South Australian nuclear waste import plan simply cannot succeed
Given the wildly optimistic price for waste modelled by the mid-scenario, not to mention the 56,000 tonnes of waste left over with no costed solution, and with all the uncertainties in developing the new technologies required, the simple conclusion is that this plan is simply all risk with no reward.
No-one else will line up to take advantage of this “once in a lifetime opportunity”, because the opportunity does not exist. The plan simply cannot succeed.
The impossible dream Free electricity sounds too good to be true. It is. A plan to produce free electricity for South Australia by embracing nuclear waste sounds like a wonderful idea. But it won’t work. THE AUSTRALIA INSTITUTE Dan Gilchrist February 2016
“……NO GOOD OUTCOME The free energy utopia depends on two new, as yet unproven technologies: PRISM reactors, and cheap borehole disposal. The Edwards plan appears to rely on these technologies not only being successfully developed, but remaining entirely in Australian hands. Competition is certainly not addressed in the plan.
It would be more realistic to assume that other countries would act on the same opportunities, if indeed they arose.
To implement the Edwards plan, Australia would need to spend around $10 billion to set up temporary storage, a reprocessing plant, and a pair of PRISMs. We would also need to import and store spent fuel.
Furthermore, the importation of spent fuel would likely require a dedicated port and a fleet of specialised ships, and this is not costed in the plan.
The plan calls for spent fuel to begin to be imported and loaded into the dry-cask facility six years after the commencement of construction. It plans for the first PRISMs to be completed four years later. We could reasonably expect to have good data on the costs and methods of borehole storage well within this ten-year timeframe – as would any potential customers.
Having spent $10 billion (not including the cost of shipping or a new port) and ten years, and with several thousand tonnes of spent fuel in storage,42 there are, broadly speaking, two foreseeable outcomes:
1. If borehole and PRISM technologies, having been piloted commercially by Australia, are found to be as cheap and effective as hoped, other countries will have the opportunity to either use them themselves, or undercut our vast profits. It is not realistic to believe that Australia would continue to be paid five to ten times the cost of permanent storage alone. 43 Even if the hoped-for customers were nations that couldn’t use borehole or PRISM technology, a number of other countries could.
2. If either technology is found to be too expensive for commercial deployment, or to have unforeseen safety problems, Australia will have locked itself into an expensive method of electricity generation with perhaps no longterm solution for the acquired waste.
In short: either the technology works and we face stiff competition, both from other countries and the low costs of the technologies themselves – in which case the numbers in the plan are completely wrong; or the technology doesn’t work as expected – in which case the numbers in the plan are completely wrong.
And in either case, the plan has still failed to cost a permanent solution for 56,000 tons of high-level waste – over 90 percent of the material taken in. The profits from the scheme would be spent in the early decades to subsidise the reactors and lower taxes, leaving future generations with a massive problem, and no plan or money left to deal with it.
There is no good outcome here.
Even if the technology succeeds, the business plan is fatally flawed. It is, in effect, a self-defeating plan. If it works, our customer base and commodity price dries up, killed by the very technologies we would have piloted at our own risk and at great expense.