A Christian view of energy generation.

In response to an article about wind energy, a friend, Fred, asked me what my Christian response to our rapidly changing climate was. This is my response:

Well, Fred, there are a number of comments to be made.

First, there is an assumption in your question that is at least very open to debate. Climate has always changed and always will. One of our national poems captures it well when it speaks of '...a land of droughts and flooding rains...' That song was written a hundred years ago! But how much of that is caused by human intervention is at the least debatable.

From an environmental impact perspective both wind and solar have strong negative impacts. Aside from the visual pollution the impacts of large scale installations on wildlife and flora is significant. Have a look at the figures for the number of birds killed by wind farms. Especially the number of raptors. And what effect on the environment will large installations of solar panels have. Plants that will be perpetually shaded. Animals that will therefore have their habitats substantially changed. Over large areas of the country.

Second comes the question of how we responsibly look after our environment and look after the people as well. In our energy focussed society we need efficient, reliable base-load power. Wind and solar energy cannot provide that. So we have to look elsewhere. As I see it there are only three broadly applicable options:

  • Coal.
  • Gas.
  • Nuclear.

Some countries have successfully used hydro-electric power, but that will only work where there is a plentiful and consistent supply of water.

Both gas and coal fired electricity generation requires the use of carbon based fuels, which can be a disadvantage to the environment, though I notice that both of them have made a lot of progress in cleaning up their processes.

Nuclear energy is derided by many - but not all - people, but I reckon that properly designed and operated nuclear power stations can provide very large amounts of safe, clean, reliable baseload energy over long periods of time.

The main concern of many people WRT nuclear power has to do with that word 'safe'. In the many conversations I have had with people, three words always come up:

  • Hiroshima.
  • Chernobyl.
  • Fukushima.

To which I often add

  • Three Mile Island.

Hiroshima. Actually that was not a nuclear power issue, but a nuclear weapons issue. Whether we have nuclear power stations or not won't make a whit of difference to the superpowers who will have nuclear weapons whether we like it or not.

Chernobyl. A genuine disaster at a nuclear power station that should never have been built. Safety standards that were virtually non-existent.

Fukushima. Second generation nuclear power plant that ran faultlessly for forty years before a monster earthquake and tsunami flooded the water cooling system, which hadn't been properly made watertight.

Three Mile Island was the only other meltdown. That was contained pretty quickly with no loss of life.

Compared with other forms of power generation nuclear has a pretty good safety record.

With the much greater safety standards of the fourth generation nuclear power plants, with the possibility of smaller, decentralised plants giving the potential of much greater energy security, I reckon nuclear is the most responsible form of energy generation. It takes care of the environment and provides abundant reliable and secure energy for large numbers of people.

The issue of nuclear waste is often raised, and rightly so. I reckon with Australia's vast open areas, much of which are climatically and geological stable, we should establish a nuclear waste storage and recycling facility. We would have a very viable industry on a relatively small part of the country, and we would do the world a favour by giving it a place to store its nuclear waste. An industry that could afford to employ the best scientists to find ways of recycling the waste.