Antinuclear

Australian news, and some related international items

Australia’s very misplaced enthusiasm for Small Modular Nuclear Reactors (SMRs)

Last month, the Department of Industry’s submission to the Energy White Paper pitched Small Modular Reactors as an energy solution for isolated areas in Australia, where there is no access to the electricity grid.

The Energy Policy Institute of Australia (EPI) agreed in its submission, suggesting in its submission small modular reactors (SMRs) are particularly suitable for use in mines and towns in remote locations around Australia.

The BHP-funded Grattan Institute’s submission envisages a string of these little nuclear reactors, connected to the grid, along Australia’s Eastern coast.

Keith Orchison reports on the Grattan Institute submission:

‘The Abbott government is being told that now is the time to flick the switch to “technology neutral,” opening the way for nuclear options.’

Orchison described the advantages of SMRs as Lego-like’.

Why now?

In 2014, it was becoming clear that Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) were not likely to become an operational reality for many decades — and perhaps never.

America was the pioneer of small reactor design in the 1970s.  Again recently, Westinghouse and Babcock and Wilcox have been the leaders in designing and developing SMRs.

But in 2014, the bottom has fallen out of these projects………..

It should be noted that nowhere in [the original article about China, does the author]  Chen mention “small” reactors. However, Australian proponents of ‘small’ reactors welcomed this article, as the Thorium Small Nuclear Reactor is the favourite type proposed for Australia from all 15 possible small designs.

So, while we’re being told that China is racing ahead in the scramble to get these wonderful SMRs, in fact, China has been very much encouraged and helped into this by the U.S. Department of Energy.

This is understandable, seeing that for China it is a government project, with no required expectation of being commercially viable.

In their enthusiasm for China’s thorium nuclear project, writers neglected to mention the sobering points that Stephen Chen made in his South China Morning Post article, such as:

  • Researchers working on the project said they were under unprecedented ‘war-like’ pressure to succeed and some of the technical challenges they faced were difficult, if not impossible to solve.’
  • ‘… opposition from sections of the Chinese public.’
  • ‘… technical difficulties – the molten salt produces highly corrosive chemicals  that could damage the reactor.’
  • ‘The power plant would also have to operate at extremely high temperatures, raising concerns about safety. In addition, researchers have limited knowledge of how to use thorium.’
  • ‘… engineering difficulties .…The thorium reactors would need years, if not decades, to overcome the corrosion issue.’
  • ‘These projects are beautiful to scientists, but nightmarish to engineers.’……….

Australia’s SMR enthusiasts discount the known problems of SMRs. Some brief reminders from the September 2013 report, from the United States’ Institute for Energy and Environmental Research:

  • ‘Economics: $90 billion manufacturing order book could be required for mass production of SMRs …the industry’s forecast of relatively inexpensive individual SMRs is predicated on major orders and assembly line production.’
  • ‘SMRs will lose the economies of scale of large reactors.’
  •  ‘SMRs could reduce some safety risks but also create new ones.’
  • ‘It breaks, you bought it: no thought is evident on how to handle SMR recalls.’
  • Not a proliferation solution. ‘The use of enriched uranium or plutonium in thorium fuel has proliferation implications.’
  • Not a waste solution: ‘The fission of thorium creates long-lived fission products like technetium-99 (half-life over 200,000 years).’
  • Ongoing technical problems. ……….http://www.independentaustralia.net/environment/environment-display/strange-timing-to-suggest-a-lego-nuclear-future-for-australia,6404

April 22, 2014 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, politics international, South Australia, spinbuster, technology

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