Energy efficiency versus nuclear power

A comparison of the McKinsey (2008) and Switkowski (2006) reports shows that energy efficiency can deliver reductions in greenhouse emissions much more quickly than nuclear power, much more cheaply, and without unwanted by-products. These two scenarios are comparable in that they reduce annual CO2-e emissions by 66-70 million tonnes (Mt):

McKinsey report:

  • Energy efficiency largely responsible for an annual 12% (66Mt) reduction in emissions by 2030 compared to 1990 emissions.
  • Cost savings from energy efficiency are such that overall emissions can be reduced by 35% (191 Mt) below 1990 levels by 2030 at no net cost.

Switkowski report:

  • Nuclear power has no capacity to contribute to emissions reductions in Australia by 2020 and limited capacity to reduce emissions by 2030 (except in the unlikely event of a near-term decision to build reactors).
  • Building 12 power reactors by the year 2050 reduces annual emissions by 8% (70 Mt) compared to business-as-usual if all the reactors displace black coal. (In a ‘fast build’ scenario 12 reactors could come on-line sooner.)
  • Capital cost: A$48-72 billion (Switkowski, 2009)

Over a 50 year lifespan, the 12 reactors in the nuclear scenario would:

  • Produce 18,000 tonnes of high-level nuclear waste (spent nuclear fuel).
  • Be responsible for 430 million tonnes of low-level radioactive tailings waste at uranium mines (assuming that it is sourced from Olympic Dam).
  • Produce 180 tonnes of weapons-useable plutonium (sufficient for 18,000 nuclear weapons).