Nuclear Power in Australia: A Viable Alternative or Not.

by John Krechting
Nuclear Power

Did you know that replacing Australia’s coal plants with nuclear ones could cost $387 billion1? This info comes from Energy Minister Chris Bowen. Australia has a lot of uranium but hasn’t used nuclear power. This is because it’s very pricey, faces regulatory issues, and not everyone is in favor.

Renewable sources, like solar and wind, are cheaper and quicker. By 2030, Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) might cost $18,167 per kilowatt. In comparison, solar is $1,058/kW and onshore wind is $1,989/kW1. Right now, over a third of Australia’s power comes from renewables. The goal is to hit 82% renewable energy by 2030.

The UK, US, France, and Canada use nuclear power to decrease emissions and costs1. This leads some to wonder if Australia should do the same. But building nuclear plants is expensive and takes a long time. The Hinkley Point C in England, for example, started at $35 billion but might reach $88 billion due to delays2. These high costs and the need for large subsidies from taxpayers make nuclear power a hard choice for Australia.

Key Takeaways

  • It would cost $387 billion to replace Australia’s coal-fired power stations with nuclear power plants1.
  • Solar and wind energy are significantly cheaper, with costs per kilowatt considerably lower than Small Modular Reactors1.
  • Countries like the UK, the US, France, and Canada are using nuclear technologies to cut emissions and power prices1.
  • Nuclear power plants require significant initial investments and have longer construction times, increasing financial risks2.
  • Renewable energy already constitutes over one-third of Australia’s electricity, with a target of 82% by 2030.

The Current State of Nuclear Power in Australia

Australia has been thinking about nuclear power for some time. However, it has not built any nuclear power stations yet. One main reason is that despite having lots of uranium to use and being a top producer, many people are unsure about nuclear energy3. We will look at the history, laws, and people’s thoughts about nuclear power in Australia.

Historical Perspective

Since the 1950s, Australia knew nuclear energy could be good. With so much uranium, it made sense to look into it. But, Australia still doesn’t have a nuclear power station anywhere. Decisions take a long time because of the many steps needed to start a nuclear project. Just starting one could take about 15 years4.

Legislative Barriers

Many laws make having a nuclear power plant difficult in Australia. Since 1998, the ARPANS Act has said no to building nuclear power plants. It also says no to building places to make nuclear fuel and other nuclear facilities5. The EPBC Act since 1999 has made it necessary to get big environmental approvals for nuclear plans. This is because they could affect the environment. Other laws in places like New South Wales and the Northern Territory are also strict. These laws stop uranium mining and say no to storing nuclear waste5. All these legal barriers make it tough to move to nuclear energy in Australia.

Public Opinion

Nuclear power demonstration

Many people don’t agree on nuclear power in Australia. Some say it’s a good addition to our energy mix. They think it can help make electricity more steady and reliable, supporting other renewable energy sources. Others think it’s too risky and expensive. They want to keep laws that control nuclear power’s use34. Talking with the community is key to moving forward with nuclear power plans in Australia.

Nuclear Power: Benefits and Drawbacks

The topic of nuclear power’s sustainability gets a lot of attention. It’s always a balance between its pros and cons.

Advantages

Nuclear energy is great because it has low greenhouse gas emissions. A nuclear power plant that makes 1,000 MW fits in just one square mile. In comparison, a wind farm at the same level needs 360 times more space. A solar farm needs 75 times more area. Nuclear energy helps meet about 10% of the world’s energy needs. And it works more than 93% of the time. This is better than wind or solar power6. This makes it key for meeting sustainable energy goals.

Disadvantages

But there are big risks with nuclear power. These include dangers from uranium mining. The issue of handling the waste is also major. The world now has 250,000 tonnes of highly dangerous nuclear waste. This waste has been piling up since the 1950s6. Big accidents, like at Chornobyl and Fukushima, show the very real dangers. Building new nuclear plants takes a long time, more than ten years, and costs a lot of money. These points add to the worries about nuclear power6.

Compared with Renewable Energy Sources

Compared to wind and solar, nuclear power has its downsides. These downsides include higher costs and longer build times. On the other hand, wind and solar sources are becoming cheaper and quicker to set up. They also have less impact on the environment. So, renewable energy looks like the better choice for the future7.

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Economic Feasibility of Nuclear Power in Australia

Looking at nuclear power in Australia means checking costs and comparing them to renewables. This helps us see the money side of nuclear power and how it affects the economy.

Cost Analysis

Building a nuclear power plant is very expensive, about AU$27 billion for each GW8. It costs a lot to start nuclear projects. For Australia, the first nuclear power cost starts at US$10 billion and takes 15 years to start. Starting a nuclear power industry in Australia would need many years9.

Comparing Costs with Renewables

Nuclear power costs a lot to build and run compared to renewable energy. Take wind farms, they need around AU$7 billion for the same energy output. Australia aims to get most of its power from renewables by 2030 because they are cheaper9. So, nuclear power’s high start-up and clean-up costs, including waste management, make it a less attractive choice.

Funding and Investment Challenges

Nuclear power in Australia faces many money and investment problems. Globally, less money goes into nuclear energy today than before. This drop is from over 17% of global electricity to 9% in 20228.

Plus, nuclear power’s costs over time worry investors. The cost of stopping and cleaning the plants, which might generate 25-30 tonnes of waste yearly, is high9.

The ban on nuclear power in Australia since 1998 also stops it from getting much investment8.

Type of Power SourceEstimated Cost (AU$/GW)Land Requirement
Nuclear Power27 billion3 sq km per GW
Wind Farm7 billion10-50 sq km per GW
Solar FarmVaries20-60 sq km per GW

Technological Aspects of Nuclear Energy

Nuclear technology covers various reactor types. These include big, old designs and new ideas like SMRs and thorium reactors. The goal is to have better and safer ways to make nuclear energy.

Types of Nuclear Reactors

Many kinds of nuclear reactors work all over the world. The main types are pressurized water reactors and boiling water reactors. Pressurized water reactors are used the most worldwide10. They make about a third of the world’s electricity without adding to global warming10. Also, nuclear power creates roughly a quarter of the world’s electricity without hurting the environment much11.

Small Modular Reactors (SMRs)

SMRs are small nuclear reactors that could fix some big worries about nuclear power. They’re meant to be quicker and cheaper to build, partly because they could be made the same way every time. But so far, no SMRs have worked well enough to be big business. They cost a lot and don’t make as much power as they need to. This makes it hard for them to be used economically12.

Thorium Reactors

Thorium reactors could be a new way to make nuclear energy, and they’re getting noticed in places like Australia. They might be safer and make less harmful waste than the reactors we have now. But, this type of reactor is still just a test and hasn’t been used a lot yet. Still, people in Australia and other places are very interested in these reactors. They hope it could be a better, safer way to power our world in the future.

  1. Theoretical benefits include potential standardization and mass production.
  2. Thorium reactors offer enhanced safety and reduced waste.
  3. Innovative advanced reactors may be under construction by 203010.
  4. Globally, nuclear reactors generate around 11% of electricity10.
Nuclear Reactor TypeUsagePotential BenefitsChallenges
Pressurized Water ReactorsMost commonly usedStable and reliableHigh initial cost
Small Modular ReactorsEmergingReduced construction time, potential for mass productionNot yet proven commercially viable
Thorium ReactorsExperimentalIncreased safety, reduced wasteExperimental stage, not commercially deployed

Environmental and Safety Concerns

Many people in Australia worry about nuclear power’s effects on safety and the environment. They are concerned about how we manage nuclear waste, the safety of nuclear power, and if it affects our efforts to fight climate change.

Nuclear Waste Management

Folks are particularly worried about how we handle and store radioactive waste. There are two main types: low-level and high-level wastes. High-level waste, like spent nuclear fuel, is more radioactive than low-level waste. There is a debate over how best to store it. Some places keep it in pools of water, while others use dry containers13.

In the U.S., there is no permanent spot for high-level waste. This shows that dealing with nuclear waste is a big issue worldwide13. Figuring out how to dispose of nuclear waste safely is crucial for the future of nuclear power in Australia.

Safety Record of Nuclear Power

When it comes to safety, nuclear power has its pluses and minuses. Compared to the chemical industry, it has fewer accidents. U.S. reactors are built to resist weather and earthquakes, showing they are made to be safe13.

But, living near a nuclear plant might raise health concerns. A study in France found more child cancer cases near one plant from 1978 to 199814. Research on leukemia rates near nuclear facilities suggests a slight increase too14. These findings highlight the need for very strict safety rules in Australia’s nuclear energy plans.

Impact on Climate Change Goals

Nuclear power’s role in helping fight climate change is a big topic. The good news is nuclear reactors don’t make much direct CO2, so they are better for the environment than burning fossil fuels13. When used wisely, nuclear energy can cut down a lot on greenhouse gases.

Despite being clean, nuclear power takes a long time to set up. This doesn’t match well with the quick action we need for the climate. Building things like solar panels and better ways to store electricity is a faster way to reduce CO2. But, balancing the risks of nuclear power with its benefits is tricky. We need to make a careful choice to meet our climate goals quickly.

AspectNuclear PowerRenewable Energy
Carbon EmissionsNone during operationNone
Waste ManagementHigh-level and low-level radioactive wasteMinimal
Deployment TimeLong-termRelatively short-term
Safety RisksConcerns over radiation and accidentsLow
Environmental ImpactIssues with waste disposalMinimal

Australia’s Path Forward: Renewable vs Nuclear

Australia is at a crossroads, debating between using more renewable energy or looking into nuclear power to reach net-zero emissions. Around the world, countries aim to hit net zero by 2050. Both major political parties in Australia agree that cutting carbon emissions is key15. The Labor Party plans to cut emissions by 43% by 2030 and to reach net zero by 20501516.

The Coalition suggests adding nuclear power to the mix. They want to build seven nuclear plants where some coal plants are now. The idea is to make up for the 11 coal plants they plan to close in the next ten years17. Australia’s only current nuclear reactor has been running since 195815. But, if new nuclear plants are built, they won’t start running until between 2035 and 2037. This could slow down efforts to cut emissions right away16.

Switching more to renewable energy might be a quicker way to lower emissions. Solar and wind energy projects are growing, but not fast enough because there are no clear nation-wide goals16. The Labor Party wants to speed this up by supporting renewable projects. They aim to make these projects a viable business quickly, which could help roll them out faster16.

On the other hand, the plan for nuclear power points to areas like Loy Yang in Victoria and Mount Piper in NSW. They want these new nuclear projects to be able to make just over 6 gigawatts of power17. But, recent studies show big renewable projects are often cheaper. Research from CSIRO and the Australian Energy Market Operator supports this16.

Because building nuclear power plants takes so long, it’s important to focus first on renewables that we can use now. There are still big challenges, like some states banning nuclear power. So, using both renewable and nuclear power options smartly might be Australia’s best move towards a clean energy future. It’s key to get the public on board, as their support is crucial for these energy plans to work16.

Final Thoughts

As Australia thinks about using nuclear power, important things need to be looked at. This includes if it makes financial sense if we have the technology, and what it does to the earth. In the past, nuclear power was a big part of making electricity. It made up 17% of the world’s power and 20% in the United States in 200218. But the future shows it might not grow much more. By 2020, we might just have 5% more capacity, even though we could use 75% more power18.

Nuclear power can be good for money. The cost to run nuclear plants is not as much, and they can work for a long time. In the US, they can be used for up to 80 years19. Also, nuclear power is one of the safest ways to make energy, with very few people getting hurt. Websites like the Nuclear Debate look into this.

But, making new nuclear plants can cost a lot, from $1700 to $3100 for each kilowatt20. There’s also the problem of what to do with the waste it makes. After 40 years, the waste can fill a football field about seven meters high19. For more on this, you can read a report like the one from Stanford.

In the end, Australia may not depend just on nuclear power for its future energy. It might be better to use a mix of renewable energy with some nuclear. This way, we can fight climate change and have power for the future. For detailed looks at the money and the tech, the MIT analysis is a good read.

FAQ

What is the current state of nuclear power in Australia?

Australia started thinking about nuclear power in the 1950s. But, it has not yet built any nuclear plants. Many laws and mixed views on nuclear safety hold it back. Right now, the country is busy with solar and wind power.

Why hasn’t Australia built a nuclear power plant yet?

Though Australia has lots of uranium, it hasn’t used it for nuclear power. This is because of many reasons like laws, money, and the need for skilled workers. Right now, it’s not allowed to start a nuclear energy industry in Australia.

What are the benefits of nuclear power?

Nuclear power is clean and has a lot of energy. This means it can keep giving power without harm to the planet. It could be good for us if we run out of other energy sources.

What are the drawbacks of nuclear power?

There are many problems with nuclear power. It can hurt the environment and we have to be very careful with its waste. Safety is also a big concern because of accidents that happened before.

How does nuclear power compare with renewable energy sources?

Renewable energy, like solar and wind, is better in many ways than nuclear. It’s cheaper and safer. It can also be used quickly to help our planet and meet our needs for energy.

Is nuclear power economically feasible for Australia?

Experts say nuclear power is not a good choice for Australia. It’s too expensive compared to other clean energy options. Things like building costs and dealing with old nuclear plants make it harder.

What types of nuclear reactors could Australia consider?

Australia might think about big or small nuclear reactors. There are also new ideas about how to make nuclear power. But, these new ideas are still being tested and may not be ready yet.

What is the role of Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) in nuclear energy?

SMRs could be built faster and for less money than big reactors. But, they are not yet proven to be cost-effective. So, their future is not certain.

Are thorium reactors a viable option for Australia?

Thorium reactors might be safer for the environment in the future. But, they are not ready to use now. More work is needed to see if they can be a good choice.

What are the environmental and safety concerns related to nuclear power?

Nuclear power can be dangerous and its waste is a big issue. Past accidents worry people about its safety. Even if accidents are rare, we still worry a lot.

How does nuclear power impact climate change goals?

Nuclear power can help fight climate change. But, it takes too long to start using it widely. We should focus on quick, green energy solutions like wind and solar.

What is Australia’s path forward in terms of energy production?

Australia is choosing renewable energy over nuclear for now. Solar and wind power are growing fast because they are cheap and quick to use. But, in the future, Australia may think more about nuclear power for a mix of energy sources.
  1. https://www.energymatters.com.au/renewable-news/is-nuclear-power-a-viable-option-for-australia/
  2. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2024-06-17/nuclear-investment-case-coalition-reactors-viable/103978266
  3. https://www.climatecouncil.org.au/nuclear-power-stations-are-not-appropriate-for-australia-and-probably-never-will-be/
  4. https://www.csiro.au/en/news/All/Articles/2023/December/Nuclear-explainer
  5. https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/rp/rp2324/Quick_Guides/NuclearActivitiesProhibitions
  6. https://earth.org/the-advantages-and-disadvantages-of-nuclear-energy/
  7. https://www.energy.gov/ne/articles/advantages-and-challenges-nuclear-energy
  8. https://thediplomat.com/2024/03/how-feasible-is-nuclear-power-for-australia/
  9. https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/is-nuclear-energy-feasible-in-australia-and-how-much-would-it-cost-20231004-p5e9qc.html
  10. https://www.iaea.org/newscenter/news/what-is-nuclear-energy-the-science-of-nuclear-power
  11. https://world-nuclear.org/information-library/current-and-future-generation/nuclear-power-in-the-world-today
  12. https://world-nuclear.org/information-library/non-power-nuclear-applications/overview/the-many-uses-of-nuclear-technology
  13. https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/nuclear/nuclear-power-and-the-environment.php
  14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4962241/
  15. https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2024/06/19/australia-nuclear-power-peter-dutton-renewable-energy/d23f9a1e-2df3-11ef-bcdf-31cdebd3022f_story.html
  16. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2024-06-19/why-has-coalition-gone-nuclear-explainer/103997572
  17. https://au.news.yahoo.com/duttons-nuclear-reactor-over-budget-173000609.html
  18. https://web.mit.edu/nuclearpower/pdf/nuclearpower-ch1-3.pdf
  19. https://world-nuclear.org/information-library/current-and-future-generation/the-nuclear-debate
  20. http://large.stanford.edu/courses/2016/ph241/lsm1/

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