Is nuclear power the solution to our energy crisis?
Australia’s energy crisis has deepened, with everyday families currently paying prices more expensive than just about anywhere in the world.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week made it one of his government’s priorities to lower our bills.
But to do so, he says he may have to take provocative action, including overturning the current ban on nuclear power.
It is a cheap and dependable power source, but opponents of the idea always scream two words: “Chernobyl” and “Fukushima” - the world’s worst nuclear meltdowns.
Now, an energy expert has declared that nuclear power is not only safe, but could potentially slash Australian power bills and be the answer to global warming.
Speaking with 60 Minutes reporter Tom Steinfort, Dr Ben Heard said there has been a total overreaction to the Fukushima nuclear threat and Australians need to seriously rethink our relationship with the power source.
“Basically, we've stamped our consciousness with a fear from this incident that isn't well-based in science,” Dr Heard said.
“It's a real challenge, but we have to try to take a fresh look at that. If that means coming right here to the belly of the beast to tell the story, good. I think that's good.”
Dr Heard took the 60 Minutes crew inside doomed reactor three – central to the 2011 catastrophic nuclear meltdown of Fukushima.
60 Minutes is the first Australian television crew ever allowed inside the reactor, granted just 15 minutes to film inside to limit potentially harmful exposure to radiation.
Inside the plant, Dr Heard delivered a clear and controversial message.
“In the 50 years history of using the technology, this is the day it all went wrong - and it still hasn't resulted in any deaths from the radiation,” he said.
“Not one death from the radiation from this incident.”
On March 11, 2011 a massive tsunami triggered by an earthquake consumed everything in its path.
Hundreds of kilometres of the east coast of Japan were devastated, resulting in more than 16,000 deaths.
The loss of power caused a triple meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.
Dr Heard claims that following the tsunami, the focus was placed of the nuclear accident, forming a great fear and misconception about the power source.
“I think what I'm trying to defend is something that's going to be the most important power source for us in this century,” Dr Heard said.
“Especially if we are going to tackle climate change.”
Australia’s energy crisis has dominated the national agenda and totally destabilised federal politics.
One side says renewables like wind and solar are the solution, the other says we have to build more coal-fired power stations, something that would totally derail any commitment Australia has to cutting our greenhouse gas emissions.
“Every single year air pollution is responsible for about seven to nine million deaths worldwide,” Dr Heard told Steinfort.
“From our power plants, from our cars. This is genuinely lethal. That is why we need to rethink our relationship with nuclear technologies.”
It’s a maverick stance that has put Dr Heard at loggerheads with environmental groups - most notably the one he used to be a passionate member of, Greenpeace.
David Ritter, CEO of Greenpeace Australia, told Steinfort he vehemently disagreed with Dr Heard’s claims.
“The reason why Greenpeace has opposed nuclear power and continues to oppose nuclear power is because it's dirty, it's dangerous, it is slow, it's expensive,” Mr Ritter said.
“We opposed nuclear power before the Three Mile Island accident, we opposed nuclear power before the Chernobyl accident, we opposed nuclear power before Fukushima, and we continue to oppose nuclear power.
“I'm sorry that Ben Heard doesn't agree with that, but I'm pretty confident of our view of history.”
Steinfort interviewed Professor Gerry Thomas, who runs the Chernobyl Tissue Bank and is a world authority on the health impact from radiation.
She said the final death toll from cancers caused by the 1986 Chernobyl Nuclear disaster will eventually lie between 40 to 160 people, “not the thousands that you will hear touted around”.
When questioned on how many people will be diagnosed with cancer as a direct implication from Fukushima, she told Steinfort: “Absolutely none.”
“The doses were very much lower in Fukushima, so nobody had died from radiation poisoning,” Prof. Thomas said.
“I've been there many times myself, and I would have no hesitation in going back. It's a beautiful part of the country.
“Actually, if you go to Fukushima, the food there is fantastic. They grow massive peaches.”
Despite the fact that Australia mines uranium and export it overseas, it is illegal to build a nuclear power station.
Dr Heard is adamant it will be a far bigger environmental disaster if we continue to burning coal to power the planet, rather than invest in our huge supplies of uranium and look towards a nuclear future.
To watch ‘Going Nuclear’ in full, and for more on 60 Minutes, head to the official website.