Given its origins and the composition of its panel, the Switkowski nuclear report is in some respects surprisingly downbeat.

It supports uranium mining and nuclear power, rejects uranium conversion and enrichment, and all but ignores the original requirement to investigate the “business case” for establishing a repository accepting high-level nuclear waste from overseas. It stresses that nuclear power could be competitive only if a substantial carbon tax is imposed.

The narrow terms of reference set by the federal government have restricted the panel to a study of nuclear power, not a serious study of energy options for Australia. A panel with broader range of expertise and a less limited brief could have been asked to explore the impact of carbon tax and other policy measures on energy demand. From that it could have tackled the most effective means by which that demand can be met, and greenhouse emissions reduced, taking into account all the energy options, costs, timeframes, waste, safety and other relevant issues.

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While the Switkowski panel was prevented from asking key questions, there’s no reason for the rest of us to avoid them. A body of existing research indicates that the objectives of meeting energy demand and reducing greenhouse emissions can be met with a combination of renewable energy and gas to displace coal, combined with energy efficiency measures, without recourse to nuclear power.

For example, a study by AGL, Frontier Economics and WWF Australia published in May 2006 finds that a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation in Australia can be achieved by 2030 at the modest cost of $0.43/week per person over 24 years.

The Australian Ministerial Council on Energy published a report in 2003, Towards a National Framework for Energy Efficiency, which concludes that “consumption in the manufacturing, commercial and residential sectors could be reduced by 20–30% with the adoption of current commercially available technologies with an average payback of four years.”

A detailed study, A Clean Energy Future for Australia, by Hugh Saddler, Richard Denniss and Mark Diesendorf, identifies methods by which a 50% reduction in greenhouse emissions from stationary energy can be achieved by 2040.

There is an equally impressive body of overseas research, one recent example being the RAND Corporation report released on 13 November which concludes that renewable energy could produce 25% of the electricity and motor vehicle fuels used in the US by 2025 at little or no additional cost.

The EnergyScience Coalition has produced a set of briefing papers and will be responding to the Switkowski report later this week.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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