If Environmentalists are Serious About Net Zero, They Must Go Nuclear

14 June 2023

3.5 MINS

During a recent visit to Australia, high-profile environmentalist Tea Törmänen slammed what she labelled Australia’s ‘dangerous and unscientific’ opposition to nuclear power.

RePlanet – the organisation Törmänen is a part of – is unashamed in its support for nuclear energy as a part of the global clean energy transition.

As their website states:

Nuclear power reduces greenhouse gas emissions, so why are we shutting it down while fossil fuels are still going strong? Advanced nuclear power is a key ingredient for our clean energy mix alongside solar and wind. We want to #RethinkNuclear.

Here is an environmental group that actually wants to save the planet – not wipe out humans.

Nuclear Power Embraced by Environmentalists –But Not in Australia

In Europe, the concept of a pro-nuclear environmentalist is becoming increasingly common. Since 2022, Finland’s Green party – of which Törmänen is a member – has officially advocated for the technology. In the United Kingdom, too, the Greens are considering backing nuclear energy options.

But in Australia, such sensible environmentalists are hard to come by.

In our country, for the moment, it is the centre-right politicians and activists who are advocating nuclear power – typically for economic, as well as environmental, reasons.

We don’t hear a peep out of Australia’s traditional eco-warriors, most of whom seem to think that intermittent variable renewables – namely, wind and solar – can single-handedly get us to Net Zero.

That may be the case, but we will certainly go broke in the process.

The Solid Scientific Case

The renewables narrative stands in direct contradiction to the most authoritative global engineering, economic, and environmental analyses from organisations like the International Energy Agency (IEA), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – all of which see nuclear technology as a critical aspect of the clean energy transition.

The repeated claim that nuclear power is simply too expensive to be considered – or that it is ‘the most expensive form of energy out there’ – simply doesn’t stack up. A recent OECD study found that, when economic, environmental, and systems-level factors are accounted for, it is actually cheaper than both wind and solar.

In that same analysis, the OECD economists concluded, ‘All credible models show that nuclear energy has an important role to play in global climate change mitigation efforts.’ In fact, the IPCC’s 400-page Global Warming of 1.5°C special report found that the average 1.5°C scenario required a massive increase in nuclear energy (from 394 gigawatts to 1160 gigawatts) by 2050.

Australian environmentalists are shooting themselves in the foot by simultaneously calling for a clean energy transition, while seeking to maintain Australia’s 1990s-era ban on nuclear power generation. Nuclear is the world’s second-largest single source of clean energy (beaten only by hydropower), and the largest in the OECD.

The irony of Australia’s prohibition on nuclear power – we are the only G20 nation to ban the technology – is amplified by the reality that Australia already operates a research reactor near Sydney: ANSTO. In addition, the Royal Australian Navy will operate nuclear-powered submarines within the next few decades, and we currently possess the world’s largest share of uranium reserves (an estimated 30 per cent).

In many ways, Australia is already a nuclear nation.

However, as Törmänen noted, for an advanced economy like Australia to successfully decarbonise while also maintaining our standards of living, we need to harness nuclear power.

The science is simple. As the penetration of intermittent variable renewables into the market increases, so does the cost of electricity. To quote the OECD modelling,

‘… the system costs will rise as the growing share of variable renewables impose greater costs on the grid for stability and flexibility.’

This is why we need a reliable, baseload source of energy generation to supplement the renewables in the grid. This is often coal or gas, but for most low carbon economies it will need to be hydropower, abated gas, or nuclear energy.

Compare the Pair

Many of the countries around the world that enjoy clean, affordable, and reliable energy use either hydro, nuclear, or a combination of the two – think Canada and France, for example.

Within Europe, a comparison between France and Germany is telling. Germany has a far higher penetration of renewables than France, yet it also emits far more per capita than its south-western neighbour. This is because France sources around 70 per cent of its energy from nuclear power – more than making up for its very low renewables penetration.

Incidentally, France also enjoys considerably cheaper electricity and – even with its ageing nuclear fleet – is consistently one of Europe’s biggest net exporters of energy.

Just last month, Germany closed its final three nuclear power plants. And guess what it will be relying on to meet its electricity needs following nuclear’s departure. Coal and gas.

As reported by ABC News:

‘The German government has acknowledged that, in the short term, the country will have to rely more heavily on polluting coal and natural gas to meet its energy needs…’

The facts are clear. If you really want to reach Net Zero, you need to consider nuclear energy – whatever you may feel about the technology.

There absolutely are still questions and legitimate concerns with how this power would look in the Australian context. But those discussions need to be had. Ultimately, for those who care, nuclear power is the only credible way to transition to a low-carbon economy.

If environmentalists in Australia want to see a successful clean energy transition, they had better start embracing nuclear energy.


Originally published at the Spectator Australia. Photo by Markus Distelrath.

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  1. Kim Beazley 14 June 2023 at 7:24 am - Reply

    Excellent article, Cody. I hadn’t heard of Tea Törmänen before. So now her name can be added to the more prominent nuclear advocates like Michael Shellenberger and Bjørn Lomborg.

    This is the conversation that must be had in this country, and soon. Thankfully, the volume is rising.

  2. Neil Naveau 14 June 2023 at 2:23 pm - Reply

    I’m not a journalist or scientist although my grandkids call me a mad scientist.
    The words Net zero, green house gas and climate change all sound major alarm bells.

    Net zero – no such thing. There is a saying that has never changed “There Aint No Free Lunches” somebody will have to pay and most likely the tax payer – you and me.

    Green house gas. By volume, the dry air in Earth’s atmosphere is about 78.08% nitrogen, 20.95 % oxygen, and 0.93% argon. A brew of trace gases accounts for the other approximately 0.04%, including carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and ozone. Much the same as what I was at school. Carbon dioxide is required for our plants to grow, the more the better. Satellite images show that the earth is greening up as a result of the slightly higher levels of CO2. I have a friend who is redirecting the exhaust gases (including CO2 ) from the exhaust pipe of his tractor and directing into the ground as he is sowing his crops to increase the amount of CO2 in the soil to improve the soil and crop production without the need to use chemical fertilisers.

    Climate Change – The biggest affect on climate was Noah’s flood. God judged the world because of it’s wickedness in Noah’s time by sending a flood that destroyed all living things on the earth. This made a massive change in the climate and landscape of the world. The trees and vegetation (and the CO2 they contained) where buried under layers silt. The pressure of the silt caused the vegetation to be converted to coal which is now mined and used to run our power stations. Burning the coal releases the CO2 back into the atmosphere from where came to be used to help the plants and trees to grow. We need trees to grow. They take in CO2 and release Oxygen which we need to breath and so live.

    The biggest affect now on our climate air temperature is the amount of moisture in our atmosphere. Not CO2 or other gases. The sun and solar activity has the greatest affect on the moisture levels and temperature of our atmosphere.

    Why are a lot countries increasing their production of coal fired power stations? Why are European nations starting to pull the pin on Solar and Wind energy? They are finding that solar and wind is not a reliable source of energy. The cost of production and disposal far outweighs the returns from solar and wind.

    Nuclear energy looks clean, but is it. Like coal and the elements for producing solar panels and wind turbines, It requires mining and production. So far not clean either. The biggest concern is the disposal of the nuclear waste. We have seen the results from nuclear power plant “accidents” and the contamination from them.

    I was listening to an ABC program a few years ago of an interview with a scientist (I think it was) discussing this issue of when will Australia build nuclear power stations. The answer was very quick and straight to the point. Australia can’t afford them. They are too expensive.

    What’s the agenda behind this push for nuclear? Its clearly not for the clean energy lie. Have we learnt anything from history?

  3. Ian Moncrieff. 14 June 2023 at 7:51 pm - Reply

    Nuclear is the obvious choice for energy that doesn’t kill birds by the thousands, as do wind farms.

  4. Jim Twelves 15 June 2023 at 8:29 am - Reply

    Cody, brilliant! Thank you so much for your painstaking research. I particularly like this line:
    ‘The irony of Australia’s prohibition on nuclear power – we are the only G20 nation to ban the technology – is amplified by the reality that Australia already operates a research reactor near Sydney: ANSTO’.
    I come from a land far away (the UK), surrounded by sea, much like Australia actually. And back in the 1970 I taught my students about the ideal location for nuclear power plants. We used to say, close but not too close to major cities, so the cost of transition lines is not excessive, but close enough so that you don’t lose too much power in the transmission. But also on the coast, so you can have ready access to free cooling water from the sea, so that you don’t deplete the precious water for humans and farming. ‘Simples’ as the meerkats might say!
    But I have thought of another advantage for nuclear, particular for our day and generation. Our major old coal-fired power stations are close to cities, sensible, and they already have the transmission lines. The cost of systematically replacing them with nuclear would be far cheaper than wind or solar that are not base load providers and are totally lethal to the environment and wild life, to say nothing of our trade deficit.

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