Cutting Edge: The Nuclear Comeback

Monday, January 14, 2008

There is no shortage of documentaries reminding us that peak oil has been reached - and passed. Demand is rising and so, too, inevitably, are prices. What happens when money alone isn't enough to secure a barrel of the action? Is nuclear energy the short-term solution?

Proponents say it's clean and safe. Governments, prone to hard pragmatism, are beginning to bend towards a technology that may provide breathing space inasmuch as there is negligible carbon emissions from nuclear energy production - just a lot of unpleasant material that can last for a bloody long time.

This doco, looking at the pros and cons of the issue, takes us to a couple of very flash nuclear-energy stations. Some are far safer in their security regimes than Monty Burns's plant at Springfield. Others, like the derelict facility at Chernobyl, provide a stark picture of the dangers of the technology when something serious fails - as it went awfully close to doing at a station in Sweden a few years ago, an incident that still isn't properly understood.

Only about 16 per cent of global energy needs come from nuclear fuel generation at present. Even if more facilities are constructed in record time, it's unlikely more than 20 per cent of all needed power will ever be delivered from nuclear sources.

Meet a guy who calls himself a pro-nuclear Green. Take a look at a waste repository and ponder the less-than scrupulous reputation for honesty that has dogged the industry for decades. As one of the biggest users of coal energy in the world, Australia is among the highest per capita emitters of carbon on the planet.

As the doco concludes, it raises the possibility that the almost moribund nuclear fuel industry has seized on the endgame scenario of fossil fuels and, ironically, found its salvation. Are we delivering ourselves into temptation or evil? Can the renewable energy lobby present a more viable alternative?

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