Want 'Net-Zero'? Try the Curate's Egg

Peter Smith25 Nov, 2023 4 Min Read
No nukes please, we're Aussies.

Put aside skepticism, realism and commonsense and take “net-zero” seriously. Okay, if that’s a step too far, take seriously the proposition that all of the electricity required to run a nation can be generated without using fossil fuels. Such a thing is impossible in Australia; though no-one has managed yet to convince Chris Bowen, the obsessive minster for energy and climate change. He’s aiming to have 82 percent of the nation's electricity generated by renewable energy by as early as 2030; and upwards from there. Only reality stands in his way.

Distances and oceans preclude Australia buying electric power from other countries when running short. And it is, by law, a "nuclear-free" zone. In other words, we are up the creek without a nuclear paddle. Soaring prices, power rationing and yet more deindustrialization lie ahead. In contrast, jurisdictions in Europe and North America have the keys to energy security in a “fossil-free nirvana.” They can buy power from energy-rich neighbors and have the nuclear option at their disposal. Of course, buying electric power doesn’t make power. So, in the end result, nuclear power is the primary enabler.

You say you want a revolution.

According to Our World in Data, nuclear power accounted for 9.2 percent of global electricity generation in 2022. Since a high point in 1996 (17.4 percent), the contribution of nuclear has steadily declined. This decline will shortly reverse. Incidentally, for the benefit of those anticipating the imminent demise of coal and gas, taken together these two sources of energy contributed more in 2022 (57.8 percent) than in 1996 (53.5 percent). All that huffing, puffing and dollars trillions to little avail. How deliciously galling for climate cultists. Back to nuclear.

The nuclear-age promise of the 1950s to 1970s, undone by accidents, is being revived. Chernobyl, Fukushima, et al., have been put in a level-headed perspective, except maybe in still-panicked Germany. Of course, another accident could put a spoke in the wheel. But, as I will suggest below, “net-zero” and nuclear power are inseparable twins.

According to the World Nuclear Association, as at November this year, some 61 reactors were under construction, mostly in Asia, and a further 430 planned or proposed (see table). At the planning and proposal stage there is a greater dispersion of reactors among countries, though China and India continue to bulk large. The U.K. is building a new large-scale nuclear plant (3,200 megawatts) at Hinkley Point C in Somerset. Meanwhile, the Swedish government has just announced a massive roll-out of nuclear power: two large scale reactors by 2035 with up to another ten in operation by 2045.

In addition to the construction of large-scale reactors, numbers of engineering companies are developing small module reactors (SMRs). Notwithstanding the recent failure of the NuScale project in Idaho, it seems likely that SMRs will find ready markets in the United States (still the largest producer of nuclear power) and in Europe.

Part of the Joe Biden's misnamed Inflation Reduction Act supports increased interconnectivity across the U.S. and between the U.S. and Canada, and provides incentives for the growth in nuclear power. Hard-headed jurisdictions are bound to see a revenue opportunity in expanding their nuclear capacity, if others go idealistically "green." Earlier this year Westinghouse announced that its 300 megawatt SMR could be operational in the U.S. by 2033. In Europe, France is leading a pro-SMR “Nuclear Alliance.” Needs must. If coal, oil and gas are to be driven out in the daft pursuit of “net-zero” what else will keep the lights on?

Behold the no-energy "green" future.

Currently, when the wind isn’t blowing and therefore the U.K. or Germany or Italy runs out of electricity, they can buy it from France (a nuclear powerhouse) or from Sweden (a hydro plus nuclear powerhouse); and Norway (a hydro powerhouse) is in the mix, too. As the penetration of intermittent wind and solar power increases so will the need for more reliable dispatchable power. The CO2-phobics in charge have no choice but to embrace nuclear power. Many on the sane side of the climate debate are becoming fellow travelers. In Australia, the Liberal-National Party Coalition under Peter Dutton seems bound to go to the next election in 2025 with a policy of overturning the ban on nuclear power.

There’s a downside, though. Nuclear power is better by far than thousands of square miles of unreliable uglies: wind turbines, solar panels, and transmission towers and lines. At the same time, by providing a deep well of reliable electricity, it allows renewable power to hobble on, still despoiling landscapes, albeit to a lesser extent. Without nuclear "green energy" would eventually collapse under its own intermittency. We could fire those who were behind it and go back to fossil fuels.

There’s more: nuclear power could also make sufficient electricity to fuel death traps, aka EV’s, and replace all gas and oil heaters, gas cooktops and barbecues. An all-electrified world. Does that sound wonderful to you? To me nuclear energy is an archetypal curate’s egg. So, I’m against it when I’m not for it, and vice versa.

After a career in economics, banking and payment-systems management, Peter Smith now blogs on the topics of the day. He writes for Quadrant, Australia’s leading conservative online site and magazine. He has written Bad Economics, of which, he notes, there is much.


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One comment on “Want 'Net-Zero'? Try the Curate's Egg”

  1. All those Anti-Fossil Fuels Anti Fracking the Keep it in the Ground idiots should live all winter long without anything to do with Fossil Fuels including the Transportation of their everyday Products it would Surprise the fools

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