today.
An Australian nuclear industry also has the potential to create a secondary industry based on the safe storage of waste products. With vast uninhabited, geologically stable land, Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory could become world leaders in the field of nuclear waste storage. If a small country like Sweden can safely generate nuclear power and provide for the safe disposal of waste, so can Australia.
Australia has around half the world’s known uranium deposits. We currently export uranium to other nations that reap the benefits of nuclear energy, and there are more export opportunities to come, yet we are rejecting the benefits ourselves. Meanwhile our household energy bills continue to rise.
Australia is the only G20 country with a blanket ban on nuclear energy. If we are genuine about tackling the energy gap, the soaring cost of electricity and our commitment to emissions reduction, we need to dispel the myths and let the nuclear industry flourish.
David Leyonhjelm is a Senator for the Liberal Democrats