I believe you have the right to be heard by your politicians. That's why I want your advice on this issue.
Australia’s coal fired power stations are ageing and will soon need to be replaced with something. Coal’s a major contributor to carbon emissions, and a new coal-fired power station is expensive to build. The private sector doesn’t want to touch them, so to get one off the ground, the Government (through taxpayer money) would probably need to step in.
There’s debate about whether renewable energy is mature enough to replace base-load electricity we’re currently getting from coal. So here’s the question: if renewables can’t yet step up to replace coal-fired power stations, what would you prefer instead? Coal, or nuclear?
Should Australia look at replacing our old coal-fired power stations with nuclear power plants?
- Nuclear energy has almost totally zero-emissions, so it would help us meet our climate change goals
- It’s efficient: one kilogram of uranium has as much as energy as 2 million kilograms of coal1
- Other countries have done it before: France and Sweden replaced their whole coal fleet with nuclear power, and they now have the lowest per capita carbon emissions in the world2
- We’ve got heaps of uranium in Australia, so fuel wouldn’t be an issue: Australia holds almost one-third of the world’s proven uranium reserves3
- It’s not as expensive as it used to be, but it’s still expensive, and wouldn’t save us any money: a new coal fired power station would cost around $3 billion4, compared with the cost of a small nuclear plant at about $2.7 billion.5
- It’s slow: we could realistically expect it would take 15 or 20 years to replace our full coal-fired power stations with nuclear power, assuming we start today6
- It creates a new security concern to consider: nuclear reactor meltdowns are burned into our collective subconscious, and we’d also need to plan for how to safely handle nuclear waste
- Nuclear power production is currently prohibited under federal law, so we’d need to get the changes through the Parliament to make it happen7
So what should we do?
If we have to choose between nuclear and coal, which would you prefer?
- 1 “How much fuel does it take to power the world?”, Forbes. September 20 2017.
- 2 “Sweden splits over nuclear power”, Politico. January 6 2021.
- 3 “Tapping into uranium’s future potential”, Australian Mining. January 25 2021.
- 4 “A new coal-fired power plant would cost $3 billion, drive up energy prices and take eight years to build”, The Sydney Morning Herald. April 3 2018.
- 5 “The Rolls-Royce option for Australian nuclear power”, Australian Financial Review. August 28 2019.
- 6 Based on the time it took France and Sweden to do the same.
- 7 See, for example, the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act 1998 & the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.