Nuclear policy meltdown

Assuming nuclear-generated power for New Zealand is a non-issue, what should be our stance on it globally?

Keith Locke says:

Japan, the only country to be attacked with nuclear bombs, with huge loss of life, is now in the midst of another nuclear disaster which puts in question the whole future of the nuclear industry. It may sound the death knell of nuclear power, not only in Japan, but world-wide.


New Zealand could be using its nuclear-free status to take on the nuclear industry. We are well placed to be at the forefront of the international campaign to phase-out of nuclear power plants and promote the renewable energy alternatives. Green Parties all around the world are taking up this cause …

The Greens recently called for a ban on yellowcake transit through New Zealand. Despite Australian assurances that under their policy and safeguards, the shipments could only be used for non-violent civilian purposes, they undermined New Zealand's "proud nuclear-free history and the blood, sweat and tears of activists in the `80s who fought to entrench our nuclear-free status on the world stage," said Gareth Hughes.

But here is George Monbiot:

The nuclear disaster unfolding in Japan is bad enough; the nuclear disaster unfolding in China could be even worse. “What disaster?”, you ask. The decision today by the Chinese government to suspend approval of new atomic power plants. If this suspension were to become permanent, the power those plants would have produced is likely to be replaced by burning coal. While nuclear causes calamities when it goes wrong, coal causes calamities when it goes right, and coal goes right a lot more often than nuclear goes wrong …

I despise and fear the nuclear industry as much as any other green … But, sound as the roots of the anti-nuclear movement are, we cannot allow historical sentiment to shield us from the bigger picture. Even when nuclear power plants go horribly wrong, they do less damage to the planet and its people than coal-burning stations operating normally.

Coal, the most carbon-dense of fossil fuels, is the primary driver of manmade climate change. If its combustion is not curtailed, it could kill millions of times more people than nuclear power plants have done so far …

Coal also causes plenty of other environmental damage, far worse than the side-effects of nuclear power production: from mountaintop removal to acid rain and heavy metal pollution. An article in Scientific American points out that the fly ash produced by a coal-burning power plant

“carries into the surrounding environment 100 times more radiation than a nuclear power plant producing the same amount of energy.”

Of course it’s not a straight fight between coal and nuclear ... But we’ll still need to generate electricity, and not all renewable sources are appropriate everywhere. While producing solar power makes perfect sense in North Africa, in the UK, by comparison to both wind and nuclear, it’s a waste of money and resources. Abandoning nuclear power as an option narrows our choices just when we need to be thinking as broadly as possible.

David Suzuki says nuclear energy is not renewable, therefore by definition not sustainable.

James Lovelock -- despite dire consequences of an accident, the problem of waste, and industry links with nuclear armament -- says it is the only green solution: “I am a Green and I entreat my friends in the movement to drop their wrongheaded objection to nuclear energy”.

I want to know:

  1. What’s the alternative?
  2. Is Keith just 'being the change' between a long-term aspirational global view and the medium-term pragmatic one?
  3. In other words, if he doesn't know the answer to 1, above, does it matter? 
  4. What does 'nuclear free New Zealand' mean? Do we want it to mean something different from what it used to mean -- disarmament?

Here is some other useful stuff about global nuclear energy reliance.