Mark Duffett, a geophysicist with no commercial interest in uranium, writes:

The reason no-one is asking Anthony Phillips’ “pesky questions”
(yesterday, item 5) is perhaps more an indication of their quality than
anything else. Though something tells me Mr Phillips wasn’t
really seeking them, here are some answers (and more questions) for him:

“Why would we treat these sales as some sort of Chinese anti-greenhouse
Even by Mr Phillips’ own spun numbers, the Chinese plan to
at least quintuple (a highly conservative estimate) their nuclear
generating capacity by 2020. He appears to regard a small
increase in Chinese domestic coal extraction as highly significant in
this context, but has it occurred to him that this might be offset by
reductions in (Australian) coal imports? Would he really prefer
the ongoing massive, undeniable increase in Chinese power generation to
be entirely fossil-fuelled? (Much as it’d be great to see photovoltaics
on every Chinese roof, it ain’t gonna happen.) “From a rational, whole earth and its population, point
of view”, climate change is far and away the greatest environmental
threat we face, and every tonne of CO2 we can prevent from entering the
atmosphere is valuable.

“What is going to happen to the waste from Australian uranium?
... Will
Australia store the waste? Where and at what profit?”
Australia should
store China’s, if not the world’s, nuclear
waste. Our continent has several very large expanses of
impermeable rock suites to which nothing of geological significance has
for at least 1500 million years, with no reason to expect this may
change any time in the next eon. I don’t see that a reasonably
well designed hole in such terrain should represent anything like a
“major, long term expense” for storing spent fuel, which is why we’d
make such a terrific profit doing it. Earth’s crust is, after
all, where the stuff came from in the first place.

“If Australian uranium is not used to manufacture weapons, won’t it
free up other Chinese uranium for the same use?”
Let’s get real
here – does anyone seriously think withholding Australian uranium will
present the slightest impediment to Chinese weapons manufacture?

“What then are the reasons for (nuclear power) being pushed as a first
resort solution and why? Could the answer just be money?”

Actually yes, insofar as money is no more than a proxy for human effort
and resources. It’s called “efficiency”, derived from “economies
of scale”. It’s why centralised power generation will always have
an edge over the alternatives. There are currently only two
globally applicable, proven fundamental technologies in that
area. One of these presents the greatest environmental threat to
our species since the last ice age. The other is nuclear
power. And the Chinese people will get that power, one way or
another. You can speak sneeringly of “our way of life”, but try
telling it to the peasant who can see the life-transforming (not to
mention life-extending) potential of readily available electricity as
well as anyone.

Melted down, Mr Phillips’ contribution is nothing more than an
unsupported assertion against uranium generally and nuclear power in
particular, by someone whose stated qualification is completely
irrelevant to the subject. Far from being “rational”, it is based
on an irrational fear.

Peter Fray

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