Nuclear Power – some facts

DOEL Nuclear Power Plant, Belgium

Nuclear power.  Nuclear power is the only proven generation technology offering solutions on all three fronts of the energy trilemma: security and reliability, affordability, and environmental sustainability for Australia’s National Electricity Market.  Today over 447 operable nuclear reactors totalling almost six times Australia’s total generating capacity supply 10.6% of the world’s electricity in 30 countries[1].

Legal constraints.  Australia is the only G20 country where nuclear power is banned by Federal law[2].

Technological neutrality.  Federal and State politicians of all persuasions have said variously in the energy context that “… all technologies, including nuclear … should be on the table for consideration”.  The Energy Security Board notes in its Overview that the National Energy Guarantee, inter alia, will “value all technologies fairly based on their characteristics and the outcomes they can deliver”.  However, Australia currently precludes the nuclear option; while other technologies, including some yet commercially unproven, are open for investment consideration.

Uranium.  Australia, the world’s third largest supplier of uranium, in 2016 provided 7,447 tonnes of uranium oxide concentrate[3] to the world’s reactors, saving emissions of 280 million tonnes of CO2-e, equivalent to 140% of Australia’s annual electricity generation emissions.  Nuclear power generation worldwide avoids annually over 2 billion tonnes of CO2-e emissions.

Nuclear economics.  Exhaustive International Energy Agency analysis[4] of numerous technologies confirms that nuclear power is very competitive in the levelised cost of electricity (LCOE).  Nuclear-enabled nations exhibit generally lower average power costs and higher system reliabilities than non-nuclear nations.

Nuclear reliability.  Most nuclear reactors operate at capacity factors in excess of 90%, well-suited to meeting continuous base-load demand at gigawatt scale.

Nuclear plant scale. Some medium-sized nuclear power reactors (700 to 1000 MWe) would fit well into Australia’s transmission grid. A new generation of Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) promise factory-built modules rated from 10 MWe to 250 MWe and designed to load-follow.  They would be well suited for incremental additions to Australia’s National Electricity Market as fossil fuelled plant is retired.

Nuclear generation safety.  Notwithstanding highly publicised events in over 60 years of commercial operation, nuclear power remains among the safest of all generation technologies[5].  The evidence is clear.

Bipartisanship.  In the light of recent cost and reliability issues it is evident that most Australians want a thorough review of electricity supply options. Thus, a genuine even-handed bipartisan approach to nuclear power for Australia is possible. The obvious first step is banishing legal bans which serve no useful purpose but inhibit fair and balanced consideration of appropriate technologies.

Social licence.  A perception exists that Australian social licence for nuclear power could not be achieved.  Experience shows that provided the benefits of nuclear power in providing secure affordable energy while reducing carbon emissions are demonstrated, and the issues of radiation, waste disposal, proliferation and decommissioning are professionally addressed, community acceptance levels grow markedly.

Australian Nuclear Association

29 April 2018

[1] http://www.world-nuclear.org/nuclear-basics/global-number-of-nuclear-reactors.aspx

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_power_in_Australia

[3] Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office (ASNO) Annual Report 2015/16 – see dfat.gov.au/about-us/publications/…/asno-annual-report-2015-16/html/index.html

[4] https://www.iea.org/publications/freepublications/publication/ElecCost2015.pdf

[5] UMPNER Report 2006 – Table 6.1

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