Australia’s nuclear power in comparison with the United States nuclear power
The Use of Nuclear Power in Australia and the United States: A Comparison
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Before starting this essay, it is important to shed some light over how nuclear power became an important part of the Australia’s way of life. Australia’s approach to nuclear energy started in 1953 when the Parliament passed the Atomic Energy Act (WNA, 2015). This bill established the Australian Atomic Energy Commission. The history of the use of nuclear power in Australia is rather recent. In 1958, Australia opened its first –and only- a nuclear reactor in Sydney. Lucas Heights’s reactor is a fission reactor whose primary use was to research, and study the ways the energy could be implemented in the country. (NFSA, 2015).
According to the World Nuclear Association (WNA, 2010), there are six types of nuclear reactors functioning in the world. Boiling Water Reactor; Pressurized Heavy Water Reactor; Gas Cooled Reactor; Light Water Graphite Reactor; Fast Breeder Reactor; High-Temperature Gas-Cooled Reactor. (WNA, 2010).
Nuclear Power Industry in Australia
Australia has the largest uranium resources in the world, approximately 31% of the world’s reserves. This and the fact that the country has a significant infrastructure to support further nuclear programs could place Australia among the greatest users of nuclear power in the world. In the same way, the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) owns and runs a research reactor on which many trials are conducted concerning the viability of developing nuclear power in the country. Besides, in a country such as Australia where 92-percent of the energy is generated by fossil fuels (Krieg, 2014), using nuclear power, an alternative much safer and cleaner, would be an option to consider. In the same light, Australia is one of the few developed countries not using nuclear power. There are many reasons, but it seems that the anti-nuclear sentiment in the country comes from the disasters of Chernobyl and Fukushima, that bolstered an anti-nuclear sentiment throughout the country (Bird et al. 2014)
There is a prejudice concerning nuclear energy in the country, and it is hard to develop a nuclear infrastructure in a state that is against it. Besides, there is the issue of the costs. In 2006, a task force assembled by the Prime Minister considered that nuclear energy can be a practical option in Australia’s energetic future. However, nuclear production would be from 20 to 50-percent more expensive when compared to fossil fuels (World Nuclear Association, 2015). Besides, there is the public opinion. Recent polls conducted in the country had shown that the Australian public is favorable to nuclear energy but is concerned about the radioactive wastes, and possible environmental effects (Bird et al. 2014). However, the results also show that the public opinion is slowly changing the use of nuclear energy in the country. Besides, in 2013, the Australian Prime Minister, along with the parliament, ruled out nuclear energy as a potential choice for the country. After the Ranger uranium mine spill, the concerns over the nuclear waste in the country increased.
3. The Future of the Nuclear Power in Australia
While Australia’s nuclear capabilities are not focused on producing electricity, the country uses thoroughly in medicine. Australia is one of the main producers of radioisotopes in medicine, and research industry. What we have assessed is that the opinion regarding nuclear energy is changing, and might turn the tide, turning Australia into one of the primary users of that kind of power in the world. Also, it can be used as an alternative cleaner than coal that can be used long-term to meet the country’s increasing energetic demands. In the same way, given the fact that Australians have developed an aversion to uranium as a source of power, they could welcome thorium, another radioactive ore that offers the same uses, with fewer dangers. Strictly speaking, thorium cannot undergo meltdown, as happened in Chernobyl and Fukushima. If the concerns of the Australians are pointed toward the dangers of nuclear energy, thorium can be an adequate choice.
Nuclear Power Industry in the United States
Unlike Australia, the United States has a long story of nuclear power use. The country is an advocate of nuclear energy as a cleaner and cheaper alternative than fossil fuels. However, the implementation of nuclear power as the primary source of power for the country is not yet a reality. Only 22-percent of the country’s energy comes from nuclear reactors (USNR, 2010). In the same way, nuclear power offers the country, the possibility to expand energetically, depending less from fossil fuels. Besides, a study conducted by the MIT in 2003, considered that nuclear power could be an important alternative to reduce greenhouse gasses, and overall contamination (MIT, 2003). This is an important change after the cold reception that nuclear energy had in the past 40 years. From the 1970s to our days, nuclear prejudice became one of the main hurdles to be jumped. Besides, with the ever-changing nature of the oil prices, nuclear power presents itself as a stable alternative that it is not likely to suffer price changes. Moreover, the relatively small costs of the nuclear energy –once implemented-, can deliver an almost constant supply of energy. Besides, uranium deposits are widespread enough to be threatened by geopolitical changes (Schiermeier, 2008)
In a country where nuclear energy is used as extensively as it is in the U.S., disasters such as the ones in Fukushima, and Chernobyl, can occur. Nevertheless, the standards of quality employed in the country have made that kind of disasters, an unlikely occurrence. In the same light, to fully implement nuclear power in the country, the availability of uranium has to be bigger than it is today. That situation limits nuclear growth and slows the implementation of nuclear energy policies. In the same way, the nuclear wastes produced by the extensive use of nuclear power pose a challenge (Scheirmeier, 2008). For instance, before thinking of extensively using nuclear power as the primary energy source of the country, there should exist a place where those wastes can be easily and safely disposed. Safe from terrorists, and thieves. As we can see, the problem revolving nuclear energy in the U.S. is not necessarily related to how to produce it. Instead, it revolves around the difficulties around the radioactive wastes they will leave. Radioactive waste is proven to be very deadly because people can’t actually see the radiation that is killing them. It is obligatory to plan an effective disposal system before even planning to build the nuclear power plant itself.
3. The Future of the Nuclear Power in the United States.
There are 103 operational nuclear plants in the United States. These plants are often private-funded plants that compete against each other in proving the cheapest energy possible. In a strict sense, those plants have a small price advantage for fossil fuel plants. However, the current panorama for nuclear power is quite dim. Gas and oil prices have gone down in the past years, which has made fossil fuel, cheaper than it was a few years ago. That makes any nuclear initiative less likely to be taken into consideration. In the same way, the safety, and health concerns regarding nuclear energy have made people insecure about investing in nuclear power. A possible solution to make nuclear power more affordable would be taxing fossil fuels to incentive greener alternatives. Given that nuclear power produces no greenhouse gasses, it can become a potential source of green energy in the next years. Nevertheless, coal is still projected to remain the biggest share of the electricity generation. However, in 2020, about 49 plants of coal-generated energy are expected to retire. The coal plants are expected to substitute by gas plants. It is being projected that by 2050, 50-percent of the energy generated in the country would come from nuclear-generated electricity.
We are in front of two different situations. On one hand, we have Australia, a country that has a nuclear infrastructure that is up, and running, but is not willing to go further in deploying and developing nuclear power. On the other we have the United States, a country with a substantial nuclear infrastructure that aims to rely on on more and more of nuclear-generated energy. Each country has its set of problems and solutions. For instance, Australia could rely on nuclear power while keeping their idea of greener alternatives as the country’s ultimate energetic goal. In the same way, the newer technologies related to energy generation and conservations have rendered the public concern on nuclear powers, to an unlikely situation. However, before thinking about generating more energy, both countries have to think of the nuclear wastes the full implementation of nuclear power might create. In the same way, the introduction, or extraction of the plutonium created by nuclear reactors to the environment can bring disastrous consequences to the planet. Given the fact that its main use is to create weapons, it should be closely controlled to avoid accidents and terrorism.
Nevertheless, it is unlikely that nuclear power becomes the primary energy source in both countries, at least in the next 30 years. Many prejudices have to be debunked before the public is willing to trust in an energy that might have disastrous repercussions in our world. Until the public is not entirely educated on the benefits and disadvantages of nuclear power, it will not be able to find complete acceptance in both countries.
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