Nuclear Power for Australia

Other webpages on this site with info about nuclear power


Summary

The conservative Howard government made nuclear power illegal in Australia in the late 1990s (EPBC and ARPANS Acts) and those prohibitions remain as of mid-2018.

No power reactors have ever been built in Australia. The strongest push was for a power reactor at Jervis Bay in the late 1960s to early 1970s. That push was underpinned by a hidden weapons agenda as then Prime Minister John Gorton later acknowledged.

As of mid-2018, nuclear power is off the mainstream political agenda in Australia. There is a push to build nuclear power plants (and repeal the legal prohibitions) driven by the far-right (e.g. Senator Cory Bernadi, the Minerals Council of Australia) and a few nuclear lobbyists (such as Ben Heard – whose fake environment group accepts secret corporate donations).

In 2019, some dopey politicians are claiming that nuclear power is cheap. Here is a link to a June 2019 FoE briefing paper on nuclear power’s global economic crisis, including a letter sent to all federal MPs and Senators.


Some reasons to say ‘no’ to nuclear power in Australia

UNNECESSARY

We don’t need nuclear power. Several renewable energy sources – such as bioenergy, geothermal hot rocks, solar thermal electricity with storage, and sometimes hydroelecticity – can provide reliable baseload electricity.

More information: https://nuclear.foe.org.au/links-to-literature-on-clean-energy-options/

NUCLEAR WEAPONS

Nuclear power is the one and only energy source with a direct and repeatedly-demonstrated connection to the proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction. For example, the first and only serious push for nuclear power in Australia was driven by a weapons agenda as then PM John Gorton later acknowledged.

More information: www.nuclear.foe.org.au/power-weapons

ACCIDENTS AND ATTACKS

In addition to the risk of accidents, nuclear power reactors are vulnerable to disasters from sabotage, terrorism, or the use of conventional forces to attack nuclear facilities during war.

More information: www.nuclear.foe.org.au/power

ROUTINE EMISSIONS − RADIATION & CANCER

The United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation notes that international cancer incidence and mortality data demonstrate statistically-significant links between radiation and all solid tumours as a group, as well as for cancers of the stomach, colon, liver, lung, breast, ovary, bladder, thyroid, and for non-melanoma skin cancers and most types of leukaemia.

More information: https://nuclear.foe.org.au/radiation/

NUCLEAR WASTE

The 2006 government-commissioned Switkowski report envisaged the construction of 25 power reactors, which would produce up to 45,000 tonnes of high-level nuclear waste. There is not a single permanent repository for spent fuel or high-level nuclear waste anywhere in the world.

More information:

https://nuclear.foe.org.au/nuclear-waste-international-issues/

https://nuclear.foe.org.au/waste-import/

DEMOCRACTIC RIGHTS

Democratic rights have often been trampled in the pursuit of nuclear projects. The Howard government sought legal advice on its powers to override state laws banning nuclear power plants. The current (2012) Labor government is working to impose a nuclear waste dump at Muckaty in the NT despite the opposition of many Traditional Owners, an unresolved Federal Court challenge, and NT legislation banning the imposition of nuclear dumps. The government also plans to give itself the power to override any and all state/territorry laws, and affected local councils and communities have no say.

COST

Too cheap to meter, or too expensive to matter? The nuclear power industry survives only because of huge taxpayer subsidies.

More information: EnergyScience Briefing Paper #1: http://www.energyscience.org.au/factsheets.html

REDUCED PROPERTY PRICES. COMPULSORY LAND ACQUISITION. NO INSURANCE.

A nuclear power plant would reduce local property values. The government may use compulsory land acquisition powers to seize land for reactors – just as it has previously seized land for a nuclear waste dump. Insurance companies do not insure against the risk of nuclear accidents.

WATER

Nuclear power is the most water-intensive of all the energy sources. Reactors typically consume 35-65 million litres of water per day.

More information: https://nuclear.foe.org.au/water-consumption-and-pollution-uranium-and-nuclear-power/

TOO SLOW

It would take 15 years or more to develop nuclear power in Australia. Clean energy solutions can be deployed immediately.

GREENHOUSE GASES

Nuclear power emits three times more greenhouse gases than wind power according to the 2006 Switkowski report. Nuclear power is also far more greenhouse intensive than energy efficiency measures.

More information: https://www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/806/nuclear-power-no-solution-climate-change


Joint NGO statement

Joint Australian NGO Statement of Opposition to Nuclear Power (Dec 2010)


Even Ziggy Switkowski has given up on nuclear power!!

‘Australia has ‘missed the boat’ on nuclear power’, Cole Latimer, 11 Jan 2018, The Age, www.theage.com.au/business/the-economy/australia-has-missed-the-boat-on-nuclear-power-20180111-p4yyeg.html

The Minerals Council of Australia has called for the country’s prohibition on nuclear power to be lifted. But both critics and supporters see little future for large-scale nuclear power in Australia’s energy mix.

The man who once famously called for 50 nuclear reactors across Australia, nuclear physicist and NBN chairman Ziggy Switkowski, says “the window for gigawatt-scale nuclear has closed”.

A lack of public support and any actual proposals for a nuclear plant had resulted in government inertia, he said on Thursday.

“Government won’t move until a real business case is presented and none has been, to my knowledge, and there aren’t votes in trying to lead the debate,” he said, adding that renewables were now a more economically viable choice.

“With requirements for baseload capacity reducing, adding nuclear capacity one gigawatt at a time is hard to justify, especially as costs are now very high (in the range of $5 billion to $10 billion), development timelines are 15+ years, and solar with battery storage are winning the race.”

Warwick Grigor, the former chairman of Uranium King, mining analyst, and a director of uranium miner Peninsula Energy, agrees.

“I think nuclear energy is great, but we’ve missed the boat in Australia, no one is going down that path in the foreseeable future,” Mr Grigor told Fairfax Media.

“When Fukushima [the 2011 nuclear accident in Japan] occurred, that was the closing of the door to our nuclear power possibilities.”

Mr Grigor sees battery technology, a market he has since entered, as a better alternative.

Australian Conservation Foundation nuclear free campaigner Dave Sweeney said talk of nuclear power was “a dangerous distraction” from the steps that needed to address the energy and climate challenges facing Australia.

Nuclear energy has been officially banned in Australia since 1998, with the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation’s OPAL reactor at Lucas Heights, NSW, the only nuclear reactor in the country.

But the Minerals Council’s executive director for uranium, Daniel Zavattiero, said the nation had excluded a low-emissions energy source of which Australia has an abundant supply from the current debate.

“Maybe nuclear power might be something that is not needed, but an outright prohibition on it is not needed,” he said.

Federal Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg supported the Mineral Council’s stance.

“There needs to be bipartisan support for nuclear power and that does not exist right now,” Mr Frydenberg said.

“You would also need state-based support and that is not clear at this stage either.”

In a pre-budget submission, the Minerals Council said nuclear energy needed to be “allowed to compete with other low-emissions sources of electricity – and on equal terms”.

“The ban on nuclear power in Australia is hampering an open debate about future energy and climate change management.”

Mr Zavattiero’s position has been supported by the South Australia Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission, which recommended the lifting of the federal prohibition on a nuclear industry.

Mr Switkowski said smaller, modular nuclear reactors could play a part in the future energy mix, and could support regional centres.

An ANSTO spokesman told Fairfax Media these smaller plants could technically work in Australia.

“If Australia did want to expand into nuclear energy technologies, there would be a number of options to consider in the future, including small modular reactors and Generation IV reactors, which could be feasible if the policy, economic settings and technology were right and public support was in place,” he said.

However, the country currently did not have enough skilled personnel to safely operate a nuclear energy industry, he said.

“The question of whether nuclear energy is technically or economically feasible is a different question to whether Australia should or should not have a nuclear energy program, the latter of which is a matter for policy makers and the people of Australia,” the spokesman said.

Countries such as France have embraced nuclear energy, and nuclear power accounts for nearly 75 per cent of all energy generation.

This reliance on nuclear energy has played a role in helping the nation slash its CO2 emissions, with OECD data outlining France averaging 4.32 tonnes per capita compared to Australia’s average of 15.8 tonnes per capita.

While France had set a timeline to reduce its proportion of nuclear energy generation to half of all generation by 2025, French Environment Minister Nicolas Hulot said it would be difficult to keep to its timeline without reintroducing fossil fuel generation.


The nuclear renaissance is stone cold dead

Well, actually, as of 2018 there is a micro-renaissance resulting from the large number of nuclear power reactor construction starts in the three years before the 2011 Fukushima disaster. Beyond that, decline is near-certain. For more info see:

Nuclear power in crisis: The era of nuclear decommissioning

1 Feb 2018, http://reneweconomy.com.au/era-nuclear-decommissioning-13370/


Where would reactors be located in Australia?

Andrew Macintosh (The Australia Institute), 2007, “Siting Nuclear Power Plants in Australia Where would they go?”, Web Paper No. 40, http://www.tai.org.au/documents/downloads/WP96.pdf

Do you live near one of the areas most likely to be targeted for nuclear power reactors? Using four primary criteria and six secondary criteria, a report by The Australia Institute identified the following sites as potential sites for nuclear power:

Queensland:
Townsville
Mackay
Rockhampton (e.g. around Yeppoon, Emu Park or Keppel Sands)
Bundaberg
Gladstone
Sunshine Coast (e.g. near Maroochydore, Coolum or Noosa)
Bribie Island area

New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory:
Port Stephens (e.g. Nelson Bay)
Central Coast (e.g. near Tuggerah Lakes)
Port Kembla
Botany Bay
Jervis Bay and Sussex Inlet

Victoria:
South Gippsland (e.g. Yarram, Woodside, Seaspray)
Western Port (e.g. French Island, Hastings, Kooweerup, Coronet Bay)
Port Phillip (e.g. Newport, Werribee, Avalon)
Portland

South Australia:
Mt Gambier/Millicent
Port Adelaide
Port Augusta and Port Pirie

Western Australia and the Northern Territory were excluded from the Australia Institute siting study because they are not on the National Electricity Market grid. The report does not consider Tasmania in any detail and considers it unlikely that a nuclear power plant would be constructed in Tasmania in the short to medium term.

Siting criteria

The study used four primary criteria for the siting of nuclear power plants in Australia:

1. Proximity to appropriate existing electricity infrastructure; sites close to the National Electricity Market, preferably near existing large generators;

2. Proximity to major centres of electricity demand;

3. Proximity to transport infrastructure to facilitate the movement of nuclear fuel, waste and other relevant materials; and

4. Access to large quantities of water for reactor cooling − coastal sites

Secondary criteria included the following:

1. Population density − sites with adequate buffers to populated areas.

2. Geological and seismological issues.

3. Atmospheric conditions − sites with low risk of extreme weather events and suitable pollution dispersion conditions.

4. Security risk − sites with low security risks (e.g. sufficient buffers to potentially hazardous areas).

5. Sensitive ecological areas − sites that pose minimal risk to important ecological areas.

6. Heritage and aesthetics − sites that pose minimal risk to important heritage areas.

7. Economic factors – sites that accommodate local economic and social factors.

Andrew Macintosh (The Australia Institute), 2007, “Siting Nuclear Power Plants in Australia Where would they go?”, Web Paper No. 40, http://www.tai.org.au/documents/downloads/WP96.pdf


Nuclear priced out of Australia’s future energy equation in new report

By Sophie Vorrath and Giles Parkinson, 26 November 2015, RenewEconomy, http://reneweconomy.com.au/2015/67465

Australia’s official economic forecaster has finally admitted that the cost of nuclear energy is more than double other clean energy alternatives, suggesting it would likely play no role in a decarbonised grid based around lowest costs.

The Australian Power Generation Technology Report – a 362-page collaborative effort from more than 40 organisations, including the CSIRO, ARENA, the federal government’s Department of Industry and Science and the Office of the Chief Economist – clearly shows that solar and wind will be the cheapest low carbon technologies in Australia.

It comes at a critical time, with the nuclear lobby, supported by existing coal generators, pushing nuclear generation heavily, on the basis of previous technology cost assessments that had unrealistically optimistic views of its costs.

But the APGT report has essentially ruled out nuclear power for the whole of Australia, revealing that the technology is becoming more and more prohibitively expensive, at around double the capital cost estimated three years ago – and double the cost of competing technologies.

The research – undertaken by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), Worley Parsons in Australia and Ernst and Young, and peer reviewed by the Australian Government Bureau of Resource Research Economics (BREE) – has been used to provide “credible technology cost and performance data for 2015 to 2030.”

And one of the big take-aways from its findings is that the cost projections for nuclear have changed considerably from previous estimates – particularly the 2012 Australian Energy Technology Assessment (AETA) by BREE, which we described as “astonishing” at the time, given the real-world experience.

Based on the levelised cost of energy (LCOE) – which is the the average cost of producing electricity from that technology over its entire life – nuclear is found to be more expensive than wind and five out of six solar technologies in 2015. By 2030, it is more expensive than everything. And this is the figure that counts, because it is an impossibility that nuclear could be built in Australia before that time. Some would suggest it would take another 10 years.

The cost inputs (of building new nuclear generation) go from roughly $4500/kW (AETA 2012) to $6000 (AETA 2013) to $9000/kW in today’s update.

As noted above, this is quite a revision. The 2012 AETA by BREE evaluated 40 utility-scale generation technologies including large nuclear plants and small modular reactors, and named the latter two among the six lowest-cost options by 2040.

Similarly, the eFuture study by CSIRO showed that the inclusion of nuclear power as an option caused wholesale prices to be 34-37 per cent lower, and led to a 53 per cent nuclear share in 2050.

In an updated report in 2014 – concluded after “consultation” with various industry sectors – AETA rectified its errors by lifting its estimates of the capital costs of nuclear by around 50 per cent. And we wondered how quickly the CSIRO would amend its own modeling.

Today, a spokesperson from the CSIRO said that “as the outlook for nuclear costs has deteriorated with each update, eFuture has accordingly decreased the role that nuclear can play in Australia’s electricity mix.”

As we said last year, getting the LCOE of different energy generation technologies right – or at least improving on previous efforts – is critical for Australia as it makes decisions about its energy future.

The findings of this new report are particularly salient in light of the current SA Royal Commission into nuclear power, especially considering many of the submissions made in favour of nuclear – like this one from the representatives of coal fired generators, and this one from the World Nuclear Association.

Both of these submissions relied on the previous cost estimates from BREE that suggested nuclear was much more cost effective than solar.

The WNA ignored the 2013 cost estimates, and used the 2012 estimates incorporated by the CSIRO to suggest that the inclusion of nuclear power would cause wholesale prices to be 34-37 per cent lower, and would lead to a 53 per cent nuclear share in 2050. The ESAA reached a similar conclusion on wholesale prices.

Both the nuclear and the coal industry lobbies have a shared advantage in slowing down the deployment of wind and solar, because it narrows and ultimately removes the need for large-scale centralised generation. The energy system of the future will be based around dispatch able generation.

On this note, the latest estimates for solar thermal and storage are also interesting – vastly cheaper than the estimates for nuclear, despite the pretensions of many in the nuclear booster camp.

The new report came one day after nuclear power was ruled out as a contributor to the future low-carbon electricity mix of South Australia by a government-commissioned advisory panel, which said it was too expensive.

The South Australian government embraced its recommendation to target net zero emissions by 2030, although held back on its suggestion of going 100 per cent renewable energy. Presumably it will await the outcome of the nuclear royal commission. Hopefully the commission looks at the new cost estimates, and does not rely on hopelessly out of date and optimistic cost estimates.


(The so-called nuclear renaissance was faltering even before the Fukushima disaster as discussed in this 2009 article.)

Nuclear economics just don’t add up

Michael R. James, December 24, 2009

www.theage.com.au/opinion/politics/nuclear-economics-just-dont-add-up-20091223-lcuj.html

The fall-out from Copenhagen has left the world’s biggest “carbon criminals”, among them Australia, exposed on climate change. With the overthrow of Malcolm Turnbull in the Liberal party along with the proposed ETS, the ascension of Tony Abbot and his emphasis on “direct action” it was inevitable that the federal Opposition would revisit nuclear power as an option for a low-carbon future in Australia. Given the recent sobering Government report on carbon capture and storage, “clean coal” seems less and less as the likely saviour.

An article on this website by Martin Nicholson (Renewable energy is not as reliable as nuclear, 14/12) proposed nuclear power over alternative renewable energy as the solution to a low-carbon energy future for Australia. Elsewhere with his colleague Barry Brook they have discussed common objections to nuclear power such as safety, waste handling and storage, and weapons proliferation. These, however, are among the most contentious and unresolved issues, both scientifically and politically, and by no means did the authors resolve them to the satisfaction of anyone informed on these topics.

Surprisingly they avoided the single major issue that is much more convincingly resolvable: costs. And a second major issue, that of time.

Advocates of an Australian nuclear industry often cite France as an excellent model to emulate because the French obtain 75 per cent of their electrical power from nuclear. As someone who has lived for a decade in France I agree that it is impressive but since they established their industry four decades ago, partly as a strategic response to poor indigenous energy resources and rising oil import bills, many things have changed. And no one should need reminding that we are nothing like France not least in their bipartisan consensus among both politicians and citizens.

The French not only solved their energy supply but created a successful high-technology export industry. Therein lies a lesson for Australia, but not today in the realms of nuclear energy. It is unconvincing to imagine, with many long-established suppliers of nuclear technology, that there is any space for a Johnny-come-lately such as Australia to establish a competitive industry. The Switkowski report into uranium mining confirms that if we actually started building reactors we would import enriched uranium fuel processed from our own uranium ore exports. A bit like buying back Japanese paper products made from Tasmanian woodchips.

Contrary to the claims of a nuclear resurgence in Europe and the world, it is far from certain how much of Europe will actually implement their plans. Most nuclear plants under construction are in Asia, principally China (15 plants), India (six), South Korea (five) and Russia (nine). Among developed economies Austria, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Poland and Eire (Ireland) have no active nuclear plants and none under construction, though some have plans of varying credibility. The Netherlands has one plant and no plans for any new ones. In France the last completed plant was in 1999. In the UK the last one completed, Sizewell-B, was in 1995 after 14 years of inquiries and protracted construction delays. In the US, the last completed plant took 25 years, opening in 1996.

Only time will tell if the UK, the US or others with much less political and social cohesion can implement their proposed nuclear renaissance. The British Government has already said it will suspend many of the usual democratic processes involved in licensing and site selection. The world will watch to see how that goes.

In the US despite up to 45 new applications for nuclear power plants (licensing processes are advanced for three), no hard investment decisions have been taken on a single new reactor. Of course nuclear power has never stood on its own economic legs and relies upon endless subsidies, tax concessions and government guarantees not to mention government liability insurance including for the unsolved long-term waste handling — or as in France and China, the whole project is government financed and operated.

In countries where the state plays less of a role and the private profit motive reigns, there are obvious reasons why no private interests (stock market, private companies etc) are seriously putting up the money for such plants. As Michael Grunwald reported in Time a year ago: “It turns out that new plants would be not just extremely expensive but spectacularly expensive. The first detailed cost estimate, filed by Florida Power & Light (FPL) came in at a shocking $12 billion to $18 billion.” He cites Rocky Mountains Institute chairman and chief scientist Amory Lovins’ calculations that “new nuclear wattage would cost more than twice as much as coal or gas and nearly three times as much as wind”.

In Europe there are two nuclear plants under construction, one in Flamanville, France and one in Olkiluoto, Finland both by France’s state-owned Areva. Both have been subject to significant troubles, partly related to being the first-build of the most evolved advanced model in production, Areva’s EPR, which was supposed to be simpler, more efficient, cheaper and faster to build. In Finland’s Olkiluotu a 50 per cent blowout in costs (to $US6.4 billion so far, lawsuits pending) and doubling in construction time (from 3.5 years to at least seven years) is typical of nuclear projects over the decades. Today Areva concede that construction of a similar reactor of 1.6 gigawatts would be $US8 billion ($A9 billion).

The reasons why nuclear plants routinely run into such troubles are that it is hugely capital intensive so delays greatly add to the cost of capital long before any revenue is generated. Construction is extremely complex, which is greatly compounded by safety regulation — this was another major cause of the slowdown at Olkiluoto. For these reasons the industry prefers to use “overnight” costs, which are the costs as if a plant was constructed overnight at today’s prices.

Dr Ziggy Switkowski, chairman of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), has said that Australia should build 50 reactors though this assumes a doubling of electricity consumption by 2050. Dr Ian Smith suggested, when chief executive of ANSTO in 2008, that Australia could realistically construct six to 14 plants but this would still provide only 10-20 per cent of total electricity requirements.

Australia’s current electricity consumption is almost 40 gigawatts from installed capacity of about 50 gigawatts. So, to replace most of this would require about 25 reactors of the EPR design, each of 1.6 gigawatts (or 40 of the Westinghouse AP1000 1 gigawatt design). This could cost about $225 billion in today’s money, or close to half a trillion dollars for 50 reactors. Using Smith’s more modest suggestions the cost could be up to $126 billion but displace a lot less coal burning. Switkowski may be correct in the sense that why create all these contentious issues and still not substantially solve the problem? This points to another weakness: with nuclear it appears to be an all-or-nothing gamble with hundreds of billions of dollars.

Nuclear advocates always cite “next-gen” designs and purported much swifter and cheaper construction but the figures given above are the actual costs of the plants being constructed in Europe today, not even the much higher industry estimates reported by Grunwald for the proposed US plants. The timetable of this construction is anyone’s guess except that history warns us to be pessimistic. By comparison China plans for 50-60 of the simpler, smaller Westinghouse design by 2030, but nuclear will still account for only about 4 per cent of their energy needs.

Those are just the construction costs. As is well known, liability insurance needs to be covered by government. The other big cost is the decommissioning of reactors. Even with many of the world’s 439 existing reactors approaching the end of their productive lives, so far none have been decommissioned. The world’s first commercial nuclear power generator, Calder Hall at what is now called Sellafield (previously Windscale), was turned off in 2003. It has been estimated by the UK industry that full decommissioning of Calder Hall, if ever done, will cost about $2 billion at today’s prices. Meanwhile, old plants need continuous maintenance and high-security against decay and incursion including against potential terrorists.

But the biggest cost, especially for Australia, could be the opportunity cost of throwing these vast sums into an old technology dominated by other countries, rather than investing in new renewable technologies and industries of the future. From relatively modest funding Australia has already produced world-beating solar-photovoltaic and solar-thermal technologies, even if both have moved offshore due to lack of investment support. Geothermal power has just received government grants, which will allow full prototypes to be tested in a few years. Many scientists believe that it is inevitable that these technologies will be viable, provide so-called baseload power cost-competitively, and that their maturation would be faster than the typical construction schedules of nuclear power stations if comparable budgets and subsidies were deployed.

Is this any different to the claims by the nuclear dreamers such as Brook and Nicholson? Emphatically yes. The nuclear industry is not a new one but an old mature one. For more than 50 years it has consistently over-promised and under-delivered, yet its advocates continue to propose that governments should provide massive subsidies to nuclear construction, provide unlimited liability insurance, assume most of the decommissioning costs and — after 50 years — continue to search for the elusive “permanent” storage of high-level waste.

There are not minority views and indeed are not contested by the nuclear industry, or the Wall Street Journal, or Lazards the merchant bank. Or many scientists. Here is commentary from the world’s top science journal Nature (W.Patterson, Vol 449, 11/10/07): “As climate and fuel security dominate the energy agenda, the battle between traditional and innovative electricity intensifies around the world, notably in fast-growing economies such as China. After half a century, nuclear power is the ultimate in tradition. It needs climate more than climate needs it. To avert catastrophic global warming, why pick the slowest, most expensive, most limited, most inflexible and riskiest option? In 1957, despite the Windscale fire, nuclear power was worth trying. We tried it: its weakness proved to be economics, not safety. Now nuclear generation is just an impediment to sustainable electricity.”

It is a clear enough choice. The economics and the long time to approve and build show nuclear is not the smart choice, arguably for the world but certainly not for Australia with its plentiful resources in renewables (solar, wind, wave, tidal, geothermal).

The real question for Australia is whether we have what it takes to grasp the opportunities.

Dr Michael R. James is an Australian research scientist.