Kathleen Jessop

Our Future Can Be Nuclear, Provided We Don’t Give Into the Toxicity of Fear

To the generation before mine, nuclear power was something that could spell the end of mankind. With that almost assured, I’d say it’s time for a rethink. 

 

Environmental activists, community members, and world leaders have become highly vocal as of late, as we see how humanity’s carbon footprint is set to change ecological well-being, create extreme weather patterns, and generally warm the planet if we don’t act as a species in the next 5-10 years.

Many solutions have been thrown around, ranging from banning single-use plastic, solar power rebates, investment in wind and hydro, and global targets for carbon reduction.

The problem is, none of these solutions are enough on their own (or together) to stop this crisis within the proposed ten-year window.

We could utilize one key idea that would not only see us flourish more economically, but ensure we can deliver sustainable, cost-effective, and large-scale reductions in C02 emissions.

The only problem is – you’re probably going to hate it.

Australian Energy Minister Angus Taylor has called for a parliamentary inquiry into nuclear power, with the Environment and Energy Committee to explore the use of the technology across the world, and how safe it will be for people and the environment.

No similar inquiry has been made in over a decade, despite the global temperature climbing and Australia sitting on enormous, natural deposits of uranium.

Opponents have demanded to know where proposed nuclear power plants would be located if the report weighs in favor of nuclear power – with the visual, safety, and ethical concerns all raised.

Many would say, “fair enough,” and I agree.

However, one thing I wish more people knew is that nuclear power has made enormous leaps and bounds in just the last 15 years. And I mean, enormous.

 

If the world adopted this cutting-edge technology, waste could be stripped of its most dangerous qualities, turned into energy, and only produce background-level radiation in 300 years.

 

In fact, the radioactive waste from old, outdated plants now acts as the very fuel of new plants – utilizing a technology known as PRISM (IFS+IFR: Intermediate Fuel Storage and Integral Fast Reactor) from Hitachi.

If the world adopted this cutting-edge technology, waste could be stripped of its most dangerous qualities, turned into energy, and only produce background-level radiation in 300 years.

In addition, PRISM uses a special liquid sodium metal coolant and metal fuel, meaning their reactor can remove nuclear fission’s “decay heat” passively and operate at the same pressure as Earth’s atmosphere.

Scientists have run this technology all over the world and “clocked up” 400 years of use – with no major operational or safety issues as yet.

Another element worth noting is that old Generation III+ nuclear reactor technology still requires lots of uranium.

This offers a second opportunity to Australia – making money from selling this naturally-occurring but rather unstable element overseas, and buying their nuclear waste cheaply from to use in their PRISM reactors.

It is understood that each “set” of twin PRISM reactors could add 622 megawatts of zero-carbon power to Australian homes and massively reduce their carbon footprint within decades. In addition, Australia sits near no fault lines – with an incident like the Fukushima Daiichi only occurring due to geological instability in the area, and resulting tsunami. Remember, only one person died as a result of that nuclear incident (later, of cancer), and surprisingly, even in the world’s worst nuclear disaster in Chernobyl, the death toll reached only around 31.

In Australia alone, nine miners have already died while on the job in the last two years, with 52 worker deaths in transport/warehousing, and 32 in agriculture/forestry and 25 in construction.

“Safety is clearly no more an issue in nuclear energy that any other related sector, with the difference being concerns about ongoing environmental impact and toxic waste.”

The reality is, there is no toxic waste in the newest technology, and by continuing on a neoliberal “baby boomer” style rhetoric from an era where nuclear was a questionable safe technology, we are depriving ourselves of the possibility of so much.

The world could benefit from the clean, large-scale reliable nuclear energy without the need for coal. We could see a boost in jobs in key regional areas that have lost jobs in mining and manufacturing in past decades, and also ensure we can accommodate a growing population and its demand on our grid.

I am not saying nuclear power is perfect, because no single energy source is (besides maybe plasma technology, which is exceedingly expensive). I simply implore you to consider the new reality that is nuclear.

 

Kathleen Jessop

Kathleen Jessop is a 20-something radio journalist living in Werribee, Melbourne. When she's not on the air in Geelong, she is painting, drinking a crisp G&T, or bragging about her AFL team. Kathleen grew up in Melbourne's outer north and has lived in three cities and two regional areas.

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