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Nuclear power in Australia

June 7th, 2015

I’ve decided to make a submission to the South Australian Royal Commission into the nuclear fuel cycle. I can’t actually submit until I find a JP or similar to witness it. This is a minor inconvenience for me, but may be a big problem for plenty of interested groups (for example, indigenous people). On the upside, I have time to ask for comments, and maybe make changes in response. This thread will be open to discussion of any issues related to nuclear power. However, in the event of lengthy two-person debates emerging, I’d ask the parties to move to the sandpits and leave room for everyone else.

South Australian Royal Commission into the nuclear fuel cycle; Submission

My submission is addressed to question 3.2:

Are there commercial reactor technologies (or emerging technologies which may be commercially available in the next two decades) that can be installed and connected to the NEM?

My response to this question is in two parts
1. The only plausible contender is the Westinghouse AP-1000, along with possible modifications of this design.
2. Even for this design there is no prospect of deployment in Australia before 2040.

On point 1, given the requirement for safety standards appropriate to a developed country, it is necessary to rule out obsolete Generation II and (early) Generation III designs, along with reactors from middle-income and less developed countries with inadequate safety standards, notably Russian and China. Hence, attention should be confined to Generation III+ designs from advanced industrial countries, most notably those in North America, Western Europe and Japan.
Furthermore, any design should have a substantial record of safe and economical operation. As a country with no experience in the operation and management of nuclear power, Australia should not consider adopting ‘leading edge’ or ‘first of a kind’ designs, where the risk of failure is impossible to estimate, but has historically been high.

A minimal requirement would be 100 reactor years of operation. It should be noted that a track record of 100 reactor years provides only limited evidence on risks of failure. A risk of catastrophic failure once every 100 reactor years might seem small. But if Australia were to construct 10 reactors (the probable minimum to achieve industry-wide scale economies) with a standard operating life of 40 years, the mean number of catastrophic failures would be four. Hence, a requirement for a track record of only 100 reactor years of operation is very generous.

There is currently no Generation III+ design satisfying even these minimal conditions. However, on current (considerably delayed) plans there should be eight AP1000 reactors operating by 2020 or 2021. If these are completed as projected, there is the prospect of further deployment in the 2020s, so that the required experience would be realised sometime after 2030.
There is no serious prospect of any of the competing Gen III+ designs from developed countries being constructed in sufficient quantities to achieve 100 reactor years of operation in a relevant time frame. The most relevant contenders are the EPR (three reactors currently under construction or proposed) and Candu reactors (no reactors currently under construction or proposed)

Suggestions that more advanced designs (including Gen IV reactors, small modular reactors, fusion reactors, and thorium-based reactors), might be available within a relevant time-frame are fanciful. These designs have so far not implemented even in prototype form. I have developed this point further

On point 2, I append an article published in Inside Story. This shows that, even if Australia could match the construction rates observed in the US, the time necessary to up a regulatory infrastructure and undertake greenfield site selection would delay the commencement of generation until at least 2040. Since the publication of this article, further construction delays have been announced for both US and Chinese AP1000 projects. On the basis of more recent US experience, even a 2040 startup date for Australia appears highly optimistic.

Here is a timeline which would be consistent with such a startup date. It may be observed that every stage in the process employs highly optimistic assumptions. For example, five years is allowed for a process running from initial site selection to the commencement of construction work. Projects far less complex and controversial than nuclear power plants routinely encounter delays longer than this. Similarly, a ten-year timeframe for construction would represent a substantial improvement on recent projects in the US and Europe.

May 2016: Royal Commission reports favourably on nuclear power
2017: SA government adopts pro-nuclear policy
2017-2020: Australia wide debate leads to majority support for nuclear power, and election of a Commonwealth Parliament willing to support nuclear power
2021-2023: Develop and legislate framework for nuclear power, create and staff nuclear regulatory agency, develop regulations covering safety, site selection, accident evacuation policy, waste disposal etc
2024-2030 License designs including safety standards etc. Receive proposals for construction
2026-2030 (in parallel) Select sites for up to 10 reactors, hold public hearings, issue and review environmental impact statements. Overcome local opposition and develop sites
2030-2040 Construct plants, undertake testing, connect to grid.

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  1. Hermit
    June 7th, 2015 at 09:43 | #1

    You don’t need a JP as Australia Post clerks can stamp and sign stat decs. You then need to scan it as a jpeg document convert it to pdf then attach it to the submission.

    Much of what you say about timelines is correct. A possibility is what I’d call the ‘stunned mullet’ scenario whereby the RC gives a cautious green light then nothing happens for a decade. SA will need a gigawatt reactor to replace the remaining Pt Augusta coal station, the ageing Torrens Island gas baseload station and increasing imports of brown coal power from Vic. I like the heavy water EC6 reactor or AFCR variant of 700 MWe output. It can ‘burn’ thorium, spent uranium fuel rods and natural uranium. Available immediately but the expected build time is 8 years based on Argentina.

    Get something off the shelf working smoothly then a decade from now think about other ideas like 4th generation reactors and larger scale waste reprocessing.

  2. Ikonoclast
    June 7th, 2015 at 09:44 | #2

    What about the advanced CANDU reactor? Is it worth referring to that? I am no proponent of nuclear power as regulars on this blog must know. However, will the submission carry more weight if you consider and timeline more than one contender?

  3. ZM
    June 7th, 2015 at 09:55 | #3

    “2017-2020: Australia wide debate leads to majority support for nuclear power, and election of a Commonwealth Parliament willing to support nuclear power”

    I think this is unlikely. Few people are in favour of nuclear power, and Australia has good potential for 100% renewable energy as technical reports have demonstrated. Plus it has been suggested that we need an Australian wide and worldwide discussion on rapid mobilisation for climate change from 2015 to 2018 in order to be able to halve ghg emissions in the period 2018 to 2023. This would be part of an eventual drawdown scenario up to 2100 when we should return to 350ppm C02e

    So any Australian wide debate on nuclear would be held in this wider climate change discussion , and since the public are not in favour if nuclear and nor are many energy experts who focus on climate change, I doubt nuclear will be supported.

  4. Geoff Edwards
    June 7th, 2015 at 09:55 | #4

    Professor John

    You may not want to go into net energy balance in a submission on this particular term of reference, but it would be appropriate anyway to mention the prospect of there being sufficient energy available to build these plants. A nuclear plant requires steel, cement, copper etc and a large quantum of energy derived directly and indirectly from fossil fuels. Well before 2040, and possibly before 2020, (not later than when a chunk of Greenland falls into the sea), there will be either a tax on carbon or a discontinuity in the supply of petroleum. Advocates of nuclear power can make as many assertions as they wish about the low emissions during operation, but they have to overcome the initial construction which will incur a carbon penalty at the time of construction. It is entirely plausible that the economic cost of paying for the carbon penalty will cause these viability of these plants to recede into the distance.

    To bring this principle under this particular term of reference, it may be necessary to tabulate the energy embedded in an AP 1000 reactor. I’m not confident that I have the capacity to do that for you and you may already have the information anyway.

  5. John Quiggin
    June 7th, 2015 at 10:09 | #5


    I did mention CANDU as a non-starter due to the impossibility of reaching 100 reactor years of experience in a relevant time frame.

  6. Ikonoclast
    June 7th, 2015 at 10:30 | #6

    @John Quiggin

    My mistake, I read too quickly.

  7. Hermit
    June 7th, 2015 at 10:31 | #7

    I’m sure things can be sped up if there is the will to do it. France went from nothing to 80% nuclear in less than two decades. We’re assuming that the technology must meet UK or US approval but China and Russia could have reactors available. The Hualong One model is tipped to replace the costly French EPR reactor planned for Hinkley C in the UK. No requirement for 100 years of proven operation. The package might include finance and skilled labour. GE have just sold some of their new ESBWR reactors with advanced safety and low opex.

    Things will have a special urgency for SA when Holden close their doors. Estimates of direct and indirect job losses range from 13,000 to 25,000. In Canberra LNP defence ministers are saying no more naval boat building for SA. The recent SA spot price of piped gas was $4.50/GJ but that is expected to hit $8 by 2018. The SA electricity mix is about 50% gas, 30% wind and solar, 20% other. The rise in power prices will itself scare away new industry. I’m not sure what other options SA has.

  8. Collin Street
    June 7th, 2015 at 10:54 | #8

    > No requirement for 100 years of proven operation.

    The reason for the 100 years is actually set out in some detail in the OP. If you disagree with it, you have some basis for disagreeing with it which you can set out and leave for other people to evaluate. Or you don’t have any basis, in which case it would be best if people ignored you.

    Or you have a basis but can’t articulate it, which is your problem and not a minor one.

    People believe what they believe because:
    a. they have an understanding that certain things exist in the world
    b. they have an understanding that certain things do not exist in the world
    c. they have an understanding of the way facts legitimate beliefs.
    And they work out things by c. operating on a. and b.. If you want people to believe different things, you need to change a or b or c:
    a. the falsity of facts they previously believed [“no, you’re wrong here”]
    b. new facts of which they weren’t previously aware [“but something you didn’t know is”]
    c. demonstrating that a certain set of facts doesn’t lead to the conclusion supported [“you’ve made a mistake here”]

    Read the OP, read the arguments for the hundred-plant-year experience suggestion, and present where you think you’ve done it better than JQ, with an a. or a b. or a c. type argument. You should be able to do this, it was taught in high school in about year 9: you might be rusty, or not very good at the formalism, or sloppy, but you really, really should be able to make some reasonable approximation.

  9. Hermit
    June 7th, 2015 at 11:19 | #9

    This 100 year rule sounds rather artificial. It reminds of a couple of other imposts that just happened to disadvantage nuclear. One was California’s ban on once-through cooling for thermal plant on account of drought. Since the San Onofre plant was seawater cooled therefore drought indifferent they modified the rule to include stress on fish larvae. They duly closed SO and emissions went up 8 Mt. Another is Obama’s 1000 lb of CO2 per Mwh requirement. That just lets in combined cycle natural gas which is what they wanted. At say 800 lb gas would have been excluded.

    Make up all the rules you want the fact is SA will either pay double for gas fuel its main power source or get more dirty electricity from over the border.

  10. Dylan
    June 7th, 2015 at 11:34 | #10

    I’m not really knowledgable enough to comment on the detail. Similar to Hermit’s comment, though, the 100 year rule along with the blanket rejection of reactor designs from less developed nations read here more as a deliberate attempt to constrain the field.

    These requirements compared unfavourably to the suggested principle that Australia should not adopt a ‘leading edge’ design, which was supported by a concise but effective argument.

    Not really attacking the substance – as I mentioned, this isn’t an area I know enough about to say whether the principles you propose are appropriate or not. But the presentation here seems a bit cute – there’s a contrived feeling to it that could undermine the submission’s credibility.

  11. BilB
    June 7th, 2015 at 13:23 | #11

    My take on nuclear for Australia is that there are a bunch of people in this country obsessed with the idea of having a building that pumps out endless power at near zero cost. This obsession is of the kind that drives some people to have cars with engines of a thousand horse power, many times more than they can ever be used anywhere within this country. They’ve just got to have one because it is so wonderful in their mind.

    Along the way to build their obsession they have done everything possible to inflate the wonderment of nuclear: cheap to build in mass production, safe to operate, free energy or so cheap it does not matter, while at the same time denegrating the one energy source that Australia has in abundance,…solar energy.

    Nuclear does have a place and an urgent need in our world I believe, and that is for shipping. But it is here that we see the fallacy in the claims made by nuclear proponents. For starters the need is huge. There are 47,000 bulk carriers, tankers and container ships plying the world’s oceans, each emitting huge amounts of CO2 and other polutants.

    Looking at the economics of an example 54,000 tonne bulk carrier with a 10 megawatt nuclear powered turbine, it seems to me that there are solutions waiting for the imagination to catch up. Consider the Toshiba 4S reactor at $2500 per kilowatt as proposed for Galena in Alaska where the reactor was to cost 25 million and the steam turbine was extra. That price is carriable for a bulk carrier where the engine is typically half the cost of the vessel The real advantage is that the reactor requires no fuel for thirty years. The extra costs in nuclear are in the buildings and regulationary requirements to do with land based facilities and community safety. Ships provide “free” buildings and the regulatory hurdles are very different.

    My pont is that the nucear industry has failed to recognise its real opportunity in shipping where there is a need for some 2000 reactors per year ranging in power from 10 megawats to 80 megawatts. And the question is why is this the case. With an opportunity to build lots of reactors of a size perfect for mass production giving the opportunity to demonstrate that the nuclear promise of cheap reliable and safe is in fact true, why has this not happened? Is it that nuclear does not in practice live up to the claim (there is plenty of evidence for this)?

    The fact is though that for international trade to continue into a future where global warming is to be managed, then the world needs to accept and make possible nuclear powered shipping sooner rather than later. This is where Australia should apply it’s nuclear focus. We need to look at the needs of nuclear shipping and what regulations and enabling technologies need to be deployed. Amoungst those enabling technologies are methods to utilise the energy production from nuclear ships when in port. At any one time there are several hundred ships in port in Australia, the combined generating capacity of which might equal up to 4 gigawatt of nuclear energy capacity. Such utilisation would also require less grid interconnection.

    The argument that “it is time we gave nuclear a go” appears to be the primary approach to this subject is based entirely on ignorance, and fails to look at the broader field of future energy needs and options.

  12. John Quiggin
    June 7th, 2015 at 13:29 | #12


    I discussed the French case a while back. Conditions of 1970s France can’t be replicated in Australia in a relevant time frame


  13. Geoff Edwards
    June 7th, 2015 at 13:34 | #13


    The “need” for all this shipping is in large part generated by swapping goods that countries can make themselves – orange juice from Brazil to Australia for example, or manufactures from China. This “need” is an artefact of economic policy. It too will pass, and probably quite soon.

  14. ZM
    June 7th, 2015 at 13:42 | #14

    I think shipping can move to renewables too – there is high wind potential and some solar plus biofuels, which ideally could use carbon capture and storage if it ever becomes viable to contain any resulting gasses.

    This 2015 report looks at the a renewable energy shipping sector


    “The current focus of renewable energy application in shipping is on:
    ? wind energy: for example, using: soft-sails, such as Greenheart’s 75 dwt freighter, B9 Shipping’s 3 000 dwt bulker and Dykstra/Fair Transport’s 7 000 dwt Ecoliner; fixed-sails, such as in the UT Wind Challenger and the EffShip’s project; Flettner Rotors, such as in the Alcyone and Enercon’s 12,800 dwt E-Ship 1; kite sails, such as in the MS Beluga Skysails; wind turbines (no successful prototypes to date); on
    ? solar photovoltaics (mainly in hybrid models with other energy sources on small ships, such as NYK’s Auriga Leader and SolarSailor by OCIUS Technology (formerly Solar Sailor Holdings Ltd); and
    ? biofuels, such as the Meri cargo ship which claims to be the first of its size to use 100% bio-oil).

    The transi- tion to a clean energy shipping sector requires, inter alia, a significant shift from fossil fuel-powered transport to energy-efficient designs and renewable energy technologies. The sooner this shift occurs, the better. The future of a sustainable shipping sector, including options for renewable energy solutions, has been well elaborated. See, for example, (DNV, 2014); (Lloyds Register and UCL, 2014); (Smith et al., 2014a); (EffShip, 2013a); (Royal Academy of Engi- neering, 2013); (Sustainable Shipping Initiative, 2013); (Ecofys, 2012b); (Forum for the Future, 2011) and (Einemo, 2010).

  15. Hermit
    June 7th, 2015 at 14:14 | #15

    BilB ships bunker fuel costs about 30c per litre if I recall. Australia’s Incat ferries are making vessels fuelled by LNG. The LNG tankers filling up at Curtis Island Qld will use boiloff as fuel. I think we’ve had this discussion before but when oil is gone to make liquid fuel we’ll need hydrogen input that is cheaper than water electrolysis by normal grid electricity. Something like Audi’s e-diesel on which there is suspiciously little cost info. I suspect the aviation industry will shrink without cheap liquid fuel. Most of us will probably live long enough to see this happen i.e. the decline of aviation due to fuel cost.

    Big ships need engines up to 200 MW power or over 268,000 hp. Mini nukes would be good but you couldn’t dock in NZ for example. I think it’s lot easier to keep opponents away from fixed nuclear plant than nuclear ships and there may be insurance hassles. Note however the USS Carl Vinson was a great help providing desalinated water to the victims of the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

  16. J-D
    June 7th, 2015 at 15:27 | #16

    The reference to ‘North America, the Unisted States and Japan’ is presumably meant to be a reference to ‘North America, Western Europe and Japan’.

  17. BilB
    June 7th, 2015 at 15:29 | #17

    Geof Edwards, the larger volume of ships are bulk carriers moving base resources around.

    ZM, wheras sails do work, they are not a commercial solution for todays shipping tonnage.

    Hermit The worlds largest diesel engine which is preferred as a single engine powerplant as in ships such as the Emme Maersk is 109,000 horsepower or 80 megawatts. I was surprised that medium sized bulk carriers get along with just 10 megawatts, the difference being in the speed that they chose to move.

    Bunker fuel is about 600 dollars per ton or around 60 cents per kg. On top of that though as of 2015 I believe that there is a new requirement for ships to substantially limit their sulphur emissions and this comes at a cost.

  18. John Quiggin
    June 7th, 2015 at 15:44 | #18


    D’oh! Fixed now

  19. BilB
    June 7th, 2015 at 15:47 | #19

    By the way Hermit the xample ship I chose had reduced its fuel comsumption from 29.5 tonnes per day to 26 tonnes by going a little slower and with an improved propeller. So that $16,000 per day at 14 knots gives you a starting figure upon which to hang some running cost comparisons. If nuclear cannot improve on that figure against diesel in a ship then it fails the claims of the nuclear proponents for grid power on land, in every way except CO2 emissions.

  20. Will Boisvert
    June 7th, 2015 at 16:50 | #20


    1. The safety distinction you draw between “early Gen III” and Gen III+ reactor models is unfounded. Gen III models are not “obsolete” and are not rated less safe than Gen III+ models. The Gen III+ distinction lies in passive engineering, modular manufacturing and (allegedly) simpler design that is supposed to confer cost savings (so far not borne out), not in safety.

    Early Gen III models meet the same safety standards as Gen III + models, and they are all orders of magnitude safer than Gen II models in their probabilistic risk assessments. In fact, GE-Hitachi’s “early” Gen III ABWR reactor, of which several have been built and operated in Japan (and licensed in the US), has a lower PRA than the AP1000.

    It seems really arbitrary to limit consideration to the AP1000. There are many comparably safe reactors on the market, some with much better cost and construction histories.

    2. I have to agree with Hermit and Dylan that your 100-reactor-year standard also seems arbitrary and perhaps obstructionist. Where did you get it from?

    I simply don’t understand your approach to risk assessment here. Are you saying that probabilistic risk assessments are not to be trusted? That only empirical demonstration that existing reactors can last 100 reactor years without melting down constitutes assurance of safety? If so, that’s an incredibly lax standard that no regulator would accept. You’re also implying that expert risk assessment is so clueless that these state-of-the-art designs could suffer a 4-in-10 meltdown rate, drastically higher than that of Gen II models. That’s an extraordinary claim, John.

    And if PRAs are not to be accepted, and only empirical evidence counts, then why have you ruled out Gen II reactors? The observed meltdown frequency for Gen IIs is about once every 1400 reactor years, easily beating your 100-reactor-year standard.

    But then again, the notion that Gen III + is safer than Gen II is based entirely on probabilistic risk assessments. If we should believe PRAs that show Gen III + is safer than Gen II, why should we not believe PRAs when they say Gen III + is safer than your 100-reactor-year standard? Especially when the Gen II models that you assert are less safe than Gen III + already easily meet that empirical standard? (The PRAs for all Gen III models have core damage frequencies of about once every million reactor years.)

    So your discussion of risk here seems contradictory and confused, and sharply at odds with canons of academic and regulatory risk assessment. And to extract the basic principle you’re asserting: we must never build any possibly risky device until we have already built one and used it for many years to verify that it is not risky. That can sound more like a pretext for road-blocking nuclear power than a serious attempt to assess its risks.

  21. Donald Oats
    June 7th, 2015 at 17:04 | #21

    There are some potentially large changes afoot when it comes to domestic retail electricity: Australian households are shifting to self-production and self-storage. Now, it might be that this trend is a non-starter, falters and dies on the vine; or, it might take off in a big way and radically cut the need for grid distribution of electricity to households. If this occurs in the next 30 years, it would reshape the grid.

    In such a scenario as above, by the time nuclear power stations are under construction, their customer base has shrunk to the industrial sector, and perhaps some CBD areas of the big cities. In 30 years time, it may well be that industrial solar farms and wind farms cover the bulk of industrial electricity requirements.

    No doubt there are yet other scenarios which could pull the rug from under the feet of the rationale for nuclear power.

    Personally, I have considerable issue with nuclear power because of the pollution it produces: hot nuclear waste which needs to sit around in the middle of nowhere for the next ten thousand years. That stuff has to be transported to somewhere “safe” and left for future generations to deal with. Considering that with global warming we are trying to prevent leaving a mess for future generations to deal with, it seems a bit short-sighted to simply switch to another form of pollution—left for future generations to deal with.

    PS: In Adelaide’s “Sunday Mail” today, Laine Anderson has an opinion piece laying out a case for nuclear power generation in South Australia / Australia.

  22. Ken Fabian
    June 7th, 2015 at 17:16 | #22

    I can see LNP support for a vanity nuclear plant – just for irritating ‘greenies’ if nothing else – but they are incapable of the necessary long term planning for it as part of a comprehensive solution for the energy/emissions/climate conundrum. If they make it policy it is one they won’t hold firmly to. They will fold early in the face of loud opposition, whilst failing to spend real political captital to fight for it. Enough to look credible. Not enough to make it happen. Not ever enough to force coal out of the game.

    They will fold, not because it’s too hard, or mainstream Australian opposition is too intractible – frankly I think most Australians don’t care that much either way, or could be persuaded – if the low cost option of denying, ignoring and delaying were withdrawn. I think they don’t really want nuclear power that much and can’t use the climate problem as any kind of effective arguement whilst fighting all out for fossil fuels. They will choose to fold but insist, with uncritical media support, that they are forced to it by overwhelming and insidious ‘green’ influence, and claim that as why they cannot commit to serious climate action – and we’ll all just have to keep burning coal. “Too bad, damn greenies”.

    I predict News Ltd will lead the way in inflating the opposition to bogey persons just short of ISIS to encourage the meme of irrational Environmentalism being the Great Enemy, whilst failing to point out that there are no serious backers for nuclear, not even the big power companies. Big Media already gets more mileage out of nuclear disasters and nuclear controversy than climate change and have never spent real effort defending or promoting it. Which reflects what the big end of town really thinks.

  23. BilB
    June 7th, 2015 at 17:30 | #23

    Ken Fabian,

    Nuclear does nothing for the average person from a pricing point of view where it is cheaper than coal, as the difference is such a small part of the delivered retail price. So it is no gain with the potential of a nuclear accident. It can’t win publicly. The other big risk with nuclear is the certainty of cost over runs that hit the public.

    It is going to be interesting what happens in NSW with new owners with apurchase price to amortise.

  24. Robert Merkel
    June 7th, 2015 at 17:46 | #24

    In what parallel universe do NIMBY objections get overcome in four years?

    Plugging something I wrote again, but the experience of the high temperature incinerator proposal of the 1990s is illustrative of the power of local opposition of the kind that would be replicated on a much bigger scale were Australia to enter new parts of the fuel cycle, be it plants or waste dumps.

  25. Mark Pawelek
    June 7th, 2015 at 20:14 | #25

    (1) I’m baffled how you ruled out the South Korean (KEPCO) APR-1400. It’s a 1455 MWe Gen III reactor that’s currently being built for about USD $5 bn per unit. It’s half the price of the EPR, which you mentioned. Nor did you talk about the ABWR or ESBWR (both Gen III+). You claim that the AP1000 is the only Gen III+ design available yet ABWRs have operated in Japan since Dec 2006. (2) The 100 reactor year requirement looks bogus to me. Prior to 1986, RBMK reactors had many reactor years on the clock. The RBMK was still, by far, the riskiest commercial design ever deployed. I prefer inherently safe designs with passive (walk away) safety features; even if that means zero reactor years. (3) It goes without saying the nuclear engineers are best placed to evaluate nuclear reactor beauty contests. Economists can add their take on cost-benefits; but please stay away from risk arguments. If you want to make the anti-nuclear power case, fine by me, go ahead. Please don’t pretend that 100 reactor years add anything to safety or reliability. It just adds to conservatism.

  26. June 7th, 2015 at 22:29 | #26

    I know fusion is a long way off, but in the long term I think it will have the lowest impact on the environment of any means of power generation. But of course we do have to do something else in the mean time.

  27. Megan
    June 7th, 2015 at 23:05 | #27

    What is the – currently available and in use – best nuclear waste solution?

  28. Ivor
    June 7th, 2015 at 23:44 | #28

    Megan :
    What is the – currently available and in use – best nuclear waste solution?

    Dealing with the cost of waste is necessary to determine what “commercially available” means.

    Dealing with the requirement for commercial insurance in the case of accidents also needs to be included.

  29. Megan
    June 7th, 2015 at 23:55 | #29


    I’m not talking about cost (Australia has spent about $30 million to have France “re-process” a few tonnes of nuclear waste).

    I mean “best” as in highest guarantee of safety throughout the life of the waste.

  30. Hermit
    June 8th, 2015 at 07:38 | #30

    Currently new nuclear cannot compete with already built coal on cost. Loy Yang brown coal plant can sell electricity on the NEM apparently at a profit for $32 a Mwh. If BREE’s energy technology assessments are correct then gigawatt scale light water nuclear will cost around $125 per Mwh. That’s if built by 2020 which is unachievable. However new supercritical (high temp) black coal will cost $100 that’s without any CO2 penalties. All of Australia’s coal fired power stations will need to be replaced by 2040. Subcritical coal can be ruled out and baseload gas will be priced too high for new plant.

    The market regulator AEMO says the eastern states (NEM grid) can safely cut total generating capacity from about 48 GW to 38 GW. Some coal does not need to be replaced but they suggest more gas peaking plant. The electricity sector accounts for about 184 Mt out of 536 Mt net CO2e national emissions. However if we go large on electric cars and gas replacement we’ll need even more low carbon electricity. With nuclear we could make drastic emissions cuts but power prices will increase which they will do anyway.

  31. Ken Fabian
    June 8th, 2015 at 09:08 | #31

    BilB – there’s next to zero chance of nuclear gaining the necessary political and community support, but without the past couple of decades of dedicated mainstream climate science denial it would be in a better position. I have my own misgiving about nuclear, especially the massive expansion into nations where regulatory safeguards would be almost entirely imposed and policed from outside. Yet more permanent paternalism from the Imperial – or more like Hegemonic – industrial powers.

    Meanwhile here in Oz, the politics and advocacy of nuclear is thoroughly intermixed with climate science denial and anti-environmentalism, but is so desperate for support that the leading advocates prefer to turn a blind eye to it. Julie Bishop, who has written diatribes against the evil eco-fascists who undermine the freedom to promote climate science denial just has to make the slightest positive remark about nuclear to be used as it’s poster girl (on theconversation.com). She is more coy than most on what she really thinks and her op eds in support of climate science denial may have been a requirement of Abbott’s, to lay cards on the table and show she is onside.

    Most Australians are most likely to hear claims that we must use nuclear to fix the climate problem from people who refuse to admit there is a serious climate problem and generally recieve no criticism from leading advocates for the dissonance – more likely they’ll be warmly praised – and if that isn’t a problem for nuclear-for-climate’s credibility I don’t know what is. Sure, the green left has it’s less than rational baggage too, but they have only appeared to stand so tall because everyone else has been keeping their heads down. It has never been up to the fringe to fix this and blaming it for the mainstreams failures is pure expediency. It’s always been up to mainstream politics.

  32. Ivor
    June 8th, 2015 at 09:20 | #32


    I assumed that the as the terms of reference used the phrase “commercial”, that this excluded issues such as “best” except in terms of cost.

    The whole point of nuclear is that it can be presented as commercially “best” even though it is socially “worst”.

    In general, under capitalism you only get commercial outcomes, not socially best alternatives.

    Right wing Greens sometimes peddle nuclear energy due to its attractive carbon-emission outcomes, similarly ignoring adverse social impacts.

    There is difficulty dealing with “best” issues. What is “best” for this generation may not be best for future generations.

    You cannot have “best” outcomes in one economy if there is free trade with other economies with cheap and nasty standards.

  33. Ikonoclast
    June 8th, 2015 at 10:43 | #33

    This survey is interesting.

    Nuclear power in Australia: A comparative analysis of public opinion regarding climate change and the Fukushima disaster.


    However, I have reservations about how much broad public opinion and democracy control outcomes in our society. It seems in many cases that what oligarchic and corporate capital wants it gets. The situation in relation to nuclear power might well resolve itself in another way by the competition of capitals. The numbers in that arena indicate that solar power and wind power will out-compete nuclear power.

    The best thing we could do (within the current capitalist and mixed economy framework) would be to hold a federal inquiry into energy markets and negative externalities. The first goal of the inquiry would be to uncover all subsidies and all negative externalities so far as possible and to cost them. The next goal ought to be to recommend ways to remove all subsidies, to require all energy systems to pay fair negative externality costs, to require all energy systems to meet fair safety standards and to require all energy systems to consider all stakeholders in the nation (i.e. all people), not just the owners of capital. Within that framework, competition could determine outcomes.

  34. Bernard J.
    June 8th, 2015 at 12:29 | #34

    I have a personal policy of assiduously avoiding discussions of nuclear energy as parsimony is inevitably a conspicuously absent parameter. Usually this is on the proponent side, as can be seen in the disparagement of the need for risk assessment, but I’m fascinated to see that John seems to have eschewed it too, on the very same point…

    100 reactor years might seem like a generous quantum with which to determine risk, but does it not presume that the risk of failure of the reactors is consistent across their entire lives of operation? I’d suggest that in the real world the actions of neutrons, oxygen and corrosive anions, and the sequelæ of mechanical stress compound the risk of failure over time. If this is the case then increasing the number of reactors in order to garner 100 reactor years of information is not nearly as defensible as increasing the average time for which a set number of reactors has operated.

    Over time it is inevitable that Rumsfeld’s observation about known unknowns and unknown unknowns will kick in, and as the history of aviation shows there are manifold ways in which small gremlins can result in catastrophic failure.

  35. David Allen
    June 8th, 2015 at 13:16 | #35

    @ Bernard J.

    Here,here. Perhaps John could provide both the sites for his reactors as well as the regions he’s prepared to sacrifice to wasteland when a reactor melts down.

    The human race has moved past the period when a nuclear industry could be started in Aus. The age of the engineer is over. The age of the MBA moron has arrived.

  36. Hermit
    June 8th, 2015 at 13:29 | #36

    George Monbiot at least sees positives in the Fukushima event
    Rough figures are tsunami and quake deaths 16,000, evacuation deaths 1,600, radiation deaths 0. The latter is for the period 2011-2015 but no statistically significant change is expected in Japanese cancers. In 2014 some 537 people were killed flying with one airline yet customers keep coming back. Seems to be different standards.

  37. June 8th, 2015 at 15:46 | #37

    I also don’t understand the 100 years thing. Are you saying that newer designs have a 1 in 100 year failure rate? This doesn’t seem to have ever been observed. Or are you saying that any design used in Australia should at least have been run for 100 operation-years elsewhere? If so then the design used at Fukushima should be good enough (there are 4 plants at Fukushima that ran 25 years + without failure). Given the absence of seismic risks in Australia, the failure rates here can be expected to be much lower than in e.g. Japan. In which case the risk assessment would surely put nuclear in Oz well above coal.

    I think your risk assessment figures here don’t make sense, even in a back-of-the-envelope standard.

    However, the idea of replacing coal with nuclear in a country with huge amounts of sun doesn’t make any sense …

  38. Zenuska
    June 8th, 2015 at 21:56 | #38

    I don’t have the figures, but the following costs need to be considered:
    1. Waste processing and very very long term storage.
    2. Decommissioning.
    3. The effective government insurance against catastrophic failure.

  39. Rob Day
    June 8th, 2015 at 22:18 | #39

    In my opinion, the “best” long-term repository option (where best is defined as safest over the medium to long term) would be Synroc , developed at ANSTO.

    Disclaimer: I was involved in the development process thirty-odd years ago.

  40. John Turner
    June 9th, 2015 at 08:55 | #40

    So who is going to accept the waste, who is going to cover the insurance costs and who is going to pay for the decommissioning of nuclear power plants at their end of life? – not me

    I do not see nuclear energy as a viable source of energy once you factor in the above. While the risk of accidents may be low, the simple fact is that they are catastrophic in their consequences – just ask the people of Japan and the Ukraine. When they are able to provide nuclear energy with a much lessor risk profile, eg through use of Thorium, maybe it will be worth considering but renewables can probably provide all the energy we require at zero risk.

  41. Ikonoclast
    June 9th, 2015 at 09:25 | #41

    We wouldn’t need to have these endless nit-picky arguments about nuclear power if we set up the regulatory and market apparatus to deal with all energy generation on an equitable basis. Set the level playing field properly and all energy generation methods can compete on that playing field.

    Within the current mixed economy framework, we need to hold a Federal inquiry into energy markets, subsidies and negative externalities. The first goal of the inquiry would be to uncover all subsidies and all negative externalities so far as possible and to cost them. The next goal ought to be to recommend ways to remove all subsidies, to require all energy systems to pay fair negative externality costs, to require all energy systems to meet fair safety standards and to require all energy systems to consider all stakeholders in the nation (i.e. all people), not just the owners of capital. Within that framework, competition could then determine outcomes.

    Each energy sector would no doubt make submissions concerning what they regarded as the necessary regulations, subsidies (or lack thereof) and negative externality costs (or lack thereof). These no doubt would very clearly amount to ambit claims from each sector, a concept well understood in industrial relations negotiating. A panel of independent scientific and economic experts could then sift all these claims and also submissions coming from other sources (e.g. consumer groups) plus include other and technical considerations which they (the panel) consider that no interested party has raised but which still should be considered.

    In this way all extant views, claims and interests would be considered and then resolved by the independent expert panel. Clearly, the expert panel’s determination would go back to the parliament for democratic determination. This would be the logical, disinterested* and democratic way to proceed.

    *Note: “Disinterested” in this context does not mean uninterested. It means not swayed by particular or vested interests.

  42. derrida derider
    June 9th, 2015 at 14:01 | #42

    Gee, John, as someone who has learned a lot from you about nuclear power and who is broadly sympathetic to your stance, I can’t think this submission is all that persuasive. In a nutshell it says we can only consider designs with a long operating record on the one hand, but only shiny new designs on the other. Won’t the intersection be an empty set – and come across as clearly designed to be?

    In fact it seems to me a good example of the thing pro-nuke people often complain about in their opponents – holding nukes to far higher standards than the alternatives. Not that SA in particular hasn’t better alternatives anyway.

  43. MartinK
    June 10th, 2015 at 09:32 | #43

    PrQ, I am sure you are on top of this but make sure your JP is an actual JP. I recall around 2005, JP’s were required to to pay an annual fee, but they were never told. So there were many ex JP’s who thought they were still JP’s.
    (UNE management decided they didn’t need to send around a memo to staff when alerted to the problem, even though they listed JP’s in the internal phone directory.)

  44. Uncle Milton
    June 11th, 2015 at 11:53 | #44

    five years is allowed for a process running from initial site selection to the commencement of construction work

    The environmental impact study by Victorian Government on the dredging of Port Phillip Bay so that bigger cargo ships could come in took five years to complete. Every grain of sand, every molecule of water, that might or might not have been disturbed was given a thorough going over. Every possible objection, genuine or contrived, was given due consideration. This, for something as harmless as a bit of dredging, which had been done plenty of times in the past

    Five years for the process of building Australia’s first nuclear power plant? Are you kidding? It will take 20 years.

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