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Is the push for nuclear power a covert push for nuclear weapons?via Renew Economy

Mark Diesendorf and Richard Broinowski

A recent push for nuclear power in Australia has been promoted by the usual public advocates and amplified by the Murdoch press.

The arguments are predictable both in their optimism and inaccuracy: nuclear power reactors are claimed to be safe and cheaper than electricity generation from wind and sun; new generation mini-reactors are claimed to be even cheaper and safer and can be adapted to power a factory or a town.

Australia has uranium, and can easily acquire the technology. Advocates for nuclear power are calling for ‘informed’ public debate to quell public fear about nuclear power.

In reality, informed public debate has been going on for some time. The latest iteration was the South Australian Royal Commission of 2015-16, which found that “nuclear power would not be commercially viable to supply baseload electricity to the South Australian subregion of the NEM from 2030 (being the earliest date for its possible introduction).”

But advocates are not deterred, claiming, despite the evidence to the contrary, that nuclear power is cheaper and cleaner than other forms of electricity generation.

The fact is that electricity from new wind and solar farms is much cheaper than from nuclear power stations. According to the multinational investment consultancy, Lazard,the costs of energy from on-shore wind farms in the USA are in the range 29-56 USD per megawatt-hour (US$/MWh), from solar farms 36-46 US$/MWh and from conventional nuclear 112-189 US$/MWh.

In Australia, the CSIRO and the Australian Energy Market Operator have jointly found that the cost of a wind or solar farm in 2020 will be approximately half of that from new coal-fired power stations, and about one-fifth of that from nuclear power in the form of the non-commercial small modular reactors currently being promoted by nuclear enthusiasts.

Adding sufficient storage to solar and wind to provide equivalent dependability of supply to base-load coal and nuclear will lift the cost of wind and solar in 2020 to equivalence with new coal, but nuclear is still at least 2.5 times the cost of wind and solar.

In 2019 the German Institute for Economic Research found that of 674 nuclear reactors built for electricity generation since 1951, all suffered significant financial losses. The (weighted) average net present value was around minus 4.8 billion Euros. The Institute concluded that “nuclear energy has always been unprofitable in the private economy”. So why were 674 reactors built around the world, and why do nuclear advocates want more?

One motivation has been to facilitate the covert development of nuclear weapons. It is well documented (e.g. here and here) that India, North Korea, Pakistan and South Africa all used civil nuclear power to assist their respective covert developments of nuclear weapons, while the UKused its first generation nuclear power stations to supplement weapons-grade plutonium it produced in military reactors.

[…]

There are two main pathways to nuclear explosives –either by enriching uranium in the isotope U235 or extracting plutonium Pu239 from spent reactor fuel.At various times Australia has flirted with both. In the 1960s, under the Gorton government, Australia started to build a nuclear power station at Jervis Bay with the purpose of producing electricity for the grid and Pu239 for nuclear weapons.

[…]

Australia ratified the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) in 1973 and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1998, but in the early 2000s pressure was again exerted on the government by elements in the foreign policy and security establishment to revive a nuclear weapons program.

[…]

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