(Cairns... Far North Queensland)
Since the beginning of time the
climate of the earth, in fact the earth itself, has been changing. Scientists
have been able to define and provide reasons and a time frame on the various
stages of the development of the planet or at least its significant events.
Admittedly they are not real sure, or at least there are differing opinions as
to why the dinosaurs departed this earth, but nothing can be surer than they are
not here now!
Even the time when they departed
is hardly in question. When the scientists do speak of these things the time
spans and intervals are truly mind-boggling. Hundreds of thousands of years is a
relatively short time in their language and the use of millions of years as a
time interval is not uncommon.
If we use the analogy of the
12-hour clock, then on the scale of things, man came onto this earth only a few
minutes ago at about 5 to midnight. Given this, our ability to keep accurate
records of the earth’s changes can only be measured in something less than
So for the last 100 years or so
we have been keeping weather records and attempting to predict the future or
what happened in the past, which is a clearly suspect activity given the
totality of time involved. Methodologies have improved in the last few years,
with the help of super computers that have the number crunching power to give
answers when several variables are thrown into the one equation. Factors, such
as water temperature, humidity, wind characteristics, water currents and the
like, are variables now used to give far more reliable results.
We also know that since the
beginning of time man has looked for the “quick fix”, so it’s not really
surprising now that when we have noticed a heating and drying up of our
environment over the last quarter of a century, we have looked for an
On this occasion we have
discovered “Global Warming” a concept that we believe causes “climate
change”. This climate change evidenced itself in higher temperatures, rising
sea levels and the melting of the world’s glacial ice. The cause was quickly
attributed to pollution and more particularly a build up of carbon dioxide in
the atmosphere resulting from the prolific use of energy.
As swiftly as we have swept down
on the concept of “Global Warming”, and let there be no doubt that there has
been a steady warming and drying, we have also swept down on yet another quick
fix. That fix is nuclear power and like all the quick fixes that have come
before it this one needs not only a thorough scrutiny but a mature scrutiny as
The problem is that we rightly
or wrongly attribute Global Warming totally to climate change and we attribute
this solely to atmospheric pollution. To remove any doubt we have people as
honest and trustworthy as ex Presidents of the United States touring the world
to tell us so. And again let there be no doubt that atmospheric pollution caused
by gas emissions, the carbon dioxides and the methane, among many, have to be
taken very seriously. As to whether or not atmospheric pollution is the sole
cause of the climate change is yet another matter.
There may well be other
contributing factors. This question must be asked because if you aren’t
treating the right complaint, with the right medicine the patient is at grave
risk [no pun intended]. Given this we know that the worlds and Australia’s own
excessive and inefficient use of energy is a major pollutant and must be
Several more environmentally
friendly alternatives exist, some with more detriment than others but in coal
power generation there is a place called ‘peak load’, and it’s the only
place to be. Here, whatever the relative level of efficiency, the power station
works at its greatest efficiency and the peak load usage to a large extent is
consumed on after hour usage such as pumping volumes either shifting water or
energy. Our engineers are extremely competent in this field but even the
greatest efficiency results in pollution.
The essential element of any
centralised energy system is the “grid”, the means by which the energy is
transferred from the central producing site to the ultimate user. I expect that
the question that we have to ask now is has our technology progressed
sufficiently to reconsider the use of this grid system, at least in its present
extent. Can we, over time, shift from a total reliance on the universal grid
system or could we economically consider energy being produced on site for
domestic and light industry, either separate from or in conjunction with, the
But the other question is will
nuclear be any better or any cheaper than the coal fired alternative and if this
is the case what are the other advantages and disadvantages.
This whole debate of course is
presaged on the basis that we need a universal, integrated power distribution
system. Remember, when power stations started they were considered to be a
wonderful concept and pollution wasn’t a consideration. They were the tip of
technology and the rise of the United States as a world power was due to their
ability to produce electricity efficiently and cheaply and so, undercut steam.
The question now remains, given
our greatly enhanced technological advances would we, in this day and age choose
the integrated, universal power generator and distributor to solve today’s
energy problems. Or, would we perhaps go to selective power generation for
“heavy and consistent” users of energy and develop an alternative energy
management system for domestic and light energy consumptive industries.
Given all of these possibilities
there will still be a need for some integrated heavy energy production facility,
so lets talk about nuclear energy as it is presently mooted, at least in some
quarters, as the saving grace.
Despite significant advances in
nuclear power production over the last couple of decades it is still generally
considered to be a capital intensive and expensive option. It’s not correct to
assume that it’s cost neutral as compared to say coal, but let’s assume it
is. It also has the disadvantage of leaving a residue “nuclear waste” that
is highly radioactive, a definite health danger and more importantly a political
hot potato around the world.
If you need assurance on this
simply do a Google search on “Yucca
Mountain, Nevada”. Many countries that have been producing nuclear power
for some time now have enormous, but unspoken of problems with this nuclear
waste and there is more talk of safe storage than actual safe storage. As we all
know the half-life of the stuff is tens of thousands of years, after which it
still packs a punch.
To dispose of it efficiently it
has to be especially encased in lead, concrete or ceramics or all of these,
stored in an area that is geologically stable and remote from cities and towns,
with substantial on-going security costs. Australia has this sort of country,
plenty of it, but here in lies the rub.
Assume that we were to build a
nuclear power plant as Iran presently seems to want to do, and assuming that we
wouldn’t have the problems that Iran is presently having with the idea, we
would have to dispose of our own nuclear waste. Not really a great problem for
us and if we wanted to we could join the nuclear club as Pakistan and India
recently have done and rely on the Mutually Assured Destruction [MAD] concept so
popular during the Cold War from the nineteen sixties to the nineties.
Of course if we disposed of our nuclear waste safely and securely you could be assured that we would have any number of ‘friends’ who would ask, request or even insist, if not in fact demand, that we did the same with theirs. If you need further direction in this regard then I suggest that you again do a trusty Google search for the “Pangea Proposal”... a proposal to establish an international, commercial high level nuclear waste dump in the outback of Western Australia!
Now if you have done a Google
search on both “Yucca Mountain” and the “Pangea Proposal” then my concerns
must at least be justified.
I believe that I can also conclude
that the case for nuclear energy in Australia is far more complicated than it
looks and it’s something you should talk with your local candidates standing
for the next Federal election. You could also research the Internet or local
library, as this one’s so important a second and third opinion is, to my way of
You see, I don’t only live here… my family does as well!
RETURN TO: INDEPENDENT VIEW
Written and Authorised by Selwyn Johnston, Cairns FNQ 4870