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Prominent University of Adelaide climate scientist Professor Barry Brook says it’s inevitable that Australia will embrace nuclear energy in the battle against greenhouse gas emissions.

The director of climate science at the university believes that by the end of the century, Australia will need at least 100 gigawatts of electricity coming from nuclear to replace coal, oil and gas sources.

Professor Brook says that given the inevitability of nuclear energy in this country, the current pro-versus-anti nuclear debate needs instead to focus on what kind of nuclear reactor will best serve our needs. His suggestion is that we should be considering IFR – integral fast reactor – technology.

“Integral Fast Reactors are much more efficient at extracting energy from uranium, can use existing nuclear waste for fuel, produce far smaller volumes of waste that does not require long-term geological isolation, and can be operated at low cost and high reliability,” he says.

IFR advocates also promote their safety: they are convection-cooled using liquid metal coolants rather than high-pressure water, protecting against a Fukushima-style catastrophe.

While it’s certain that Brook will have to field criticism from Australia’s anti-nuclear activists, he’s certainly not alone as a “pro-nuclear environmentalist”: Climate Commissioner Tim Flannery is on the record as saying that if it’s a choice between coal and nuclear, the latter should always win: “the dangers of coal as a fuel source … are in my opinion greater than nuclear power”.

However, Flannery believes Australia’s abundance of renewable sources make it unlikely that nuclear power will ever get a foothold here – in contrast to China, which will be simply unable to deliver the energy its population requires. ®

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