The state of South Australia, Australia, established recently the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission to investigate uranium fuel, its mining, enrichment, power generation, and nuclear waste management and storage. (see link) Australia is a producer and exporter of uranium.
The NFCRC "will provide all interested persons with an opportunity to provide information and evidence that will help guide the Royal Commission in its decision making and formulation of the final report.
A Royal Commission, acting on its own, cannot undertake an inquiry into complex social, economic and environmental matters concerning the nuclear fuel cycle without significant external assistance.
As such, we (the Royal Commission) will be seeking cooperation and input from a range of involved stakeholders – including academics, subject matter experts, interest groups, members from industry, non-government organisations, consumer groups and members of the community.
Former Governor of South Australia, Rear Admiral the Honourable Kevin Scarce AC CSC RAN (Rtd), was appointed to the role of Royal Commissioner for the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission on 9 February 2015. The Royal Commission is seeking to engage with all sectors of the community in order to bring the widest range of views possible into the research and decision making process.
At the conclusion of its investigation, the Commission will produce a report which will make findings based on evidence obtained by the Commission and will make recommendations.
The report (and its recommendations) are required to be provided to the Governor of South Australia, The Honourable Hieu Van Le AO, no later than 6 May 2016."
The Commission organized the uranium issue into four areas :
1. Uranium mining
2. Uranium enrichment into civilian power fuel
3. Civilian nuclear power plants, and
4. Nuclear waste management and storage.
I have been invited to prepare and submit responses to the questions and issues posed in Paper 3 for Civilian nuclear power plants. There are 17 questions, shown below. I plan to formally submit detailed answers to most, if not all, the questions.
The short, summary answer to the over-arching question of Should South Australia build and operate nuclear power plants, is no. The basis for that conclusion is the facts and particulars of South Australia's power grid both at present and the foreseeable future. The grid is small, with 5,000 MWe total installed capacity. The demand is low, with typical daily maximum 1,500 MWe although demand peaks on hot summer days at approximately 3,000 MWe. More importantly, minimum demand at night is approximately 700 MWe. Finally, South Australia has access to abundant coal and natural gas for fuel.
Given the small grid loads, and small minimum night demand, a nuclear power plant that is operated at baseload to provide maximum efficiency and minimum power price, must be a small size at perhaps 300 MWe. Small nuclear reactors suffer from reverse economy of scale and are very expensive for the amount of power produced. Conversely, a larger plant would achieve some economy of scale, but the plant must have its output reduced at night to ensure grid stability. A larger plant would be more costly to allow load changes, and the sales price for electricity produced must increase accordingly. (see Truth About Nuclear Power, part 2 for details -- see link) The usual safety concerns also apply: operating upsets and radiation releases, evacuation plans, spent fuel storage or reprocessing, and sabotage and terrorist attacks, to name a few.
Royal Commission's 17 Questions on Civilian Nuclear Power Plants
3.1 Are there suitable areas in South Australia for the establishment of a nuclear reactor for generating electricity? What is the basis for that assessment?
3.2 Are there commercial reactor technologies (or emerging technologies which may be commercially available in the next two decades) that can be installed and connected to the NEM (National Electricity Market)? If so, what are those technologies, and what are the characteristics that make them technically suitable? What are the characteristics of the NEM that determine the suitability of a reactor for connection?
3.3 Are there commercial reactor technologies (or emerging technologies which may be commercially available in the next two decades) that can be installed and connected in an off-grid setting? If so, what are those technologies, and what are the characteristics that make them technically suitable? What are the characteristics of any particular off-grid setting that determine the suitability of a reactor for connection?
3.4 What factors affect the assessment of viability for installing any facility to generate electricity in the NEM? How might those factors be quantified and assessed? What are the factors in an off-grid setting exclusively? How might they be quantified and assessed?
3.5 What are the conditions that would be necessary for new nuclear generation capacity to be viable in the NEM? Would there be a need, for example, for new infrastructure such as transmission lines to be constructed, or changes to how the generator is scheduled or paid? How do those conditions differ between the NEM and an off-grid setting, and why?
3.6 What are the specific models and case studies that demonstrate the best practice for the establishment and operation of new facilities for the generation of electricity from nuclear fuels? What are the less successful examples? Where have they been implemented in practice? What relevant lessons can be drawn from them if such facilities were established in South Australia?
3.7 What place is there in the generation market, if any, for electricity generated from nuclear fuels to play in the medium or long term? Why? What is the basis for that prediction including the relevant demand scenarios?
3.8 What issues should be considered in a comparative analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of the generation of electricity from nuclear fuels as opposed to other sources? What are the most important issues? Why? How should they be analysed?
3.9 What are the lessons to be learned from accidents, such as that at Fukushima (Japan), in relation to the possible establishment of any proposed nuclear facility to generate electricity in South Australia? Have those demonstrated risks and other known safety risks associated with the operation of nuclear plants been addressed? How and by what means? What are the processes that would need to be undertaken to build confidence in the community generally, or specific communities, in the design, establishment and operation of such facilities?
3.10 If a facility to generate electricity from nuclear fuels was established in South Australia, what regulatory regime to address safety would need to be established? What are the best examples of those regimes? What can be drawn from them?
3.11 How might a comparison of the emission of greenhouse gases from generating electricity in South Australia from nuclear fuels as opposed to other sources be quantified, assessed or modelled? What information, including that drawn from relevant operational experience should be used in that comparative assessment? What general considerations are relevant in conducting those assessments or developing these models?
3.12 What are the wastes (other than greenhouse gases) produced in generating electricity from nuclear and other fuels and technologies? What is the evidence of the impacts of those wastes on the community and the environment? Is there any accepted means by which those impacts can be compared? Have such assessments making those comparisons been undertaken, and if so, what are the results? Can those results be adapted so as to be relevant to an analysis of the generation of electricity in South Australia?
3.13 What risks for health and safety would be created by establishing facilities for the generation of electricity from nuclear fuels? What needs to be done to ensure that risks do not exceed safe levels?
3.14 What safeguards issues are created by the establishment of a facility for the generation of electricity from nuclear fuels? Can those implications be addressed adequately? If so, by what means?
3.15 What impact might the establishment of a facility to generate electricity from nuclear fuels have on the electricity market and existing generation sources? What is the evidence from other existing markets internationally in which nuclear energy is generated? Would it complement other sources and in what circumstances? What sources might it be a substitute for, and in what circumstances?
3.16 How might a comparison of the unit costs in generating electricity in South Australia from nuclear fuels as opposed to other sources be quantified, assessed or modelled? What information, including that drawn from relevant operational experience, should be used in that comparative assessment? What general considerations should be borne in mind in conducting those assessments or models?
3.17 Would the establishment of such facilities give rise to impacts on other sectors of the economy? How should they be estimated and using what information? Have such impacts been demonstrated in other economies similar to Australia?
END OF ROYAL COMMISSION QUESTIONS.
Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California
copyright (c) 2015 by Roger Sowell. All rights reserved.