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Climate change expert: Australia will go nuclear by 2030

12 June, 2012

A University of Adelaide scientist believes it is inevitable that Australia will become a user of the world's most advanced nuclear power technology, if the country is serious about cutting carbon emissions.

Professor Barry Brook, Director of Climate Science at the University of Adelaide's Environment Institute, says Australia will eventually turn to nuclear power to meet our sustainable energy needs - and when we do, we will choose to focus on next-generation nuclear technology that provides major safety, waste and cost benefits.

"Coal, oil, and natural gas are the main cause of recent global warming, and these fossil fuels must be completely replaced with clean sustainable energy sources in the coming decades if serious climate change impacts are to be avoided," Professor Brook said.

"One particularly attractive sustainable nuclear technology for Australia is the Integral Fast Reactor (IFR). Although the scientific community has known about the benefits of IFR-type designs for many years, there are currently none in commercial operation because the energy utilities are typically too risk averse to 'bet on' new technologies. This is a wasted opportunity for Australia and for the rest of the world.

"Integral Fast Reactors are much more efficient at extracting energy from uranium, can use existing nuclear waste for fuel, produce far smaller volumes of waste that does not require long-term geological isolation, and can be operated at low cost and high reliability. They are also inherently safer than past nuclear reactors due to passive systems based on the laws of physics.

"In order to re-start the nuclear power debate in Australia, it is best to have a solution that overcomes as many public objections as possible: safety, constraints on uranium supplies, long-lived waste, cost, and proliferation. The IFR technology offers a vast improvement in all of these areas."

Professor Brook's forecast timeline for nuclear power in Australia

2020 - Public and political debate heightens as need for reliable low-carbon electricity mounts
2025 - First reactor contracts issued, Small Modular Reactors (SMR) built in outback mining sites
2030 - 3 GWe (gigawatt electrical) of nuclear power connects to national electricity grid
2040 - Up to 5 GWe of new capacity being installed per year
2050 - A total of 30-50 GWe installed, located at a dozen 'energy park' sites and various remote areas
2100 - >100 GWe installed for total energy displacement, including replacing oil and gas needs

Professor Brook, a professional ecologist and conservation biologist, has also built an international reputation as a commentator on sustainable energy and the potential benefit of nuclear fission in curbing climate change.

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Bill Koutalianos | Tuesday, June 12, 2012, 5:11 PM
I've heard Prof. Brook acknowledge elsewhere that renewables (presumably wind and solar) are just too expensive. Here he offers us a fairly easy going nuclear timeline for Australia, but given the carbon tax is about to commence, I would fast track the signing of the first reactor contract to as soon as is practicable. Alternatively if we were to acknowledge as many scientists already have, that the UN IPCC's science lacks evidence and credibility, we could delay the reactor contract and extend the timeline until the estimated exhaustion of our known coal reserves, around the year 2500.
john fisher | Wednesday, June 13, 2012, 1:31 PM
lies i have a energy system that can give cheaper energy then all no to nuclear for ever owned bye fake queen lizard people rothchild criminals
Geoff Thomas | Friday, June 22, 2012, 3:28 PM
Dear Bill, somebody arguing a fairly extreme hypotheses such as Prof Brook, may not "acknowledge" renewables are "just too expensive", but must prove it, - he has to trot out facts and figures, (and i can understand how difficult that might be for him or anyone making his argument so to do,) and Wind at 3 to 9 cents as opposed to nuclear at 20 to 80 cents, is a hard one for him to beat. Of course he can resort to the Baseload argument, but Nuclear is not really Baseload, - it has to run at Full load, whereas consumers use power variably, which nuclear simply can not adjust to, neither physically, nor economically. Fortunately, in Australia, we have enormous Geothermal resources, using basically identical technology to Nuclear on the heat to electricity side of the station, but without the requirement of a Nuclear reactor, - no waste, no terrorists, no fear for our grand children, and GENUINE Baseload, - able to throttle up and down really quickly as the load changes, and, easily accommodate such as wind, solar, tidal, hydro, wave, gasification, etc. in the supply mix. - Way to go, Nuclear No! Cheers, Geoff Thomas
Geoff Thomas | Friday, June 22, 2012, 3:28 PM
Dear Bill, somebody arguing a fairly extreme hypotheses such as Prof Brook, may not "acknowledge" renewables are "just too expensive", but must prove it, - he has to trot out facts and figures, (and i can understand how difficult that might be for him or anyone making his argument so to do,) and Wind at 3 to 9 cents as opposed to nuclear at 20 to 80 cents, is a hard one for him to beat. Of course he can resort to the Baseload argument, but Nuclear is not really Baseload, - it has to run at Full load, whereas consumers use power variably, which nuclear simply can not adjust to, neither physically, nor economically. Fortunately, in Australia, we have enormous Geothermal resources, using basically identical technology to Nuclear on the heat to electricity side of the station, but without the requirement of a Nuclear reactor, - no waste, no terrorists, no fear for our grand children, and GENUINE Baseload, - able to throttle up and down really quickly as the load changes, and, easily accommodate such as wind, solar, tidal, hydro, wave, gasification, etc. in the supply mix. - Way to go, Nuclear No! Cheers, Geoff Thomas
Bill Koutalianos | Friday, June 22, 2012, 6:32 PM
Hi Geoff, I find your figures difficult to believe. What is your source? I hope it's not some Greenpeace co-written study or a Zero Emissions propaganda piece. An article in The Age on 27.07.11 quoted Productivity Commission figures for electricity generation in Australia for 2010 at $79 per megawatt hour for black coal, $97 for gas, $150-$214 for wind and $400-$473 for solar. A 2008 American study by Prof. Robert Michaels of Cal-State Fullerton documented the levelized costs (production costs per kWh in a tax regime providing no investment preferences), i.e. no subsidies, as follows: Coal 3.79 cents, Natural Gas 5.61 cents, Nuclear 5.94 cents, wind 6.64 cents, Solar thermal 18.82 cents, Solar PV 37.39 cents. These figures are considerably different from yours. Geothermal didn't rate a mention in either of these two studies. I understand that Tim Flannery's geothermal venture which we've all contributed to, has struck a few problems. Let's also keep in mind that wind and solar don't work most of the time. Your cocktail solution of infantile, intermittent, unreliable, and exorbitantly expensive technologies with gas back up, is likely to deliver economic ruin and austerity measures, before providing any significant electricity generation contribution, let alone base load power.
Petra Liverani | Sunday, June 24, 2012, 10:38 AM
Nuclear is too risky regardless of how much the technology improves. Just google "Korea cover up corruption". Australia is one of the sunniest regions in the world and it also has a lot of wind and a lot of land. We can supply all our energy requirements including those of transport from renewable energy - see the Beyond Zero Emissions Stationary Energy Plan 2020. It's pretty straightforward. To see an exciting video about the technology that can provide a significant amount of Australia's energy needs, Concentrated Solar Thermal Power plus Molten Salt Storage (CSP+) in action in a plant near Seville, Spain go to http://tiny.cc/0jahy.
Bill Koutalianos | Tuesday, July 10, 2012, 12:32 PM
Petra, that Spanish solar thermal plant cost 10 times more than an equivalent coal fired plant. Yes the Sun is free, but bank interest on debt isn't. If the interest payments are higher than the value of the electricity produced, it means we'd be going backwards. Haven't you heard that Spain is presently in dire straits with 100% electricity price rises leading to near 25% unemployment and 50% youth unemployment for under 25 year olds? A whole generation of Spanish have been wiped out economically. These sorts of solutions seem much worse than the alleged problem. Beyond Zero Emissions occupy some sort of Green la la land devoid of capital constraints and where transmission losses over thousands of kilometres across Australia between a renewable installation and a customer are simply glossed over. In one part of town, Sydney City Council is bringing in trigeneration plants along with their nitrous oxide emissions into the CBD, partly based on the premise that these will reduce transmission losses and in an academic reversal of logic elsewhere in town, Beyond Zero Emissions are making a presentation to a local community saying that renewable energy from Western Australia can supply the east coast when there's no sun and no wind in the east. It's also quite fitting that all these contradictory solutions also happen to be based on contradictory climate science. Did you not notice how man-made global warming was temporarily abandoned? Ever wonder why? Opportunities for exciting videos will be somewhat limited if the lights go out, or we can't afford to pay our power bills.