An energy source that can produce electricity without the need for fossil fuels, hydrocarbons or coal is an “essential” element in a country’s energy mix, the International Energy Agency has said.
It added that nuclear power was also needed, because it produces less carbon dioxide than fossil fuels.
But, it said, it was also “a critical factor in energy security” because it was the cheapest, most reliable source of electricity.
“A low carbon energy source such as nuclear power is needed in a rapidly changing world,” said Dr Chris Wiles, the head of the IEA’s energy and climate group.
“It provides a low-carbon energy supply that is clean, reliable and low carbon and is more environmentally friendly than other sources.”
In other words, nuclear power’s role in the energy mix needs to be considered.
The IEA is not just a body which reviews research and advises governments.
It also acts as a watchdog on what governments should do with the energy they get from renewable sources.
It has also set targets for nations to achieve energy security, which it describes as being “fostered by a comprehensive approach to energy development, including energy-related investments”.
So while nuclear power could be good for Australia’s economy, it might be a bad idea for our national security, the IAEA said.
What does it mean?
The IAEH said nuclear power produced about 1.2 gigawatts (GW) of electricity in 2016, the most recent year for which data is available.
That’s about enough to power around 3 million homes.
The United States produces roughly the same amount of electricity from wind, solar and hydroelectric power.
In Australia, the national energy market is a market that allows the electricity supplied by the power sector to be sold to the rest of the electricity market.
In contrast, the rest are charged by the National Energy Market, where the electricity generated by nuclear power comes from.
That makes the nuclear industry less competitive than hydroelectric, wind or solar.
It’s not just about nuclear power.
“We do not yet know if nuclear power provides the energy security that we need to meet the energy needs of our future, so nuclear power should not be excluded from the energy market,” said IEA spokesman Tim Buckley.
However, he said there was “no clear consensus” on how nuclear power might be better for Australia.
“The reality is that it is not clear that it delivers the same level of security or certainty of security that other forms of power generation do,” he said.
So what are the pros and cons of nuclear?
Dr Wiles said the IEC’s assessment is that the nuclear energy market in Australia was not as competitive as other sources.
“Nuclear power provides us with a reliable, cheap, reliable energy source and is generally seen as the best energy source,” he told the ABC.
However there are “serious problems” with the current energy market, including high prices and limited competition.
The country’s electricity market is dominated by the nuclear sector, which has a market share of about 30 per cent, according to the Institute of Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.
Dr Buckley said the energy sector was not necessarily the worst energy provider in Australia.
In fact, there were “significant” areas of improvement over the last decade, he told ABC Radio Canberra.
“There are areas of improvements in Australia where nuclear power can play a role, but it’s not as much of an energy security issue as it was in the 1990s and early 2000s,” he added.
“If the country wanted to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels and get away from coal and gas, then the nuclear market was probably a better option.”
The IEC also said Australia could improve its nuclear security by taking action to make the industry more transparent.
“By making the energy supply of the nuclear power industry more accessible, it could increase the level of confidence that the sector will be able to manage its own supply, protect its own operations and maintain its own standards,” the report said.
But Dr Buckley says the IEEA’s report does not address the question of how to make nuclear power more transparent, or how much nuclear power there is in Australia, since Australia’s National Electricity Market is managed by a separate regulator, the Australian Energy Market Operator.
That means there is no federal or state regulator overseeing the sector.
What do the experts think?
The report is a “significant milestone”, said Dr Matthew Rimmer, from the Australian National University’s Centre for Energy Security and Global Security.
“This is a very important report that provides the framework for understanding what is needed to secure Australia’s energy security and to provide certainty for all Australians, including the industry,” he wrote on Twitter.
“I welcome it as an important step towards achieving that objective.”
Dr Buckley told the Australian Financial Review that the IHEA’s assessment of nuclear power as an energy source was not “impressive”.
“I think the IHSE should have been more optimistic about the value of nuclear energy