Australian news, and some related international items

Nuclear stillbirth for Australia and the world

No doubt Australian nuclear enthusiasts, such as Ziggy Switkowski and Barry Brook, will claim that Obama’s decision vindicates their nuclear advocacy. But really it deviates from their version of reality so far as to shatter it.
Nuclear? It’s just too expensive, for us and the rest of the world, Sudney Morning Herald MICHAEL R. JAMES February 26, 2010

It is economics that has prevented any new nuclear power plants being approved for construction in the US since 1973. This is true, even though safety, waste-handling and storage, security and weapons proliferations remain real contentious and unresolved issues.

Last week President Barack Obama announced a a US$8.3 billion (A$9.3 billion) government loan guarantee to a private company to build twin nuclear reactors in the southern state of Georgia.

What more conclusive proof does one need to demonstrate the economic inviability of nuclear power, even in an industry that is 50 years old? Without such a massive financial crutch, private companies and their investors have declined to fund any new nuclear plants for 37 years — not just in the US, but anywhere in the world.

As previously outlined, nuclear plants routinely have such financial problems because it is a hugely capital intensive industry. Delays greatly add to the cost of capital long before any revenue is generated. Construction is extremely complex, compounded by safety regulation.

Every new plant or new design is promised to be simpler, cheaper and quicker to build but proves to be the opposite. The most notable example is the plant being constructed by the French state-owned company Areva at Olkiluoto, Finland, which has doubled in costs and construction time.

Today Areva estimates that building the same 1.6 gigawatt reactor would cost $US8 billion ($A9 billion). The US loan guarantee is for 70 to 80 per cent of the total cost of the two 1.1 gigawatt Georgian reactors, thus putting the construction cost at between US$10.4-$11.9 billion. This is broadly comparable with the French costs (US$5-$5.4 billion a gigawatt). Of course, the American reactor has not been built and will not be for almost another decade, based on previous experience. In fact the AP1000 design intended for Georgia has not yet been certified by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and is not expected to be until the end of next year.

No doubt Australian nuclear enthusiasts, such as Ziggy Switkowski and Barry Brook, will claim that Obama’s decision vindicates their nuclear advocacy. But really it deviates from their version of reality so far as to shatter it.

First, the cost is astronomical and requires endless government subsidy. On top of the construction subsidies there is an assumption of all liability and risks by government.

Second, the reactors to be funded are not the Integral Fast (Breeder) Reactors that advocates claim will solve all the problems of nuclear power. The US cancelled its IFR research program 16 years ago. The new reactors will be standard thermal designs from the Japanese-owned Westinghouse.

Yesterday Professor Leslie Kemeny again urged that Australia construct five 1 gigawatt reactors . Based on current estimates, this would cost at least $A28 billion. Most likely, the cost will be much, much more because Australia would have to build nuclear infrastructure from scratch, and because “overnight costs” ignore the construction delays and safety issues that invariably arise — the reasons dozens of reactors have been begun and abandoned in the US and elsewhere in the past 30 years.

But don’t take the interpretation of a non-nuclear scientist such as me. Here is what eight experts think, as reported by The New York Times:…….

The Obama decision is disappointing to advocates of renewable energy in the US as it continues the subsidy of non-solutions to the low-carbon energy problem and sends the wrong message to just about everyone: companies developing renewable energy, markets, financiers and voters. Some are interpreting it as a bribe to Republican supporters of the nuclear power industry, in the hope of getting their support of Obama’s Cap and Trade bill. Even if that is true — and the ploy seems unlikely to succeed — these events only underline the surreal nature of Australian advocates’ hopes for a nuclear-powered answer to the fossil-fuelled electricity industry here.

Kemeny said that all of the world’s top 25 economies, except Australia, are planning nuclear expansion. This is a misleading statement that nuclear advocates continue to broadcast. As I have written previously, among developed economies, Austria, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Poland and Ireland have no active nuclear plants and none under construction, though some have plans of varying credibility. The Netherlands has one plant and no plans for any new ones. Even if the nuclear route makes some sense for other countries, does that mean we should simply play follow the leader?

The real question for Australia, given the irrefutable costs and our exceptional access to solar, wind and geothermal resources, is whether we should throw $30 billion or more at an old industry that creates new problems. The real cost is the lost opportunity in renewable energy industries, true industries of the future.

February 26, 2010 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, business, spinbuster | , , ,

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