Australian news, and some related international items

Is Australia to be guinea pig for NuScale’s non existent, untested, super-expensive not-so-small nuclear reactors?

Is building small nuclear reactors as ‘loopy’ as it sounds? Charis Chang@CharisChang2  14 Sept 19 Experts have warned of “catastrophic failure” if Australia adopts nuclear power, so why is the Government considering it?

A huge metal structure seven stories high and less than 100 metres wide could contain the key to Australia’s future energy supply.

NuScale’s small nuclear reactors are being spruiked as an exciting new option to supply Australia with reliable and secure electricity as the country shifts away from coal-fired power.

But the jury is still out on this untested technology, which has been called “loopy” and a “fantasy”.

The possibility of Australia lifting its ban on nuclear power is again being debated with politicians like Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce suggesting people living close to reactors could be given free power to help build support for the controversial idea.

Amid growing calls from Coalition backbenchers for the option to be seriously examined, Energy Minister Angus Taylor has called a parliamentary inquiry into whether nuclear is a feasible solution for Australia’s future energy needs. Not everyone is supportive.

In a tweet, former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull suggested nuclear was a “loopy” option.

“The bottom line is renewables + storage are cheaper than new coal let alone the loopy current fad of nuclear power which is the current weapon of mass distraction for the backbench,” he wrote.

Labor has also slammed nuclear as too expensive and wants the Coalition to put the “fantasy” to bed, saying it’s three times as costly as other options and would not be operational for decades.

“It is a distraction that will do nothing to solve the energy crisis that is confronting Australian households and businesses now,” Opposition energy spokesman Mark Butler told reporters recently…….

NuScale has developed a small modular reactor (SMR) that can be made up of 12 separate nuclear modules, manufactured in factories and then shipped to site. Each module could generate 60MW of electricity each. …..

NuScale told the modules consisted of reactors inside a metal containment vessel that stood about seven storeys high and 4.5 metres wide.

A plant with 12 modules would likely need to be located on a site of about 14 hectares, which is equivalent in size to about 14 rugby fields……..


One of the biggest downsides to nuclear is that it takes ages to build and when it comes to small modular reactors, they have yet to be proven.

NuScale is working towards building its first plant at the Idaho National Lab and is set to begin construction in 2021. It will take five years before the first module is expected to come online in 2026, with the full 12-module plant to be operational by 2027.

There is no guarantee this can be achieved within the expected timeline, and even if it was, the reactors may not be available commercially until 2030. Export sales to countries like Australia could take even longer.

Dr Switkowski, who led a Howard government review into nuclear power, said overseas experience showed timeframes were more likely to be longer than expected, and there were also considerable commercial and political risks because the project would be built over five or more political cycles.

“Can you draft a long-term commitment to nuclear energy on to a currently unconfirmed national energy policy? The answer to that is no, in my opinion,” he said…….

Analysis from the CSIRO and the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) released in 2018 found the capital costs for a small modular reactor would be $16,000 per kilowatt hour, one-and-a-half times more than previous estimates for large-scale nuclear.

It’s almost twice as expensive as solar thermal and storage, which is $7000 per kilowatt hour and is also expected to halve by 2050. Nuclear is not expected to get any cheaper. 

AEMO chief system design and engineering officer Dr Alex Wonhas told the inquiry that building wind or solar firmed by pumped hydro was roughly about the same price as building a new gas or coal-fired power plant.

“Our expectation is that renewables will further decrease in their cost, and therefore firmed renewables will well and truly become the lowest cost of generation for the National Energy Market,” he said.

It’s likely taxpayers will also have to foot the bill for at least some part of the cost of a nuclear option.

Dr Switkowski said he couldn’t think of any countries that had funded investments in nuclear without government assistance, including through military programs.

“There was no known example that I could see where a country introduced nuclear power on the back of investments from people who were familiar with the infrastructure and were seeking to make an economic return,” he said.

The power produced by a small modular reactor will also be more expensive than one produced by a large reactor or by wind and solar backed up by storage.

Dr Switkowski acknowledged the rise of renewables made the case against nuclear power stronger.

Australia will also have to consider the security issues around who they buy the reactors from, as the leading manufacturers are now China, South Korea, Russia and probably France.

“Would Australia order a nuclear reactor from China?” Dr Switkowski asked.

However, Dr Switkowski supported the lifting of the moratorium on nuclear power to encourage businesses and experts to consider the potential of the technology.

“No one’s put money on the table to fund it because they’re not allowed to fund nuclear power in Australia,” he said.


While discussion about nuclear often focuses on the need for reliable, dispatchable “baseload” power, Dr Wonhas said Australia didn’t need many more plants with a “very stable output profile”.

The AEMO chief system design officer said there were now periods during the day when electricity effectively costs “zero dollars” and the focus was now on new plants that could start up quickly to provide extra energy during peak periods instead.

“I think what we are really looking for is a plant that can increase and decrease capacity relatively quickly and respond to the needs of the market,” he said.

This includes gas, which is a “very effective firming option” because it can respond quite quickly.

“Frankly, there’s a whole range of other technologies out there that can provide similar services. There is, for example, solar thermal with molten salt storage. That’s another technology that is quite dispatchable,” Dr Wonhas said.

While molten salt storage is at a less mature stage than some of the other technologies, Dr Wonhas believes there are many different technology options.

“For nuclear investment to be the optimal choice for Australia it will have to demonstrate, among many other things, that it is more cost-effective compared to alternative technologies and that it is sufficiently flexible so it can be integrated in what we expect to be a highly dynamic future energy market,” he said.


One of the major barriers to getting nuclear off the ground is that no one in Australia wants to live next to it or next to a nuclear waste dump.

Labor has tapped into this, highlighting nearly 140 places around Australia that have been mooted as potential locations for nuclear reactors and radioactive waste dumps over the past half century.

The vast majority are around the country’s coastlines, and almost all are near residential communities.

Some sites, like Townsville, Toowoomba and Wagga Wagga, have been proposed multiple times, a map collated by the Parliamentary Library shows.

“Instead of indulging the policy fantasies of his restive backbench, (Prime Minister Scott) Morrison should reject the nuclear option or be upfront with Australians about exactly where he wants to build nuclear reactors,” Labor energy spokesman Mark Butler last week.

Storing nuclear waste is even more of an issue, with Australia struggling to gain support for even a small, low-level waste facility in Central Australia.


If there’s one overarching concern then it has to be the risk of something going wrong.

“After Three Mile Island in 1979, Chernobyl in 1986 and Fukushima in 2011, the possibility of catastrophic failing within a nuclear system is non-negligible,” Dr Switkowski said.

No matter how safe a system is designed to be from a technical point of view, there will always be a risk of human error……|5hb17

September 16, 2019 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, politics

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