THE ASSERTION THAT NUCLEAR ENERGY IS TOO EXPENSIVE IS SHAMEFULLY SELECTIVE.
The most thorough feasibility study to date for a concentrating solar thermal power station in South Australia put the cost at $577 million for 50 megawatts of capacity, with a calculated generating price of $201 per megawatt hour. There is no sign that the campaign for a such power station has decided the cost is prohibitive — and rightly so, while the potential for more economical alternatives exist.
DURATIONS OF DELAY AND UNCERTAINTY CAN AND DO AFFLICT VARIOUS PROPOSED ENERGY SOURCES.
In 2003 South Australian companies embarked on projects to commercialise geothermal energy for the state. Hope for these proposals was finally quashed in late 2016 when they were publicly declared unfeasible.
ALL OTHER ENERGY TECHNOLOGIES — CLEAN OR NOT — ARE FREE TO SUCCEED OR FAIL ON THEIR MERITS IN AUSTRALIA.
Analysis carried out for the South Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission assumed that pre-construction work could begin by 2020.
Five years of licensing and pre-construction could be followed by a four year build consistent with the Nth-of-a-kind rate indicated by Westinghouse for its AP1000 reactor. Yes, it’s expensive at $8,382 million (for 1125 megawatts); and operation by 2029 — at the soonest — is a long time away. But if supported via public-private partnership (for example) lower debt costs could be accessed, depressing the generating price, and stabilising the market with valuable, consistent “baseload” supply. If a market-based generating certificate scheme rewarded nuclear output even partially for being essentially zero-emissions, the short run economics become even more promising.
Additionally, the reactor design life is 60 years, which puts the long-term economics in perspective when considering a 25 year design life for solar thermal, and 30 years for geothermal.
IS AUSTRALIA TO MISS OUT ON THE NEXT GENERATION OF NUCLEAR TECHNOLOGY?
Canada-based Terrestrial Energy have gathered private capital and public grants in a deliberate, staged development and deployment campaign which aims to license, build and operate its first Integral Molten Salt Reactor in the mid-2020s. The company provided a detailed submission to the Royal Commission, asserting that the 290 megawatt IMSR plant would generate electricity for less than AUD$60 per MWh, with the additional feature of providing high grade industrial heat.
The IMSR will operate at atmospheric pressure without the requirement for thick forged pressure vessels. The design will require 1/6th of the uranium used by conventional water-cooled nuclear plants, for the same output. The entire philosophy driving Terrestrial Energy’s efforts is to out-compete heat and electricity supply from fossil fuels.
To access such climate-critical, reliable and affordable energy by 2030, the wheels must be set in motion today. Consideration of modern nuclear capacity needs to be part of Australia’s current electricity market discussion, and the senseless prohibitions, put in place last century by opportunistic opponents, must be discarded promptly.
Cost and time will be factors in any serious energy supply transition. Context is key, for both recent experience such as that seen in the UAE…
The fact that they can proceed from zero to a fully functioning facility within 10 years is a very clear example that it can be done. The UAE has looked at existing designs and developments from Korea and the USA, learned from what works, accepted guidance and adapted this to suit their requirements.
~ Kevin Scarce, NFCRC Commissioner
These studies clearly frame the proven contribution of deployable nuclear capacity from a time when climate action wasn’t even on the radar—in many cases at controllable costs and in sensible build periods.
Now, the world needs it even more.
It is tempting to imagine a sun- and wind-rich Australia which “doesn’t need to bother” with nuclear energy, surging ahead to a decarbonised future and achieving what economic giants like Germany still haven’t even managed. Indeed, there’s no real-world experience to demonstrate whole developed nations can approach decarbonisation with renewable energy alone when a majority of hydropower isn’t available.
DECARBONISING ENERGY — NOT JUST ELECTRICITY
Dealing with climate change is a great challenge. But it’s not a riddle.
Mainstream international organisations explicitly recognise the expanded role for nuclear energy into the future. Alternatives to fossil fuels for transport, such as synfuels and electric vehicles, must be equally rapidly adopted, but current research shows that hoping for unprecedented amounts of grid-scale energy storage — too often just to defenestrate the role of nuclear energy — is a poor substitute for a plan that adds up. And this still leaves the unfilled baseload and heat demand from industry, which only deployable advanced nuclear capacity is promising to meet, whether it’s hydrogen for steel smelting or ammonia for fertilizer.
The decarbonisation of all energy, not merely electricity, is a daunting and neglected goal. An inclusive and integrated approach has the best proven odds of succeeding at the necessary global scale, while arbitrary and exclusive roadblocks increasingly cost future generations their security, prosperity and even a hospitable climate.