Energy Sustainability and Human Dignity

Energy Sustainability and Human Dignity


Energy is the lifeblood of our society.

It’s tied to the cost of our food, clothing, housing, healthcare and the inventions of our modern societies. The less it costs and the fewer resources it consumes, the more society flourishes. Human development progressed after we replaced energy sources that used a lot of effort to harvest such as wood burning and draught animals. From 1AD to 1650AD per capita GDP did not increase and people lived and died in poverty. Burning wood and growing crops only produced about ten units of energy for each unit of effort invested. This was just enough for subsistence living and nothing for surplus development[i]

After 1650AD coal burning started and societies went from gaining ten units of energy at subsistence levels to thirty units for every unit expended. The world grew and flourished from surplus energy. Nuclear power can deliver vastly better gains. Current plants provide a hundred units of energy for every unit invested. Newer fourth generation types such as molten salt reactors could see this multiplier double again. Atom for atom, splitting the uranium nucleus gives us 20 million times more energy than burning an atom of carbon.

Most of us hoped that switching to low carbon energy sources would create a system with reduced environmental impact. Unfortunately attempting this with wind and solar ignores history’s valuable lesson – increased energy density drives wealth and creativity.

Harvesting our environment for low grade energy using wind and solar yields poor returns for our efforts reverting to values of around ten similar to when we burned wood. Worse still, a high price will be paid by our native habitats and rural landscapes. Society cannot be held hostage to the vagaries of the weather. Load shedding by industry is raising the white flag on our economy. The risks of failure with randomly variable power sources are so high, and their environmental toll so great, that we must embrace a sustainable large scale roll out of nuclear energy.

Unintended Consequences

We know from history that technologies can have greater impacts than we initially recognise. In the 1950s the public was swayed by the freedom of private motor vehicle use. This led to urban sprawl and the destruction of public transport infrastructure such as the removal of Sydney’s tram network. The car came to dominate the design of our cities and towns. Consumerism grew to match our sprawl and required the ability of cars to carry goods from huge car parks in a way that individuals on public transport could never match.

Consumerism has now found fertile ground in distributed and micro energy systems with the rush to subsidised solar PV combined in some cases with batteries. The equipment is consumer grade and, in the hands of people who did not sign up to be micro power station managers, it’s questionable how these systems will perform or last. Under ideal conditions, they use at least twelve times the materials per unit of energy of a modern nuclear power plant and generate twelve times the emissions.

The trouble is, as the Canberra Battery Testing Centre recently found, battery storage fails quite often with only 25% working as they were supposed to. The rest had problems ranging from temporary breakdowns to complete failure. Failure of PV systems and batteries, or early upgrading to newer technology, means they become high carbon emitting, materials intensive sources of electronic pollution.

Sustainability of Nuclear Energy

The United Nations[ii], the European Union Joint Research Council[iii] and EDF[iv] have reported on the life Cycle Assessment of electricity generation options. They found that nuclear energy has lower emissions than any other generating source including wind and solar. Current nuclear plants have emissions as low as 4 gr CO2/kWh. Wind is typically around 30 gr CO2/kWh but with the addition of material’s hungry batteries emissions climb to 110 gr CO2/kWh. Solar is similarly afflicted with emissions intensities up around 70 gr CO2/kWh inclusive of batteries even in ideal conditions.

Nations and states with nuclear energy such as France, Sweden and Ontario consistently have amongst the lowest emissions and no nation, without strong backup from its neighbours, has yet achieved low carbon emissions with wind or solar.

The energy density of nuclear fission drives its very low materials consumption. If the term “renewable” is to mean anything sensible then nuclear energy is the best example.

In addition to the climate change potential, the UN report expanded its comparisons to a further thirteen environmental metrics covering things such as exotic minerals, particulate matter, pollution of the land and seas and water use. When it came to issues of non-cancer forming human toxicity, nuclear energy and wind were equal, beaten only by small scale hydro. As a source of human cancer forming toxicity nuclear energy carries less risk than almost all other energy systems including wind and solar and is beaten only by small hydro.

When all factors were tallied in the UN report, nuclear energy performed better on environmental grounds than wind and PV and was only beaten by small hydro.

The Human Toll

Finally, we come to the human toll. The large nuclear plants being built by France are expensive because the French are rebuilding its industrial and human capacity and inventiveness. As the roll out continues, costs and timelines will reduce and the result will be secure low carbon energy for France and Europe more widely.

Cross the border into Germany and we see the fearful toll on humanity and the environment being extracted by German energy policy. As the war in Ukraine rages, Germany leads the charge in funding Russian war crimes by purchasing oil and gas. This action flows directly from a Greens’ party led push to turn off nuclear power plants in favour of increased gas and coal burning.

Germany could turn its nuclear power plants back on. It could reduce emissions; it could increase arms shipments and it could help to save Ukrainian lives, but chooses to support Putin instead.

Solar PV extracts a similar human toll. In Australia we could choose to invest in our industry and human talent by a nation-wide roll out of nuclear power plants. Instead, we choose to import PV systems from China manufactured at the lowest cost by slave labour[v]. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has placed millions of indigenous Uyghur and Kazakh citizens from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region into what the government calls “surplus labour” and “labour transfer” programmes. Here, some 45% of the world’s polysilicon is made and 90 Chinese and international companies have supply chains which are affected. If your solar gear is made in China, chances are it’s on the backs of slave labour and that’s what underpins the CSIRO and AEMO’s claims for cost reductions in solar energy.

Labor’s Direction

Our new Government needs to put the labour back into Labor. We cannot hitch our energy security onto low-cost imports of polluting solar and wind equipment requiring continuous replacement from places like China and India.

We must invest in our own human capital just as France, Canada and South Korea are doing with their nuclear energy programmes.


[i] Decouple podcast and Commodities Investor Leigh Goehring

[ii] Life Cycle Assessment of Electricity Generation Options. United Nations Economic Commissions for Europe 2021

[iii] EU Joint Research Centre technical assessment of Nuclear Energy. Technical assessment of nuclear energy with respect to the ‘do no significant harm’ criteria of Regulation (EU) 2020/852 (‘Taxonomy Regulation’)

[iv] Life Cycle Analysis of the EDF nuclear fleet, 2019


  • Gary Pike
    Posted at 17:56h, 24 June Reply

    Easy to read and understand post. Can’t understand why people are so anti nuclear. People should make the effort to compare then would lean toward NUCLEAR POWER.

    • Rob Parker
      Posted at 19:22h, 24 June Reply

      Thanks Gary. I am finding a lot of people are coming round.
      We have to keep reaching out and educating

  • Harry Degenaar
    Posted at 08:54h, 25 June Reply

    The post clearly indicates that Energy Returned on Energy Invested (ERoEI) Society applies, with Nuclear Energy scoring the highest return and Wind & Solar Energy the lowest.

    • Rob Parker
      Posted at 11:03h, 25 June Reply

      Thanks Harry. I relied heavily on the Weisbach paper on EROEI. I didn’t specifically address the EROEI concept in the interests of brevity

  • Peter Cunningham
    Posted at 11:26h, 25 June Reply

    The problem I see with this latest posting by Rob is that it is sensible, logical and practical.
    In today’s society none of those matters … Agendas and Alarm are what matters …. and that on ANY subject be it Guns, Climate, Energy, Virus, Identification, Digital economy and whatever.

    The best that can happen is that WE use the excellent information that flows from the undying efforts of Rob to achieve a positive outcome for both humans and the planet.


  • Geoffrey Spence
    Posted at 16:50h, 25 June Reply

    Well done Rob. Keep it up. Unfortunately it looks like we are about to spend millions on new grid infrastructure to support wind and solar, money which would be better invested in nuclear energy.

    • Rob Parker
      Posted at 17:22h, 25 June Reply

      Yes Geoff but that doesn’t mean we give in. You are doing your bit with your letters and we can never let up.
      The stakes are too high

  • Jim Bain
    Posted at 15:18h, 28 June Reply

    Nuclear energy would seem the obvious option to replace coal as an emission free, cost effective, non invasive reliable form of power generation.
    Stephen Wilson from the University of Queensland in his recent study has estimated the long term cost of nuclear power at $76 per MWh.

    • Rob Parker
      Posted at 16:05h, 28 June Reply

      Thanks for your comment Jim
      The analysis of the total system cost of electricity using nuclear varies greatly with the amount you put into the grid
      Our results show that around 76% is a good level to ensure the capacity factors of the nuclear plants remain high and the costs low.This system also uses 17% solar and 7% hydro plus various storage devices

      We have used projected costs of both large South Korean reactors and the smaller BWRX 300
      We get an all up system cost of generation of $62/MWh using Nth of a kind BWRX 300
      If only the first deployment cost was used the system generation is about $85/MWh
      If we used a blend of small and large plants we get $78/MWh

      Note, these values of costs are to be compared to the NEM wholesale prices

  • John Dartnall
    Posted at 10:08h, 29 June Reply

    Rob, I find your article very meaningful, and I am very enthusiastic for the future of Nuclear. You point out the potential for improvements in nuclear such as in the development of molten salt reactors. I am also very aware of the potential environmental burden of the current photovoltaic technology with its somewhat chaotic introduction into the energy mix. For a long time, solar experts have been saying that solar has a place as part of the energy mix and is unlikely to be the total solution. Such solar experts have always been aware of its limitations and the need for harmonious integration of solar with base load generation. I see value in PV for remote power generation in agriculture, such as for water lifting and water distribution. I see value in roof mounted PV in which the problem of on-site direct use of the PV power is overcome. I believe that this on-site direct use is PV’s big problem. Thermal storage for water heating and building comfort are potential ways of storing PV energy as it is available. The manufacturers still have a lot of inventive work to do to give the end user equipment to solve this problem. Unless we humans work rationally as you are suggesting in addressing the problems of energy mix, we will regress rather that progress. Regards, John

    • Rob Parker
      Posted at 10:33h, 29 June Reply

      Thank you for your considered response. One of our generation mixes we ran through our energy model uses 76% nuclear and 17% solar and 7% hydro. It has extremely low emissions and is the lowest cost on a system levelised cost basis
      You can see the output here:

      It was our attempt to look at the harmonious integration of solar with base load
      The work that my colleague Dr Robert Barr from Electric Power Consulting has achieved with the Energy model needs further recognition as a tool for examining all mixes of energy generation
      It can be viewed here

  • Meg Walker
    Posted at 12:53h, 30 June Reply

    Hi Rob. Thanks for posting this clear article. Helpful for those of us new to learning about energy systems and policy,

    • Rob Parker
      Posted at 14:38h, 30 June Reply

      Thanks Meg
      I’m pleased you got something out of it.
      Energy density is really so closely linked to our environmental footprint though we must take care to not create other issues

  • Malcolm Stephens
    Posted at 13:02h, 30 June Reply

    Very convincing and clear
    Please could someone ensure that Minister Bowen reads it
    One of the great stumbling blocks to progress is the – absurd -obsession that nothing can be done and nothing can even be investigated until there is some kind of cross party consensus
    Malcolm Stephens

    • Rob Parker
      Posted at 14:41h, 30 June Reply

      Amen to that Malcolm
      We don’t need anyone’s permission to get stuck in an learn
      I’m heading off to Canada and the USA with others to investigate new nuclear power plants
      We’ll keep you posted

  • John Bennetts
    Posted at 17:24h, 02 July Reply

    Many thanks for this article, Rob.

    It is a prime example of clarity and persuasiveness on a subject that has been very dear to my heart for over a decade.

    It takes great skill to find the words. Well done.

    • Rob Parker
      Posted at 17:37h, 02 July Reply

      Thank you John and yes I tried for clarity. The ideas in the article were rattling around for some time and needed connecting.
      I invite you to share it with others. Low carbon generators with high energy density are mankind’s future. We also need to ensure we don’t becomes slaves to energy rather than its masters.

  • David Deane
    Posted at 01:02h, 02 October Reply

    Silent support for nuclear energy from the Liberal and National parties has been a total failure – Time for Plan B.

    • Rob Parker
      Posted at 13:31h, 04 October Reply

      Its true we don’t have the anti-nuclear legislation rescinded and that’s a source of bitter disappointment for some coalition pollies.
      I think that many pollies are trying to fix things and are doing their best. More and more are becoming better informed.
      It would have been better under Angus Taylor’s watch if a proper investigation and ongoing programme of collaboration with nuclear powered nations had taken place
      We must never forget however where the greatest harm is being done and that’s with the Greens and ALP opponents of nuclear energy. They do the greatest damage to our climate and energy security ambitions.
      These two parties need to be held to account in a more forthright manner.

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