Australian news, and some related international items

New push for nuclear energy in Australia, but does it really stand the test?

Explainer: should Australia build nuclear power plants to combat the climate crisis?

Though renewable energy could meet 100% of demand by 2025, the nuclear option still looms over discussions on how to rapidly lower emissions. Is it worth it? 
Royce Kurmelovs. Guardian, 13 Oct 21,

Weeks out from the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow, political figures and commentators have again suggested Australia should consider nuclear energy as part of its future power grid.

Though renewable energy could meet 100% of demand by 2025 at certain times of day at current rates of progress – a trend that could be turbocharged with active support from the federal government – the prospect of an Australian nuclear power station still looms large in the public conversation.

………. On Monday BHP’s vice-president of sustainability and climate, Dr Fiona Wild, called for Australia to consider nuclear due to the urgency of the threat of climate collapse.

…….. On Tuesday the Australian newspaper’s contributing economics editor, Judith Sloan, defended the “plight of nuclear power” by calling for a rational debate on the merits of adopting the technology.

………… As of 2019, the cost of a nuclear power plant had risen to US$1bn for 100MW of generation capacity. Construction of a commercial-scale plant would take at least 15 years. If Australia had started work on a nuclear reactor before the pandemic, it would not be in operation until about 2035. The small or “modular” reactors that are held up as the future of the industry won’t be affordable until 2050.

Could they help to reduce emissions?

Nuclear power is not carbon neutral. While the act of generating power itself is fairly efficient and low-emitting, the process of mining the uranium, trucking it somewhere to be refined and pouring the concrete to build the plant creates significant emissions. As uranium is a finite resource, nuclear power is also not “renewable”.

Renewables, of course, share similar problems because so many other systems still rely on fossil fuels – wind turbine towers require steel, PV solar cells need resins, everything relies on diesel to transport it – but the total CO2 emissions are minute and the rapid rate of installation means there is a better shot at decarbonising these processes more quickly than with nuclear. With dirt cheap PV solar and rapid improvements being made in hydrogen and battery technology, it will only get easier.

What about stabilising the grid?

Critics of renewable energy sources say they do not have the capacity to respond to periods of high electricity demand with “dispatchable power” on calm, cloudy days, because they depend on the wind and sun. Nuclear, it is argued, can substitute effectively for the industrial-scale fossil fuel plants now in use that can idle up or down according to demand.

The problems with renewables are real, but they are becoming less of a roadblock. Plans are already in train to make Australia’s power grid more decentralised with a combination of PV solar, offshore wind and onshore wind working to pick up any slack in the system when one goes offline. With the addition of battery technology to store and deliver electricity on demand, the business case for nuclear starts to look pretty thin.

The challenge of renewables

Thanks to the uptake of PV solar on rooftops it is costing coal and gas power plants more to keep running during periods of low demand and high supply. Operators are faced with a choice: push through or power down. In Australia, operators of ageing coal plants have so far chosen to push through, but as periods of oversupply become more frequent, the costs will make it more attractive to turn off the generator. Firing them back up again is another expensive process – one not shared by renewables, which can be turned on or off quickly.

Australia is a long way from hitting peak renewable energy, and there is time to resolve the challenges associated with it long before any nuclear plant would have a chance to make it off a whiteboard. Should current trends hold, breaking ground on a new nuclear plant today would mean committing to a white elephant that would be too expensive even to turn on.

Any other problems?

All of this is without even talking about plans to handle the decommissioning of old nuclear reactors at the end of their lifecycle or the storage of spent nuclear fuel – another very expensive, time-consuming process. Australia already struggles with decommissioning and rehabilitating old mine sites, but nuclear power presents new challenges.

…… The federal government is currently working on a separate plan to build a storage facility for low-level and intermediate waste at Kimba in South Australia, but the process has proved divisive. Under the current proposal, this facility would not be equipped to handle spent nuclear fuel, and to scale it up would mean starting all over again.

October 14, 2021 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, spinbuster

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: