The G8 summit ended yesterday and the focus was on energy security. Predictably the rhetoric was large, but the focus narrow. While the leaders of the most powerful nations on earth tipped their hats to alternative energy sources, like wind and biomass, they concentrated their talks mainly on the issue of bringing more oil to market and making this market accessible to more people.
The statement on global energy security predicts that energy needs will rise by 50% by 2030 and that “approximately 80% of which would still be met by fossil fuels”. The statement does concede that fossil fuels are “limited resources” but declines to discuss just how limited. The rest of the statement goes on to undermine this essential point.
The meeting also endorsed the activities of “those of us who have or are considering plans relating to the use and/or development of safe and secure nuclear energy”, saying that these leaders “believe that its development will contribute to global energy security, while simultaneously reducing harmful air pollution and addressing the climate change challenge”. Ignoring, of course, its important contribution to massive environmental instability and that nuclear power will only assist in “addressing the climate change challenge” is we define climate change in a very narrow way – ie that the only problem is in releasing pollutants into the air.
The debate on nuclear power has surfaced again recently in Australia and it is being proposed as a “clean” source of energy and a potential way to reduce our greenhouse emissions in line with Kyoto Protocol commitments (not that we’ve actually ratified Kyoto or anything). This whole debate seems to be ignoring a rather large white elephant sitting in the corner – how is it possible to label nuclear as clean energy when, for starters, the uranium has to be extracted from the ground (read major mining activities, which use fossil fuels by the gallon). Added to this is the fact that nuclear waste has to be stored somewhere for thousands of years (somewhere safe and secure and usually underground, which means digging another rather large hole in the ground).
It seems to me that this is a bit of a false debate – expanding Australia’s nuclear program might well be a means of meeting our energy requirements, but it is certainly not a means of meeting them “”cleanly”.