The Pencil Guy: Hourann's illogical blog

Opportunity comes knocking, but the Premier doesn’t notice

Uranium mine buildings and lake
The hideous devil that Alan Carpenter is protecting us from; photo by Stephen Codrington

A few days ago, it was reported that the European Union’s ambassador to Australia would use his trip out west this week to mention that his crowd would be interested in buying uranium from us, if we offered. Today, Alan Carpenter’s response has been to keep his head in the sand, insist that the sky will fall if we add uranium to our list of exports, and mumble something about preserving a power source for the future. (This is separate from the question of nuclear power for WA: I’m inclined to think that since we have relatively small requirements, and it takes ages to build nuclear plants, we should just jump to renewable technology — assuming local producers can get over their obsession with coal.)

Europe isn’t like China or India; it has lots of existing power stations that won’t go away in the next few decades, and it needs supplies from a place that isn’t planning civil war anytime soon. All of the world’s nuclear reprocessing expertise is in Europe, so it’s safe to say that radioactive waste will be properly managed.

The hand-wringing about whether we’d be asked to take back that waste is touching, but I see no stampede by plant operators wanting to offload onto South Australia or the Territory. More importantly, though, is uranium really the only natural resource for which we should get morally antsy about supplier responsibilities and end-of-life concerns? (All that iron ore leaving the Pilbara goes straight to Chinese steel mills which don’t exactly have perfect environmental records, then onto building sites that’d make an Aussie union heavy faint). And while uranium mining is definitely dangerous, it’s not that much more so than other mining processes we happily tolerate. (Until recently, no one in Perth had heard of the lead mine at Wiluna). It’s also worth noting that there’s already a (small) waste dump on the Nullarbor.

So I have a hard time seeing any logical coherence in the continued opposition to uranium mining in WA.

  1. The thing about power in Australia is that we’ve somehow managed to locate most major cities relatively near reasonably high-grade coal deposits, which means that we don’t have a lot of the cost associated with coal-fired power that other places do – most countries have the cost of transporting coal from the source to the power station if the stations close to the consumers, or the energy loss of transporting the power from the power station to the consumers is the station’s near the coal. Either way, it’s a significant cost that we just don’t have here. Which is largely why we have some of the cheapest electricity in the world.
    It also makes it that much harder for alternative power sources to compete, because the Australian populace is used to not paying very much for their electricity and for the most part probably doesn’t want that to change. (I could make some comment about Howard’s spending at the last election showing how attached the average Aussie is to their hip pocket, but… oh wait, I just did. Never mind, then.)
    If they start charging for greenhouse emissions, or go for clean coal, then alternative sources will have a better chance. (iirc, figures in the SMH today said that coal was $35 per kW h while the likely cost of hot rocks would be ~$45 per kW h. Clean coal was about $60 per kW h. Not, of course, that the SMH should be considered a reliable source of such figures.)

    The thing that I’ve found particularly interesting about the Esperance port fiasco is that everyone’ screaming about omg lead! but the nickel’s barely blipped on the radar. (For the record: nickel is defined as hazardous by Worksafe, nickel oxide is a carcinogen and inhaling it increases the risk of respiratory cancer – don’t know how much, but I don’t think I’d like to be a worker on the Esperance-Kal railway, even though they do get the workers a certain disance away when such a train comes through.)

  2. [...] about WA’s boom coming to an end: I do believe that if the State government were to lift its silly ban, selling uranium to China would keep us prosperous for quite some time [...]

Care to leave a comment?