NUCLEAR FUEL CYCLE ROYAL COMMISSION. Advantages and disadvantages of different technologies and fuel sources; risks and opportunities

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1 NUCLEAR FUEL CYCLE ROYAL COMMISSION Submission on Issues Paper 3: Advantages and disadvantages of different technologies and fuel sources; risks and opportunities 3.8 What issues should be considered in a cooptative analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of the generation of electricity from nuclear fuels as opposed to other sources? Scale and demand including demand patterns Traditionally nuclear power stations have been large scale, approximately MWE, slightly smaller than South Australia s largest power station, Torrens Island. The addition of a power station of this size, unless it replaced a similar sized generator, could strain the capacity of the grid. However, smaller reactors, including one in India, of 220 MWE have commenced operation. 1 It is the smaller coal fired power stations in Port Augusta that are nearing the end of their life, not Torrens Island, so if a nuclear power station were to be installed it should be a small one replacing a small power station or stations. However, I favour the replacement of the northern coal-fired power stations with solar power, as shall be explained below. Paper 3 explains that electricity use has fallen in recent years. I expect this trend to continue in the absence of large scale industrial changes, such as a change in the method of smelting iron which involved the use of electricity. Domestic use has decreased because of increased efficiency of domestic appliances and some frugality by the population, due to increased electricity prices and/or environmental concerns. An increasing proportion of domestic electricity is generated by rooftop photvoltaics and not by centralised power stations; some is used directly by the householder and some is fed into the grid. Counter to the trend to reduced electricity use are the increased use of air conditioning and electronic devices. However, these too are becoming more efficient. Industrial innovations tend to be high tech and low energy. A change in uses for electricity, such as a greater amount being used for heating and transport could increase demand. However, I would favour use of solar heat rather than electricity for industrial processes to replace liquid or solid fuel. Heat for industrial processes can also be derived from electricity generation which involves boiling of water; this can be fossil fuel, biomass, nuclear or solar thermal. Overall, I do not anticipate a major increase in electricity demand, except for mining, and maintain that if nuclear capacity were built it should approximate the capacity of a decommissioned power station. 1 NUCLEAR FUEL CYCLE ROYAL COMMISSION: Issues Paper 3 (A) p.4. 1

2 Base load Power The concept of Base Load Power is founded on the fact that some electricity is needed all the time and more electricity is needed at certain times. It is therefore argued that there is a need for large reliable (base load) power stations that generate electricity all the time and for smaller peaking power stations to cater for times of high demand. These base load power stations are typically coal burning, but can be fuelled by gas or nuclear power. It is argued that renewables, such as wind and solar, cannot produce base load power because the wind does not blow all the time and the sun does not shine at night. This concept is outmoded. Firstly, base load power stations are not totally reliable. Generators are shut down from time to time. But on the whole they are reliable. However, disruption to the distribution grid can cause widespread power cuts. Where there is a national grid, solar and wind power, combined together, are surprisingly reliable, as wind blows at different times in different places, and there is variation in weather and sunrise and sunset in different parts of Australia. South Australia runs well on more than 36% renewable energy 2 and on a day in October 2007 ran 100% on wind power. 3 However, changes to the grid would be needed to accommodate a high proportion of renewable energy with distributed transmission. The downside is the number of transmission lines. I recommend that wherever possible transmission lines be put underground. Overground, transmission lines are subject to falling trees and tree branches, wind and lightning, and sometimes cause bushfires. Underground they need to be protected from being accidentally dug up (and people may also need to be protected) and also from water, fungus, termites etc. Associate Professor Mark Diesendorf has said of South Australia: State electricity supply has operated reliably and stably for hours when the contribution of variable renewable energy reached two-thirds of demand, and wind power and gas coped admirably recently when the coal-fired Northern power station went unexpectedly offline. 4 For 100% renewable power to operate all the time there needs to be some form of storage. Without this or with limited storage there will be need for occasional back up. Storage already available includes storage of heat from solar thermal power stations in molten salts, pumped hydro-electric storage and advanced battery technologies. The addition of wave and geothermal power would reduce the need for storage. Geothermal could produce base load power, but hot rock technologies have not so far been commercialised. The resources are also in remote areas so there is a question mark over whether geothermal electricity will become viable in South Australia. The question is: why should we go to all this trouble to have dispersed electricity generation instead or relying on centralised coal, gas or nuclear power stations? Reasons supporting doing so are set out below. 2 Climate Council About 40% according to Mark Diesendorf, InDaily 25/6/15 3 reneweconomy.com.au/.../south-australia-hits-100-renewables-for-a-who... 4 Mark Diesendorf, InDaily 25/6/15 2

3 Greenhouse emissions (See also 3.11) Generally speaking the change from coal fired power is driven by concern for greenhouse emissions, although in South Australia the Leigh Creek coal mine is becoming depleted and gas is increasingly expensive. The alternatives are seen as renewables and nuclear. While nuclear power stations do not burn CO2 emitting fossil fuels, when calculating green house emissions from nuclear energy one needs to take into account of the greenhouse emissions from mining, construction of the power station, transport, decommissioning etc. Nuclear energy from fission of high grade ore results in lower levels of greenhouse emission than fossil fuel power stations when all is taken into account. But with low grade ore the results are less promising. I do not have the figures available but this needs to be taken into account. The same needs to be done with renewable energy to make a fair comparison. Uranium is a finite resource and with simple fission would soon run out if it were the sole source of electricity generation. With breeder reactors this would happen more slowly if at all. Most forms of renewable energy have short pay back times, that is the energy used to make the generating equipment is quickly recouped, but this should be studied in detail to ensure that nothing has been overlooked. Renewable energy, other than biomass, is free or virtually free of green house emissions in operation, although as noted before, there are some emissions in the making of the equipment. Safety In considering safety both the likelihood of a mishap and the severity of its consequences need to be considered. In particular, the possibility a highly unlikely but potentially catastrophic accident could rule out the use of a technology, especially where an alternative that does no carry such extreme hazards is available. Mechanical mishaps such as falls can happen with any kind of generation. An installer could fall off the roof while installing photovoltaic modules and any generation involving heat has its hazards. Moving parts, heat, chemicals and radiation are all work place hazards. Workers at nuclear plants are likely to be exposed to radiation above background levels, although this can be monitored and may not be significant. Coal and other fossil fuels, and indeed any material that is mined or extracted, involve dangers of accident during extraction. Coal dust is a danger to health and uranium miners also face hazard if not protected from dust and radiation. Page 16 of Paper 3 deals with the protection of workers in nuclear plants from radiation. Every precaution should be taken, but the fact that they need to be provided with personal protection equipment indicates that there is a potential hazard. This, however occurs in many industries. Coal burning is a serious cause of air pollution and poor health, and for this reason, as well as its greenhouse potential, coal power should be phased out. 3

4 The use of hazardous chemicals in the fabrication of equipment and generation should be monitored and mining should be as ethical and safe as possible. This applies to renewable, fossil and nuclear generation. Nuclear energy poses special risks. Catastrophes have happened in the past. Although. Chernobyl caused about 65 deaths in the short term, it is difficult to determine the long term health effects and resultant mortality. Reactors are safer than they used to be but it is impossible to remove all risks. 5 The capacity for a nuclear accident to cause large areas to be regarded as unsafe for habitation or agriculture over a long period, as with Chernobyl and Fukushima, is cause for extreme caution. Older breeder reactors have been presented by some critics as being extremely dangerous. The fourth generation reactors may be safe, but they are still in the research phase. Even if catastrophes are unlikely, their potential severity must be taken into account when deciding to adopt nuclear energy. Employment A large number of people are currently employed at fossil fuel power stations. These jobs need to be replaced. Where feasible, renewable energy power stations, such as solar thermal, should be set up on or near the former coal or gas power station. Low energy high tech industries can also replace the jobs lost by closing power stations. However, unskilled workers might be more easily employed in such work as mirror cleaning and other maintenance of solar thermal power stations. Australia has the capacity to manufacture and potentially export renewables technology and chemically stored renewable energy, e.g. hydrogen. Conclusion to 3.8 I submit that there are mature renewable technologies, whose price is decreasing, wind being now comparable with coal in price, and that it would be better to replace fossil fuel generators with renewable energy generation in various forms and with storage than with nuclear. Only if fourth generation nuclear is shown to be safe and effective should it be considered. In renewables we already have an established but still evolving low greenhouse technology whose cost is falling What impact might the establishment of a faculty to generate electricity form nuclear fuels have on the electivity marker and existing generation sources? A concentration on unclear energy might prove a distraction and have an adverse effect on the development of renewables. There is a danger that the renewable energy industry might be left in limbo while plans are made for nuclear energy. The success of generation four power stations is not assured. The effect of a nuclear power station of 1 MW or more on the grid has been noted in Scale and demand including demand pattern. Small nuclear power stations are 5 Page 14 Paper 3 4

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