Nuking the climate (crisis): redemption or destruction?
In the conversation about a shift to more sustainable forms of energy generation, nuclear power isn’t really at the top of the list… or even in the discussion. But maybe it should be.
In Episode 65 of Hearsay, Rip, Reap… and Bury? The (Temporary) Resurgence of Carbon Intensive Fuels, we explored the resurgence of carbon intensive fuels as a result of a complex confluence of events throughout 2022. Professor Tina Soliman Hunter of Macquarie University raised nuclear energy and its place in our energy landscape.
Of course, nuclear power isn’t traditionally a renewable energy source – relying as it does on ripping things out of the ground. However, as the conversation rages on, now broadly across political lines in Australia, it pays to take a look at the technologies and legislation underpinning the controversial fuel.
Nuclear energy is not quite as dangerous as its reputation indicates, at least, when that risk is acknowledged and accounted for. It would be insensitive to deny the impact of events like Fukushima or Chernobyl, but even accounting for that, nuclear energy has a low mortality rate, second only to solar power. However it also produces over double the amount of electricity for the world as solar, at 10% and 4% respectively, and less CO2 per gigawatt-hour of energy produced.
That’s not to say there should be no international or local safety guidelines. The European Commission works both within the EU and with countries outside of it to try and ensure nuclear safety globally. The current EU directive requires not only having skilled experts overseeing things on the ground, but transparency to the population, reporting to the Commission every 3 years, and reassessing regulations every 10 years.
One long awaited development, mentioned in the episode, is the introduction of small modular reactors (SMRs) of which there are few currently in use. One example is in the Russian Arctic on the floating power plant of Akademik Lomonosov. The idea of SMRs is that they produce less power, but don’t need to be refuelled as often, and are faster to set up. There are many varieties in development currently, but the International Atomic Energy Agency has roadmapped how countries both with and without existing nuclear framework could take advantage of this emerging technology.
As of December 2022, US scientists have also announced a major breakthrough in the nuclear field. Existing nuclear power is currently produced through the process of nuclear fission, where a heavy, unstable atom is split into two smaller ones. Nuclear fusion is the combination of two small atoms into a larger one, which produces waste that is not radioactive for as long as the fission process. Generally the latter has been a process that consumes more energy than it gives off, however on this occasion 2.5 MegaJoules were used producing 3.15 Megajoules of power.
Nuclear power may not be a perfect climate solution, but with the right framework and development it’s an asset that should at least be considered in the fight against climate change.
What if there was a better way? CPD for Australian lawyers. Interesting, on demand, low price. CPD the Hearsay way. Liked this article? Check out Episode 65 of Hearsay, Rip, Reap… and Bury? The (Temporary) Resurgence of Carbon Intensive Fuels. And watch this space for more Episodes in the climate change arena very soon.
By: Hearsay: The Legal Podcast with research by Elise Murray.