Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Taking a Deep Breath

The Hive and the Otago Daily Times are right to argue that we should be able to calmly discuss the benefits or otherwise of nuclear power. This would be a great step forward.

My post yesterday may not exactly have achieved this. It's frustrating that media accounts of this issue do not clearly address the technical issues, such as reserve capacity, or the financial ones such as capital costs.

I remain of the opinion that these two issues mean that any discussion of the future role of nuclear power in New Zealand will be very short. When an established company such as Areva, Westinghouse or General Electric builds an affordable 400MW reactor we should revisit the issue. At that point, or when plans for such reactors are announced, nuclear power enthusiasts should lobby Government to set up the regulatory framework that would be required to licence and operate a nuclear power plant. This would allow power generating companies to properly assess the economics of nuclear power in New Zealand. The need for such a framework was the one of the main recommendations of the recent Switkowski report on nuclear power in Australia. I'd recommend this report to anyone interested in the issues related to starting a nuclear power industry and I do think that Australia should be thinking seriously about the issue. Be warned that it takes a very optimistic view of the challenges involved. (The nuclear power enthusiast should watch the outcome of the Australian Labor party's internal machinations on this issue, and the related issue of uranium mining, and attempt to take advantage of any nuclear regulation regime set up in Australia in the next few years.)

On the subject of regulations; I'll note here that while the nuclear free legislation bans nuclear weapons and nuclear powered warships, I do not believe that civilian nuclear power stations are illegal in New Zealand. Any lawyers out there willing to argue the toss?

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