Nuclear No-Brainer: Why Australia’s Ban on Nuclear Power Generation Defies Common Sense & Logic

BHP’s Olympic Dam: Australian uranium comes out here …


Every day we’re bombarded with warnings about CO2 incinerating the planet, wiping out entire species and otherwise spoiling our day. For those subscribing to the ‘end is nigh’ scenario, all that seems fair enough.

But what doesn’t stand much scrutiny is the fact that the planet’s doomsayers run silent on the need for nuclear power.

Instead of promoting the one, stand-alone source of power generation that can deliver reliable and affordable power, safely, without generating carbon dioxide gas in the process, the panic merchants point to windmills and solar panels as the only path to escape imminent oblivion.

Heavily subsidised and chaotically intermittent wind and solar have no hope of providing meaningful power supplies; they’ve never worked and they never will.

Accordingly, climate alarmists that aren’t pushing nuclear power can’t be taken seriously. And their failure to push nuclear power is a pretty fair indication of what their agenda, really is: de-industrialising the West and keeping the rest in Stone Age poverty.

Australia holds the world’s largest uranium reserves and, despite its limited three mines policy, is the world’s third-largest uranium exporter.

So, it generally surprises other members of the first world that Australia not only doesn’t benefit itself from nuclear power generation, but acted years ago to ban it.

Try getting an Australian politician to explain why Australia, as a major uranium exporter, is the only G20 Nation without nuclear power, going so far as to legislate to prohibit the processing of uranium and its use as a fuel for power generation.

The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act and the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act, specifically prohibit nuclear fuel fabrication, power, enrichment or reprocessing facilities.

For an Australian uranium miner the fact that Australia stands alone amongst G20 Nations as the only country to ban nuclear power generation must seem not just absurd, but completely bonkers.

One of them, Tony Grey set up Pancontinental Mining and played a role in the exploration and discovery of the Jabiluka uranium deposits. This is an edited version of his speech at this month’s AusIMM International Uranium Conference in Adelaide.

Let’s use our natural advantage in energy to power prosperity
The Australian
Tony Grey
20 June 2019

Australia is a treasure trove, a vast Aladdin’s cave of energy resources virtually unique in the world, with its combination of uranium, coal and natural gas, not to mention an enviable amount of oil.

But something is amiss. We can never agree on how the blessing can be enjoyed. On the contrary, often under the guise of addressing climate change, subversive ­voices speak against enjoying much of this patrimony.

Uranium used to be the devil; now it’s coal. In the US, ironically, the coal industry funded the anti-nuclear campaign, for then coal was saintly. Now even natural gas has one foot in hell.

Wind and solar are the new saints but they are asleep in heaven too much of the time.

The genesis of this argument (rather than a debate) goes back to the social revolution of the 1970s when the environmental movement was supercharged by the desire of young radicals for a new cause after peace in Vietnam threatened to end the exciting protests. Their hard left swallowed the precepts of the Club of Rome, which in 1972 published its report The Limits to Growth, a thesis that set the weather for a perfect storm over capitalism by asserting the world must slow down its economic activity to what was claimed to be sustainable.

There is an idealistic streak in all nations, certainly in the Western world, and the disposition of energy, a sine qua non of modern economies, is a particularly hospitable place for it to germinate. Australia’s abundance of resources offers an enticing potential for expression, especially when the cost of opposing development is presumed to be easily affordable.

In 1983, as executive chairman of Pancontinental Mining, I had to tell the chief operating officer of Electricite de France, Jean Feron, that the new ALP government would not allow our company to complete its agreement (worth hundreds of millions of dollars) to sell uranium to EDF from Jabiluka. The Frenchman shook his head sadly and said: “Vous etes trop ­riches” (“You are too rich”).

We have huge coal resources, both metallurgical and steaming, and they are under attack. The virtue signallers have switched their aim from uranium to fossil fuels, with coal the prime target.

In truth there is legitimate cause for concern. Just as fears about nuclear power (and its proxy uranium) require consideration, climate change does need to be addressed. But both cases are better dealt with in the calm air of reason rather than a tempest of emotion.

It is more difficult still when the protagonists in the economic development debate have contrary visions for the basic structure of society. It is like “two people sleeping in the same bed but with different dreams”, as the Japanese say.

The use of climate change by the hard left for its deep objective, a tactic served by exaggerating scientific observations and ­fomenting alarm, has generated significant pushback, energised by suspicion.

The recent federal election produced a backlash from regional electorates impatient with Labor-imposed delays to Queensland’s Adani coalmine, and the issue of the relevance of climate change generally.

The pushback comes even from those who see merit in taking reasonable steps to reduce dependence on fossil fuels. In the process, the reputation of science is besmirched, trust in governments and institutions is undermined, the public is unnecessarily frightened, and sensible measures to deal with what almost everybody agrees is an important issue are overwhelmed.

Whatever policies our government adopts, one of the silliest would be to hobble development of our vast energy resources, whether uranium or coal, or petroleum for that matter.

The restriction of our uranium industry to send a signal to the world made no difference to overseas adoption of nuclear power. The same goes for any attempt to surrender our coal as a climate mitigation signal.

It would be folly, and harm investment and jobs here. The only beneficiaries would be the coal-producing countries that compete with us. They will continue to supply the hundreds of coal-fired power stations still operating (and being built) around the world, just as our political restriction of ­uranium mining in the 80s and the complete ban on nuclear power in Australia in 1998 proved a boon for the uranium sectors of Canada and Namibia.
The Australian

… put adults in charge and BHP’s uranium could fuel an
Australian plant just like this, for generations to come.

6 thoughts on “Nuclear No-Brainer: Why Australia’s Ban on Nuclear Power Generation Defies Common Sense & Logic

  1. From the Article: “Whatever policies our government adopts, one of the silliest would be to hobble development of our vast energy resources, whether uranium or coal, or petroleum for that matter.”

    Hobbling resources is one topic, but some additional observations seem pertinent. One is that coal, oil, and natural gas are not just energy sources, they are useful for many other Important industrial processes from fertilizers and plastics to a multitude of useful chemical projects. The importance of this becomes more evident taking a long view. If we rush to consume these resources as energy now and in the near future, we will live to seriously regret our short-sightedness further down the line.

    Fortunately there is a recent development of the past few years that gives us both an out from squandering fossil carbon reserves too quickly as energy, and also provides us with a financial incentive for being more prudent.

    Ian Scott, founder of Moltex Energy, realized that a major barrier to adopting nuclear energy was cost, largely associated with complex engineering needed to control safety issues. While modern PWR (Pressurized Water Reactors) are very safe, the gains in safety have come at a very high price – vast containment structures, costly castings for the reaction vessels, and lots of complicated and expensive plumbing, backup systems etc. Then there are the efficiency problems associated with solid fuel. Many folks who worry about the storage of “nuclear waste” are not aware of one simple fact. The mis-named “spent fuel rods” which constitute a large fraction of the “waste”, are hardly spent at all. They still contain over 95% of the original energy content. That fuel is not “spent”, it is contaminated by reaction products from the 5% or less of the fuel that actually got consumed. The fact that consuming only 5% of the fuel results in major energy production is a tribute to the vast energy contained in nuclear fuels – but what if we could consume the other 95%? That is just what molten salt reactors can do – and as an additional giant bonus, the contaminated “spent” fuel rods can be easily reprocessed into fuel for Molten Salt Reactors, which also can consume plutonium – solving the storage problem once and for all, while giving us very major amounts of power from sources most folks had written off as bad problems. After we use up that problem-turned-resource, we have lots of uranium to supply energy for a very long time – and then these versatile reactors will switch to burning Thorium, which is about as abundant as lead. The limiting factor is hardly the fuel, it is the question of can humanity last long enough to use it.

    Scott, for all these reasons, became seriously interested in Molten Salt Reactors, since additionally their inherent safety advantages (no high pressure, no water in the reaction vessels, no widespread distribution of radioactive material in the case of a massive failure) automatically made them an obvious choice for development. However there were serious engineering hurdles. Keeping the radioactive molten salt separate from the heat-exchange molten salt, and plumbing and pumping the heat exchange process, were difficult and expensive. Corrosion was an issue. Realizing that once again cost was going to be a major factor, Scott came up with a design breakthrough. Using fuel rod technology already developed for PWR’s, he put the radioactive material as stable molten salts into the rods in the place of the solid fuel, and at a stroke solved most of the plumbing problems, kept and enhanced all the safety features, eliminated the corrosion problems, and drastically cut the cost of building, maintaining, refuelling, and decommissioning the reactors.

    In short, Ian Scott and Moltex Energy have come up with a reactor design that costs, and will produce power, at a price about half that of coal. This is the breakthrough that will remove any further incentives to continuing the absurd wind and solar “plans”, and will remove all incentives to building any more fossil fuel power plants. It will also remove any further incentive to building the costly PWR designs that offer good but more complicated safety at a very high price.
    Go to Moltex Energy’s site, and enjoy their excellent explanations. Among the fascinating news is the project they are working on with Newfoundland. Contracts are signed and the project is underway to provide Moltex Molten Salt (SSR – Stable Salt Reactor) power for the entire Newfoundland grid.

    (Disclaimer: In case anyone wonders, I am an independent energy researcher, and have no commercial contact with Moltex. I am very happy to be able to share this information about their essential breakthrough.)

  2. Greens, by and large, labour for radically reduced standards of living and have done for decades: remember “Friends of the Earth”.

    Nuclear power (like coal) represents the opposite. It is remarkable to read the moral philosophy of Adam Smith (what later became known as political economy before the disastrous split into economics and political science).* His approach to governance was diametrically opposed to current political imperatives. On education his principles continued, in Australia at least, to inform government under Sir Robert Menzies. Now—and for the past half-century—they are anathema.

    Intellectual standards have collapsed. What is astonishing is that taxpayers seem to tolerate these depredations, for they continue to fund institutions which, in the main, hold the same taxpayers in utter contempt.

    *On Smith see, for instance, Nicholas Phillipson, “Adam Smith: An Enlightened Life” (London: Allen Lane, 2010).

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