My problem with the nuclear power debate

Cross posted at Larvatus Prodeo

I have a problem with the nuclear power debate in Australia, and it isn’t a problem with nuclear power. I’m pretty much in agreement with Tim Flannery that the threats posed by global warming are so much greater than the risks involved with nuclear power and that the option of using it should be very much on the table.

Instead my problem with the debate is that it seems to be about whether we should use nuclear power, not whether we should consider nuclear power as an option. This is missing an important point. As even the uranium industry admit

Coal is, and will probably remain, economically attractive in countries such as China, the USA and Australia with abundant and accessible domestic coal resources as long as carbon emissions are cost-free.

As it stands nuclear power isn’t really an economic option in Australia. It’s just not a cost effective way of producing power compared with the other options.

Therefore it seems that if we are going to introduce nuclear power we will need somehow to subsidise it. Now I don’t have a problem with that in itself if it solves the problem of Co2 emissions but perhaps there is a better way? Perhaps we should directly target the problem of Co2 emissions, by taxing them directly, and letting the industry work out if its cheaper to cut costs by alternative energy, or by something like geosequestration (if they can get it working), or if its now competitive, nuclear power. Perhaps the effect will be to crank the costs up and my neighbours will stop leaving the light on outside all night, and people will think twice about whether they really need that clothes dryer rather than the line, or the air conditioning set to 23 rather than 26 degrees. Either way its going to make everyone think hard about how they can minimise their Co2 emissions.

Quite seriously the debate, as it has been framed, is a joke. If the government acknowledges Co2 emissions are a problem, and it appears they do, then they need to act directly not by subsidising a pet industry. If they want to practice free market rhetoric in the labour market then they sure should be doing it in the energy market, and they should be doing it by charging for pollution.

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4 Responses to My problem with the nuclear power debate

  1. jc says:

    Paul,
    why should they be charging for pollution, I don’t see your point. Is it a tax? is it a way of recognizing a couple of dozen vertical flues are sending oput Co2 into the air that doesn’t really directly affect us in the cities. What is it exactly.

  2. jc says:

    Paul,
    why should they be charging for pollution, I don’t see your point. Is it a tax? is it a way of recognizing a couple of dozen vertical flues are sending oput Co2 into the air that doesn’t really directly affect us in the cities. What is it exactly?

  3. Steve says:

    jc,

    Not sure who Paul is but since your comment here seems to be similar to the one at LP I’ll reply there.

  4. […] John Quiggin has a piece in the Fin Review today about the nuclear enquiring, which you can read for free on his blog. It makes very similar points to those I made in a piece I wrote a while ago. […]

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