Wednesday 18 Jul 2018 | 01:40 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 18 Jul 2018 | 01:40 | SYDNEY

Feeding the reactors

9 September 2009 15:09

This FT article today is a startling insight into the world's plans for switching to nuclear power. Those of us who know nothing of nuclear reactors except Lucas Heights, Chernobyl and the one Monty Burns built in Springfield are in for a shock. The accompanying interactive map shows alternately the 436 reactors currently in operation worldwide, the 50 being built, and the 432 planned for construction before 2030.

While some of these might be various governments' pipe dreams and domestic agenda sweeteners, there is no doubt that a lot of uranium and other nuclear fuel will be moving around the globe in the next twenty years. Regardless of whether Australia decides to add nuclear energy to its mix (and by the way, the FT's map upholds Australia's modesty, with a strategically placed insert map of Europe serving as a fig-leaf for our non-nuclear status!), we do need to consider carefully the implications for our nation:

  • As a key exporter in this field, who will become relatively more important as a trade partner?  
  • What will be our capacity to safeguard that supply from being cut or interfered with?
  • As energy mixes change dramatically in countries 'going nuclear', how will this alter their economic and development profile? Do they become competitors, better partners or an increased burden through venture failure?
  • How will Australia's stance on nuclear non-proliferation be challenged as dozens of countries deepen their industrial and scientific capacities in nuclear physics and engineering? 
  • As a source of nuclear fuel — and by extension of nuclear waste — how does Australia's responsibility change with increased use of nuclear power?
  • Have we thought enough about the nexus between carbon emissions and adoption of nuclear energy in rapidly accelerating economies? Should Australia be helping to speed its development in nations that have elected to go nuclear?

While the Government’s Future Directions Paper on energy — the precursor to its Energy White Paper scheduled for the end of the year – briefly notes nuclear energy, it predicts oil, coal and natural gas are likely to remain the main fuel sources used globally to 2030. Given the pace of change demonstrated in this and other recent articles, nuclear energy's importance to world economies, world environment and world security would appear too stark for such forecasts to remain valid for very long. Feeding the world's reactors will demand a comprehensive approach in Australian policy.

Photo by Flickr user Die Jugend, used under a Creative commons license.