Talk of nuclear power as a viable energy option has gained traction in recent years, as more people look for solutions to the climate crisis. Many would have us believe that nuclear power is a ‘green’ and ‘clean’ alternative, but it really isn't. Nuclear is dirty, dangerous and completely inappropriate for our future energy needs.

ACF fully supports a low carbon energy future - but we don’t see a role for nuclear.

Nuclear energy is dirty and contributes to climate change

Nuclear power stations run on uranium, which much like coal and gas is not a renewable resource.

Mining these radioactive rocks pollutes our air, soil and water. It can damage the genetic and reproductive systems of plants, animals and people and is often mined at the expense of Traditional Owners and their Country.

All of Australia’s operating uranium mines have a history of leaks, spills and accidents—and none have ever been properly rehabilitated.

Even when a nuclear power station operates as intended, it creates a long-term and expensive legacy of site remediation, fuel processing and radioactive waste storage—all of which pose significant community, environmental, health and economic risks.

Nuclear reactors also use tonnes of water per second, whereas wind and solar require little or no ongoing water use.

The pollution created by nuclear energy lasts generations. Australia is one of the sunniest and windiest countries in the world, and we have enough renewable resources to power our country 500 times over. An investment in nuclear energy is not suitable to combat climate change.

Nuclear is dangerous

Radiation from major nuclear disasters, such as Chernobyl in 1986 and Fukushima in 2011, have impacted hundreds of thousands of people and contaminated large areas until the present day.

Following the Fukushima disaster, large volumes of contaminated water have been collected and stored. This includes water used to cool nuclear fuel rods and in other site operations along with groundwater, rainwater and seepage water – all with elevated levels of contaminants.

Between 100 and 300 tonnes of water are collected each day and there are more than one thousand large tanks holding around 1.3 million tonnes of contaminated water on site, with plans to start dumping this waste into the Pacific from this year. This process has been opposed by several nations due to the adverse environmental and cultural impacts.

Let's not forget that the failed Fukushima reactor was fuelled by Australian uranium.

In Fukushima, over AU$120 billion has been spent stabilising the stricken site.

The waste produced by nuclear energy processes and uranium mining contains radioactive materials at levels high enough to require special regulation and treatment to ensure safety. This waste stays dangerously radioactive for thousands of years. Australia does not have long-term waste management practices, which only adds to the dangers of producing nuclear energy and storing waste in this country.

Nuclear is expensive and slow to get up and running

The cost of building and operating nuclear power plants in Australia is prohibitively high and nuclear reactors are slow to build and license. According to the CSIRO, wind and solar are the cheapest ways to produce electricity in Australia.
On average, it takes over seven years to construct a nuclear reactor but up to another 10 years or so for planning and licensing. This means there’s no chance a nuclear plant could be built in Australia before 2040.

The production of nuclear power plants often exceeds multi-billion-dollar budgets and decommissioning sites can cost billions more due to high radioactivity levels that remain at the facilities well after shutting down.

So when you consider all these costs, plus the time nuclear plants take to build, Australia is better positioned to focus on proven renewable powered solutions to the climate crisis.

Talk of nuclear power is a dirty, dangerous distraction. Solar and wind technology is already producing more than a third of Australia’s energy and renewables are the fastest growing energy sector in the country.

Rapidly scaling up renewable power generation using our abundant natural resources is the cleanest, most reliable and cost-effective way to transition to a low carbon economy and a safer climate future.

Dave Sweeney

Nuclear free campaigner, Australian Conservation Foundation.