“Nuclear Power Will Kill the Coal Industry”
Many reader’s will be familiar with Australia’s Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) and their now-slightly-infamous “nuclear energy threatens coal jobs!” position.
But could nuclear power really “kill the coal industry” in Australia? I don’t think so.
Total production of raw black coal in Australia in 2006 was 405 Mt (million tonnes). This production represented a small increase of 1.6% over the 2005 figure of 399 Mt. After processing, a total of 317 Mt of metallurgical and thermal black coal were available for both domestic use and export in 2006.
(I’ve taken these statistics from the Australian Coal Association website.)
In 2006, Australia’s domestic consumption of black coal for electricity generation amounted to 62.4 million tonnes of black coal. Hence, domestic electricity generators consume only about 20% of Australia’s output of processed black coal. Other domestic industrial uses of coal, such as steel production, account for about three percent, with the entire remaining 77% being exported.
(The ACA’s statistics refer exclusively to black coal – however, brown coal is a much smaller resource, relatively, and since we have the statistics for black coal, I’ll limit the discussion to black coal.)
Hence, under the worst case scenario (or best case scenario), we may envisage a future in which every coal-fired generator in Australia is closed down and replaced by nuclear power plants. This would result in cutting Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions in half – at the cost of a 20% reduction in coal demand. If we were to see half of Australia’s coal fired plants closed down and replaced by nuclear energy, we will see a 10% reduction in coal revenue.
I don’t think a 10% to 20% downturn in revenue constitutes “killing the coal industry” – and I really don’t think that the coal industry has anything to worry about for the foreseeable future.