Criticisms and Casks

isfsi-trimmedThe report from The Australia Institute, commissioned by the Conservation Council of South Australia, entitled Digging for Answers is arguably the premier critique of the conclusions of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission, which identified lucrative potential opportunities in permanent international used reactor fuel stewardship. These and other organisations hold an ideological opposition to any involvement in the fuel cycle, and would ideally prefer everyone just stop finding out about it.

As such, I have prepared a page to host a detailed rebuttal of The Australia Institute’s strikingly superficial analysis, which was submitted for consideration by the Joint Committee on the findings of the NFCRC, and I encourage all to have a read. In addition, the transfer of used nuclear fuel to the kind of dry cask storage which has been considered in detail by the Royal Commssion, along with rare pictures, has been provided to help with a wider familiarity of this routine materials management process. Please share it widely.

The Dry Cask Storage Process


When Your Local Nuclear Plant is the Safest Place in the World

We can only have a rational debate about the risks and benefits of nuclear power if we can put the risks into a balanced perspective. ~ Professor Gerraldine Thomas

In March 2011 the advanced industrial nation of Japan was brought to its knees by a record 9.0 magnitude earthquake. A tsunami of devastating height inundated the east coast of Honshū, overwhelming many sea walls, washing away towns and wreaking unimaginable destruction. Over eighteen thousand people were lost and thousands of others injured.

As The Telegraph’s Michael Hanlon later observed:

When it became clear the waves had struck a nuclear power plant, Fukushima Daiichi, 100 or so miles north of Tokyo, it was almost as if the great disaster we had witnessed had been erased from view. Suddenly, all the reports concentrated on the possibility of a reactor meltdown, the overheating fuel rods, and the design flaws in this ancient plant.

It is understandable, then, that the survival and safe shutdown of the nuclear plant closest to the undersea epicentre went unnoticed.


Onagawa Nuclear Power Plant

Back it up eighteen years, to 1993. The second boiling water reactor at the Tōhoku Electric Co’s Onagawa nuclear station is completed after a three and a half year build, costing $2.64 billion in today’s US dollars. The site is already elevated and fortified beyond historical tsunami indications, the legacy of a corporate safety culture instilled by vice president Yanosuke Hirai. This diligence pervaded and persisted through the company, driving safety focus and disaster preparedness. A further unit is later constructed beside Onagawa-2. The plant operates well above average Japanese availability factor.

The response of Onagawa to the natural disasters in 2011 has been detailed in the literature by senior personnel, as well as by an independent journalist. In response to the quake, all three reactors shut down automatically, as designed. Workers were quick to organise and get to work ensuring the plant’s safety. Backup power sytems including diesel generators and offsite power lines were safe from the waves and continued to cool the decay heat within the reactor cores. Tsunami damage was limited to a non-safety switchgear fire and auxiliary building flooding.


Residentsof Onagawa: warm, fed and safe.

The safety and reliable electricity at the plant in the midst of unprecedented devastation drew local survivors. Hundreds of people were housed in Onagawa’s gymnasium for three months and provided with warmth and supplies.

Onagawa-2, and its sister units, rapidly reached secure cold shutdown, as designed. In 2013, Tōhoku Electric Co began the process of obtaining approval for restarting the reactor. Approval and operating requirements are much tighter now, but in the words of Onagawa’s personnel:

We were able to properly manage the earthquake and tsunami on March 11. However, there are still many lessons that we have learned from the experience.

To pursue and maintain higher safety, we will continue to implement various enhancements. Furthermore, we will continue to grow our skills at executing emergency procedures properly and correctly.

Having fended off the worst nature could dish out, they are now focused on getting even better.

In the meanwhile, Japan increasingly relies on imported natural gas. When it’s not gas being burned it’s coal – in record amounts. The direct health and far-reaching climate impacts of this fossil fuel combustion are unequivocal. This is the true ongoing disaster that began in March 2011.


The psychological toll from Chernobyl was far worse than the damage done by radiation. The political, media and activism frenzy following the Fukushima accident overshadowed not just the natural disaster but also all we had learned regarding legitimate appreciation of nuclear hazards… although five years on and the extent of the overreaction is crystallising. It would be good to see the lessons studiously relearned, to protect us next time.

But perhaps there is a bonus lesson provided by Onagawa. A properly designed power plant, with reactors built rapidly and affordably, and which shrugged off nature’s mightiest blows thanks to the synergy with the exemplary safety culture of its human component. Onagawa could teach us that there doesn’t have to be a next time.

This article originally appeared at Energy For Humanity.

Storaging Your Way Out

This week, the long-awaited UK government approval for the construction of Hinkley Point C was granted. This will be a pair of modern light water reactors of the French EPR type, will generate 3,260 megawatts at full power, and has a design life of 60 years. An exhaustive description of the costs, subsidies and national context for this huge piece of energy supply infrastructure is available from the World Nuclear Association.


Taishan unit 1 in China will be the first EPR commissioned, early in 2017. Other projects in France and Finland have faced substantial delays and cost problems.

Inevitably, many will wonder if the 25.5 billion kilowatt hours and 14 million avoided tons of greenhouse gas can be achieved some other way – maybe even cheaper. Indeed, solar has already been advanced as a prefered option… by the UK’s Solar Trade Association. Just as inevitably, 1) this is solar plus storage, and 2) the amount of necessary storage isn’t specified.

This has already been dissected over at Energy Matters where it was estimated to be 7 billion kilowatt hours of storage capacity when relying on solar alone – “roughly the equivalent of eight hundred more Dinorwigs”. Dinorwig is the largest pumped hydro storage facility in the UK. Ironically, it was originally intended to store nuclear power overnight. Alternatively, it would take over 87 thousand of the largest battery storage installations ever proposed.


The devil’s always in the details. Especially when the details aren’t provided.

To be clear, solar plus storage still won’t provide what huge reactors do. And EPRs can’t provide anything like the flexibility of distributed solar/storage combinations. They have fundamentally different profiles, different scales. Since they can’t substitute for each other, it’s perverse to feed the persistent nuclear vs renewables struggle with them.

The Battery of the Gaps

Source: Lyon InfrastructureEarly in 2015 respected Australian energy market blog WattClarity put some simple estimates of required battery storage capacity for the NEM on the back of an envelope. To summarise:

  • Actual demand and wind data was used
  • Wind was low, mainland NEM-wide, for 62 hours
  • Median demand was set at 21,000 megawatts
  • The necessary electric vehicle battery capacity to fill the gap was gigantic at 1,271,000 megawatt hours (MWh)
  •  It was 992,000 MWh if the wind fleet were 10 times its current size

Since those three days of relative calm, to say that the hyperbole around the imminent triumph of battery storage has only escalated is an understatement.

But the assurances are invariably unaccompanied by arithmetic, and WattClarity’s calculations, like its technology agnosticism, remain as rare, much-needed examples.

But how many?

The assumption by many and the party-line for some in particular is that batteries will take the place of coal and gas as solar and wind dominate the electricity supply, pushing out the antiquated power stations. WattClarity’s estimates provide the basis for answering the inevitably absent question of how many?


(Blue: demand; green: wind; yellow: rooftop PV. llustration only)

But first, would solar capacity make a substantial difference? APVI records for those three days (28th to 30th of March) are incomplete, but assuming a calculated average 51% of nameplate output (1,876 MW) at noon maximum for NSW, QLD, SA and VIC, and generation from 6:30 am till 5:30 pm, solar supplies 10,320 MWh in total. Let’s multiply this by 10, like was done for wind, which provides daily peaks exceeding the average residual demand (16,000 MW), and as such the remaining nightly gaps of demand are reduced to a rough total of 682,800 MWh.

But how much?

Lithium-based battery technology, by far the dominant form for the foreseeable future, has dropped in unit price very rapidly. The AFR article linked above suggests a cost of USD $600 per kWh will be possible soon – which would today be AUD $798,000 per MWh.

Thus the necessary batteries on the back of this envelope cost on the order of AUD $545 billion.

But for how long?

10 years. We can be sure of that much. ESCRI-SA provides details on the expected 10 year lifespan in its on-going storage study, and this is consistent with the already impressive chemistry involved in lithium batteries.

To paraphrase Sir David MacKay, “I’m not anti-batteries, I’m just pro-arithmetic.” The ESCRI-SA project is fascinating, as is the innovative AGL virtual power station, and projects like Kingfisher present the cutting edge of aligning solar power with demand. But we’ve got to appreciate the scale here. We don’t have ten times the wind and solar as used for these thought experiments, and getting anywhere near it will be very hard work. And no amount of enthusiasm can overcome the reality of hard physical chemical limits to which the materials in batteries are immutably constrained – a given density will yield a certain voltage for a particular period, with no real reason to hope for a “big leap forward“. We’ve got to ask hard questions when batteries are proposed as the panacea to our very imminent energy supply challenges. Maybe just as importantly, we need to look at who is proposing it. Let’s evaluate all the options, from that sensible fulcrum.

To that end, there are already notable examinations of the potential value of battery storage. Crucially, they are not shy about including nuclear capacity in the analysis:

There is no silver bullet to decarbonize the electricity sector: the least-cost generation mix includes a diverse mix of resources and wind, solar, and flexible nuclear technologies co-exist in the optimal low-carbon generation portfolio, regardless of the level of energy storage. Under an emissions limit of 100tCO2/GWh, nuclear’s contribution to total energy supply ranges from 18–40%, depending on the amount of energy storage installed, while solar and wind shares are in the 9–15% and 23–43% ranges, respectively. Likewise, flexible nuclear contributes 52–68% under a tighter 50 tCO2/GWh limit while solar contributes7–14% and wind 12–19%, depending on the storage capacity.

The optimal energy capacity of bulk electricity storag (BES) turns out to be small in general, even when we impose ∼70% emission reductions compared to business-as-usual. The mechanical storage fleet was sized to supply the average electric load for one full day on its own. This value sharply drops as the energy cost increases while the power cost simultaneously drops; i.e. moving to electrochemical systems. These relatively low energy capacities signal the unimportance of large-scale storage of electricity over long time horizons (e.g. seasonal storage) from an economic point of view. This is driven by the lower competitiveness of BES systems coupled with wind in comparison to low carbon and dispatchable generation facilities, like CCGT and DZC (nuclear or fossil with carbon-capture) modeled here.

There are cautions from industry leaders like Ibedrola and Tesla, which should be heeded. Where pilot projects – like GRID4EU and Yanbaru – have not performed, we must understand why. Notwithstanding their lifecycle carbon intensity, storage technologies need and deserve rigorous and impartial assessment alongside our future energy sources, not and the disrespect of ceaseless, motivated oversell.


Source: WattClarity