SA keeps the nuclear dream alive

The key tentative finding of the SA Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission is:

    Taking account of future demand and anticipated costs of nuclear power under the existing electricity market structure, it would not be commercially viable to generate electricity from a nuclear power plant in South Australia in the foreseeable future.

However they think nuclear power may be necessary in the future to meet emission reduction targets, so:

    It would be wise to plan now to ensure that nuclear power would be available should it be required.

However, there is a quid or two to be made out of the storage of nuclear waste:

    The storage and disposal of used nuclear fuel in South Australia would meet a global need and is likely to deliver substantial economic benefits to the community. An integrated storage and disposal facility would be commercially viable and the storage component could be operational in the late 2020s.

They sketch a scenario over 120 years based on a storage capacity of 138,000 tonnes (~13%) of the projected global used fuel inventory. The project would require the construction of a dedicated port facility, airport and rail freight line to a site yet to be chosen. Total costs would be $145 billion over 120 years as against revenues of more than $257 billion. They envisage a State Wealth Fund which could generate more than $6 billion a year for over 70 years.

    Provision has also been made within the cost base for a $32 billion Reserve Fund to cover whole-of-life maintenance, both for long-term monitoring and post-closure of the facility.

That should look after the site forever.

Jobs created would peak at between 4000-5000 during the 25-year construction process and then 600 full time jobs once operational.

In an already oversupplied market the Commission sees no opportunity for the commercial development of further uranium processing capabilities in South Australia in the next decade.

The Commission sees uranium mined in SA as being leased rather than sold, with the remnants returning to SA for burial for a fee.

The Commission has now begun a feedback period, with a closing date for responses at 5pm, Friday, 18 March, 2016.

The Commission stresses that “community consent” is essential, and that may be the hardest part.

If you follow only one link, go to the media release of the Tentative Findings, where I garnered most of the above information.

John Quiggin has a post with, as usual, a vigorous discussion thread. Quiggin stresses the role of Barry Brook as part of the Commission’s Expert Advisory Panel. Brook, now Professor of Environmental Sustainability at the University of Tasmania, was Sir Hubert Wilkins Chair of Climate Change at the University of Adelaide from 2007 to 2014. Brook has an encyclopaedic knowledge of climate change, which he demonstrated at the blog Brave New Climate until he turned it over to a nuclear energy site, seen in the context of climate change.

Giles Parkinson at RenewEconomy is thorough as usual. He worries about the nuclear proposal having an adverse effect on the development of wind and solar. He says the nuclear industry is counting on renewables failing to meet emissions reduction targets. At some future time we’ll wake up in fright and turn to a kind of Marshall Plan to install nuclear to do the job.

I’d suggest that nuclear is basically irrelevant.

Mark Diesendorf questions the economics, and whether we would ever be competitive. He sees the capital outlay as a huge risk.

He notes that the plan envisages initial above-ground temporary storage in dry casks, while a permanent underground repository is being built. He worries that we will get stuck at stage one, with huge amounts of vulnerable waste stored above ground.

Ben Heard, a Doctoral student at the University of Adelaide has personal, professional and academic commitments to the nuclear energy field, so he accepts the economic case for nuclear storage and has largely favourable comments.

If you want to make a submission or access the full report go to the Tentative Findings access page.

While we are here I’ll mention the dreadful mess the Germans have gotten themselves into. Back in 1965 the authorities bought an old salt mine at Asse in northern Germany. The purpose was to conduct scientific research on using such facilities for storing nuclear waste. Secretly they just turned it into a socalled permanent dump, plonking 126,000 drums, enough to fill 20 Olympic swimming pools, in there and filling it in.

Problem is that the mine walls are collapsing under pressure, and every day 12,000 litres of brine is seeping into the mine chamber through what was thought to be impervious rock. Now they are trying to dig it all out, but there is little space and a high danger of braking the mine walls. The plan is to move it all to the old Konrad iron mine, but if Asse floods they’ll have to plug it up and hope for the best.

Then they also have vast volumes of nuclear rubble from the 17 power stations being decommissioned by 2022. A Final Storage Commission has been established to advise on what to do. Surprise, surprise, there is a distinct lack of public trust.

7 thoughts on “SA keeps the nuclear dream alive”

  1. A friend of mine that grew up in Poland and, according to him, when he was a boy his home town had massive mountains of ” waste ” from mining. Some sort of slag, unusable at the time and of no worth.
    He went back about 8 years ago and the mountains he used to play on were gone, flat to the ground.
    With technological advancements a use was found for this “waste “.
    He, although being somewhat of an old style hippy and very well traveled and read, believes the same will happen of nuclear ” waste “.


  2. what is worrying is setting up a facility that requires attention over geological time frames with human institutions that are dependent for effectiveness on factors that can’t be guaranteed to be operational over more than a century – certainly they aren;t projecting finances much more than a century out. That’s either hubris or after me the deluge

  3. Jumpy, concerning your friend and Poland, we drove over a fair bit of it for a few days. They seemed to have quite new and very good highways, I suspect from EU infrastructure development money. The roads were built up above the plain, requiring huge amounts of fill. We wondered where all the fill came from.

    Nuclear waste will not be so easy.

  4. Previously unusable nuclear ” waste ” is being reprocessed now.
    SA could be opening an energy bank for the future where other Nations pour it in and get charged a fee for giving it away.

    Lotsa good jobs in it too.

  5. Jumpy: Reprocessing probably makes more sense if it is done close to where the original waste is produced.
    It may make sense to do the final storage in another country but the full cost should be upfront.

  6. Wonderful plans! We Germans hope you’ll go right ahead with that deposit for atomic waste in S.A.! Sounds just great and will solve all our problems! Of course we’ll pay a nice amout of money for you to spend. Being able to get rid of our stuff is well worth it, after all.
    Main thing is you pay for looking after it for the next thousand years, to keep it out of the hands of terrorists etc. Jobs will also be secure for that period of time! Your children will pay and thank you for it!

  7. C.J. at the risk of sounding like a wet blanket, there’s a big difference between royal commission findings and government plans! So far I haven’t heard any concrete response from the SA Government.

    I’ve Googled and can’t find any links since the time I wrote the post. I guess a month is a short time for the Government to react. The next election isn’t due until 2018.

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