No nuclear reactor for South Australia

That, for me at any rate, is the crucial element of the Tentative Findings of the South Australian Royal Commission into the Nuclear Fuel Cycle (here. The media releasee summarises

aking account of future demand and anticipated costs of nuclear power under the existing electricity market structure, it would not be commercially viable to generate electricity from a nuclear power plant in South Australia in the foreseeable future.

However, Australia’s electricity system will require low-carbon generation sources to meet future global emissions reduction targets. Nuclear power may be necessary, along with other low carbon generation technologies. It would be wise to plan now to ensure that nuclear power would be available should it be required.

The detailed findings are sensible (that is to say, largely in line with my submission and evidence. A crucial para:

If nuclear power were to be developed in South Australia, a proven design should be used that has been constructed elsewhere, preferably on multiple occasions, and should incorporate the most advanced active and passive safety features. This is likely to include consideration of small modular reactor (SMR) designs, but exclude for the foreseeable future fast reactors

Given that Barry Brook, a leading enthusiast for fast reactors was part of the Commission’s Expert Advisory Panel, this finding should make it clear that fast reactors are an option for the distant (beyond foreseeable) future.

The finding is striking because South Australia is, or ought to be a test case for those arguing that a carbon-free electricity system must rely on “baseload” nuclear. South Australia has high and increasing reliance on renewables, is close to phasing out coal, and has limited interconnection capacity. It’s exactly the modle that anti-renewable sites like Brave New Climate have “proved” time after time can’t possibly work without nuclear power. Yet, it seems, even a sympathetic inquiry finds nuclear power to be an option for the distant future, if that.

Most of the news attention has been focused on the Commission’s other key finding, that South Australia should establish a nuclear waste dump. I don’t have a view on the economics of this, but I see no reason for an objection in principle. The waste exists and has to be kept somewhere. South Australia produced some of the uranium and continues to produce it. Finally, the difficulty of dealing with waste is at most a minor factor in the growth and decline of nuclear power, so there’s no likelihood that the decision to create a dump would have much effect on the process.

In these circumstances, I can’t see why any other location should be preferred. If it works for South Australian voters (it probably won’t), the dump should go there.

33 thoughts on “No nuclear reactor for South Australia

  1. Jay Wetherill was enthusiastic or a GST increase, too. I think his judgement is somewhat compromised, JohnG.

  2. We might need nuclear in a couple of decades if we fail to push ahead with adequate emissions reductions. Huh? Surely the converse would be more true – if we do push ahead we won’t need it. And if the same political forces that have obstructed emissions policies to date continue obstructing, what makes anyone think adequate community support for emissions reductions using nuclear, which more than any option needs broad, enduring public acceptance of serious need, will be ready and waiting?

  3. > The waste exists and has to be kept somewhere.

    The turds that I extrude from my bowels have to go somewhere too, which is why you should build a public commode on your front step.

    Nuclear waste storage isn’t a problem we have to solve.

  4. If anybody is interested, I expanded on the reasons why I think a nuclear waste storage facility storing imported waste is a political impossiblity here

    The bit on nuclear waste storage is towards the end, and discusses the abortive attempts to establish a toxic waste incinerator in rural NSW in the 1990s. I would be very surprised if the same political forces that killed off the incinerator rule out a nuclear waste dump dealing with imported waste.

  5. @Collin Street

    Nuclear waste storage isn’t a problem we have to solve.

    Well, not imported nuclear waste anyway. Everyday domestic and commercial activities do produce quantities of nuclear waste that need to be dealt with, which is often politically problematic in itself.

  6. Nevil, countries such as France and Japan may not have renewable energy resources that match Australia’s, but they are definitely going to have a strong tendency to install the lowest cost generating capacity and throughout the world renewable energy is cheaper than new nuclear. New nuclear power is extremely expensive. This is why France is using renewable energy to replace aging reactors that are going to be retired.

    And also, while a fresh nuclear fuel rod represents an awful lot of energy that can be extracted once placed in a nuclear reactor, nuclear power is not in practice the most concentrated source of electrical energy. Nuclear power plants take up space, as do uranium mines, and things such as nuclear waste dumps; so the average watts produced per square meter are not extremely high. And if you throw in existing exclusion zones in the Ukraine and Japan then the average watts generated per square meter are quite low.

    Rooftop solar is the most concentrated source of electrical energy since it doesn’t remove any land from its original use, and on land geothermal may be next, though wind power is also very concentrated as a modern onshore windfarm only removes about 1% of the land it covers from use. And for offshore wind, well if the original use was fishing, they appear to do no harm there and may actually help improve fish stocks. (But you’ll have to check with a fishologist to get the dirty on that.)

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