What price nuclear power ?

As I mentioned a while ago, the Standing Committee on Environment and Energy of the Commonwealth Parliament is inquiring into the prerequisites for nuclear energy in Australia. There’s a similar inquiry happening in NSW.

All the evidence suggests that this isn’t serious exercise. Rather it’s something intended to appease the National Party or troll the Greens, depending on where you are coming from.

Still, it’s a Parliamentary inquiry on an important issue, so I decided to take it at face value and make a submission. My central recommendation is a combined policy

  • Introduce a carbon price, rising gradually to $50/tonne of CO2
  • Repeal legislative bans on nuclear power

I’m pretty confident this package will have close to zero supporters in Parliament, but it ought to appeal to two groups.

First, anyone who seriously believes that nuclear power should be adopted as a response to climate change. That’s a small, but non-empty set, since most nuclear fans are climate deniers. But for those people, it should be obvious that nuclear power is never going to happen except with a carbon price high enough to wipe out coal, and compete with gas.

Second, renewable supporters who want action now, and are prepared to give nuclear a chance in 15-20 years time if it’s needed. The carbon price would push a rapid transition to solar PV, wind and storage, and would be neutral as between these technologies and nuclear. On present indications, that would be sufficient to decarbonize the electricity supply at low cost. But if a fixed-supply technology turned out to be absolutely necessary, one or two nuclear plants might possibly happen.

I looked over the other submissions. The anti-nuclear ones raise the obvious points about waste, accident risk and proliferation.

What’s striking about the pro-nuclear submissions is the absence of any mention of existing technologies or the main alternative, small modular reactors, on which I spent a fair bit of time.Rather, the nuclear fans are talking about vaporware such as thorium, Gen IV and even Gen V, described by Wikipedia as ‘ reactors that are purely theoretical and are therefore not yet considered feasible in the short term, resulting in limited R&D funding. ‘

34 thoughts on “What price nuclear power ?

  1. “If we are getting 13% of our electricity consumption from solar and wind with 0% diesel consumption, then using the power of maths 100% solar and wind generation would require 7.7 times 0% diesel.”

    Oh I get it. I may have misunderstood your misunderstanding. The answer is NO. Thats not the thing. Its all about how quickly you can accelerate the coal. You can accelerate coal but it takes some time. So thats why you need these diesel generators. They have to flick on just long enough for that cloud to get out of the way or for coal to accelerate. So if you get rid of coal you don’t have coal accelerating reliably and predictably. So what you are saying above doesn’t work at all.

    There is no getting away from it. Intermittency must be solved always and everywhere. And its a coo-ee away from being solved. But it will take surplus budgets and interest free loans to pull it off.

    But some people, used to living in an otherworldly life of schmoozing and cocktails, don’t want to take the problem seriously. Not looking at cocktail James here. I could have been talking about anyone.

  2. Tried my hand at a mojito yesterday. Pretty good, though I say so myself.

    The reason we haven’t built Twh of pumped hydro storage yet is that we don’t need it yet. IIRC you can get to 80% renewable electricity or thereabouts firming with gas, which is a cheap option since the gas turbines mostly exist. To get rid of them we will have to build large volumes of pumped hydro storage (or cheaper unicorn methods) which will be quite expensive, though overall cheaper than today. Generally, people don’t build a lot of expensive equipment until they have to.

  3. They don’t have to do anything do they James. They can just sit there raking in the money due to the disaster of having a grid with intermittent power sources that causes price spikes everywhere. No-one has to do anything. Thats failure and stupidity. The goal of the exercise is to have low prices for electricity. Or if they are high to trace the high prices to high royalties. This is not some self-correcting market we are talking about. If stupid things are done they stay stupid and the producers get all the loot.

  4. You’re welcome, Curt. It’s an interesting idea but I don’t see how they can get the cost of olive sand any appreciable amount cheaper than it is at the moment. But it could still end up being the cheapest method of removing and sequestering CO2 from the atmosphere. Of course, the easiest thing to do first/during is reduce emissions by 90+%. It’s not as if there aren’t huge health savings to be had from reducing coal and oil use.

  5. No the easiest thing to do first is NOT reduce emissions 90%. Thats the hardest thing to do first it will mean immediate destruction of the Australian economy and mass starvation. The easiest thing to do first is farm reform for the purpose of building soil. The second easiest thing for Australia to do is to keep coal cheap for local electricity generation, but crank up royalties to reduce coal exports.

  6. The easiest thing for the AMERICANS (as opposed to the Australians) to do first is STILL to reform farming for the purposes of soil building. The second easiest thing for the Americans to do first is to put $5 dollars more per gallon on their gasoline taxes. The Americans are letting us down having cheap gasoline. Thats making the international oil price unnecessarily high. The rest of us have quite high gasoline (petrol) taxes but the Americans are keeping the before-tax oil price high.

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