International Guest Post: Nuclear Power for Australia?

I present a guest repost from Luis B Aramburu of Global News and World Report.

Should the electricity production in Australia go nuclear?

In this entry we’ll calculate the number of reactors that would be required to produce 50% of the electricity in Australia.

Before even starting, here we state two facts:

1. Australia is the Saudi Arabia of Uranium reserves: they have 31% of the world total. The country in second place, Kazakhstan, has less than HALF Australia’s reserves.*

2. Australia has the 4th largest global reserves of Thorium.**

Other countries would certainly kill to own these amounts of fissile material.

Now, let’s make the math.

According to the IEA, Australia produced 228,152 GWh of electricity in 2013.  Let’s convert this to average power:

228,152 GWh / 24 hours / 365 days = 26.045 GW.  For simplicity, let’s leave it at 26 GW.

50% of the above power is 13 GW. So now let’s calculate how many 1GWe nuclear power plants would be required to supply 13 GW of electrical power.

To be conservative, let’s say that the capacity factor of these reactors is 85%. Thus:

13 GW / 0.85 / 1GWe = 15.29 nuclear reactors.  Let’s round it up to 16.

That’s it! 16 reactors is all that Australia needs to replace 50% of its electricity and thus dramatically reduce its carbon emissions (in 2013,86.4% of Australia’s electricity was produced with combustible fuels).***

With their current reserves, Australia essentially has enough U / Th to power a civilization “forever.”

Sure, the Australian coal industry would suffer greatly, but this is probably the price that has to be paid to reduce emissions Down Under.

The growth in Australia’s electricity consumption is projected to amount to only 1.4% per year, so by 2035 they would need 22reactors to supply 50% of its electricity. China today is building 28, so22 should be a perfectly achievable objective for a developed country like Australia.

Feel free to add to the conversation on Twitter: @luisbaram

Thank you.

*
http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/Nuclear-Fuel-Cycle/Uranium-Resources/Supply-of-Uranium/

**
http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/current-and-future-generation/thorium/

***
http://www.iea.org/statistics/relatedsurveys/monthlyelectricitysurvey/

****
http://www.bree.gov.au/sites/default/files/files//publications/aep/australian-energy-projections-report.pdf

Thanks, Luis!

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When we think “1GWe nuclear” these days, it is almost always the Westinghouse AP1000. Multiple units are being constructed at 2 sites each in the US and China, with more definitely planned in each country plus in the UK and Bulgaria. The first unit at Sanmen, China is rapidly approaching completion. The pair of units at Haiyang isn’t far behind and the total cost has been quoted at US$5.1 billion. This is incredible modern value for high tech, clean nuclear energy. Projects like Vogtle 3 & 4 enjoy substantial collaboration with corresponding Chinese consortium to maximise the available advantages in construction and scheduling. I won’t claim that Chinese costs are internationally transferable, but approaching them if possible must be the aim.

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A 50% Nuclear, low-carbon future by 2050. Luis’ analysis would appear to sit somewhere prior to 2035 – is 20 years so unrealistic?

The inevitable plan for nuclear rollout in Australia can and should draw on the optimised Chinese perspective – where suitable for our admittedly different circumstances. It needs to soberly consider the lessons available from Fukushima and Three Mile Island, both in terms of safety culture, process and compliance, but also public awareness, education, communication and consultation. (Remember, following the great earthquake, residents of Onagawa ran towards their local nuclear plant for safety.) The regulatory framework must combine the same robustness we see in countries traditionally accepting of nuclear power with the most informed, modern understanding of safety-focused structural engineering and radiation science. Adopting nuclear power in Australia, then restricting its application through overly conservative radiation limits, would risk retarding its contribution to rapid decarbonisation.

We are in a unique position in this country: we have centuries of domestic fuel supply (at current usage rates); safe, deployable reactor designs are now available from international vendors; and the inertia and flaws of other nations’ regulatory regimes can provide crucial guidance and allow ours to maximise efficacy in climate change response and operational safety. Expensive regulatory burden that results in, e.g., the 9-year long AP1000 design certification process would be incompatible with our carbon abatement goals: labyrinthine, punishing compliance doesn’t replace coal and gas plants.

 

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Greenjacked! – Unsolicited, Sincere Promotion


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I have met Geoff. He’s an observant, focused man, and he is careful to make his explanations clear and provoking. When I saw his book was released, I read it quickly – not to reinforce my own conclusions about climate change, energy and radiation, but to know what I wanted to help promote would be of high value.

Greenjacked! is for both the casually concerned and for environmentalists who maintain the traditional aversion to nuclear energy. At the same time, it is a handy resource for nuclear advocates, with abundant links, references and charts that don’t get overly technical. I expect there will be some who will read it and refuse to reexamine their opposition… I just really don’t know how.

The Greens, and other environment groups, must shake off their irrational anti-nuclear fear, and stop preventing effective climate action. Otherwise, their only legacy to the planet, will be 6 degrees of warming; or more!

Above all, if you are passionate about the environment, if you are a Greens member, if you help one of our traditional environmental NGOs… spend a few bucks, put aside a couple of hours and read Greenjacked! Then have a good think.

This Is The Life

I hope you don’t think I’m just some nuclear power cheerleader. I’m really just a guy with some science training who accepts the concerns of experts regarding future climate disruption, while rejecting the conventional nuclear aversion which is part and parcel of traditional environmental awareness in Australia. Could I call myself an environmentalist anyway? I’d rather focus on what I do to contribute.

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A 3 kW PV system was the most the installers determined our roof could support. Although it unavoidably faces east, it certainly helps offset our electrical demand in summer. Rather than wrap myself in smug, I view this arrangement as an investment that will hopefully achieve net carbon abatement, vis-a-vis the best estimates of PV life-cycle payback as discussed recently by Graham Palmer.

Would I have these on my roof if Australia was primarily powered by emissions-free nuclear energy? Would I need to? PV provides us with intermittent electricity that counts against our current power costs – and future increases – but supply from nuclear would be demand- and cost-stable, while contributing even less in carbon emissions. If it wasn’t arbitrarily side-lined, and available to be rationally considered on its merits alongside every other option, I wouldn’t even need to write this blog.

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These sails shade the north wall. Although it was my intention, I was shocked at how dramatically the immediate living spaces are kept cool in summer. The old air-con box was barely run for a day’s worth earlier this year, and only on account of tiny children.

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Speaking of whom, we use washable nappies such as these, to save on biological landfill.

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I saved this industrial polystyrene insulation from landfill. Attached beneath the floorboards, it utterly stops all through-floor heat loss. Needless to mention, the ceiling is also insulated. I also invested in double glazing for all windows, which is virtually unheard of in South Australia. I didn’t even bother checking if there was an energy efficiency rebate for doing so. It wasn’t cheap.

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These 400W convection panels are mounted on the interior walls of each room. They efficiently dispel any chill almost immediately.

led

Every fitting runs one of these LED-based globes. This is a 7 watt unit, which subjectively outputs the equivalent of a 75 watt incandescent. The rangehood downlights are each 3 watts.

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I maintain an ad hoc multi-unit biomatter recycling facility at the back of the yard, with semi-reliable, nutritious output. There is one rule: all biomatter is recycled.

Other efforts: just as my grandparents didn’t expect my parents to laboriously wash all their clothes by hand, I don’t expect my children to was dishes by hand. We have an efficient, economical (second hand!) machine for that. It uses exactly fifteen litres and 1.3 kWh each wash. I’ve calibrated it. I do face a regrettable commute into the city each day, and I bought a Prius to help with that. I won’t include a picture. No one needs to look at a Prius.

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This is the real star of the show, however. Those evacuated tubes absorb any and all ambient radiance to heat our 315 litre water tank. This was another unsubsidised financial outlay to save on electrical water heating. Three straight days of clouds and I must resort to mains boost, but in summer it is safe to flick the isolator and let the sun do all the work for weeks at a time.

This system is supremely efficient and doesn’t involved all the industrial processes and value chains upon which solar PV relies – an utter reliance which is largely ignored in the course of normal energy commentary. Would I have these on my roof if Australia was primarily powered by emissions-free nuclear energy? Dammit, yes, because of the direct application and utility, and bypassing the electrical energy transformation step is so obviously beneficial for efficiency.

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Another different house: now, what do these folks do? It’s just one of the houses around the corner… with northward roof area entirely shadowed by their proud palm trees. To be an effective part of some utopian solar energy revolution, they’d need to cut their trees down.

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They’d need to cut all the trees along the other side of the street down too. I mean, yay solar, but has anyone even roughly estimated how much suburban deforestation would be involved?

So yay for carbon-free wind energy too (sadly, there’s no nice page for hydro), and yay for efficiency. But Australia’s electricity-related emissions have not dropped since 2000.

co2hilites

Annual generation has increased by 30 to 40 terawatt hours… We’re certainly still using electricity, and rightly so. But only some of that increase is from non-emitting windfarms and solar. I guess more wind could be (and surely will be) added but the capacity credit, the actual proportion of the time that the geographically distributed farms can be relied on to match demand (8.3% maximum in summer at last count) will not increase linearly with additional nameplate megawatts. It just doesn’t work that way, while all the additional transmission infrastructure required – as the wind net is flung farther and wider – generally costs a premium and must be capable of handling the rare instances of maximum generated output. Positive news about not insubstantial carbon-free wind contributions should not seek to perpetuate the belief that inherently intermittent generation is suitable for outright replacement of reliable 24/7 capacity – the coal and gas plants that we ultimately need to decommission.

So anyway, I have done what I can, and I have more measures in the works. But if minimising my carbon intensity was my goal, I’d move my family to Toronto or Chicago and buy a Chevy Volt. It’s got to be bigger than that, bigger than just having more renewable energy, bigger than some calculated percentage. It’s got to be as big as zero emissions, nationally, and picking heroes and villains will never get us there.