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Wednesday 19 June 2024

Net Zero is NOT achievable without nuclear

Today, Peter Dutton, the Leader of the Opposition in Australia, made a bold declaration. The Liberal National Party (LNP) has unveiled its policy for Australia’s energy transition, advocating nuclear energy as the primary source of carbon-free baseload electricity. Dutton has issued a challenge, setting the stage for a direct clash with the Labor government’s strategy, which focuses solely on renewable energy.

Labor, in its quest to position Australia as a renewable energy titan, has initiated a deluge of renewable energy projects. The country is inundated with daily announcements of colossal wind farms, sometimes offshore, or encroaching upon prime agricultural land, the destruction of pristine environments, or the conversion of farmland for new transmission lines or solar farms. There are also new targets for electric vehicle (EV) sales and funding for solar panel manufacturing, despite the market being saturated with Chinese-made panels.

Chris Bowen has been appointed by the Labor government to spearhead this transition. His efforts have been nothing short of formidable. Bowen is unwavering in his mission, sparing no exaggeration and showing little concern for factual precision. He proclaims Australia as a renewable energy colossus, denounces nuclear as the costliest and riskiest technology, asserts that net zero is attainable without baseload power sources, and suggests that batteries can bridge the energy gap. Moreover, he promises to lower electricity costs, maintain power supply, and bolster industry growth.

This stance persists against a backdrop of rising electricity prices, the gradual shutdown of coal-fired power plants, and load shedding during peak energy demand. Consumers and businesses are incentivized to reduce consumption during these periods to keep the power grid stable—well, sort of.

No one, not even Bowen, finds the current state of affairs satisfactory. Yet, Bowen insists this is merely a transitional phase and that ‘she’ll be right.’

Amidst this turmoil, Peter Dutton has boldly proclaimed that the emperor has no clothes. He has criticized Labor’s target of a 43% emissions reduction by 2030 as unrealistic and has prioritized the cost of living over the renewable energy transition. Dutton has also highlighted nuclear energy as the linchpin of baseload power necessary to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has recognized that net zero emissions cannot be realized without nuclear power. While some, including Bowen, remain unconvinced, many believe that renewables alone are insufficient for achieving net zero.

One of the most persuasive arguments against the feasibility of renewables alone concerns resource availability. The materials required to produce the necessary minerals for solar panels and wind turbines are unlikely to be mined by 2050.

Referencing Simon Michaux’s “The Green Energy Myth,” the table below outlines the volume and types of minerals needed to meet net zero goals and the estimated years of mining required to obtain these resources. Focusing on copper alone, it would take over 250 years at current mining rates to acquire the amount needed for net zero. Evidently, achieving net zero without nuclear is an impossibility.

Professor Simon Michaux, a leading researcher in the field of minerals within a circular economy, is currently with the Geological Survey of Finland (GTK) and formerly of the University of Queensland. Michaux aims to revolutionize the interplay between energy, minerals, and industrialization to foster sustainable material consumption in society. His recent presentation at the Navigating Nuclear symposium at UNSW, titled "Challenges and bottlenecks to the green transition", addressed these issues.

These inconvenient truths are likely to be disregarded by Mr. Bowen, but Mr. Dutton has certainly brought some compelling facts to the table. 

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