We are writing to express our sincere and extreme concern about the precipitous rush to expand uranium mining and perhaps build nuclear reactors in Australia.
Firstly, we would like to protest at the brief amount of time allowed for submissions to be made on the Report. Timing the submissions to be due by December 12th, during the lead-up to Christmas, seems guaranteed to limit proper discussion and consideration of these very important issues -- we can only hope that this was not deliberate.
We strongly request that more time be allowed for submissions and that proper public debates of the Report's findings be conducted about the process and the many points it raises.
If an extension is not given and more public participation encouraged, we believe the whole process will be brought into disrepute.
Not having had time to study your Draft Report properly to make a detailed and thorough response, we have limited ourselves to raising a some issues we feel have not been considered carefully enough in the Report.
A number of statements in the Report are, at best, very misleading. On several key points it is difficult to believe such statements by "experts" could have been made in good faith. For example, the Report (on p. 7) says:
"Similarly, other environmental impacts of the nuclear fuel cycle including air pollution emissions, land use and water use are either comparable to or significantly lower than conventional fossil fuels and renewables."
This is simply not true!
It is true that (barring accidents) nuclear plants normally produce far less greenhouse gases and other air pollutants than fossil fuel plants. But it is not true to claim they produce less than "renewables".
There is significant production of air pollution and greenhouse gases in the construction of nuclear stations -- more, according to most studies than is produced in during the production and construction of wind, wave and the various solar systems including photovoltaics.
Additionally, the production of electricity renewables produce significantly less of these contaminants than nuclear plants because they are not reliant on the on-going mining and refining of uranium.
Also, of course, with "renewables", there is zero possibility of a repeat of the massive radioactive contamination of the atmosphere that occurred after the Chernobyl event which spread radioactive iodine and other radioactive elements right across the northern hemisphere and contaminated millions of people (not to mention animals and plants).
There can be no guarantee that such accidents will not happen again, or that they may be even worse and more devastating next time.
Land that has been used for a nuclear power plant can hardly be used for any other purpose -- not only for the lifespan of the power plant but long into the future (even after it is very expensively "decommissioned"), due to radioactive contamination and the massive concrete "containment structures" built on the land.
Sooner or later almost all, if not all, uranium mines and nuclear power plants develop radioactive leaks -- some more serious than others. These have cumulative effects -- some of which will not become troublesome (or even noticed) for years. However, this continual contamination of waterways and water tables and the oceans will leave a poisonous, and largely intractable legacy for our descendants.
Decommissioning and cleanup programs overseas have commonly gone way over budget, often running into tens of billions of dollars (a cost that is not usually included in the cost of producing the electricity by the nuclear industry), and are often not very successful in really fixing the damage, or making the site safe for future generations.
Nuclear plants destroy forever (in human terms) the land they are placed on. This land is usually prime land beside rivers or the sea as they need so much water for cooling (and we have very few seaside or riverbank sites left in Australia that are suitable and available).
Nuclear power stations put at risk everything downstream of them if there are any accidents, attacks, floods, earthquakes or other disasters -- and there are, sooner or later, sure to be such events involving some nuclear plants. Even one such event could kill huge numbers of people and permanently contaminate much-needed waterways and land.
Moreover, almost all nuclear plants and uranium mines experience some toxic and/or radioactive leaks that end up in our very precious and rapidly diminishing water tables. Additionally, the plants heat the water in the rivers which supply them which has led to great biological disturbances downstream in many places.
In complete contrast, the land used for solar systems, biomass, geothermal, or wind generation would be almost immediately and completely useable for other purposes after such a "renewable" power plant was decommissioned.
Moreover, during the life of the power plant, much of the land could be used for agriculture and so on. Crops can be grown and cattle grazed under windmills. Solar panels can be placed on top of buildings or to create shade for crops. An earthquake or terrorist attack or flood might well damage the power plant itself, but would be most unlikely to cause any significant "collateral damage."
It is well known that most nuclear power plants use large amounts of water -- in fact more than any other form of power generation. Similarly-sized coal-fired plants, which are notorious consumers of water, use significantly less water than nuclear plants (typically about 20% less).
"Dry cooling" (in which steam from the turbines is and condensed by forcing large volumes of air through finned pipes) is possible but impracticable. Such systems are very expensive to construct due to the large system of pipes and fans, which, in turn, reduce the efficiency of the power turbines due to back pressure.
Australia typically has relatively high ambient air temperatures, so these systems would be even more inefficient than in places with cooler climates.
Water cooling of nuclear (or coal-fired) power stations can be of three types:
1. Once-through fresh water cooling. This requires larger sustainable river flows than are available in Australia.
2. Once-through seawater cooling. Available seaside sites close to major transmission grids are very limited, and may become threatened by the rising seawater levels and increased storm activity over the lifespan of the power station due to predicted climate changes.
3. Evaporative cooling is probably the best possible option for Australia but it does consume or "waste" huge amounts of precious fresh water through evaporation, even more than coal-fired plants, and astronomically more than sustainables.
Queensland's Premier, Peter Beattie, recently said an independent study commissioned by the Queensland Government showed a nuclear power station would use 25 per cent more water than a coal-fired power station.
Mr Beattie said a coal-fired power station that produced up to 1,400 megawatts of electricity a year would use around 19,500 megalitres of water to condense and recycle steam. He said a nuclear power station producing the same output would need about 25,000 megalitres (i.e. 25 billion litres of water). The Premier added: "It is water that we simply cannot afford when drought and climate change are drying up water supplies."
If seawater is used instead of fresh water for cooling there would be serious biological impacts on the ocean due to thermal discharge.
Renewable energy sources use relatively insignificant amounts of water. According to the California Energy Commission (cited in Paul Gipe?s Wind Energy Comes of Age, John Wiley & Sons, 1995, p. 427), conventional power plants consume amounts of water (through evaporative loss, not including water that is recaptured and treated for further use) that are hundreds of times greater than that needed for renewable sources. They estimate that wind turbine plants would consume less than 1/600th as much water per unit of electricity produced as does nuclear, and approximately 1/500th as much as coal.
It is true small amounts of water are used to clean wind turbine rotor blades in climates where rainfall does not keep the blades clean. The purpose of blade cleaning is to eliminate dust and insect build-up, which can degrade performance. Similarly, small amounts of water are used to clean photovoltaic panels and other types of solar systems. And, except for water used in the production of the plants, that is all that is needed.
The Report goes to great lengths to suggest that nuclear power is safe.
Table 6.2 "Selected nuclear facility accidents, 1966--1999", on p. 70, lists only 31 deaths from Chernobyl.
If the nuclear industry keeps scrupulous records of all accidents, as the Draft Report claims, why we are provided with a table that is almost 8 years old?
This figure of 31 deaths is clearly misleading as in the Report further on, in Box 6.2, page 69, we find in small print an estimate that:
"Approximately 4000 people in the areas with the highest radiation levels [caused by Chernobyl] may eventually die from cancer caused by radiation exposure. Of the 6.8 million individuals living further from the explosion, who received a much lower dose, another 5000 may die prematurely as a result of that dose."
Thus the nuclear industry itself expects approximately 9000 deaths will result from the Chernobyl disaster -- 3 times as many people as died in the "9/11" terrorist attack on New York -- and this figure may well be underestimated.
Moreover, these figures refer only to deaths -- there is no consideration given to related illnesses or suffering!
The Report does not estimate the amount of still-births, deformed children and inter-generational damage and suffering caused by the Chernobyl accident.
Box 6.1 on p. 65, gives some technical data on genetic damage from radiation -- but no estimates of how widespread this is likely to be -- or how many people will suffer because of radiation effects -- not all of which are lethal.
The Report is filled with numerous half-truths and deceptive wording. Examples include:
Page 65, Section 6.1. The opening passage states:
"All industrial activities, including mining and energy production, involve risks to human health and safety. No means of generating electricity is risk free."
While it is true that all industrial activities involve risks to human health and no means of generating power is totally risk free, this argument is specious and deceptive, as it implies that the risk of using nuclear power is similar to that of wind power and other alternatives. This is clearly false. Nuclear contamination will affect land, sea and air for generations, whereas alternative sources of energy production do not, nor are they likely to cause damage in the case of natural disasters such as earthquakes or cyclones, provide materials that can be used as weapons, or pose a temptation to terrorists.
"Table 6.3 Examples of everyday risks in Australia," on p. 72, is particularly misleading because it attempts to compare various risk factors for threats such as cigarette smoking, drowning, motoring, fire, lightening strikes, shark attacks, etc., purportedly showing that the risk of death from the increase in average background radiation is less than everything on the list except death from snake bite or shark attack.
Firstly, the increase in background radiation is only one of many risks posed by nuclear power and uranium mining.
Moreover, a close read of the notes in fine print under the box reveal the deceptive nature of these figures:
The box only gives the increase in background radiation averaged over the whole world. There is no recognition that background radiation is likely to be much higher in regions close to uranium mines, nuclear power plants or nuclear dumps.
Additionally, it does not indicate which year the estimates are for, or whether levels are increasing or, if so, by how much.
There is no mention that the risk will increase dramatically in Australia if we build a series of nuclear power stations and greatly expand uranium mining and processing, transport and radioactive waste disposal.
There is no mention of the risks of accidents, or those posed by terrorists or natural disasters.
Selling uranium for "peaceful purposes" is a goal that is impossible to enforce.
For example, in spite of many agreements and "guarantees" that India would only use nuclear power for peaceful purposes, in 1974 they used plutonium from a Canadian-designed 40MW "research" reactor using Canadian uranium to make their first atomic bombs.
In the cases of countries like India, North Korea, Israel, and Pakistan, having "civilian" nuclear power plants has led to the development of nuclear weapons. What country can guarantee a stable, sensible government in 10 or 20 years? time?
Even if it were possible to ensure that Australian uranium was only used for "peaceful purposes," this would only free up other stocks of uranium to be used for military purposes.
India, for instance, has some limited uranium reserves of its own -- so, if it can import enough uranium from other countries such as Australia to run its civilian nuclear reactors it could then, if it wished, divert all of its own reserves to the military.
International "guarantees" and agreements are not worth the paper they are written on. Adequate safeguards are impossible to enforce. We are hypocritical if we do not admit that Australian uranium exports encourage nuclear proliferation.
Much of Australia?s uranium exports already go to countries that are politically and/or geologically unstable, and there are moves to expand that list.
_ Australia urgently needs a complete change in our thinking and expectations regarding energy production and use.
We need to be cutting consumption and not planning for constant increases in the use of electricity. There are many ways to do this with present technology and resources and there will, undoubtedly, be more in the future.
For example, one very simple step that could be implemented immediately is to get rid of incandescent globes altogether and replace them with the new fluorescent ones which use approximately 75% less electricity. This would also reduce the power needed for air-conditioning.
One report we saw claimed that if all the incandescent globes in the U.S. were changed to fluorescents they wouldn?t need a new power station until 2025. That?s a pretty good start!
Nuclear power is excessively expensive, slow to install and can only be viable with large government subsidies which can take several forms (aside from the usual direct financial support, land grants, and tax breaks) such as: not including the clean-up costs after decommissioning, providing alternative power sources in case of shutdown of the nuclear plants (a not uncommon occurrence), allowing companies to put the disposal of wastes on hold indefinitely ("more research needs to be done") -- often in very dicey "temporary" containers such as 44 gallon drums, guaranteeing sales of so much electricity per year, and -- very commonly -- because "peaceful" nuclear reactors give governments the ability to develop nuclear weapons in a hurry if they want to at a future date ("leaving the options open") and thus they are keen to have ?peaceful? nuclear facilities.
Many reactors have gone way over budget for construction and, later, decommissioning, costs have done the same. Unfortunately, once a major project like the construction of a nuclear plant is begun, it is impossible to cancel it without major financial losses.
Many nuclear plants around the world have had to be shut for prolonged periods due to safety concerns -- thus threatening continuity of electricity supply to large populations. This common occurrence makes it imperative for planners to design more and larger power stations than otherwise necessary, to assure a constant supply of electricity in case of the shutdown of one or more of these power stations.
Nuclear power plants are not good at being able to cope with rapid spikes and lows in demand and so, to be on the safe side, are usually kept up and running at more than needed capacity.
Once begun, the nuclear energy industry has a stranglehold on power generation and this will limit new advances and experiments.
Peak power demand is usually during weekdays during summer, with a big drop-off at night and on weekends. This makes a powerful case for a significant component of solar-generated power.
Hydroelectric, geothermal and gas-fired plants are much more responsive to variabilities of power demands than nuclear.
_ New and much more efficient ways of storing both electricity and/or heat (that can be used for producing electricity later) are being developed at the moment, which will reduce the need for "demand-time" generation of electricity.
New storage methods promise that continuous baseload power will be available from solar, wind and wave and tidal systems in the near future.
The new solar cells recently developed at ANU look certain to be able to reduce the cost of production (and the use of energy in producing them) by about 50%. They are past the developmental stage and are just waiting for someone to fund full-scale production facilities. These funds will be very hard to find if we throw most of our resources into the nuclear basket.
A report was just released by Daily Tech in Illinois yesterday (9th December, 2006) stating that:
"The United States Department of Energy (DOE) has announced that with the help of government funding, Boeing-Spectrolab has demonstrated a concentrator solar cell with a record-breaking 40.7% efficiency rating. ... With this new technology, the DOE is projecting that installation costs for these types of solar cells would drop to $3 per watt, with electricity costing 8 to 10 cents per kWh. The long-term goal is to have solar energy technology installed in as many as two million American homes providing power at 5 to 10 cents per kWh by the year 2015.? Downloaded from: (http://www.dailytech.com/article.aspx?newsid=5261)
PC Authority Magazine added on 8th December that:
"A 33-kilowatt test system is already up and running in the Australian desert and more large-scale trials are planned soon. The cells will also be used on the next generation of satellites."
The Draft Report appears to be heavily biased towards the promotion of uranium mining and nuclear power generation in Australia. Data in it has been frequently employed in a distorted and mendacious way.
As such, it cannot be taken seriously and is likely to bring ridicule and embarrassment to both the Australian Government and the nuclear industry as its gross bias and flaws become clear to the public and the scientific community at large.
We recommend that this Draft Report be withdrawn immediately in its entirety and a new Report commissioned with an evenly balanced panel of experts representing a wide range of views -- not just those of the nuclear industry and its supporters.