Epiphany

It all began when we bought our first place a little way out of the city. We had our first child, so that was dramatically broadening my perspective, and I had already begun absorbing every technical detail regarding thorium that I could find.

“Is that what you want to do?” asked my partner, completely nonplussed in her faith that I could if I wanted to.

I think I replied that I’d heard it wasn’t even legal in Australia. About the same time, I started my new job at an industrial site. This plant was like nothing I’d experienced. I had never appreciated this aspect of our society before. And it is only a very small one. Yet the energy involved from day to day rapidly soured for me the dominant message of renewable energy for Australia which was nearly everyone’s hand-waving answer to climate change.

Then last year I followed a link to Decarbonise SA, maintained by Ben Heard. He wants to see South Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions reduced to zero. Here he is in action.

I knew only of the Integral Fast Reactor and other fast breeder technology as the competitor to the molten salt reactor in the 60s. The fast breeder reactor at Argonne National Labs had received priority under Nixon, with the effect of sidelining and starving molten salt uranium and thorium research. Ben Heard is a remarkable communicator, as within minutes I understood the significance of the IFR, its all-but-completed development and its commercial, small modular application in General Electric Hitachi’s PRISM. Within a week I understood that uranium is every bit as benign as thorium, and even conventional reactors, hundreds of times less efficient than Generation IV designs as they are, were the superior rapid economic response to climate change that we need now.

Without reading this post, I doubt I would have decided to commit the time and energy needed to maintain a nuclear advocacy blog (a substantial part of which is reading technical discussions of reactor design, risk management and radiation, always with an eye to challenging my assumptions). I got angry. I’d voted Democrat, back when there were Democrats. Why had they made sure to prohibit nuclear power in Australia without any sort of thorough, dispassionate risk-benefit analysis? It didn’t matter. The first thing which needed doing was the repeal or amendment of:

Section 10 of the ARPANS Act 1998

10 Prohibition on certain nuclear installations

(1)          Nothing in this Act is to be taken to authorise the construction or operation of any of the following nuclear installations:

(a)      a nuclear fuel fabrication plant;

(b)     a nuclear power plant;

(c)      an enrichment plant;

(d)     a reprocessing facility;

(2)          The CEO must not issue a licence under section 32 in respect of any facility mentioned in subsection (1)

and:

Section 140A of the EPBC Act 1999

140A  No approval for certain nuclear installations

The Minister must not approve an action consisting of or involving the construction or operation of any of the following nuclear installations:

(a)  a nuclear fuel fabrication plant;

(b)  a nuclear power plant;

(c)  an enrichment plant;

(d)  a reprocessing facility.

Additionally, Ben (and others!)  produced Zero Carbon Options, a comprehensive comparison study of the option of modern nuclear capacity for South Australia. I have searched and still cannot find any specific critique of this proposal that might undermine its validity and potential.

Imagine if 2014 was the year that the legislation was repealed; proper, informed and considered regulations were enacted and Australia could begin expanding our use of uranium domestically. It could be only a few years before the first concrete is poured, and if enough guidance were sought from the current leaders in reactor construction, less than three years after that would essentially see the abrupt transition of South Australia to a greenhouse gas emissions free state.

Quinshan Phase III: a pair of CANDU EC6s. Built ahead of schedule and under budget.

Quinshan Phase III: a pair of CANDU EC6s. Built ahead of schedule and under budget.

It doesn’t have to be hard.

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One thought on “Epiphany

  1. Pingback: How Much Hot Air? | The Actinide Age

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