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

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. Speaking on the eve of World Environment Day (5 June), Professor Brook says: “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.
“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,” Professor Brook says.
“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. He was the first Australian appointed to the international selection committee of the Global Energy Prize. This month he will be a guest at the prize ceremony in St Petersburg, where Russian President Vladimir Putin will present the $1.2 million prize to the 2012 laureates.

Later this month, Professor Brook will also talk about IFR nuclear technology in a special session of the American Nuclear Society to be held in Chicago, USA; and in San Francisco he will attend a meeting of the California-based liberal-environmental think tank The Breakthrough Institute, where he was made a 2012 Senior Fellow.

17 comments

    1. Agreed. My work with DSA is pretty much based on bringing this forward, and hopefully deeper, as best I can. The flow on effects from bringing forward that first milestone could be really significant when thought of in terms of the total quantity of greenhouse gas emitted by, say 2050.

  1. This sounds about right. In the interim we don’t need another overseas nuclear incident. I suspect the Prisms will have to show their wares somewhere like Sellafield before IFRs are accepted globally. In Australia the accumulated SMR used fuel will have to be processed to suitable form for the first IFR. Remember we also have abundant thorium.

  2. Let’s hope the timeline can be abbreviated.We are running out of time to make a significant dent in carbon emissions.
    Yesterday the Minister for the Environment in the new Queensland state government came out with the statement that he remained to be convinced of human input into global warming. But he tossed a bone to the environment lobby by saying that we had to wean ourselves off fossil fuels for other reasons.

    Toby Hutcheon,head serang of Conservation Queensland came out with a strong condemnation of such appalling ignorance and rightly so. However,Toby never lets an opportunity go past for condemning nuclear power.

    Cognitive dissonance at both ends of town.Plenty of idiots in high places in Queensland – silly one day,even sillier the next.

    1. On ABC Q&A last night they made the point that while Qld makes all that lovely money from coal exports they expect the rest of Australia to help pay for flood damage probably worsened by AGW. I think for now Qld is a lost cause for low carbon given that the new gov ‘puts coal before coral’ and scorns ‘Great Barrier Grief’.

      1. John,Queensland is not the only state which gets natural disaster assistance from the federal government.This practice is part of the federal system and is essential to maintaining the federation.Maybe even WA,with its history of secessionist sentiments which are still apparent, needs to do some serious thinking about what they put into and what they get out of the federation.

        It is highly debateable whether the 2011 floods were related to climate change. The two 1890s floods were both of a larger magnitude. Obviously we don’t have any records before European settlement but an examination of the terrain in the Brisbane River catchment would suggest that there have been catastrophic floods in the not too distant past.As an older farmer said to me in Gatton after the Lockyer Creek disaster, “Ah well,I guess this is just the beginning of another drought”.

        I believe that the basic science of anthropogenic climate change is correct.However,it is a grave mistake to confuse climate with weather.This only plays into the hands of those who deny the veracity of the science for whatever reasons.

        Speaking of WA,there is good article on The Conversation at present by 3 academics from Murdoch University in regard to the effect on the forests of the South West of more than 30 years of lower rainfall. This phenomenon appears to be getting out of the normal Australian drought routine and into longer term climate change.

    2. That’s well summed up. We need momentum behind this new environmental movement to break out of this ridiculous false debate between those who deny science wherever it does not suit their politics.

  3. Barry’s press release was picked up by today’s Advertiser, along with the remarks by Premier Weatherill. Note, those remarks are easily undone. I don’t give them much mind, the Government just needs to sense change in the electorate. Our job.

    1. This is the quote from the Premier:

      Premier Jay Weatherill said wind, solar and geo-thermal power generation was better than the “risks and controversies” of nuclear power.

      “Leaving aside broader objections, there is a practical financial objection that means nuclear power for South Australia is unlikely to be viable,” Mr Weatherill said.

      “The best advice I have is that it’s not a feasible financial proposition.”

      Mr Weatherill said what other states did regarding nuclear power was a matter for them.”

      Best advice? From whom, I wonder? And why the implicit conclusion that if nuclear energy is not a feasible financial proposition, that wind, solar and geothermal will be? Or do they actually mean gas?

      Still, it’s good to have stirred the interest – a dozen newspaper stories and some radio interviews. As Ben said, it all works towards our goals.

      1. It can be mistaken for tough talk. It isn’t. In the world of politics, those statements can be undone in the blink of an eye the moment, for example, someone actually does manage to provide that “best advice” in the correct ear. That will happen on the day that ear wants to receive it! For now, both the Government and Opposition are taking advice from the same unknown, unnamed source. Such is the game we are playing. Our task for now is to get the media attention as you have just done, and turn up the volume of the community discussion.

  4. I wonder if Rann is pulling the strings for Weatherill offstage. Rann was the architect of the 1100 MW of windpower which requires the belief that cheap gas backup will always be there. I expect him to carry that thinking through to his new job at Low Carbon Australia. More worryingly Koutsantonis who once advocated a uranium enrichment industry has now come out in favour of gas. Redmond has this naive belief in trigen. If the southern gas price rapidly goes from $4 to $7 a GJ as industry insiders predict then these politicians will look foolish. That’s if they don’t already by invoking the chimera of geothermal.

  5. Barry’s timeline must be shortened so that the first SMR[s] are up and running by 2022 and at Olympic Dam. I’ve just written to Weatherill, Koutsantonis, Redmond, Evans, Abbott, Hunt, Turnbull, Ferguson, Combet and Paul Howes [AWU-pro-nuclear] telling them it’s time they got their heads out of the sand, stopped using nuclear issue to wedge each other and to start working together to get it into our future energy mix as soon as possible. Why not join me you bloggers in writing to our visionless, spineless pollies and to the papers as I’ve suggested. I’m 74 years old, have been pushing nuclear power for the past 14 years and I’m buggered if I’m prepared to hang around for another 20 years waiting to get an SMR on line. If we all start to make a lot of noise, I reckon we’ll be able to knock 10 years off Barry’s timeline. BUT, we’ll ALL need to start shouting to the people and not just to ourselves. Start now guys.

    1. Terry, Terry, Terry, you are starting to take this personally… hang on, that’s exactly what we all need to do, and that’s what Decarbonise SA was started for! If we don’t take this problem personally, then we will be running to Barry’s timeline where the pain needs to be upon us before we act. Not good enough. Noise must be made. Well done.

  6. Not sure if this is the right thread but the survival of the SA regional city of Whyalla seems to have become a litmus test for carbon pricing. A 7 minute radio interview is here
    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-07-02/ministers-sell-their-message-in-whyalla/4104420

    The nuclear and carbon connection is three fold; originally Whyalla was to be the site of the desalination plant to supply water to what was to the largest uranium mine at Olympic Dam, a proposed rare earths plant was supposed to produce thorium oxide byproduct and the existing steelworks was to be ‘looked after’ in the carbon tax compensation. There’s every chance all three objectives will fail.

    Rather than cash and free permits the steelworks should have gotten some import protection by carbon taxing imported steel. If it subsequently goes under so be it. The desal should be moved to open coastline not the apex of the gulf and some local use should be found for the thorium. Firstly the area needs a new reliable low carbon power source. There is of course something that could be done to instigate the best long term pathway … build small scale nuclear in the region.

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