Ron Smith and nuclear power

In the latest issue of the New Zealand International Review (November/December 2007, pp. 2-5), there is an article by Dr. Ron Smith, who is head of international relations at the Political Science department at the University of Waikato. Smith is a regular contributor to the Review and his latest article advocates the introduction of nuclear power to New Zealand.

Here is the ACT connection: in the party’s formative phase, Smith was foreign affairs spokesman and was quoted in some media reports around 1996. Although I don’t have exact figures on hand at the moment, I believe he was ranked at around 15 on the ACT list in 1996. I’m not sure of his involvement today, but I think he must have dropped his level of involvement, as he was not on the list at all in 2005 (or 2002 or 1999, as far as I can make out). One reason Smith may have lost interest in ACT is that Derek Quigley took over the foreign affairs role in fairly short order and Smith therefore lost his niche.

However, his ideas are clearly still closely aligned with ACT policy. In the Review article, he first criticises the nuclear-free policy and quotes the Somers Report of 1992, which concluded that there was a minimal risk from nuclear ships. Says Smith:

In the light of this it seems simply perverse to maintain a ban on something which is evidently harmless. This would be the case whatever the political consequences of doing so might be. If it turned out that the effect of maintaining such a ban was adversely to effect [sic] relations with the world’s remaining super-power and a major trading partner, this would provide an additional and cogent reason for seriously addressing the matter. The fact that we are evidently unable to do so speaks volumes for the extent to which adherence to anti-nuclear dogma seems to cripple the thought processes of otherwise rational persons.

Similar arguments have been put forward in numerous ACT publications over the years. An essay by Ken Shirley in Liberal Thinking (2003) comes to mind in particular. Like Shirley, Smith points out that hospitals and universities use nuclear technology, so the nuclear-free claim is inaccurate. I would agree that the nuclear-free brigade does get over shrill and self-righteous at times, all for the sake of “national identity”, and the great lather that campaigners work themselves up into over semantics is something that I have never particularly cared for.

But the remainder of Smith’s article is a little odd. He attempts to argue that nuclear power would be cheaper and misleadingly uses the 2.3 c/kWh figure. This might be true for running costs, but anyone who has looked into the subject will know that the big costs with nuclear power come in the decommissioning phases. As I recall, the new nuclear power plant being built in Finland is costing some staggering figure (around the $5b mark and that is US$). Further, Smith inflates the costs of renewable power by building in a “backup” charge because of its supposed unreliability. Given the diversification over hydroelectric power stations in different parts of the country, not to mention wind turbines, as well as the supplementary generation of thermal and coal stations such as Huntly, this seems a bit unfair. And anyway, since when is nuclear power suddenly 100% reliable? Surely it could be taken out in a terrorist attack (which given Smith’s hawkish defence stance is probably the sort of thing that he would think likely!)?

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