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The Call for Nuclear Energy to Stop Biodiversity Loss

By Australian Science Media Centre

Adelaide ecologists Prof Barry Brook and Prof Corey Bradshaw have called for the promotion of nuclear power to mitigate climate change and protect biodiversity in an open letter published in Conservation Biology.

“It is obviously correct to say that we need to move rapidly away from our present heavy dependence on fossil fuels. By far the most cost-effective change is to improve the efficiency of turning energy into the services it provides: lighting, heating, cooling, motive power and electronic devices. Wind and solar are the best alternatives for supplying the energy we need.

“It is only possible to argue that nuclear energy makes sense by discounting the huge future costs of decommissioning and waste management; the International Energy Agency concedes that we will already incur costs of hundreds of billions of dollars for existing reactors, now providing 11% of world energy.

“Promoting nuclear also requires ignoring the risk of weapons proliferation, the risk of accidents like Fukushima, and the appalling consequences if reactors ever become military targets in wartime.

“Nuclear energy should be seen as the least attractive of the low-carbon energy alternatives.”

Professor Ian Lowe is Emeritus Professor of Science, Technology and Society at Griffith University.

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“While photovoltaic and wind energy have made remarkable progress in the decrease of electricity cost per peak watt, at larger scale the cost per dispatchable watt limits their economic usefulness. This is already seen in Germany, where the price per kilowatt-hour of electricity drops to zero or near zero at certain times of the day and year. Consequently, scaling fluctuating renewable energy to a large fraction of an advanced country’s electricity needs remains an uncertain proposition.

“Nuclear power, in combination with hydropower, has proven its ability to provide essentially CO2-free electricity in France and Sweden, and should seriously be considered as an option for Australia post-2020.”

Dr Martin Sevior is an Associate Professor of Physics at The University of Melbourne.

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“In promoting a ‘key role’ for nuclear energy, Brook and Bradshaw claim to have performed an ‘objective’ analysis of seven electricity generation technologies according to seven criteria. However, their choice of criteria, their values and weightings are all subjective and biased.

“For instance, they chose dispatchability (the ability to adjust power output on demand) as one criterion, thus dis­advantaging wind and solar PV. But that criterion is redundant because hourly computer simulations of the Australian National Electricity Market with 100% renewable energy, by separate teams at UNSW and the Australian Energy Market, show that combinations of several variable and dispatchable renewable energy technologies can be just as reliable as the existing polluting system.

“They also chose a cost of energy for nuclear that is far below the ‘strike price’ offered by the UK government for the new Hinkley C reactors.

“Their paper promotes nuclear reactors (thorium and integral fast) that are not commercially available. By the time they could become available at scale, we could have nearly 100% renewable electricity in many countries.

“Renewable technologies do not contribute to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, have no long-lived dangerous wastes, don’t induce thousands of future cancers, are cheaper and have less life-cycle CO2 emissions. Let’s include those criteria in an ‘objective’ analysis!”

Dr Mark Diesendorf is Associate Professor and Deputy Director of the Institute of Environmental Studies at UNSW Australia.

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“Nuclear energy is generally classed as a low emissions technology. However, it is associated with large-scale mining, a depletable uranium fuel, expensive accidents, unresolved waste disposal issues, severe security constraints and nuclear weapons proliferation.

“In contrast, photovoltaics and wind utilise unlimited energy flows from the sun, and have insignificant mining, resource depletion, greenhouse, environmental, safety, security and military issues.

“In addition, PV and wind are now cheaper than nuclear. In South Australia, where Barry Brook and Corey Bradshaw are based, PV and wind provide 40% of annual electricity, up from nearly nothing a decade ago.

“Land alienated by PV and wind is far less than for the full nuclear cycle; in South Australia, no land is alienated by PV (it’s on building roofs) and land alienated by wind energy is nearly nothing (just the towers – farming proceeds as normal around the towers).

“Nuclear can compete neither on price nor speed of deployment with PV and wind. The time for nuclear energy has come and gone.”

Dr Andrew Blakers is Director of the Centre for Sustainable Energy Systems at The Australian National University.