Physical Insights

An independent scientist’s observations on society, technology, energy, science and the environment. “Modern science has been a voyage into the unknown, with a lesson in humility waiting at every stop. Many passengers would rather have stayed home.” – Carl Sagan

“Nuclear Power Will Kill the Coal Industry”

with 3 comments

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.


Written by Luke Weston

August 31, 2008 at 8:48 am

3 Responses

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  1. I posted a similar comment. Different sources yielding different statistics, but the conclusion is the same. However, I think consistent conclusions from diverse source material further strengthens the point – that nuclear power posses little if any risk to the Australian coal industry.

    Did you see the post on this ad at NEI. I enjoyed the more subtle point they derived from the ad… Why doesn’t the coal industry feel this threat from the solar or wind industries???


    August 31, 2008 at 9:30 am

  2. “I enjoyed the more subtle point they derived from the ad… Why doesn’t the coal industry feel this threat from the solar or wind industries???”

    Er… Ed, didn’t I try to make the point some time ago on your blog about the ineffectiveness of solar and wind, and didn’t you claim that nuclear is a good stopgap measure for the next several decades, but that renewables would eventually replace nuclear power?


    August 31, 2008 at 9:01 pm

  3. I regard Australia as responsible for emissions from exported coal and LNG in the sense that we are not obliged to sell them. If the domestic carbon cap declines at say 2% annually perhaps this could also be applied to fossil fuel exports. Thus the customer will have to cut back as well though this may create some legal headaches. It appears that within a decade Australia and the USA will be the last remaining major coal exporters with Asia having become a major net importer. Continued export spot price increases of 70% a year must stifle demand. The Energy Watch Group predicts world coal production will peak around 2025. Then what?

    John Newlands

    August 31, 2008 at 9:17 pm

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