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Byron Shire
August 14, 2022

Why Nuclear Will Bomb

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Andrew P. Street

Stop trying to make nuclear happen, Gretchen.

Unless you’ve been blissfully slumbering in a very welcome coma, you’d be aware that Scott Morrison abruptly cancelled the terribly important contract we had with France, to build new submarines, in order to get fancy nuclear sink-boats from the US instead (in decades time and at incalculable cost, much like the previous contract).

And much has been said about the failure in diplomacy this has entailed: how it provokes China, insults the European Union and makes things mighty awkward with staunchly anti-nuclear New Zealand. What a triumph!

Andrew P Street. Photo Daniel Boud.

Even so, it’s not hard to see the argument that’s already starting in op-eds and Coalition talking points. ‘Well,’ reasonable sounding people with ties to the mining and energy industries will say thoughtfully, while trembling with barely concealed avarice, ‘if we’re looking at a nuclear submarine fleet, then it makes sense for us to have a domestic nuclear industry.’

Short version: we don’t.

In fact, the one selling point which the US submarine design had over the French one was that the engines never need to be refuelled with more nuke-coal, making them like those children’s toothbrushes where you can’t change the heads or batteries and therefore go straight from our kids’ mouths to proudly clogging up our nation’s landfills.

But Australia should avoid a nuclear industry for a whole lot of reasons, and submarines aren’t remotely the biggest one.

Neither is safety, incidentally. Yes, nuclear fission does produce plutonium, the most poisonous substance known to humankind, which we have no good way of storing for the thousands of years it takes to decay into safety. And nuclear accidents are horrendous, but they’re also vanishingly rare – and nuclear is unambiguously a better bet than burning coal or gas in terms of its effect on human health or warming the climate.

So what’s the problem with nuclear power? Well, there are two.

One is that reactors are staggeringly expensive to build. Like, jaw-droppingly, eye-wateringly, scrotum-clenchingly expensive.

A new reactor in the US right now would set you back the equivalent of about $31 billion in Australian dollarbucks, and that’s without the added need to build a whole new supply chain and industry knowledge base from scratch.

Plants typically take about seven to twelve years to build, assuming everything goes reasonably smoothly (which seldom happens). They also need to be built away from where people are living, which means there’s a lot of bonus infrastructure costs. They also use a lot of water – a resource of which Australia has a very finite amount – unlike, say, wind and sunshine which are ample, versatile, and require much, much cheaper tech to harness.

But the bigger problem is the way that nuclear power companies have a rich and storied history of getting the hell out of Dodge the second reactors stop making money, leaving the public to handle the question of what to do with the big useless radioactive power plant sitting poisonously on the edge of town.

The profit curve for a nuclear reactor over time is a lot like a brontosaurus: very long and flat at the start while they’re being built, huge in the middle where they’re reasonably cheap to run, and then long and flat again at the end during the cleanup. And that’s why companies tend to get governments (ie: you) to pay for the building bit, and then profiteer heavily until such point as they move the profits to the parent company and shunt the ageing physical assets off to a shell company to collapse into bankruptcy.

That’s so that when the government says ‘Okay, power company, time to start cleaning up the site like we agreed’, they can look confused at why they’re being expected to deal with a site that doesn’t belong to them. And that’s the point at which the whole de-plantification project gets paid for by the government (ie: you) again.

If that sounds cynical, it’s worth noting that splitting off the dud physical assets from the profitable power concern is not just what companies have done all over Europe, the US and the UK – it’s also literally what AGL are doing right now with their Australian coal plants, because they have a better grasp of the future than does the current federal National Party.

And cleanups can be tricky, expensive, and far outlast the reactors’ lifespan. For example, in May this year the rate of neutrons streaming out of Reactor 4 at the Chernobyl site started rising at an alarming rate. It’s hypothesised that rainwater has seeped into the still highly reactive core, thanks to less-than-perfect construction and maintenance of the supposedly sealed off dome, and nobody is entirely sure how to address it – least of all the Ukraine government.

In other words, don’t believe the greenwashing campaign when it inevitably arrives. A local nuclear industry is not simply unnecessary; it’s yet another opportunity for power companies to hang onto their profitable monopolies and pass a new generation of costs on to you.

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  1. Rubbish.
    Australia’s own car the Holden was financed by General Motors in Detroit, the giant American car maker and the Americans said how the Holden car would be made and conversely said that the Holden plant was to be dismantled in Adelaide. The Holden was said to be “Australia’s own car” when it came from America and was American.
    Back in 1948 the British cars were entirely different, the Austin and the Rover and the Morris and the Jaguar. We bound ourselves to America in car making.
    The same can happen with the submarine. We can have Australia’s own submarine if the United States finance its manufacture just like the Holden car. That is likely to happen as we bind ourselves to the United States against China because Scott Morrison wants the US technology. Well, that is history as we took the technology of car making from the Unites States. Then of course when we build nuclear subs the Unites States tells us what to do, how to act and what to think.
    What else is new?

    • Holden started off being an Australian company that was then taken over by GM
      Early history
      Holden & Frost premises on Grenfell Street

      In 1852, James Alexander Holden emigrated to South Australia from Walsall,[8] England, and in 1856 established J.A. Holden & Co., a saddlery business in Adelaide.[9] In 1879 J A Holden’s eldest son Henry James (HJ) Holden, became a partner and effectively managed the company.[10] In 1885, German-born H. A. Frost joined the business as a junior partner and J.A. Holden & Co became Holden & Frost Ltd.[11] Edward Holden, James’ grandson, joined the firm in 1905 with an interest in automobiles.[12][13] From there, the firm evolved through various partnerships, and in 1908, Holden & Frost moved into the business of minor repairs to car upholstery.[14] The company began to re-body older chassis using motor bodies produced by F T Hack and Co from 1914. Holden & Frost mounted the body, and painted and trimmed it.[15] The company began to produce complete motorcycle sidecar bodies after 1913.[16] After 1917, wartime trade restrictions led the company to start full-scale production of vehicle body shells. H.J. Holden founded a new company in late 1917, and registered Holden’s Motor Body Builders Ltd (HMBB) on 25 February 1919, specialising in car bodies and using the former F T Hack & Co facility at 400 King William Street in Adelaide before erecting a large four-story factory on the site.[17][18


  2. Right you are, Emily. Yet another grope at power that needs to be stopped. There’s
    nothing safe about Nuclear.

    EMISSIONS [Stefanie Bennett]

    Calling a spade a shovel…
    stood still

    NB; Check out – ICAN – The International Campaign to Abolish
    Nuclear Weapons… they won the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize.

  3. On the subject of paying for clean-up, Westinghouse at one point (2014) publicly stated that there was more business for them in decommissioning old power plants than building new ones. “Small modular reactors” seems to be the buzzword of the day, but no one is buying the concept at a scale (perhaps 40-70 power plants) to make it economically viable for a manufacturer to build them.

    Any political bunfight to approve a nuclear reactor in Australia would take years, by which time renewables would likely be so well entrenched in the market, at a competitive price, that it’s almost inconceivable that any bank would fund a nuclear plant.

  4. Every day, Solar with batteries sounds more rational, more cost effective and more environmentally safe.

    What a pity the Nationals are too brainless and the Liberals are too cowardly to do what common sense demands. Morrison is even too cowardly to go to Glasgow with his make-believe “commitment” to do something/nothing.

  5. There are many more uses for nucular products other than power stations . We have here in Australia an abundance of yellow cake ,let’s use it , grow another industry to replace the ones we have lost
    As far as the nuclear subs are concerned , our millatry procurement over the last 30 years has been in a word awful more than awful terrible , buying ships from the USA Navy which needed new hulls !! Buying helicopters from the USA that took three years to deliver after we paid for them . The cost of repairs and refurbishment and inferstucture / new equipment for the 50 Abraham tanks cost more than we paid for them . These sub may well cost 100 billion dollars if and when we get them . How many houses , hospitals and schools could we build for that ? Wake up Australia .

  6. Stefanie even the ABC news breakfast
    Endorsed Nuclear why ? No Emissions
    If you can debunk this by all means
    Enlighten us all ??


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