My two-part interview with Matthew Pantelis on 5aa radio.

It turned out to be pretty far ranging, discussing my basic roadmap for nuclear in South Australia, the merits of thorium, Generation IV uranium and current commercial reactors, location issues for nuclear in South Australia and a bit of my journey from a nuclear opponent to a nuclear proponent. We took two callers which I always enjoy.

Thank you to Matthew and the 5aa team for having me. Anytime you want to talk nuclear again, let me know. It’s one big conversation the nation needs to have.

Interview with Matthew Pantelis Part 1

Interview with Matthew Pantelis Part 2


  1. Ben, there are no commercial or demo thorium-MSR (liquid fuel) plants yet, although China is working on the technology and India has interest. India does use thoria in its AHWR, and the US has used it in LWRs in the past (solid fuel):

    Commercial nuclear power station
    India’s Kakrapar-1 reactor is the world’s first reactor which uses thorium rather than depleted uranium to achieve power flattening across the reactor core.[35] India, which has about 25% of the world’s thorium reserves, is developing a 300 MW prototype of a thorium-based Advanced Heavy Water Reactor (AHWR). The prototype is expected to be fully operational by 2013, after which five more reactors will be constructed.[36][37] Considered to be a global leader in thorium-based fuel, India’s new thorium reactor is a fast-breeder reactor and uses a plutonium core rather than an accelerator to produce neutrons. As accelerator-based systems can operate at sub-criticality they could be developed too, but that would require more research.[38] India currently envisages meeting 30% of its electricity demand through thorium-based reactors by 2050.

  2. Thorium seems to have caught the public’s imagination so perhaps it should figure in SA power plans. I understand the zircon sand to be shipped out of Thevenard will go to Geraldton for monazite to be separated then stockpiled awaiting a market. If the Whyalla rare earths plant goes ahead the ore will be railed down from the NT to separate rare earth oxides, phosphate, yellowcake and thoria.

    I wonder if former Unley schoolgirl the PM has backed the new submarines proposal as a kind of vote buying exercise for SA
    $40 bill is a lot of money, especially seeing as the last lot of diesel subs were lemons. I think that puts paid to the argument the money for nuclear cannot be found.

    1. To add onto that we could buy 12 Virginia class Nuclear subs (need replacement in 33 years) for $2 billion each and have $16 billion in change. Maintain them in SA and gain that Small Reactor experience. We are building the Air-Warfare Destroyers here so the ship builders will have work. IIRC the $16 billion can be used to purchase 2 GW of Nuclear power at AU$5742/kW installed. But which politician has the long term gumption to do that….

      1. I notice some Sub Corp directors have UK nuclear experience. They are the perfect crowd to project manage something like SMR installation.

    2. The Collins class were not lemons – it’s just that Australia has very little experience in the acquisition, project management and maintenance of a unique class of submarine. It didn’t help that they had to refit them with new combat systems when the original contractor went out of business. Other stuff-ups have generally been issues that typically arise for the parent navy of a class of ship.

      I still don’t think that we need 12 of them if we have enough trouble manning 6 smaller ones that we currently own. I think that a lot of the money (not all, mind you) that we spend/waste on defence could be better spent on some proper nation-building at home.

      I would much rather that we re-purpose ASC to type-build SMRs instead. Imagine that place churning out licensed NuScale SMRs and shipping them all over Australia, with perhaps them moving on to produce LFTRs and PRISM units later on!
      That’s a much better use of resources than the corporate welfare that they are being fed by the Federal Government at the moment.

      1. Geez, that would be brilliant wouldn’t it??? Proper high tech manufacturing, non-defence related (I have mixed feeling about defence. Prefer to see us building things that don’t come with bombs and guns as standard)

  3. In other press releases it says the new subs will be deferred to the end of the decade. Meanwhile $200m will be spent in writing reports. I understand the NuScale SMR is likely to be the first model approved by the US NRC around 2018. If as some predict there is a gas price crisis in SE Australia by then there will be an urgent need to replace gigawatts of both coal and gas capacity. Bigger units will be required hopefully with a speedy installation time.

    1. I think the potential for SMR in South Australia is huge, it really suits our smaller demand centres, and our smaller economy, enabling a spread of cost, not to mention they are a very attractive ice-breaker for a country that has never used nuclear before. I am very pleased that the efforts in the US seem so strong.

      1. We need a US NRC approved SMR costing say $6/w by 2015. I think we will have hit the panic button on south eastern gas by then. Straight off the bat we could use 500 MW installations west of Pt Augusta, south of Adelaide and in the Vic Latrobe Valley.

  4. Good interview. Nice questions – makes you wonder if perhaps there is more support out there for nuclear power than we think.

    1. Thanks.

      Having presented pretty widely around the state now, I am comfortable in saying that the opposition to nuclear is neither as large nor as strongly held as our energy policies reflect, not by a long shot.

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