Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) President Professor Ian Lowe, AO
October 19, 2005

Nuclear power was too expensive, too dangerous and, with new power stations needing at least a 15-year lead time, too slow to be seriously considered as an effective response to the urgent problem of climate change, ACF President Professor Ian Lowe has told the National Press Club in Canberra.

Professor Lowe said the economics of nuclear power just didn't stack up.

"The real cost of nuclear electricity is certainly more than for wind power, energy from bio-wastes and some forms of solar energy. Geothermal energy from hot dry rocks - a resource of huge potential in Australia - also promises to be less costly than nuclear. In the USA, direct subsidies to nuclear energy totalled $115 billion between 1947 and 1999, with a further $145 billion in indirect subsidies."

"We are 50 years into the best funded development of any energy technology, and yet nuclear energy is still beset with problems. Reactors go over budget by billions, decommissioning of plants is so difficult and expensive that power stations keep operating past their useful life, and there is still no solution for radioactive waste."

He said contrary to the nuclear industry's promotional messages nuclear power was not carbon-free. "Building nuclear power stations would actually increase greenhouse pollution in the short term, and in the long term they put more carbon dioxide into the air than renewable energy technologies."

Professor Lowe said in addition to other serious concerns, nuclear power was far too slow a response to the urgent problem of climate change.

"Even if there were political agreement today to build nuclear power stations, it would be at least 15 years before the first one could deliver electricity. Some have suggested 25 years would be a more realistic estimate, particularly considering the levels of public and political opposition in Australia. We can't afford to wait decades for a response."

And, "since every gram of uranium becomes radioactive waste and increases the amount of fissile material that could be diverted to weapons or 'dirty bombs', we should be phasing out the industry, not looking to expand it."

He said renewables, like wind and solar power, were a viable alternative electricity source. "

Be in no doubt: renewable energy works. Renewables now account for a quarter of the installed capacity of California, a third of Sweden's energy, half of Norway's and three-quarters of Iceland's. It is time we joined the clean energy revolution sweeping the progressive parts of the world."

Professor Lowe said renewable energy did not come with the inherent risks that nuclear power did. "You don't often hear people worrying about terrorists getting hold of wind turbine parts of making dirty bombs out of solar panels," he said.

Instead of flirting with the dangerous distraction of nuclear power he said Australia "should set a long term target to cut greenhouse pollution by 2050 to well below half the present level and take it seriously. Our present approach of demanding the world's most generous greenhouse emissions reduction target and making no serious effort to cut emissions is an embarrassment to all thinking Australians."

He said by promoting renewable technologies Australia "could play a leading role in helping China - and other countries - make the transition to a clean energy future".