A respondent to my recent blog opposing more dams on the Clutha River suggested NZ should go nuclear. I wish it was a wind-up, but the myth of cheap safe nuclear needs to be exposed whenever it is raised.
I’m happy to summarise why Labour is so resolute in our opposition to nuclear power in NZ.
Nuclear waste remains dangerous for thousands of years. Not hundreds, but thousands. So long that it is hard to comprehend.
The environmental risks posed by toxic radioactive waste are real. So are accidents. Remember Chernobyl?
A nuclear power plant would be NZ’s biggest security risk. NZ is a low-risk country – not a no-risk country.
These are serious issues, as is the misuse of nuclear materials for weapons. The consequences of nuclear war are so dreadful we seldom talk about them these days.
These realities are enough for me, but some people still say “do it, it’s cheap”. But it’s not.
Nuclear would be far, far more expensive for NZ than our renewables, for a number of reasons.
Firstly, they don’t come small. The high capital cost of constructing an individual nuclear power plant means large plants are required in order to recoup the multi-billion dollar investments required.
Because of the small size of the NZ market (which needs an average of around 130MW of new capacity each year), if you built a 1000MW nuclear plant you would build 7 years ahead of demand. You would have paid for 7 times as much as you need that first year. That means the effective unit cost of the power you actually need is much higher.
Like all other types of generation, nuclear is sometimes unusable while maintenance is carried out. So you if you were reliant on a big chunk of power like that, you’d need some extra reserve. A number of smaller renewable generating facilities provide that diversity without having to have extra reserve generation and so are cheaper for us.
You would have to import the nuclear fuel, and pay for the cost of an independent nuclear regulator and safety agency.
As if that’s not enough, the costs of decommissioning are huge, as is the cost of securely disposing of waste for thousands of years. The UK looked at those costs recently and from memory found the decommissioning costs alone were close to the original construction costs.
So, notwithstanding the Nats relaxing foreing investment rules in NZ, I doubt that Mr Burns or Homer will be coming to NZ anytime soon.