8 February 2007

Nuclear Power

what all Queenslanders should know

Message from the Premier and Minister for Environment
Queenslanders are understandably concerned about the effect of climate change on our way of life. The Commonwealth Government is advocating a key role for nuclear power in supplying Australia's future energy needs, claiming this will reduce greenhouse gases. All Queenslanders should be concerned about the Commonwealth Government proposal to establish a nuclear energy industry in Australia. Queensland has an abundance of potential alternative energy sources (such as wind, solar and geothermal) and well-established coal and gas industries. Queensland prides itself on its "clean and green" reputation. The State Government embraces Smart solutions to our energy challenges. We are investing heavily in research into clean coal technology and supporting a range of renewable energy technologies. Nuclear power is not the right energy choice for us.

The Queensland Government does not support the Commonwealth's proposal to impose nuclear energy on us. Establishing nuclear power plants in Queensland's regional centres would significantly impact on our communities, their economies and the environment. The Queensland Government has already introduced laws to Parliament banning the establishment of a nuclear industry in this State. Should the Commonwealth override these laws, we will ensure Queenslanders have the opportunity to express their views on this decision. We have serious concerns about nuclear power. We encourage you to learn more about what a nuclear energy future might mean for you, your family and your community. We want all Queenslanders to become involved in the nuclear energy debate.

Peter Beattie MP                                        Lindy Nelson-Carr MP
Premier and Minister for Trade                Minister for Environment and
                                                                     Multiculturalism

Facts about nuclear energy

Nuclear energy won't solve climate change.

Nuclear energy is not carbon neutral. Significant quantities of greenhouse gases are produced throughout the nuclear cycle in milling, enrichment, construction, operation and decommissioning of nuclear facilities, mine cleanup, intermediate storage, long-term disposal and transport.

A significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is needed by 2050 if Australia is to make its contribution to curb climate change. Recent estimates suggest that even aggressive use of nuclear power in Australia would only see a reduction of 8% to 18% in national greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The Australian Business Roundtable on Climate Change, which includes the CEOs of six major Australian companies, showed that greenhouse gas emissions could be cut 60% from 2000 by 2050 while maintaining economic growth, without the use of nuclear power.

Even the Commonwealth commissioned Switkowski task force, said it would take at least 10-15 years to build just one nuclear power station in Australia. A review group chaired by the Commonwealth Government's own Chief Scientist, Dr Jim Peacock, concluded this estimate is unrealistically optimistic because we do not have the skilled workforce that would be needed to design and build nuclear power stations.

Nuclear power needs large quantities of water. Just one large nuclear power station would use more water than the total household demand of Queensland. A British 1170 MW nuclear power station needs 108 million litres per hour. A study by the Australian Parliamentary Library gave a range of 100-150 million litres per hour for a potential Australian nuclear power station. That is more water per hour than 400 average Queensland houses use in an entire year.

With hot summer temperatures and limited freshwater resources, nuclear energy presents too great a pressure on the availability and quality of water.

Nuclear energy is expensive.

Energy efficiency improvements deliver seven times greater reductions in greenhouse gas emissions per average dollar spent than nuclear power.

Reactors cost billions of dollars each to build. Investment in renewable energy programs, clean coal technologies and energy efficiency initiatives would meet our energy needs without producing radioactive waste.

Nuclear energy is estimated to be 20%-50% more expensive to produce than energy sourced from coal or gas under current conditions.

The cost of de-commissioning large reactors and storing high-level waste for up to 250,000 years has not yet been accurately calculated. Past experience suggests that such projects nearly always cost more than claimed.

There are better alternatives.

Renewable energy (including hydro, wind, solar and biofuels) already supplies 19% of the world's electricity compared to nuclear's 15%. Renewables don't have the risks and expense of nuclear.

Australian companies are leaders in the global renewable energy market and Australia has immense solar resources. The amount of solar energy hitting Australia in just one summer day is about half the total global energy use for an entire year.

The Commonwealth Government's Department of Resources and Energy estimated 15 years ago that a mix of renewables could provide 30% of our electricity by 2020 at no more than 10% extra cost. The Switkowski report warned that nuclear power could cost up to 50% more.

Nuclear energy is risky.

Nuclear reactors have so far produced a global toxic pile of 250,000 tonnes of high-level radioactive waste with no long-term management solution. Queensland is free of this high level radioactive waste.

Radioactive wastes arise across the nuclear fuel cycle. High-level waste, which includes spent nuclear fuel and the waste stream from reprocessing plants, is by far the most hazardous. A typical power reactor produces 25-30 tonnes of spent fuel annually. About 12,000 to 14,000 tonnes of spent fuel are produced each year by power reactors worldwide.

Despite 50 years of investment in the nuclear industry, no safe long-term disposal method has been found. There is evidence the waste is contaminating groundwater and surface water.

The high-level and long-lived waste will remain a problem for hundreds of thousands of years after the reactors have been closed down.

There are potential health and safety risks associated with the location and operation of nuclear facilities and the transport of nuclear material. While risks to the health of the public and plant workers from normal operations of modern nuclear facilities might be low and safeguards can be put in place, exposure to nuclear contamination through accidents can result in significant health effects.

The Chernobyl death toll is still rising. There have already been more than 50 deaths and several thousand cases of childhood thyroid cancer. In the longer term, several tens of thousands of people around Europe will probably die prematurely from the fallout. 40% of Europe was contaminated to various degrees. The radioactive fallout continues to affect agriculture and food management in several countries. The Chernobyl-4 reactor generated power for just over two years, but human suffering, health problems and environmental pollution will go on for generations.

Nuclear power facilities have been identified by the International Atomic Energy Agency as a security risk and potential terrorism target. There are no such risks with wind turbines, solar panels or generators using clean coal technology.

What could a nuclear industry mean for Queenslanders?

The Commonwealth Government is considering a report proposing the establishment of 25 nuclear reactors to provide one third of Australia's future energy needs by 2050.

The Queensland Government is concerned that establishing a nuclear industry in Queensland could have significant social, economic and environmental impacts.

How could it affect your community?

Coastal communities are likely to be the preferred sites for the location of nuclear facilities in Queensland because the need for vast amounts of cooling water rules out inland sites.

Nuclear waste disposal facilities are likely to be located in remote areas, requiring long-distance transport through regional centres.

All power generation includes risks for the health and safety of the community the nuclear industry has particular challenges because of the use of hazardous material combined with the risk of accidents or sabotage, which can have severe consequences for people, industry and the environment.

How could it affect Queensland's economy?

Because nuclear power is more expensive to produce, the price of electricity will increase.

Property values for homes and communities located close to nuclear power stations will fall.

The location of nuclear facilities could affect key tourism assets.

Our image and reputation as a "clean and green" agricultural producer and a desirable tourism destination would be badly damaged.

How could it affect the environment?

The discharge of large volumes of hot water from nuclear power stations into marine environments would cause thermal pollution. This could have significant effects on marine ecosystems, Queensland's pristine coastline and fragile environmental assets, such as the World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef and Moreton Bay Marine Park.

Little is known about the long-term impacts that high-level nuclear waste disposal will have on our natural environment. Disposing of high-level waste creates an environmental management challenge for hundreds of thousands of years, affecting many generations into the future.

There is always the risk of serious accidents like the Chernobyl explosion, contaminating a very large area for decades or even centuries.

The potential economic consequences of nuclear power should not be underestimated. Queensland has been a sustained driving force of the national economy for more than a decade. The State's coastal region (the Fitzroy, Mackay, Northern and Far North Statistical Divisions) has played a major part in this economic success. It accounts for around 25% of Queensland's total economic output. The coastal region generates wealth and employment through vast export incomes earned from agriculture, mining, metals processing, tourism and other services such as education and tropical science.

Looking forward, our coastal region's world class natural resources will continue to support economic growth. This is expected to bring with it a steady rise in population from the current figure of almost 800,000 to one million people by 2026. Based on current projections, the existing urban centres of Gladstone, Rockhampton, Mackay, Townsville/Thuringowa and Cairns will account for most of this population growth. All of this would be put at risk if nuclear power stations were built in our coastal zone.

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