In his article of 6 November, Senator Scott Ludlam spoke on the subject of evidence and raised wide-ranging arguments against nuclear. Back in March he inferred the Royal Commission would put the nuclear industry “on trial”. Trials, evidence…what he fails to declare is whether he will accept the verdict.
I am confident the Commission will interrogate the evidence. They will find the errors and the misdirection. It sounded simplistic when Senator Ludlam claimed renewables provide more energy than nuclear. Indeed, he was hasty. He compared the percentage of global energy from nuclear with percentage of global power generation (electricity) from non-hydro renewables; a meaningless comparison. When I compared apples with apples from the Senator’s selected source, this is what the data showed:
Table 1: Division of global electricity generation by low-carbon sources. Source: BP Statistical Review 2015 Data Workbook
|Generating source||Electricity produced (TWh)||Percentage of global total|
|Other renewables (all)||1,400||6.0%|
The biggest source is hydroelectricity. That technology galvanised such protest over its potential environmental impacts on the Franklin river, it gave birth to the Australian Greens in 1983. Second is nuclear, third is all other renewables, in which solar, mentioned twice by Senator Ludlam, remains less than 0.8 % of the global total. Today, it contributes over 13 times less than the nuclear sector.
Senator Ludlam talks of nuclear “declining into obsolescence”. Yet his source stated nuclear had enjoyed two years of above average growth, a regain in market share and suggested it will grow 58% to 2035. On the same day the Senator’s piece was published, The White House announced “Actions to Ensure that Nuclear Energy Remains a Vibrant Component of the United States’ Clean Energy Strategy”, affirming continued US development of new and advanced nuclear technologies along with support for currently operating nuclear power plants as an important component of their clean energy strategy. Less than one month from the 21st Conference of Parties in Paris, this announcement could barely have been more potent.
All is not roses for the nuclear sector. But these are some of the examples why Senator Ludlam cannot be trusted when the subject is nuclear energy. Evidence can always be misused by being careless and selective. That’s why I am grateful the South Australian government entrusted the task to a Royal Commission.
Much of Senator Ludlam’s argument is economic. That is welcome progress. Perhaps he noticed when Friends of the Earth UK’s independent report confirmed that nuclear is both low carbon and safe. Just watch the testimony from global authority Professor Geraldine Thomas, leader of the Chernobyl Tissue Bank. She expertly unpacked what the harm of radiation is and is not. For her, the evidence changed everything. So, if economics is the real issue, the answer is simple: let nuclear compete. There is no basis for arbitrarily applying environmental legislation against safe, zero-carbon generation.
The economics concern me too. I know the state of the South Australian economy. We cannot afford to selectively subsidise. We need to create durable, meaningful industry that answers genuine global needs.
So, in partnership with Senator Sean Edwards (Liberal, South Australia), we used our clean slate to propose a reboot of nuclear economics. That proposal demonstrates that when we pool a portion of the globally available revenues from accepting and storing used nuclear fuel we can profitably commercialise the technologies to recycle it. We can do that and make $28 billion. Or we can give the electricity away and make $17 billion. Senator Edwards favours the latter approach, to directly share the benefits among the South Australians he represents. This is a project of which we could be very proud.
I invite all readers to view that submission to the Royal Commission. Every contention is referenced. Every figure is sourced. The specifics of the submission are there for the critiquing yet Senator Ludlam only offered generalisations. We know the Royal Commission will properly test what we have brought forward. I invite readers to hear the testimony of Dr Eric Loewen from General Electric-Hitachi. He confidently addressed the Royal Commission for over an hour and reinforced what our submission asserts: this recycling-reactor technology can be commercialised and the opportunity is there to do that in South Australia.
Senator Ludlam suggested there is a stealth plan to make South Australia a dump. Well, to the Senator from Western Australia I say this: this is my home. I was raised here, I am raising children here, and I am staying here. Dumping? That is no plan of mine. I want to make South Australia the nuclear recycling hub for the 21st century. I support the vision of Senator Edwards who wants high-tech jobs for South Australians for the next hundred years and beyond. I want to commercialise the solution to a problem the Australian Greens like to point at. There is no party more morally compelled to support this proposal than the Greens. Fully implemented, this proposal would cut 15 million tons of Australia’s greenhouse gas per year while recycling used nuclear fuel. Of course, perhaps the Greens prefer to keep that “waste” problem alive and kicking. It certainly is useful if fear is your tool of trade.
Finally, a word on Senator Ludlam’s appeal to emotion. Right now the biggest health threat in the world is air-pollution. It kills half a million children under five every year. It comes from burning coal and also “renewable” biomass. The horror of the simple, unglamorous poverty in our own region would shock most Australians. That’s just one reason why I respect the decision of many of our neighbours to include clean, reliable, zero-carbon nuclear in their energy plans. That’s one reason why I want to help them transition to the most sustainable possible model by commercialising the full recycling of used nuclear fuel. Senator Ludlam has no monopoly on emotion. It is what makes us human. What is rarer in this complex world is the wisdom to temper emotion with all the evidence and come to a responsible decision.
So this is the challenge I issue the Australian Greens. If we secure a government commitment to commercialise the technology that solves the used fuel problem … hold us to it. Demand a roadmap for implementation. Demand commitments from governments and regulators. Demand a date for the first flow of zero-carbon electricity from recycled nuclear fuel. Take a seat at the table in making this happen. Show us that much wisdom and I will work with you to that end.
The alternative is to keep pointing at a problem and offering the world no answer. That’s an option of course, but it’s not what leadership looks like.