On August 8, 2015 the Saturday Paper [Melbourne, Australia] published a thought-provoking article titled South Australia’s future role in the nuclear industry.
It describes how the economic opportunity presented by an expanded involvement in the nuclear fuel cycle is meeting up with a particularly stressed unemployment situation in South Australia to stimulate some frank discussions among traditional political rivals.
South Australia is now the worst state for unemployment, last month recording its highest jobless rate in 15 years, with Australian Bureau of Statistics figures showing the unemployment rate climbing to 8.2 per cent. University of Adelaide associate professor John Spoehr says the state is “on a pathway to double-digit unemployment in the absence of major new investment in infrastructure and construction projects”.
[Labor Premier Jay] Weatherill says unemployment “consumes all of the attention of the South Australian government and the cabinet”, and it was against this background that the premier unexpectedly announced in March the establishment of a Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission.
The premier said the inquiry would facilitate debate on “what role our state can and should play in the fuel cycle for the peaceful use of nuclear energy”.
“We are home to one of the largest uranium deposits in the world and after more than 25 years of uranium production, it is now time to engage in a mature and robust conversation about South Australia’s future role in the nuclear industry,” Weatherill said.
Perhaps the most interesting twist in these proceedings, however, has been the role of South Australian Liberal senator Sean Edwards, who in April outlined a radical plan for an integrated nuclear industry embracing nuclear waste storage and recycling, fuel fabrication and power production.
Edwards has demonstrated a sustained interest in nuclear issues since he entered federal parliament in 2011.
For Atomic Insights readers, the Saturday Paper article is a timely follow-up to the guest post by Bill Sacks and Greg Meyerson published here yesterday titled The Left Needs to Reconsider its Automatic Position Against Nuclear Energy. Though some commenters have objected to framing the issue as one where the “right” tends to support nuclear energy while the “left” tends to oppose it, that is the current state of affairs.
As a left-leaning independent, I want to help people from all positions on the political spectrum understand that nuclear energy development fits into most of their general philosophies. It is an issue where multi-partisan barriers to discussion should be able to be surmounted as long as people leave their preconceived mantras behind.
Abundant ultra-low emission energy that comes from small quantities of mined and transported material side steps many of the limits to growth that have been used to spread fear about the future on the left. Abundant energy enables the growth and opportunities for prosperity favored by those on the right.
By using energy released from inside atomic nuclei instead of just depending on chemical energy released in the outer shells of electron clouds, nuclear energy does a lot more with a lot less material. Specifically, it releases about as much energy from a mere handful of material as burning the equivalent of 30 tanker trucks full of petroleum products. The residues left over from the process are equally compact and controllable.
With abundant clean energy, the virtually limitless oceans can become a refillable reservoir of useful fresh water that can enable deserts to bloom and agricultural land to be freed from the tyranny of praying for adequate, but not too abundant rain. Abundant energy also enables society to recycle and reprocess its waste products for beneficial uses instead of directly dumping them into the environment.
Nuclear construction and manufacturing projects are going to require large workforces of both highly skilled workers and beginners whose interest in working hard can lead to development of valuable skills. Jobs in nuclear infrastructure development are not “make work” jobs, they are jobs that create valuable assets that will pay long term dividends for generations.
For far too long, people at all positions on the political spectrum have neglected the opportunities that nuclear energy provides. Some people might just enjoy squabbling and will be left on the sidelines in the coming discussions, but those who are truly interested in building better lives and better economies should think hard and realize just how much common interest they have in enabling nuclear energy development to flourish.
There will always be people who contend that we can make do with less capable energy sources and avoid using nuclear energy if we would simply conserve and use less. My question for the rest of us is “Why would we want to do that?”