From Little Things Big Things Grow: Australia’s Nuclear Powered Future Starts With SMRs

STT promotes nuclear power because it works: safe, affordable and reliable it’s the perfect foil for those obsessed about carbon dioxide gas – because it doesn’t generate any, while generating power on demand.

One of the feeble ‘arguments’ against it, is that nuclear power plants are of such vast scale that they take longer to build than the pyramids of Giza, and cost twice as much.

That argument has been given short shrift in the US, where NuScale has just won approval for one its small modular reactor’s designs, with big implications for power generation in the future.

Australia is, astonishingly, the only country in the OECD that does not have (and has never had) the benefit of nuclear power generation (it banned it 20 years ago) -notwithstanding that it is the world’s third largest uranium exporter and holds reserves that will outlast religion.

Tony Grey was the founder and chief executive of Pancontinental Mining Ltd, which discovered the Jabiluka uranium orebody. He also was chairman of the Uranium Institute (formerly the World Nuclear Association).

Tony makes the obvious case for nuclear power in Australia, by thinking small.

Takeaway nuclear reactors could help power our nation
The Australian
Tony Grey
30 September 2020

An artist’s impression of a small modular reactor (SMR)


Scott Morrison in his recent national energy address — given symbolically at the Tomago aluminium smelter in NSW that is beset by soaring energy costs — enunciated three guiding objectives for energy policy, including ensuring “a resilient energy system through a balanced mix of technologies”.

The growing consensus is that Australia eventually will ditch its largest and most reliable source of energy, coal, on which it has depended for 100 years or more. We’ll need baseload energy sources if we’re to maintain living standards. Yet the only logical replacement for coal is nuclear, which offers emissions-free and reliable baseload capacity. It is used in 31 countries and supplies 11 per cent of the world’s electricity (15 per cent in Canada, 20 per cent in the US, 70 per cent in France) with 13 countries building capacity.

Nuclear technology has changed dramatically during the past decade, a point acknowledged by the Member for Fairfax, Ted O’Brien, who chaired last year’s parliamentary committee inquiring into the possibility of using nuclear power, but ignored by its opponents.

The two most dramatic advances have been in waste disposal and the development of small modular reactors. The waste issue has been the greatest barrier in Australia to consideration of nuclear and the excuse used by most opponents to silence supporters. Finland, which has four nuclear reactors and is building a fifth to replace its coal-fired generation, has solved the waste issue while proving a good example for Australia in dealing with this issue.

Finnish waste management company Posiva announced a “significant building services agreement” as part of a series of contracts already concluded relating to the construction of a nuclear waste disposal facility on Finland’s west coast.

Using a version of the vitrification technology developed in France — and refined in other parts of the world including Australia with its Synroc technology — the waste will be incorporated into borosilicate, a glass impervious to water, the problematic mobilising agent that must be thwarted. It will then be encased in metal canisters and deposited deep underground in granite bedrock that has been free of tectonic movement for millions of years and is forecast to remain stable for many millions of years to come.

Posiva already has received in-principle approval from the Finnish parliament and a construction licence from the government. The local community of about 10,000, which has been extensively consulted, supports it. The way is clear for completing the construction, securing an operating licence and commissioning the repository by 2023.

The Finns are confident it will prove to the world once and for all that high-level nuclear waste can be handled safely and permanently.

The world is moving quickly towards development of small modular reactors. Defined as having a capacity of less than 300 megawatts — but some as small as 5MW — these reactors are built in factories to standard designs and can be placed in line to provide larger capacities.

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission has just issued Nu Scale Power, the leading American company in the field, with a final safety evaluation report, the first for an American SMR. Four Canadian provinces have joined in support for the development of SMRs.

A few months ago Russia commissioned a floating nuclear power plant that carries two 35MW reactors. It is now connected to the grid.

China is building its version of an SMR in Hainan province. The chief engineer of China’s State Power Investment Corporation told the World Nuclear Association’s annual conference this month: “We also use modular construction, with a shorter construction period, and this has enhanced economic performance.”

The chief executive of GE-Hitachi, one of the leading providers of advanced reactors, said at that conference the flexibility of SMRs means they will be able to support a variety of activities beyond electricity generation, providing cost-competitive and environmentally friendly power for uses such as hydrogen production, desalination, district heating and industrial use.

SMRs would be ideal for us. They are readily transportable and ideal for regional areas. They can be placed quickly in sites where coal-fired plants have been decommissioned, connecting to the existing grid and replacing the baseload capacity. But Australia sits paralysed, with no baseload options for the future, while the nuclear world moves on apace.

Energy Minister Angus Taylor has put nuclear on a “watching brief” in his “technology roadmap”. At least he hasn’t ruled it out.

John Maynard Keynes gave Australians a rationale for a rethink on nuclear with that famous remark: “When the facts change, I change my mind.”
The Australian

6 thoughts on “From Little Things Big Things Grow: Australia’s Nuclear Powered Future Starts With SMRs

  1. Lucas Heights was originally built in 3 years as an example of a working energy generation plant before being converted to medical use. So the precedent exists.

    The 1980s ALP-NLP consensus to follow the MPS-IEA policies of privatisation and deindustrialisation opened the door to ecofascism.
    The Commonwealth Bank (as was the old-Labor Party; US spelling ‘labor’ intended a republic) was based on the original Alexander Hamilton ‘financial credit system’ based on the wealth of the nation and national sovereignty, so until the consensus we remained debt free. As John Curtin said in a 1937 WA speech, “If the government of the Commonwealth deliberately excluded itself from all participation in the making or changing of monetary policy it cannot govern except in a secondary degree.”

    That the 1900 Federation Constitution was amended to suit “Queen Victoria her heirs and successors” to become that passed as the 1901 Constitution retains Australia as a constitutional monarchy; the constitution is not worth the paper, real or virtual it’s written on – were the Westminster system a democracy what then is the veto power of the Remembrancer called? So Curtin was exactly correct as there is foreign control of the Reserve Bank that The Australia Acts 1986 codified by taking away the federal right of appeal to Westminster but left it as a reciprocal right with the states, so the crown through the states control resources as well.
    To further hide crown control the honorific ‘Right’ before Honourable MP was removed so that along with businesses, scientists, etc., politicians could no longer be recognised as members of the Queen’s Privy Council – so much for royalty not involved in politics; what is CHOGM thought to be?

    That we don’t have nuclear power when Britain does is patently ridiculous, but banning it was what the ALP-NLP were told to do in keeping us a subservient colony.
    Unfortunately the Anglo-Dutch-Roman financial system hiding behind wage-slavery also recaptured the USA.
    Anyone frightened of nuclear power should stay away from planes, trains and automobiles.
    The simplest answers are always the best.

  2. There is the possibility of using gas to extract the heat from the core and use that for generation. I am thinking of high pressure CO2 in a Drayton cycle. About 56-58% efficient. Also a good fire suppression agent if something does go wrong.
    We wil have plenty of time to explore the various options given the timid behaviour of our current politicians.

    1. You’ve pretty much described the British Advanced Gas Reactors (AGR) that are still running in the UK. These reactors were Graphite moderated and had to have special cooling circuits for the graphite since Carbon Dioxide reacts with Graphite at elevate temperatures. I think the AGRs have been fairly successful but turned out to be rather expensive and complicated. Running any process at high pressures comes at a high cost.

      1. Ziggy Switskowski appears to have done little to torward his nuclear profession but more toward disguising taxpayer costs.
        As he said of graphite enclosed fuel in helium cooled pebble bed reactors, that the accumulation of dust posed a problem. Seems odd that their other benefits could not have blown that problem away.

  3. The issues with SMRs is that they may reduce the capital cost of large scale plants but they do nothing to address the real issues of Pressurised Light Water reactors (PWRs). That is, very poor fuel utilisation, the low thermal performance and the inherent danger of the possibility of bringing liquid water into contact with hot nuclear fuel.
    Because the nuclear fuel must be sequestered from the water in the reactor it is sealed inside Zirconium alloy tubes. Over a couple of years the build up of gaseous fission products means the internal pressure of the fuel rod increases. This is the limiting condition of time in the reactor – about 2 – 4 years is typical. SMRs have the same issue and need to be stopped and dismantled to change out the fuel rods. At best a PWR might consume 1 – 2% of its fuel load – a fast neutron energy molten salt reactor could consume close to 100% of its fuel.
    The thermal performance of PWRs is poor – the reactor cannot by run at more than about 350C and the high pressure operation is a way of generating steam with sufficient energy to drive special low energy steam turbines. There’s no way to run the reactor above the water critical point like most HELE coal plants.
    Liquid water plus hot fuel is a disaster. Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima all had water coming into contact with hot fuel producing hydrogen which then exploded or the case of TMI formed a hydrogen bubble inside the reactor. Reactors which are anhydrous and use intermediate heat transfer loops to isolate the hot fuel from the steam loops are intrinsically safe compared to PWRs.

    1. Memory tells me 3 Mile Island was caused by a contractor putting a blanking plate in a cooling pipeline. Chernobyl because of its design was an ‘accident’ waiting to happen. Four of the same since modified still operate in Russia. Fukushima could simply have been avoided – Under Obama’s watch France was conducting satellite tests over the Americas west coast when another group noticed anomalies in the data. The satellite life was extended. Found was ionospheric anomalies as a precursor up to weeks in advance of geological disturbance. East Asia because of the Rim of Fire experiences tsunamis and for centuries animal behaviour has been monitored for warning signs.
      With Fukushima an Italian scientist tried to warn the Japanese government of the tsunami but was ignored.
      Australian federal government has announced satellite use in a fire early warning system. Although minor geological disturbances do happen here such a system could be incorporated in the satellite.

      Being in the wrong place at the wrong time a rock may fall from the sky causing damage, that is an accident. Other incidents involve negligence; Space shuttle Challenger would not have been destroyed for the want of a cheap new seal. Overconfidence and complacency sunk the Titanic. Long time knowledge of pine boring beetles turning mountain forests into kindling in western USA has been ignored. It isn’t mentioned in news reports as it adds fuel to the fire of global warming hysterics.
      Biotechnology can produce more in less space, modify plants to increase nutrients and immunise against many diseases. GM is a faster way of selecting better quality. But a small greedy minority manipulate the majority into believing it’s all bad and unnatural. After about 5 billion years of terra forming weather, where on the planet has time stood still giving an example of natural environment? I lived opposite commando training bushland where locals dumped garden refuse. The last time I looked a new generation of residents had fenced off some of those areas as examples of ‘natural environment’. Generational normality is manipulated to suite purposes.

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