In a recent expose regarding the extent to which anti-nuclear campaigners are willing to subvert honourable process and thoroughly stack the decks against the possibility of a grown-up discussion on nuclear opportunities, South Australia-based Bright New World provided an example of an imminent advanced reactor design.
If we let [anti-nuclear campaigners] win, they will know that the process that has unfolded here can be deployed against any other opportunity for South Australia in future.
What sort of opportunities are we talking about? Well, let me tell you about a Canadian company called Terrestrial Energy.
Terrestrial Energy are developing a molten salt small nuclear reactor. It will provide outlet temperatures of over 600 degrees C, making it suitable for decarbonising a range of industrial applications. They are on track for first deployment in the 2020s, with an industrial board that now boasts several of north America’s largest utilities.
The design is approximately six times more efficient per unit of mined uranium, and being a molten salt fuel designed to operate at atmospheric pressure, the safety case is achieved at far lower cost with lesser engineering requirements.
Terrestrial Energy’s original submission to the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission is available here.
When people talk about “thorium reactors”, this is invariably what they’re actually refering to: the molten salt reactor, a design which was operationally demonstrated back in the 1960s. As was the case then, Terrestrial Energy’s reactor will in fact run on uranium, which is an undeniably more tried and tested fuel at this point in history — but with all the advantages of the molten fuel form, as emphasised in this interview during the Climate Action Programme Sustainable Investment Forum:
Does Australia really need to consider this opportunity? With an appreciation of the scale of the challenge, including industrial energy production, can Australia honestly afford not to? While clean and sustainable, renewable sources such as photovoltaic solar don’t match the specific dispatchable profile provided by — and needed from — advanced nuclear energy.
The economics are also favourable. Using this recent analysis to compare the simplified upfront costs of capacity for meeting constant guaranteed demand with either solar + battery storage or small modular reactors, and substituting in the reported US$800 million cost of Terrestrial Energy’s 190 MW unit (confirmed in private correspondence, and converted to Australian dollars, i.e. AU$1,000 million each), the capital cost comparison can be visualised:
A versatile, modern and economical form of nuclear energy, securely fueled by Australia’s abundant uranium resources, and which will fill a role that other sustainable power sources cannot match. By closely following Canada’s lead, it could be a reality sooner rather than later. It’s unAustralian to deny ourselves an opportunity like this. To date, Australia has been cautious of nuclear, but now it’s time to get ready for the future.