Think outside the nuclear square: expert

15-Think outside the nuclear square expert

Peter Trute


(Australian Associated Press)

Would it be crazy for Australia to mine the sun for energy instead of going nuclear?

A leading energy researcher says things that sound crazy now might be better investments in the nation’s energy future.

Professor Vassilios Agelidis, director of the Australian Energy Research Institute at the University of New South Wales, says Australia lacks the expertise to support a nuclear industry, meaning it would have to import everything except the uranium.

“Discussing nuclear as part of the mix is not even thinking outside the square, it’s thinking inside the square as far as I’m concerned because other countries have done it, so what’s innovative about that?” he said.

Australia could, for example, create a new solar-to-hydrogen export industry, Prof Agelidis said, if it had a strategic, visionary approach.

Building large-scale solar in the middle of the country and using the electricity generated and piped-in water to create hydrogen for fuel cells is one example of the potential for energy innovation.

“It’s like mining but like mining the sun,” Prof Agelidis said.

Nuclear power dominated the news agenda last week when nuclear proponent Dr Alan Finkel became Australia’s new chief scientist and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Australia could conceivably pursue uranium processing.

A week later, the news cycle has moved on, with federal environment minister Greg Hunt due to speak about wind, solar and battery storage at a Shanghai energy conference on Tuesday.

Prof Agelidis, whose institute concentrates on turning energy research into practical applications, says the brief focus on nuclear highlights the lack of a national energy strategy.

The Energy White Paper released by the federal government this year advocates a technology-neutral approach to energy investment and says it will wait for the findings of a South Australian royal commission currently investigating nuclear energy.

Prof Agelidis says the market needs direction on the nation’s energy mix, and governments have to consider more than just keeping the lights on.

An energy strategy should be aimed at boosting innovation, industry and education and take defence and geopolitical considerations into account.

“Great new industries – they can be innovative as well,” Prof Agelidis said.

There is no proposal for a hydrogen industry in existence but Prof Agelidis says new thinking is needed.

“I know it’s crazy. But if we are going to go down the path of an expensive solution for this country with no export capabilities, why don’t we invest in something that can also export for energy?” he said.

Prof Agelidis says he is not opposed to nuclear power but notes current barriers, including the lack of education programs and expertise, and finding an acceptable reactor site.

He says an energy summit is needed to build a national strategy.

“Thinking outside of the square is what we need and that’s not what’s happening at the moment,” he said.


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