During a recent visit to Australia, high-profile environmentalist Tea Törmänen slammed what she labelled Australia’s ‘dangerous and unscientific’ opposition to nuclear power.
RePlanet – the organisation Törmänen is a part of – is unashamed in its support for nuclear energy as a part of the global clean energy transition.
As their website states:
Nuclear power reduces greenhouse gas emissions, so why are we shutting it down while fossil fuels are still going strong? Advanced nuclear power is a key ingredient for our clean energy mix alongside solar and wind. We want to #RethinkNuclear.
Here is an environmental group who actually wants to save the planet – not wipe out humans.
In Europe, the concept of a pro-nuclear environmentalist is becoming increasingly common. Since 2022, Finland’s Green party – of which Törmänen is a member – has officially advocated for the technology. In the United Kingdom, too, the Greens are considering backing nuclear energy options.
But in Australia, such sensible environmentalists are hard to come by.
In our country, for the moment, it is the centre-right politicians and activists who are advocating nuclear power – typically for economic, as well as environmental, reasons.
We don’t hear a peep out of Australia’s traditional eco-warriors, most of whom seem to think that intermittent variable renewables – namely, wind and solar – can single-handedly get us to Net Zero.
That may be the case, but we will certainly go broke in the process.
The renewables narrative stands in direct contradiction to the most authoritative global engineering, economic, and environmental analyses from organisations like the International Energy Agency (IEA), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – all of which see nuclear technology as a critical aspect of the clean energy transition.
The repeated claim that nuclear power is simply too expensive to be considered – or ‘nuclear is the most expensive form of energy out there’ – simply doesn’t stack up. A recent OECD study found that, when economic, environmental, and systems-level factors are accounted for, nuclear energy is actually cheaper than both wind and solar.
In that same analysis, the OECD economists concluded, ‘All credible models show that nuclear energy has an important role to play in global climate change mitigation efforts.’ In fact, the IPCC’s 400-page Global Warming of 1.5°C special report found that the average 1.5°C scenario required a massive increase in nuclear energy (from 394 gigawatts to 1160 gigawatts) by 2050.
Australian environmentalists are shooting themselves in the foot by simultaneously calling for a clean energy transition, while seeking to maintain Australia’s 1990s-era ban on nuclear power generation. Nuclear is the world’s second-largest single source of clean energy (beaten only by hydropower), and the largest in the OECD.
The irony of Australia’s prohibition on nuclear power – we are the only G20 nation to ban the technology – is amplified by the reality that Australia already operates a research reactor near Sydney: ANSTO. In addition, the Royal Australian Navy will operate nuclear-powered submarines within the next few decades, and we currently possess the world’s largest share of uranium reserves (an estimated 30 per cent).
In many ways, Australia is already a nuclear nation.
However, as Törmänen noted, for an advanced economy like Australia to successfully decarbonise while also maintaining our standards of living, we need to harness nuclear power.
The science is simple. As the penetration of intermittent variable renewables into the market increases, so does the cost of electricity. To quote the OECD modelling, ‘…the system costs will rise as the growing share of variable renewables impose greater costs on the grid for stability and flexibility.’
This is why we need a reliable, baseload source of energy generation to supplement the renewables in the grid. This is often coal or gas, but for most low carbon economies it will need to be hydropower, abated gas, or nuclear energy.
Many of the countries around the world that enjoy clean, affordable, and reliable energy use either hydro, nuclear, or a combination of the two – think Canada and France, for example.
Within Europe, a comparison between France and Germany is telling. Germany has a far higher penetration of renewables than France, yet it also emits far more per capita than its south-western neighbour. This is because France sources around 70 per cent of its energy from nuclear power – more than making up for its very low renewables penetration.
Incidentally, France also enjoys considerably cheaper electricity and – even with its ageing nuclear fleet – is consistently one of Europe’s biggest net exporters of energy.
Just last month, Germany closed its final three nuclear power plants. And guess what it will be relying on to meet its electricity needs following nuclear’s departure. Coal and gas.
As reported by ABC News:
‘The German government has acknowledged that, in the short term, the country will have to rely more heavily on polluting coal and natural gas to meet its energy needs…’
The facts are clear. If you really want to reach Net Zero, you need to consider nuclear energy – whatever you may feel about the technology.
There absolutely are still questions and legitimate concerns with how nuclear power would look in the Australian context. But those discussions need to be had. Ultimately, for those who care, nuclear power is the only credible way to transition to a low-carbon economy.
If environmentalists in Australia want to see a successful clean energy transition, they had better start embracing nuclear energy.
Cody Mitchell graduated from the University of New England where he studied history and politics, Monash University where he did postgraduate coursework in marketing and communications, and the Lachlan Macquarie Institute. A prolific writer, he is the founding editor of the educational blog History’s Page and has had his work published in a number of academic journals and news sites. Cody currently works as the media advisor for an Australian federal senator.
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