Digging It: Nuclear Power the Obvious Solution For Australia’s Power Pricing & Supply Crisis

BHP’s Olympic Dam ships uranium to the world.

 

The dividend from Australia’s obsession with wind and solar is rocketing power prices and a grid on the brink of collapse. This summer, mass load shedding events are guaranteed, although those responsible for Soviet-era power rationing – the new ‘normal’ in what was once an energy superpower – are trained to refer to it as “demand management”. The cause will be, as always, collapses in wind and solar output – thanks to those pesky phenomena: sunset and dead-calm weather.

With Labor and the Greens trying to outdo each other about their visceral hatred of coal and the myriad of benefits it produces (not least being reliable and affordable electricity), carbon dioxide gas will remain the bogeyman for years to come.

The only, indeed the perfect, foil to the anti-CO2 mob is nuclear power.

While coal-fired power plant currently provide around 85% of Australia’s electricity needs (and will do so for decades to come), there’s no time like the present to start talking about nuclear power.

Liberal Senator for NSW, Jim Molan has entered the ranks of those with the temerity to point to the obvious solution to Australia’s self-inflicted energy crisis.

We can’t ignore our unique nuclear opportunity
The Australian
Jim Molan
13 November 2018

It is time for Australia to acknowledge the potential of nuclear energy. The conversation has already started, thanks to the recent prominence of energy in Australia’s political discourse.

Commentary on nuclear is coming not only from politicians but also from academics, think tankers and other experts. This is happening because nuclear is emerging as a remarkable form of power, with much to contribute to the national energy priorities we have finally decided on. Furthermore, nuclear promises a range of other benefits, all in the national interest. It is our responsibility as legislators to examine every available option on its merits — to be “technology neutral” — and consider Australia’s immediate and future energy needs.

In the immediate future the government wants to reduce energy prices. We are introducing a price safety net and other measures to stop price gouging by energy companies that are taking advantage of recent confused thinking. These are positive moves and they should be supported, but they are designed to address shorter-term issues — they are actions to make a difference to power bills as soon as possible because Australians desperately need that. They are not the ultimate answer to big underlying problems in the energy sector.

The core of Australia’s energy problem is the “trilemma”. During the past decade the Australian government has concentrated on three things: affordability, reliability and emissions reduction, in a variety of mixtures and combinations. But the technologies comprising our present energy mix cannot satisfy all three criteria. Coal, in the way we use it at present, is affordable and reliable but attracts criticism for its emissions. Renewables emit less in some respects but fall far short of the baseload reliability needed by Australia’s east coast electricity network.

Nuclear is unique because it has the potential, in its modern and emerging forms, to combine the best aspects of all other technologies, offering price and reliability comparable to coal, paired with life-cycle emissions comparable to renewables.

As Mark Ho and John Harries conclude in the September issue of Energy Magazine, nuclear can solve the energy trilemma. If we are serious about achieving the three priorities of affordability, reliability and emissions reduction, there is no choice but to give full consideration to nuclear, along with all other developing technologies.

We cannot ignore the amazing developments in nuclear energy during the next decade or so. When we look at solar or wind power, we are always prepared to acknowledge the rapidly increasing efficiency of these technologies and the dramatic decrease in price.

We also must acknowledge the technological progress being made by existing and emerging nuclear power technology. The future of nuclear power lies in small modular reactors, only the size of a shipping container, that can be used as permanent or temporary power sources or combined to produce as much power as a Liddell or a Hazelwood. They do not require a water source, they are inherently safe, they can be located locally and their waste can be managed by any clever country.

The rest of the world is embracing nuclear for the 21st century. There are 447 nuclear plants in operation across the world and 60 more being built. Meanwhile, Australia is the only OECD country to prohibit nuclear by legislation. If we were to remove the prohibiting legislation, we could use our international relationships to accelerate the development of our own nuclear industry.

Furthermore, because developing nuclear would be a long-term project, we should consider the long-term benefits it could bring. Nuclear could restore Australia’s former advantage of cheap, reliable energy for the 21st century, encouraging economic growth by removing the heavy energy costs borne by households and businesses. Nuclear could also secure Australia’s energy sovereignty. Given Australia’s has the world’s largest uranium reserves, a domestic nuclear capacity could reduce our energy dependence on the rest of the world.

An Australian nuclear industry also would encourage expertise, using our world-class research and educational institutions to build on the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation’s small but expert hub at Lucas Heights.

Nuclear expertise would promote the development of ancillary industries and capabilities. ANSTO already produces silicon ingots for use in semiconductors as well as radioactive materials required for medical equipment. Many further possibilities for future industries would be opened by embracing nuclear. These might include the facilities and expertise to maintain a nuclear submarine force were we to deem that necessary.

We are at a critical juncture in national energy policy. Most of our coal power stations, the mainstays of cheap and reliable power, are due to be decommissioned within the next two decades, even though coal will be king for many years to come. We need to give careful consideration to what will complement or replace them in the future to provide baseload power to the grid. We have had an enormous increase in intermittent renewables and there is no going back on that — it can be managed as long as we balance wind and solar with dispatchable power.

We must not preclude ourselves from considering nuclear in the longer term because of old ideas and ideological barriers. We owe it to the Australian people to consider the costs and benefits of every energy option, and modern nuclear is up there with the best of the technological options.

Jim Molan is a senator for NSW.
The Australian

Not a bad first outing from Senator Molan. However, we couldn’t help but notice this piece of fence sitting:

We have had an enormous increase in intermittent renewables and there is no going back on that — it can be managed as long as we balance wind and solar with dispatchable power.

Come on, Jim. You can do a whole lot better than that. When you have dispatchable power with sufficient capacity to meet daily demand, try and explain, in a sentence, the point or purpose of wind and solar?

Conventional generation, be it coal, gas, hydro and nuclear stand on their own 2 feet. They don’t need “firming”, “backup”, “balancing”, “pumped hydro storage”, mythical mega-batteries – instead, they just work: 24 x 365, whatever the weather, and wherever the sun hangs in the sky. Simple, really.

Australia is one of the world’s largest uranium exporters, and could export a whole lot more were it not for the Labor party’s three mine policy – that limits the number of operating uranium mines in the country. One of those is Olympic Dam, in South Australia’s far north.

BHP Billiton extract gold, copper and uranium from a hybrid open cut/underground mine near Roxby Downs. Roxby Downs would be an ideal situation for Australia’s first Small Modular Reactor, capable of satisfying the demand from Olympic Dam, as well as other mining operations in SA’s Far North.

Uranium extracted from Olympic Dam is clearly good enough for the French, South Koreans, Americans, Canadians, Japanese and Chinese, being just a few of the 30 countries where you will find nearly 450 nuclear reactors currently operating – their combined output accounts for over 11% of global electricity production – with another 15 countries currently building 60 reactors among them.

Despite Australia having the largest uranium reserves in the world, it not only has failed to develop a nuclear power industry, it has legislation which prohibits nuclear power generation in any form.

The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act and the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act, specifically prohibit nuclear fuel fabrication, power, enrichment or reprocessing facilities.

This post wouldn’t be complete unless STT dealt with the other classic furphy attached nuclear power: namely, the hackneyed claim that nuclear is much more expensive than wind and solar. True it is that wind power is ‘cheap’ – when the wind stops blowing (it can’t be bought at any price); the same can be said of solar power when the sun drops over the horizon, as it tends to do, every single day. So, ‘comparing’ nuclear power with wind and solar doesn’t really involve a ‘comparison’, at all.

The USA, the world’s largest nuclear power generator, has 99 nuclear power reactors in 30 states, operated by 30 different power companies, and in 2016 they produced 805 TWh. Since 2001 these plants have achieved an average capacity factor of over 90%, generating up to 807 TWh per year and accounting for about 20% of total electricity generated.

Is it any surprise then, that average retail prices across the US are 1/3 of those in wind and sun powered SA?

Earlier this year, the State of Pennsylvania sent a delegation to Australia to lure energy hungry businesses, with a promise of power prices, a mere fraction of those paid here.

Commercial users in Pennsylvania are paying 8.85 cents per KWh, equating to US$88.50 per MWh. Industrial users are paying 6.67 cents per KWh, equating to US$66.70. Depending on the State they’re in, Australian commercial users are paying upwards of A$0.35 per KWh, or A$350 per MWh hour, in SA it’s A$0.47 per KWh, or A$470 per MWh.

According to the US Energy Information Administration, in 2016, Pennsylvania ranked second in the nation in electricity generation from nuclear power, which supplied 39% of the state’s net electricity generation, more than from any other source.

In France the average retail power price is $246.30 per MWh (24.63 cents per KWh) which compares rather favourably with the average retail power price in South Australia $471.30 per MWh (47.13 cents per KWh) – a snicker under double the price paid by French power consumers (see below).

The French have 58 nuclear reactors, which provide them with roughly 75% of their power.

South Australia is one of the world’s largest uranium miners, with two of Australia’s three operating uranium mines: Olympic Dam and Beverley North/Four Mile, exporting their output to the French, among others. SA also holds uranium reserves that will last the world for a millennia or more.

While there might be other arguments against a nuclear powered future for Australia, the cost of the power produced clearly isn’t one of them. Ask the French, the Americans, South Koreans, Swedes, Slovakians, Hungarians, etc, etc…

About stopthesethings

We are a group of citizens concerned about the rapid spread of industrial wind power generation installations across Australia.

Comments

  1. A good article by Senator Jim Molan, a refreshing change to see someone in government talking sense when it comes to electricity generation policy.  Although, given the events of the last few days it may have been a "Bridge Too Far" when it comes to the PC Left Liberal Party machine.  Maybe it was this article along with Molan daring to be interviewed on that dreaded Right wing "shock jock" station 2GB, here and here, that brought about his political execution by those troglodytes.

     

    Perhaps it's understandable that Molan felt obliged to tug the forelock in deference to the renewables fantasy, but other than that he talks a lot of sense.  Obviously the consideration of nuclear power generation should be a no brainer particularly to the likes of those warming worriers of the Liberal Party machine.  

     

    Whether Molan's level of confidence in Small Modular Reactors is justified in the short term I would question, yes in 10 maybe 20 years, when prototype SMR plants have demonstrated that they can operate reliably and economically OK that's when to embrace the technology.  My understanding is that at present there are no SMRs in operation and only a hand-full of prototypes under construction, so to place reliance on promising but as yet unproven technology would be unwise.  How many times have we been snowed with the "emerging technology needing initial subsidies" mantra in connection with wind and other renewables, in the case of wind, after more than 20 years of subsidies wind is still no closer to providing economic reliable generation and remains utterly dependent on subsidies and mandated grid access.

     

    However I don't for a moment think that nuclear generation should not be adopted, there are proven, conventional, nuclear power plant designs that could be adopted with confidence.  In this context beleaguered South Australia, having destroyed its once reliable power generation system at the whim of ideologically blinkered idiots like Jay Weatherill, is a natural when it comes to developing a complete, integrated nuclear industry including mining, processing, value added exporting, power generation and long term waste storage.

  2. Craig Lucanus says:

    The Victorian result only further drives home that burning coal is a policy loser. Unless the Coalition starts talking nuclear up and renewables down its energy policy just looks like Labor-lite. It’s hell or bust as without significant policy differentiation and treating the electors intelligently we won’t see the possibility of nuclear for a decade with Labor in power. The economy will be completely stuffed by its energy policy by then. Why Malcolm’s NEG, with its lip-service to renewables expansion, wasn’t supported is beyond me. Now Labor claims NEG policy to itself.

    • Sarcastic Cynic says:

      Turnbull’s NEG didn’t pay lip-service to renewables. It was a wolf in sheep’s clothing that promoted renewables while paying lip-service to fossil fuel derived electricity.
      The Victorian result drives home that the Liberal party is a policy loser. The electorate is hell bent on pushing ahead with renewables. It will, in all certainty, fail, but it appears as though the Australian voter is determined to find out for him/herself. The voter has been suckered by the rhetoric. The Australian business leaders have been suckered by the renewable rhetoric. It’s almost across the board with the Australian public. Hold onto your panties, because the train crash is going to be something else.
      The Liberal party members need to quickly work out which side of the fence they reside upon. The party cannot support both camps. If the party pushes out the pro-renewables, it can rebuild and plan to be there for the Australian economy when Labor’s experiment falls on its butt with the economy. If the party pushes out the pro-fossil fuel faction, then it will surely collapse with time and the National party or the ACP will be the beneficiary.

      • Craig Lucanus says:

        The renewables target sets the Labor NEG apart from Turnbull/Freidenberg’s. Under the latter, with already committed renewable projects and subsidies there would have been little more to build, while under the former we’re heading towards 50% renewables by 2030 and consequent economic oblivion. Both cases need support of coal and/or gas because storage is not an economically viable option, so neither provides sufficient AGW mitigation. Nuclear is the ONLY solution to the trilemma of affordability, reliability and emissions.

  3. Even a child can understand that if you sit on one end of a see-saw with nobody on the other end, they ain’t going anywhere fast. And it won’t be much fun either.

    If 50% renewables are at one end, then the other end is still for the taking. Something has to make up that other 50%. The question is what?

    This leaves the option of 100% renewables. And it would have to be a very brave party to take that one!

    So in my opinion the Coalition should claim the other 50% for clean base load technologies that will show up how unreliable the 50% renewables are. It may also push Labor towards the 100% renewables option which will leave the ticking time bomb in their hands. And good luck with that one.

    A country needs a back bone to build on. I am still in favour of clean coal technology, nuclear, gas and hydro. But the point has to be made that a clean coal plant will produce fewer emissions than an old one.

    And forget gas fracking. It’s a vote loser. The public do not like it. The only reason gas is needed in such vast amounts is to back up renewables. The more renewables you build, the greater the likelihood of fracking in future as gas supplies run low. More should be made of this. This is why the nuclear backed up by hydro option works so well. It uses less gas.

    The other thing to consider is what is going to happen when these household batteries need replacing? A home owner could sell their home to someone who finds that they cannot afford to replace the battery or solar panels. Or may not want to on principle.

    Are governments going to fund replacement batteries and solar panels forever?!! What will happen in 10 years time?

    At present I am now making plans to move to a country that is installing new nuclear energy projects. This is the only way that I know I can build a new life with cheap affordable electricity that will be reliable into the future and beyond.

    Don’t repeat the mistakes of the past.

    The nuclear option received a positive response at the last Hawkesdale meeting to object to new wind farm projects in the area. The video link is below.

    Renewables. A whole new world of unreliability.

    • Sarcastic Cynic says:

      The problem is that renewables cannot now and never will be able to sit on one end of your seesaw. Other than minute, niche applications, renewable energy is completely out-performed by fossil fuels and nuclear. It’s a furphy to even think they can provide a valuable contribution to the grid. They disrupt the grid and nothing more. It’s the perceived virtue that keeps them alive. If you have nuclear, there is no need at all for renewable energy. If you have coal fired electricity, there is no need for renewables. You cannot have 50% renewables and 50% of something else. The grid will collapse long before you even get close and this is what Australia is currently facing. You might get 50% renewable generated electricity at times, but you have to have almost 100% backup always.

      • I agree. I am not advocating 50% renewables. Labor is. This will be their big idea at the next election. This leaves 50% whether we like it or not. It has to be made up so how, and gas is most likely to be the filler, plus hydro. This will lead to a greater likelihood of gas fracking in future. And the fracking currently going on near Blackpool in the U.K. is repeatedly causing earth tremors in the area.

        What I am suggesting is that nuclear, hydro and at times gas might be a better mix.

        Forget ruinables.

  4. Maureen Campbell says:

    Course it is, why wouldn’t you go nuclear? It’s a no brainer. What the hell is this country up to? Why can’t you see what is happening? You are like sheep following what the rest of the world does. But when the world finds out all its mistakes it stops. Noooo, not us, we carry on just hoping it will be all OK. Well it’s not OK any more. The people are fed up with it all now. Stop these horrible monsters from hurting your people.

    • Sarcastic Cynic says:

      When your kids have been exposed to constant school lectures on the dangers of pollution; when your left-leaning public service is brainwashed in the evils of capitalism and CO2; when your businesses are required to address climate change as a risk; when your media rams the perils of carbon down the throat of its reader/viewer everyday; when being seen to be “green” is regarded as a necessary requirement of your peer group, when local, state and federal politicians are scrambling over one another to be seen to be more “green” than the other, what more can you expect? Victorians and South Australians are about to get a real-life look at the costs and benefits of large scale renewable energy implementation and it’ll be a miracle if they don’t take the rest of the country down that rabbit hole with them.

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