Australia’s Parliament presented this week a report that outlines a series of measures to take into consideration if the country wants to move forward with the development of nuclear energy.
The report, which arose from a legislative committee’s inquiry into the matter, states that it is important for the island nation to consider the prospect of nuclear technology as part of its future energy mix and that to do so, relevant institutions would have to undertake a body of work to progress the understanding of nuclear technology in the Australian context.
Such an understanding -the report states- should lead authorities to consider lifting the current moratorium on nuclear energy partially -that is, for new and emerging nuclear technologies only, and conditionally-, subject to the results of a technology assessment and a commitment to community consent for approving nuclear facilities.
According to the document, most of this work should be undertaken by the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation ANSTO, whose experts should also advise the federal government on the feasibility and suitability of installing Generation III+ and Generation IV reactors, including small modular reactors, as well as on the formulation of a framework to monitor the status of new and emerging nuclear technologies.
“The report identifies a clear pathway for Australia to properly consider nuclear energy by addressing knowledge gaps in Australia about this important energy source. Importantly, it acknowledges the critical role for community engagement on what is a contentious policy and political issue,” said Tania Constable, CEO of the Minerals Council of Australia, in a media statement.
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In Constable’s view, her country should take advantage of nuclear energy by moving into small modular reactors as a potential replacement for retiring coal baseload plants.
“Not only are they capable of complementing intermittent power sources, they can safely meet large-scale industrial demand for affordable and reliable power,” the executive said. “More broadly, the current ban means Australia -with the world’s largest deposits of uranium- is missing out on a potential industry which could employ tens of thousands of Australians.”
Despite the controversy around nuclear energy, earlier this year, the federal government gave the go-ahead to Cameco’s (TSX:CCO, NYSE:CCJ) vast Yeelirrie uranium project, considered one of the country’s biggest undeveloped uranium deposits in the midwest region of Western Australia. The Canadian miner, however, has said it is in no rush to develop it.
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It was not shut down due to some safety concern but rather it just became too expensive to operate. It took about 300 people per unit for 24 hr/day operations. Multiple that by the average salary of both licensed and non-licensed operating personnel, USNRC and other oversight agencies and you can see why it became uneconomical.
A few weeks ago I was on my way to Vegas for entertainment and decided to stop at a 500 MW solar plant. There was one  persons at the site. I asked the individual how many people worked there and he said, no one. He was there to perform some maintenance work and would be leaving soon. He stated the plant was controlled from a central dispatching office. Can you see the difference?
There is also the matter of waste heat removal. When you build a nuclear plant you are building a boiler and turbine to generate electricity. The boiler needs to be about 3X bigger than the turbine since at least 50-60 of every BTU of heat energy will be lost as waste heat. That waste heat has to go somewhere before you can cool the condensers. Usually that waste heat goes into our air, our water, our streams and/or oceans. Think about it. You build a reactor to produce 3000 MW[t] heat energy to produce 1000 MW[e] electrical energy.
I just don't see nuclear power in the future; even Small Modular Reactors are too expensive. Thousands of cubic yards of concrete, mile after mile of piping, hundreds of miles of wiring is not cheap.