Canavan Keeping The Nuclear SMR Vaporware Dream Alive 

Matt Canavan, Fukushima and nuclear power in Australia

Coal power’s demise and the 10-year anniversary of the Fukushima disaster in Japan have put the nuclear energy debate in Australia in the spotlight again.

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster that began unfolding on March 11, 2011 was the most serious nuclear accident since the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. Its impacts are still felt today and will continue to into the future.

A joint statement from the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Electrical Trades Union released yesterday notes the anniversary and recognises the impact on workers and local communities exposed to radiation.

A not-so-fun fact according to the two organisations – it was Australian uranium that was fuelling the power station at the time of the disaster.

The statement says the nuclear industry poses too big a risk to human health and safety to be viable, particularly when there are safer alternatives such as renewable energy (which is cheaper too).

“Despite this reality, a small minority of pro-nuclear politicians and industry associations continue to push domestic nuclear power, in part to distract from their inaction on meaningful efforts to address climate change.”

.. and on that note …

Senator Matt Canavan: Keep Nuclear Energy On The Table

It’s probably been a disappointing week for pro-coal Senator Matt Canavan with the news Yallourn Power Station will retire in mid-2028 instead of 2032. But as well as a passion for coal, Senator Canavan is a nuclear power supporter.

In an interview with Sky News yesterday, Senator Canavan commented:

“If we’re going to shut coal-fired power stations, we need some power stations that at least can do the same job, can be on 24/7, don’t just turn up to work when they like – which is what unreliable renewables do.”

A year ago he referred to renewables as the “dole bludgers” of energy, using the same logic.

With regard to the Fukushima incident, he stated:

“The latest nuclear technology is much safer; more self-contained. Small modular reactors are effectively the size of shipping containers that are much more suited to our country and size and don’t have the same safety issues.”

He also managed to squeeze in a mention about instances of fatalities associated with installing solar panels on rooftops just for good measure.

But back to the small modular reactors (SMRs). Where are these SMRs he speaks of? The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2020 released in September last year states:

“.. in the case of SMRs, most designs are purely theoretical ones, and no real reactors have been constructed based on that design,” state the authors. “Going by current trends, they are unlikely to ever be constructed beyond a few prototypes.”

Small modular reactors operating as terrestrial power stations are vaporware. Even if they move beyond this stage1, it’s going to be years before they can prove themselves in this role and then years again before the first one could be operating in Australia.

Among other issues, there’s the major hurdle of laws currently prohibiting the use of nuclear power for electricity generation in Australia. Nuclear energy can’t be an option “kept on the table” as it’s not even allowed to sit near it at this point.

What isn’t vaporware is wind and solar energy backed by storage and a smarter approach to energy transmission and distribution. It’s all doable right now and renewables can provide the cheapest new-build power in Australia; even with added storage and transmission costs factored in. There’s also the really nice bonus of not generating radioactive waste that will have to be carefully stored and monitored for a very long time – quite a legacy that would be left to future generations.

Far from being the dole bludgers of energy, renewables aren’t just a solution, they are *the* solution that will enable us to get to our zero-emissions energy destination quicker, cheaper and safer.

Footnotes

  1. Senator Canavan did eventually drop in “if they become commercial” after building up hype about SMRs
About Michael Bloch

Michael caught the solar power bug after purchasing components to cobble together a small off-grid PV system in 2008. He's been reporting on Australian and international solar energy news ever since.

Comments

  1. Ronald Brakels says

    We all love nuclear power, but it is not competitive on price. Anyone promoting Small Modular Nuclear Reactors should look at the designs that are far enough along to have been costed and see they are more expensive than conventional designs per kilowatt of output. That’s not a good look. Their touted savings are supposed to come from lower cost over runs, but a promise of a reduced chance of a cost blowout is not a good reason to invest in something that’s already much more expensive than the competition.

  2. I really cannot see this affordable storage that keeps getting motioned in these articles.
    My Assumption is you are referring to Batteries and Pumped Hydro.
    Hornsdale is the biggest battery in Australia and I don’t believe it could power Adelaide for a single night
    I love the idea of pumped hydro, and if i was prime minister i would be popping a couple more Snowy 2.0’s around Australia
    But from what I have read it is costing 5 billion to convert and already built Hydro dam into pumped Hydro, Building one from scratch must be getting pretty close the price of a Nuclear power plant.

  3. Des Scahill says

    I’m only guessing, but the timing of the Senator’s comments seem nothing but a PR attempt to counter the likelihood that large numbers of Australians, having just been reminded of the Fukushima disaster, will thus be even more ‘reluctant’ about nuclear power stations than they already are.

    It’s bad enough that – as a taxpayer and a consumer – I’m already subsiding coal power stations, but now its looking as though I’ll have to subsidize nuclear power plants as well. !!!

    Expecting me to now further subsidize the power bills of the opponents of ‘renewables’, along with helping pay for cleaning up an even bigger mess their policies will leave behind them seems a ‘bridge too far’ to me.

  4. Lewis Tucker says

    It so tiring listening to the anti-nuclear arguments; just rehashes of out of date arguments that are devoid of any sense of reason, or indeed science and engineering knowledge. There seems never an understanding, or even sense of urgency, that we are facing the most catastrophic problem that humankind has ever faced, Global Warming, so we should consider every possible method to solve it with seriousness.

    Unlike solar, and wind, only truly massive nuclear power stations can supply the constant levels of power that we need, principally to replace fossil fuels with Cryo-hydrogen. You can’t do that with solar or wind alone, the task is simply too big. Nuclear waste, contrary to common knowledge, can be very effectively managed by using Generation IV reactors, which volumetrically produce vastly less waste, at hugely reduced intensity and half life, and with massive power output. The best thing for those who don’t understand the potential of nuclear should look to France; the stand out performer; over decades safely producing hardly any CO2 from its fleet of reactors, a fleet that, by the way, the French government cannot bring themselves to shut down because like Germany, CO2 production would badly spike, and stay there.

    We need to decide; do we want endless production of CO2, or not?

    Solar is great fun (I have a 5KW system upgrading to 7.5), so is wind, and even batteries, but they’re just not up to this overwhelming task without assistance from massive, zero CO2 power input.

    And please, no more of this Fukushima stuff.

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