With thanks to a generous donor, a 2015 edition of Zero Carbon Options is now available!
The new edition features:
- Foreword by Senator Sean Edwards
- Foreword by Professor Corey Bradshaw
- Over a dozen endorsements from academics, politicians, activists and analysts
- New preface from me
- Revised introduction
The preface to the 2015 edition is published below.
When we launched Zero Carbon Options in November 2012 it was the culmination of six months of unpaid work. We delivered an original methodology and important findings, packaged in a fantastic graphic design.
We filled the room, yet it felt a little empty. Despite inviting every Member of Parliament in South Australia, none attended. None sent official representation. It seemed nuclear remained a political no-go.
Fast-forward to the first half of 2015 and the South Australian government of Premier Jay Weatherill will investigate expansion into the nuclear fuel cycle via a Royal Commission. Political winds are changing. The Royal Commission has been launched from a political party with a history of antagonism to nuclear technology (Labor- left).
An ambitious vision from South Australian Senator Sean Edwards (Liberal- right) would make South Australia a global hub of storage and recycling of once-used nuclear fuel. The realisation of this economic strategy would permanently displace coal from South Australian electricity generation. Both the Federal Government (Liberal) and the Federal Opposition (Labor) have now clearly indicated that national policy on nuclear will be driven from the outcomes of the Royal Commission. It’s on us now.
The nuclear conversation is moving from a whisper among friends to a mainstream conversation in the community. What changed? How did this happen?
We can imagine that November 2012 was simply the “wrong” time and now the time is “right”. That belies a massive effort, both within Australia and around the world, that has amplified the growing realities of the energy and climate challenges we face.
In mid-2013 the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering held a two-day conference called Nuclear Power for Australia? The resulting communiqué and subsequent publications of ATSE did much to build interest and credibility in the nuclear discussion in Australia.
Documentary film maker Robert Stone released Pandora’s Promise and brought it to Australia in late 2013. He was aided by supporters in every Australian capital city. The distributor, Gil Scrine of Cinema Ventures, was prepared to cop the criticism from his arts community. We sold out several screenings, sold loads of DVDs, Robert did Q&A in his indefatigable style and Australian media loved him.
By the end of that year, climate scientists were taking the fight up to environmentalists. A powerful open letter from Ken Caldeira, Kerry Emmanuel, James Hansen and Tom Wigley to every major environmental non-governmental organisation in the world, requested a demonstration of “real concern about risks from climate damage by calling for the development and deployment of advanced nuclear energy”.
Another climate scientist, Australian coral reef specialist Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, added his voice to the calls for nuclear power in the middle of 2014. Then Australian Professors Barry Brook (University of Tasmania) and Corey Bradshaw (University of Adelaide) assembled 75 other leading conservation scientists from over a dozen nations to “entreat the conservation and environmental community to weigh up the pros and cons of different energy sources … rather than simply relying on idealistic perceptions of what is ‘green’”.
The commissioning of the world’s largest solar farm in the Mojave desert underscored the vast territory that is required for a modest and variable electricity supply, reflecting the land use concerns we raised in Zero Carbon Options. Outcomes of feasibility studies were released for the solar thermal concept for Port Augusta in South Australia, which served as a point of comparison in our report. This revealed pricing to be economically unviable and near-identical to that which we published in Zero Carbon Options two years earlier.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change chose to reflect the emerging evidence. As academic Suzy Waldman identified, the Fifth Assessment Report firmly re-grouped nuclear and renewables as the low-carbon energy sources. The agreement on emissions reduction between the USA and China in late 2014 exposed the critical role of nuclear energy in meeting climate goals of worthwhile ambition. We saw the birth of Energy for Humanity, a not-for-profit organisation prosecuting the case for plentiful clean energy with nuclear technology as a core solution. The CEO, Kirsty Gogan, is another long-standing environmentalist who put concern for climate change above dogmatism over solutions.
In South Australia, random polling confirmed what many had suspected: support for nuclear power was far higher than popularly perceived. Peak business group Business SA stated “we should be mature enough to have an informed public debate on the pros and cons of developing a nuclear industry”.
In late 2014 US-based film maker Gordon McDowell created a crisply edited and entertaining version of my 2014 Google Earth presentation to the Brisbane Global Café. He laid out the case for nuclear in Australia with an amazing mix of dialogue, images and text. Adelaide’s own Geoff Russell wrote and published the informative e-book Greenjacked! , which is among the best explorations of the history of our fears and understanding of radiation I have ever read.
In April 2015, an international coalition of 18 analysts and academics published the Ecomodernist Manifesto. This provided a unifying, hopeful vision of the future with plentiful, clean energy as a prerequisite. The following month, 39 nuclear societies issued a declaration that shares the objective of limiting global warming and calls for greater recognition of nuclear technology as essential in meeting this challenge.
The “right time” does not happen, people make it happen. Those of us who wanted evidence-based change in our collective approach to climate and energy have been working hard to make the right time “right now”. That includes a veritable army of energetic supporters, a dawning movement of ecomodernists, taking up the challenge across our social media platforms.
I’m proud to re-release Zero Carbon Options this year. Aside from the forewords and the commentary from readers the 2015 report is largely as it was published in 2012.
I and many others continue to field variations of the question “can’t we do it all with renewable energy?” This report is my contribution to assisting Australians to draw their own informed conclusions on the basis of evidence from a simple, transparent methodology.
To those doubting the capacity for change in our society and institutions, I invite you to review the last three years in South Australia, take heart, and be the change you wish to see.
Ben Heard, June 2015
Hard copies of the report are available on request at a cost of $15 including postage. Email firstname.lastname@example.org