Worried About Cutting CO2 Emissions? Then Nuclear is the Only Solution

These things start bushfires, they don’t prevent them.


As Greta the Fretter and her acolytes would have it, the obvious solution to Australia’s summertime bushfires is covering the country with wind turbines and solar panels.

Whether or not this nonsense represents ‘peak stupid’, is a matter for another day. Although wits might retort that large tracts of South Australia – across the Mount Lofty Ranges, the Yorke and Eyre Peninsulas and Kangaroo Island – went up in flames in the week before Christmas, notwithstanding that SA’s been Australia’s wind and solar capital, for a decade or more, with more wind and solar power capacity per head than anywhere else on earth. Not to mention that SA blew up its last coal-fired power plant, three years ago.

So maybe, just maybe, windmills and solar panels aren’t the panacea that’s being peddled by renewable energy rent seekers seeking to cash in on the bushfire/climate ‘action’ hysteria?

Of course the trope has it that by cutting the amount of carbon dioxide gas generated by human activity, this country would never suffer another drought, its tinderbox eucalypt woodlands would never burn again and, instead, thereafter Australia would resemble the garden of Eden. Which is where the push for more wind and solar makes its rent-seeking entrance.

Anyone gifted with our good friends logic and reason knows chaotically intermittent wind and solar can never work. Sunset and calm weather are both real things.

Sensible Australians, facing a renewable energy inflicted power pricing and supply calamity have forced politicians to at least begin using the dreaded ‘N’ word in public: nuclear power generation is banned in Australia.

That’s right. 20 years ago, the country with the largest uranium reserves in the world placed a ban on nuclear power stations; unlike the 30 Countries around the Globe currently running 450 nuclear plants, Australia has never had the benefit of nuclear power, despite its abundant resources.

The only G20 nation not to use nuclear power, it’s not just an outlier, it’s a joke.

True it is that coal-fired power provides around 80% of the electricity consumed among those states connected to the Eastern Grid (Queensland, NSW, Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia). But, as a result of the obscene subsidies to wind and solar – which operate as an effective penalty on generation sources such as coal and gas – ‘ageing’ coal-fired plant are an endangered species.

For as long as climate alarmists keep banging on about carbon dioxide gas (and politicians keep listening) any generation source that generates CO2 will be treated as some kind of villain and punished accordingly.

Which is why STT promotes ever-reliable nuclear power, the only stand-alone generation source that does not emit carbon dioxide gas during that process.

Tony Grey thinks that the answer to getting Australia’s nuclear future off the ground is by starting small.

Bushfires, drought: Nuclear the answer to burning problems
The Australian
Tony Grey
18 December 2019

Most of inland Australia is gripped by one of the worst droughts the country has experienced, certain­ly since European settlement began 230 years ago. The world’s oldest landmass has always been prone to long dry periods, but what is new is that Australia now has a population of more than 25 million who need to be fed, clothed and housed, and this puts unprecedented pressure on an alread­y fragile environment.

Before European settlement, its inhabitants would have numbered about 300,000.

It will rain again, that is sure, but we cannot say when. In the meantime, regional communities are suffering and bushfire smoke has been choking our cities as major fires break out around large metropolitan areas, Sydney particularly.

What the country lacks, and it certainly has the resources to allevia­te the situation, is water. This drought crisis is gripping the land at the same time as a divisive debate over climate change and what Australia should do about it. The drought and climate change are connected, and so is the solution to both.

Climate change warriors are demanding an end to all carbon dioxide generating energy ­sources, but this country needs reliable energy to drive its economy and employment, and to help produce­ the water it requires to mitigate the effects of frequent droughts.

The answer is emissions-free nuclear energy, but not from the large conventional power stations the world is familiar with. Rather, it’s from one of the most exciting nuclear developments since the industry emerged in the 1950s — a new generation of small modular reactors. They offer arguably the best entry point for Aust­ralia.

Polit­ical momentum to con­sider the ­nuclear option has result­ed in a federal parliament­ary committee recommending that the ban on nuclear energy be lifted. Committee chairman Ted O’Brien has declared: “Nuclear energy should be on the table for consideration as part of our future energy mix. Australia should say a definite ‘no’ to old nuclear tech­nologies but a conditional ‘yes’ to new and emerging technologies such as small modular reactors.”

These are reactors of less than 300MW electric and can be built down to five megawatts — suitable­ for mining operations. The technology is an adaptation from nuclear ships, submarines in particula­r.

The global home of innova­tion, California’s Silicon Valley, is abuzz with entrepreneurs who have started up companies to commercialise this technology.

Small modular reactors are manufactured to standardised designs that offer economies of scale and can be delivered on trucks to remote sites. They have real potential to drive the flexible-scale desalination plants Australia needs for its growing population. For instance, they could desalin­ate brackish underground water, far away from the sea.

Because they are so much smaller than conventional plants, small modular reactors are less scary to the public. And they requir­e lower investment.

As the peak body dealing with climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has declared, the world needs carbon­-clean nuclear power to stem the tide of global warming. Indeed, it has said its target cannot be met without a contribution from nuclear power.

Already it supplies 11 per cent of world electricity, from 450 react­ors across 30 countries; 13 other nations are building capacity.

Acknowledged by the IPCC, nuclear and hydro are the only CO2-free sources of baseload power, the lack of which has so markedly penalised South Aust­ralia’s reliance on capricious renewables. As Canada has shown, hydro, while plentiful there in places­, cannot do the job alone.

The answer to Australia’s droughts and this country’s need to respond to climate change is clear then; small emission-free modular reactors to provide ­continuous reliable power to desalinatio­n plants, large or small, and a network of pipes to take the water to where it is needed inland.

So why aren’t we doing it?

Notwithstanding this obvious solution and the manifest improve­ments to safety, waste disposal and cost structure for nuclea­r achieved since the issue was last addressed, federal legislation passed 20 years ago prohibits Australia from ever using nuclear power. We export uranium all over the world but cannot have a nuclear industry of our own. This is absurd.

Criticism by activists on the grounds of high cost and problems with waste disposal that might have applied a decade or more ago are no longer valid.

If the government accepts the substance of the parliamentary committee’s recommendations, the ban will be wholly or partially removed to allow use of the new generation of reactors.

Then the market should decide whether and to what extent nuclear­ should be deployed. As the drought in inland Australia drags on and the bushfires burn, it is a compelling solution.
The Australian

These things are better at starting them, than stopping them.

9 thoughts on “Worried About Cutting CO2 Emissions? Then Nuclear is the Only Solution

  1. Consider Thorcon Power, which in response to the sluggishness of the USA’s NRC is working with Indonesia to build for them a 500 MW molten salt, nuclear fission reactor for a construction cost less than that of a comparable coal burner.
    The huge advantage of molten alkali fluoride solvent with thorium and uranium fluorides in it, is that at reactor temperatures better than you can get with water, you do NOT need to enclose the reactor section with nine inch thick expensive steel. It is intrinsically immune even to the quiet rare meltdown events that created such wildly exaggerated fuss at TMI and Fukushima, although there were no radiation casualties in either of these cases.

  2. I am delighted to find in an anti-wind-power group, the recognition that the worthlessness of the wind devices supposed to diminish carbon dioxide emissions, Does NOT Mean that the concern about such emissions is fraudulent bad science.
    The correct thing to replace fossil carbon combustion is nuclear fission, which needs only a millionth as much fuel and actual waste, and even in the case of the presently deployed water cooled reactors, supplies almost 20% of the USA’s electric power at a cost of 25 hundred tons of “waste” a year. Of that, roughly a hundred tons a year is actual used-up uranium.

    The growing class of Molten Salt Reactors, after an invention pioneered and well demonstrated at Oak Ridge National Labs in the 1960s, is certainly better than those currently deployed, but any nuclear reactor in service is better, even if it needs refurbishing, than anything non-nuclear other than, perhaps, hydro or geothermal.

  3. Thanks for talking about the nuclear necessity. We don’t need the conventional old style but the new Small Modular Reactors SMRs that are now being developed (as mentioned above) which are not pressurized like the old kind. If a Molten Salt Reactor breaks, it will make a pile of hot radioactive salt, but it won’t blow radioactive waste around. I know it sounds crazy, but there is also a small fusion units now in development – but they need support. The DOE put enough into solar and wind; ARPA-E needs to give attention to new nuclear now.

  4. Ted O’Brien has declared: “Nuclear energy should be on the table for consideration as part of our future energy mix. Australia should say a definite ‘no’ to old nuclear tech­nologies…”

    Foolishness. “old” nuclear technologies have a better safety record than any other form of electricity generation, including wind and solar. And those “old nuclear technology” reactors are more reliable (have higher capacity factors) than any other electricity source including coal and gas.

    The new “small modular reactors” (SMRs) are exciting, but the bit no one talks about is the cost per unit electricity.

    Yes, you can buy an SMR for a much smaller up front investment than what a traditional big plant would cost. But you will pay for it in the long run with a much higher cost per KWHr of electricity.

    Now, no one knows for certain, as they haven’t been built and commercialized yet, but every cost estimate I’ve seen, suggests that electricity from SMRs will be at least twice as expensive as electricity from that “old nuclear technology”.

    The conclusion one should draw is that the old technologies should not be excluded. And the reason why new builds of the old technology get so expensive (in special cases, not in most cases) is because of the learning curve. We in the USA haven’t built one in 30 years. Australia has never built one.

    The first two or three are going to cost more and take longer than estimates, because it is a learning process. Acknowledge this up front, then commit to a dozen of them and the last eight will be cheap, if intelligence is used.

    China and Korea build “old nuclear technology” reactors for about $2.5 billion each in about 4 years.

    The USA has built nuclear reactors, which still operate safely today, for under $1 billion in 2005-adjusted dollars.

    Once the cost to build has been amortized (paid off) old technology nuclear reactors cost about $.03 per KWHr to operate.

    There is no technological reason why nuclear can not be cheap — only political and organizational/management reasons.

    1. STT agrees, but we think that SMRs are more likely to get political support in Australia and become the bridgehead for 1000MW plus plants. Australia has never had a nuclear power plant, and with a legislated ban in place there is no immediate prospect of building one. Getting an amendment that would allow 20-50MW plants in remote locations – mines, for example – would allow public sentiment to follow the technology as it develops and proves itself safe. Australia still has a rabid fringe of anti-nuclear advocates who go into hysterics at the mere mention of nuclear power. And wind and solar rent-seekers trade on that hysteria, to their obvious advantage. But, yes, of course, it would make sense to have off-the-shelf 500-1000 MW plants under construction, now. Here, we can only live in hope.

  5. Drought has occurred somewhere sometime whatever the“climate”. E.g. N. Africa has had one for at least 8000 years.

  6. Listen to Malcolm Turnbull squeal at the mere mention of nuclear power. The man is evil, driven by greed, trying to resurrect the NEG from the sidelines.

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