Green roadmap: nuke power the answer?

COMMENT by ERWIN CHLANDA

 

Talking about CoolMob’s roadmap, what is the elephant in the room? Nuclear power, as comment writer “Robinoz” has also observed.

 

We have plenty of uranium within a stone’s throw of town (anyway, the quantities needed are minuscule). The area is geologically stable – ideal for storage of waste. And we are a long way from the national power grid.

 

There is no doubt the cost of gas and diesel we’re burning now is set to increase massively, while we belch greenhouse emissions into the atmosphere for half a century plus.

 

To provide 100% of power from renewable sources, such as solar – the dream of the roadmap writers – will take that long, if it can be achieved at all.

 

The answer? An SMR – a small modular reactor.

 

The following information is from Ben Heard, of Think Climate Consulting (motto: “We exist to fix climate change, and make our future better than our past.”)

 

He was recommended to us as a source by the Australian Uranium Association (AUA), which says it does not itself “advocate nuclear power in Australia”.

 

Alice Springs has a peak demand of 55 MW. Most of that – 45 MW – can be provided by an SMR being developed by the US company NuScale, says Mr Heard.

 

It fits on a rail truck, is a cylinder 20 metres high and 2 metres in diameter, and is marketed as being able to run for 60 years with two years between refueling.

 

It uses “natural forces to operate and cool the plant. This eliminates the need for many of the large and complex systems” says NuScale – no pumps whose failure could lead to accidents. This provides low maintenance and high reliability.

 

The cost of $225m is daunting but while the future cost of fossil fuel is the stuff of horror stories – just ask Dick Smith – we could buy nuclear fuel now, at today’s prices, enough for the next six decades. The estimated fuel cost for the SMR is 2 cents per kilowatt hour. The NT Power Water Corporation’s current domestic rate is 25.91 cents per kilowatt hour.

 

The emission free operation could be extended, with an added module, to power the passenger and freight trains on the Ghan line – if it was electrified. Each module would provide heat for industry, homes and tourism accommodation in town. The waste would fit into a largish room.

 

Of course, the prohibition in Australia on nuclear power stations would need to be revoked (the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Act) – and a million other things done.

 

Says Amanda Walker, the AUA’s Communication Manager: “Whether Australia goes down the path of utilising nuclear power in the future is a matter for governments to decide, however the AUA believes that all energy options should be ‘on the table’ for addressing Australia’s future energy challenges, including nuclear power.

 

“It is a reliable source of emissions-free electricity; it is sensible that it is considered as one of our options to help reduce Australia’s carbon emissions.”

 

This when you to shout: “No bloody way.” Or is it?

 

Images: Conceptual drawing of a two module reactor, featuring full underground reactor containment, reservoirs for emergency passive cooling (top left and right) and fully contained below ground spent fuel cooling pond (bottom centre). Courtesy Babcock & Wilcox Nuclear Energy. An SMR.

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5 Comments (starting with the most recent)

NB: If you want to reply to a previous comment, start your comment with this notation: @n where n is the number of the comment you want to reply to.
  1. Hal Duell
    Posted August 20, 2013 at 9:31 am

    @Jimmy Cocking
    Thanks for that. The link was fascinating. After a quick read, and without following any of the footnoted links, my interest would include:
    Germany
    Distributive renewable based systems as opposed to base-load hydrocarbon and/or nuclear based systems.
    That the World Health Organisation’s reports on nuclear health issues are subject to a veto from the International Atomic Energy Agency, a UN agency which is itself mandated to promote nuclear technologies, an apparent conflict of interests.
    Health effects from low-level but continuous exposure to radiation poisoning among those living in proximity to existing nuclear facilities.
    If Pandora’s Promise is to be released to cinemas nationally, will Beyond Nuclear have a film available to state it’s view, and to counter what may be an appealing argument.
    This is the debate we have to have. And Germany seems to be showing how renewables can work.
    Time does seem to be of the essence here. An interesting report is scheduled to come out soon according to this in today’s Fairfax Press – http://www.theage.com.au/environment/climate-change/revealed-80cm-sea-rise-warning-20130819-2s7dt.html

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  2. Posted August 19, 2013 at 2:30 pm

    @Hal: We don’t have to swap global warming for a nuclear winter. While Pandora’s Promise is released at cinemas in Australia in coming months – it is important that we have balanced assessment of the risks. Here is a link to a critique of Pandora’s Promise http://www.beyondnuclear.org/storage/pandoras-false-promises/Pandora%27s%20False%20Promises_Final_June10_2013.pdf

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  3. Hal Duell
    Posted August 16, 2013 at 9:41 pm

    @Gil Scrine
    Thank you for drawing everyone’s attention to Pandora’s Promise. I checked out the link, and it looks like just the type of film that might add to the emerging debate.
    As well as the Alice Cinema, perhaps an approach to Araluen for their Sunday night arthouse cinema would be rewarded.
    Or the Olive Pink Gardens has been known to show films.
    How about it ALEC? Perhaps a fundraiser?

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  4. Posted August 16, 2013 at 1:36 pm

    Hal, you may be interested in the new film I’m promoting, PANDORA’S PROMISE, by distinguished director Robert Stone: http://pandoraspromise.com/
    It’s coming to Adelaide October 9th at the Mercury Theatre and I’ve approached Paul at Alice Springs Cinema to run it … no response yet, maybe a note to him might help.
    Check out the whole tour here: http://www.antidotefilms.com.au/details.php?filmid=4447

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  5. Hal Duell
    Posted August 15, 2013 at 10:58 pm

    Yup, but it would be good to hear someone speak of thorium.
    If this debate gets legs, I’ll be very interested to see if the same energy miners who are so against renewables are also against nuclear. We’ll get to the debate sooner or later, so we may as well start now.
    When Angela / Pamela kicked off, I was vocal in opposing any mine there under any circumstances. I probably still am, given its proximity to Alice. But underlying my opposition was a set against anything nuclear that I have to admit is residual thinking formed way back in the 50’s and 60’s.
    I think the industry has moved on. Might be time to think again.
    Or not, as the case may be. But it’s a debate we need to have given global climate changes and that there are seven billion of us (and counting) who all want access to a light switch and a power point.
    Has everyone noticed the sludge they are mining for fuel oil these days. Tar sands and fracking for gas. How bad does nuclear have to be to be worse than that?
    Of course there is an argument that we can do it all with renewables with sufficient will and funds. OK, but when. And meanwhile those tar sands and fracked gas are today.

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