Australia must look to nuclear and other techno-fixes
Posted : Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Australia must develop advanced nuclear power technologies and
other carbon-free technologies if it is to tackle climate change
and meet its growing energy needs, a CEDA audience in Adelaide has
Experts at the forum said Australia needs to be serious about
finding cost-effective alternatives to fossil fuels to stem its
rising carbon emissions.
Eminent climate change scientist, Professor Chris Rapley said
despite media claims that scientists were divided over climate
change and its implications, scientists agree:
- The world is warming;
- Global warming is mainly due to human use of polluting fossil
- It matters because the stable climate system of the past 10,000
years is becoming more volatile, causing droughts and extreme
weather conditions and placing pressure on food prices.
Ocean levels - acting as a thermometer by rising in response to
increasing atmospheric temperatures - and melting Polar regions
clearly indicates global warming, Professor Rapley said.
"We've increased the carbon dioxide on the planet by
approximately 40 per cent in 100 years," he said.
"There is evidence that (the Earth) hasn't visited this level of
carbon dioxide in the atmosphere for 30 million years so we've done
something in 100 years, 100 times faster than the planet naturally
does, which is quite dramatic."
Professor Rapley said while former US Vice President Al Gore's
movie, An Inconvenient Truth, predicted in 2006 that the
arctic would be ice free in the summer within 50-60 years, new
evidence suggested it might be ice free within the next 20
Although governments had agreed that a carbon dioxide content of
the atmosphere at 450 parts per million with a 50 per cent chance
of a two degree warming was a sustainable level, the world's
current emissions trajectory would reach 1000 parts per million by
the end of the century and continue to climb, he said.
The world had reverted to using 19th century
technologies, burning coal to meet its growing energy requirements
as oil supplies dwindle, particularly in rapidly industrialising
countries, he said.
The forum heard that efficiency interventions would get the
world a third of the way to reducing human carbon emissions and
would save money but techno-fixes would be required to meet the
projected 350 per cent increase in global demand for electricity by
Environment Institute Australia, Director, Professor Barry
Brook, said to achieve the 450 parts per million target, the world
would need a 15-fold increase in the use of nuclear power globally
and a 50-fold increase in the use of solar and wind energy in a
"Cost effectiveness is fundamental. All a carbon price does is
potentially make these (low carbon technologies) slightly more cost
competitive with fossil fuels," he said.
"What we really ought to be focusing most on is bringing down
the cost of these alternative energies as much as possible.
"If we can get them ultimately as cheap, or cheaper, than fossil
fuels even without a carbon price then, as long as they can do the
same job, we've solved the problem."
Advanced nuclear power could produce a lifetime's supply of
energy from a golf ball of uranium with little waste - equal to
3000 tonnes of coal producing 10,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide, he
Nuclear is one of the few technologies currently on the market
that has the potential to become as cheap as, or cheaper than coal,
"I'm predicting a future in which we can solve climate change
and we can solve the problem of habitat destruction which causes
biodiversity loss," he said.
"It's going to require energy for desalination or to produce
food... we are not going to need less energy... what we need to be
sure is that energy is cheap, it's zero carbon and it's
Flinders University, Vice-Chancellor, Professor Michael Barber
told the forum that while Australia and Canada had similar resource
bases, economies and political systems, Canada appeared more
committed to addressing climate change at the national and
provincial levels and had embraced nuclear energy.
Two Canadian provinces, Quebec and British Columbia, had
introduced a price on carbon and another, Alberta, had introduced
an emissions trading scheme, he said.
While Australia's emissions were trending up, Canada's appeared
to have peaked in 2007, he said.
"The developments in British Columbia and Quebec in regard to
carbon pricing are heavily coloured by and respond to local values.
As a result there is a sense they are making a difference at the
local level and their economies are adjusting," he said.
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