The irrepressible Kirsty Gogan was inspired to pen this article.
Unveiling a plan to deliver free electricity to all citizens of South Australia, while abolishing state taxes and generating billions of dollars in revenue for the state, Senator Sean Edwards called for South Australia to receive and recycle spent nuclear fuel rods from other countries.
Conventional nuclear reactors use less than one per cent of the available energy in the uranium fuel and right now, the rest is classified as waste: a global stockpile of around 240,000 tons.
While many countries have set aside billions of pounds to safely store and dispose of this material, advanced reactor developers aim to recycle this waste, extracting the vast amount of remaining energy and turning something toxic into something useful..
Senator Edwards proposes to transform this waste into wealth, largely by South Australia being paid to recycle it into carbon-free electricity in advanced reactors. The GE-Hitachi PRISM fast reactor is a strong contender to do this, and the same technology is also being looked at in the UK for plutonium disposition.
What difference would it make? Well, deploying modern nuclear technologies at scale to replace coal, and tackle the waste issue along the way, could save literally millions of lives. Research by climate scientists James Hansen and Pushker Kharecha concludes that conventional nuclear power has already prevented 1.8 million deaths due to air pollution from fossil fuels and that it could save as many as seven million lives in the next four decades.
Here is the Senator speaking about the opportunity in Sydney.
The proposal has nothing to do with precluding other forms of emissions-free electricity production. Yet Green groups are increasingly portraying it – and the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission more broadly – as such. What does this achieve apart from confusing the issues and relegating their relevance in the grown up discussion? Indeed, if they eventually reject outright the legitimacy of the Royal Commission, it would be having the cake they’ve already eaten through contributing various anti-nuclear submissions to the official process – submissions invariably prepared with an obvious lack of consultation with experienced professionals from the scientific/engineering field in question.
“This is not a dream. This is not somebody’s calculations on a piece of paper. This is real. We know how to do these things.”
I’m glad I could assist Ben with the proposal in surveying numerous sites where dry casks of used fuel are stored. Thousands of small communities co-exist with these sites, and are in no danger whatsoever. Not a few famous cities are similarly within a couple of hundred kilometres of securely shielded, irradiated actinides and fission products. I recommend a read of the submission for a review of the current state of knowledge around dry cask storage.
As far as the power reactor is concerned, I’m still trying to believe how similar these events are to this piece of creative writing from the middle of last year. Hopelessly optimistic? Not any more! Certainly the first-of-a-kind PRISM proposal is about as ambitious as we can get. There are “conventional” alternatives, such as the Direct Use of PWR fuel In CANDU.
But then, we also have GE Hitachi themselves proposing their PRISM fuel recycling reactor to the Royal Commission. Maybe we’ll be seeing that scale model around the place by 201X, after all.