Politics Analysis

Melting down the Coalition's clean, green nuclear spin

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(Image by Dan Jensen)

Managing editor Michelle Pini details why Peter Dutton's latest nuclear energy push is actually "unhinged".

APPARENTLY, no one suffered from the Fukushima meltdown.

Or the Chernobyl calamity.

So, we should all move on.

Certainly, with fossil fuels fast running out, the Coalition – led by Dutton and with Littleproud obediently trailing along – has renewed its nuclear push.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton recently declared:

"New nuclear technologies can be plugged into existing grids and work immediately."

Of course, as Giles Parkinson patiently explains in RenewEconomy:

'But they can’t, because they don’t exist.' 

Details.

These Coalition talking points – as well as other fantastical claims by Dutton – were regurgitated this week on ABC's Q&A, by nuclear groupies, Liberal MP and former marketing executive Ted O'Brien and 17-year-old self-proclaimed expert Will Shackel. We will return to this below. 

YOUNGER THAN IT LOOKS

It’s a whole 12 years on from Fukushima, after all. And there were only 2,313 odd deaths related to that catastrophe, of which only 1,368 are believed 'to have died in connection with the nuclear accident'.

And only about  $120 billion spent stabilising the stricken site, so far. 

Oh, plus around 23,000 workers involved in emergency operations and exposed to excessive levels of radiation, among whom:

 “...an increased risk of cancer would be expected in the future."

It’s 37 years after the Chernobyl disaster.

Forty-four years since the Three Mile Island meltdown.

Then there are the nuclear submarine emergencies — only about nine since 1961.

To summarise, since the world's first nuclear reactor meltdown – the NRX reactor at Chalk River LaboratoriesOntario, Canada in 1952 – a host of other nuclear power-related calamities have created an ongoing radioactive stream of leaks around the globe. Over 100 of these radioactive meltdowns are defined as "serious" by the IAEA and the majority are post-Chernobyl.

These time frames are completely irrelevant in radioactive decomposition terms, of course, since nuclear waste, depending on its elemental composition, takes between 290 to a few hundred billion years to decompose, give or take a few million. 

WASTE NOT WANT NOT

A couple of years ago, Dr Helen Caldicott summarised the key figures as outlined in'The World Nuclear Waste Report 2019'  on IA:

The International Atomic Energy Agency estimates there are already 370,000 tons of high-level radioactive waste in the world awaiting disposal, containing over 100 radioactive elements such as:

  • iodine-129, half-life 16 million years and a thyroid carcinogen;
  • plutonium-239, half-life 24,400 years, a potent alpha mutagen that induces bone carcinogen, lung cancer, leukemia, foetal abnormalities and genetic diseases;
  • strontium-90, half-life 29 years, which causes bone cancer and leukaemia; and
  • caesium-137, half-life 30 years, causing muscle sarcomas and cancers of many other organs because it is a potassium analogue and resides in many cells of the body.

...A "half-life" is multiplied by ten or 20 to give the total dangerous radiological life.

High-level nuclear waste consisting of spent fuel from nuclear reactors accounts for most radioactivity and needs to be safely stored for up to a million years

As Dr Caldicott points out:

'There is no containment that lasts 100 years, let alone one million.'

SIZE ISN’T EVERYTHING

As well, the costs associated with all aspects of nuclear technology, even without its repatriation, are eye-stinging. 

Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen has estimated that the Coalition's nuclear plan, as yet uncosted by Dutton, will carry a price tag of $387 billion – 20 times more than Labor's current renewables investment fund – and would not be delivered before 2040.

Dutton's favoured "small modular reactor" typically costs as much as $16,000 per kilowatt-hour.

According to Stanford and the University of British Columbia:

'Small modular reactors, long touted as the future of nuclear energy, will actually generate more radioactive waste than conventional nuclear power plants.'

Yet Dutton has described Bowen's response to the Coalition's nuclear push as "unhinged".

WHY THE A IN 'Q&A'  DOESN’T STAND FOR ANSWERS

Nonetheless, today, as Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO)  begins pouring contaminated water from the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe directly into the Pacific Ocean with a nonchalance akin to emptying the bath water, we are still debating the “benefits” of nuclear power, courtesy of the Coalition.

So trendy are all things radioactive, Q&A, this week served up a 17-year-old panellist to educate us all on the need for nuclear power.

Never mind that the world’s foremost scientific minds have so far been unable to solve the issue of nuclear waste. The venerable Will Shackel, who appears to have spent much of his 17 years on the planet cheerleading for nuclear technology, went about advising us all on how to deal with the spent fuel from nuclear reactors.

Said Will: 

'Spent nuclear fuel is being reprocessed and recycled. And I think that’s an interesting point because it doesn’t have to be waste if you don’t waste it.’

Problem solved!

There is still no answer to nuclear waste disposal. There is no safe way of "recycling" it. There is still no answer to the “management” of radioactive leaks.

Nuclear power isn’t safe by any stretch of the imagination. It’s not cost-effective. And it certainly ain’t green, unless you count glowing in the dark.

Of course, there will be no need for climate change mitigation if we all die of radioactive poisoning first.

Will also believes that nuclear energy is the "cleanest" form of energy and:

‘Young people across the country are demanding that [the government] consider the case for nuclear energy being legal and promoted in the Commonwealth of Australia.'

Really, Will? IA would like to see the stats for how many young people agree with your nuclear stance and if true, then we despair for our youth and their future.

This is just a bit of the story. Read the full story by subscribing to IA. Do it right now!

You can follow managing editor Michelle Pini on Twitter @vmp9. Follow Independent Australia on Twitter @independentaus and on Facebook HERE.

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