Listen to the wind and sun cult and you’d think that Small Modular Nuclear Reactors are a work of far-fetched Science Fiction. The reality is that some 200 small nuclear reactors are presently powering 160 ships and submarines all around the world, and have been for decades.
None of which sits with the narrative pitched by renewable energy rent-seekers, who are evidently terrified of the prospect of bringing a fleet of those SMRs onshore to provide safe, reliable and affordable power 24 x 365, whatever the weather, with no need for batteries or backup.
Apply our good friends logic and reason and you’ll soon reach the very same conclusion expressed by Tony Grey in the piece below.
SMR option shows the ‘irresistible sense’ of going nuclear
30 August 2023
As Australia’s Minister for Energy, it is of great concern that Chris Bowen should demonstrate such a lack of understanding of one of the globe’s biggest sources of energy, nuclear, in his recent article in this newspaper.
For an energy minister to reveal that he knows little about nuclear, even as a reasonable option for Australia because it is emissions-free, puts into question his ability to manage the portfolio for the people of Australia.
Nuclear energy generation has continued to evolve significantly and the technology attracting the most interest and investment today is the small modular reactor. SMR technology is in an advanced stage of development and changing the nuclear landscape. Chris Bowen mentions SMRs in his article, and acknowledges they are gaining attention, yet he dismisses them in his article as being “small in one sense only: output” because “they can produce just 300MW each”.
While the maximum capacity of individual SMRs is 300MW, their modules (as the name implies) can be placed together to meet demand. A combination of three modules would generate enough electricity for about a million people.
Also, he fails to comprehend the load-following facility of SMRs, which allows them to adjust their output to demand. He makes the astonishing claim that they are “not a flexible source of peaking and firming”. This is from an “energy minister”.
And he doesn’t seem to appreciate the pivotal and economic role that SMRs could play in replacing coal as a firming agent to support renewables when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow. For that purpose, they can be built on the sites of closed-down coal-fired stations, use much of their infrastructure, and provide jobs to many of their workers. They are the only emissions-free source that can do that. Renewables can’t.
SMRs are eminently suitable for Australia because of their easy transportability. They can not only be plugged into the existing grid (no need for a $20bn rewire of the nation) but used in off-grid regional areas, even in mining. BHP has publicly called upon the government to change its policy to permit this.
In view of the intransigence of the government on the issue, it’s understandable that the opposition is running a pro-nuclear policy. There is rising public support for at least considering nuclear power to assist in the country’s deeply flawed energy policies.
A recent financial newspaper survey and polls by the Lowy Institute and Institute of Public Affairs reveal a clear majority of Australians in favour of repealing the legislation enacted in 2000 prohibiting use in Australia of nuclear. The IPA poll found a majority of Labor voters supporting use of nuclear. The opposition is merely taking a line adopted by every other advanced nation. Australia is the only top 20 economy without nuclear power.
Safety developments for reactors and the well-publicised progress in Finland of constructing a world-first long-term high-level waste repository at Onkalo, have removed the major public fears about nuclear. The battleground has moved to the economic field just as it did in the struggle over uranium mining (a proxy for nuclear). Opponents of nuclear claim, without credible evidence, that it is too costly.
What about the costs of SMRs? Chris Bowen predictably claims nuclear is “too expensive” when asked about this option. He presumably relies on the CSIRO’s recent GenCost 2022-23 report, which provides estimates for Australian energy costs. In this extensive document only a small section is devoted to nuclear and it is treated superficially. The CSIRO did not commission any credible organisation to review capital costs for SMRs, but merely escalated an out-of-date 2018 figure from a questionable outside source. The result is an overestimate of more than double plausible industry estimates.
This error is demonstrated by a recent Canadian report on SMRs. In many respects, Canadian society and its economy are very similar to Australia’s. It would therefore seem appropriate to consider Canada’s decision to include SMRs in its nuclear program, which supplies 15 per cent of the country’s electricity.
Because of their modular form, SMRs can be manufactured in batches to a single design, which reduces unit costs and facilitates streamlining of regulatory approvals. Financing is made easier when several modules are combined. As one module is finished and starts producing electricity, it will generate a positive cash flow for the next module, as would be the case with NuScale’s project in the state of Idaho of six SMRs of 77MW each, producing a total of 462MW. This would reduce the amount of capital needed for SMRs in Australia.
Elsewhere, 80 SMRs are under development in 19 countries (including the US, Canada, Japan, and many in Europe) with 17 in near-term development. NuScale expects its plant to be operational by 2030.
If so many nations are developing SMRs, with large corporations such as Fluor, Hitachi, Rolls-Royce and others investing their funds, what possible confidence could we have in Chris Bowen’s cavalier claim that SMRs cost too much? At the very least, he and the government should undertake a proper examination of the technology and economics, but from a position of knowledge. For that to happen, the prohibitory legislation must be repealed, as the Liberal Party is now proposing. The lamentable situation we are in today brings to mind George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984, where Big Brother proclaims “Ignorance is strength”.
As Australia is way behind the rest of the world in the general understanding of nuclear economics, we could reach out to organisations such as the London-based World Nuclear Association, which has 181 members located in 44 countries and covers 70 per cent of the world’s nuclear generation. It is recognised for its comprehensive information on nuclear energy. I have been assured the WNA would be willing to offer its program to Australia.
With all the uncertainties of our energy industry, as demonstrated by Tasmania’s failure to support growing electricity needs in that state with its hydro power, and the manifest failures of the federal government to map a credible course to exchange our reliance on fossil fuels for zero-carbon sources, the Liberal Party’s call to remove the 24-year barrier to using emissions-free nuclear power, especially in its SMR form, makes irresistible sense.