Griffith Hack Clean & Sustainable Technologies

Anti-nuclear side wins Nuclear Power debate. by Griffith Hack
March 5, 2010, 8:31 am
Filed under: Feature

I attended the Intelligence2 nuclear power debate in the Melbourne town hall last night, which had a large audience. Going into the debate, we were polled on our views, with about a third each to pro, anti, and undecided. The debate consisted of 9 minute speeches from each of the debates, a series of one minute contributions from the audience, another poll, and then a 2 minute wrap up from each of the debaters. The poll at the end of the night suggested that the undecideds has almost all switched to the anti-nuclear side, with about 38% for, 2% undecided, and 60% against. This reflects the quality of the arguments of the two sides.

The pro-nuclear side seemed to be excessively focused on comparing nuclear to coal, while the anti-nuclear side compared nuclear to renewables and energy efficiency. The solar concentration plants now being installed in Spain got a big mention.

The strongest argument for nuclear was put by Dr Ziggy Switzkowski, who argued that 27 of out of the top 28 largest economies had nuclear plants or programs, with 14th place Economy Australia the only outlier in this list. He noted that France which has a high nuclear reliance had Europe’s lowest electricity plants. The counter-argument is that just because everybody does something does not make it right, and the costs of renewable are falling faster than nuclear, which seems to be increasing. Also nuclear has a very long lead time, up to 20 years, while renewables can be installed quite quickly.

As a member of the audience, I went away thinking that both sides were throwing numbers around, sometimes which directly contradicted each other. In particular, there appears to be a lack of solid, verified and independent cost data comparing the costs of renewables to nuclear, particularly in the Australian context. Or if there is, this data is not prominent in the debate. In the end this is mainly an economic debate. As a nation we have more or less accepted that we need to reduce our carbon emissions – one of the key questions then becomes what is the cheapest way of doing this?

Mike Lloyd


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