In 2012, my friend James Brown and I self-published Zero Carbon Options: An economic mix for an environmental outcome. We wrote it in response to the frustration expressed by many that the argument for renewables to replace coal was seeming to go largely unanswered. Despite our efforts at the time, what we considered relevant corporate bodies within Australia were unwilling to help us fund the effort. So we did it anyway, gratis, as a contribution to the debate because it needed to be done.

We launched the report publicly with the generous support of a crowd-funded campaign. At the time, some attention was garnered. With the advent of the South Australian Royal Commission into the nuclear fuel cycle, this seems an opportune time to draw attention to this report again.

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Prepared over about six months, the report compares two options for the replacement of coal power from Port Augusta in South Australia: a reference renewable case, based entirely on the report RePower Port Augusta, and a reference nuclear case that applies a single Enhanced CANDU 6 generation III reactor. The options are compared against thirteen criteria. For what seems such an obvious methodology, I am unaware of this approach being applied before, or since, Zero Carbon Options. It also features some wonderful graphics and production values, thanks to artist Jeff Pang and James’ talented other half, Melissa.

In the nearly three years since publication the results have never been challenged. I am not surprised, given the scrutiny we applied to our own work and the expert review from Professor Barry Brook and Mr Martin Nicholson. The issues we raised are as relevant today as in 2012, as Australia remains without any serious plan to move away from our extraordinary level of dependence on fossil fuels in our electricity supply, and so many commentators remain (deliberately?) ignorant regarding the very basic limitations of expecting to rely on variable renewable energy sources alone.

The report is available in PDF below:

ZCO Final Report 21112012

Here is the two-part video the report launch from 2012, with a discussion of the methodology and key findings. At the time of launch we had several hundred hard-copies which we distributed. Given the arrival of the Royal Commission another print-run would be great, however this is not cheap (about $1000). If anyone would like to fund a new print run, please get in touch.

I hope you enjoy Zero Carbon Options and I encourage you to share it widely.


  1. It’s telling that the renewable case studied in this report was a proposed 760MWe Solar Thermal and 700MWe of Wind and when the engineers came along they could only justify 50MWe of Solar Thermal with storage at $15,000/kWe installed. See Alinta’s pre feasibility study:

    No one, from Beyond Zero Emissions or AYCC, can explain to me where the wind went. Maybe it blew away?

    For those wondering how expensive Alinta’s proposal is Olkiluoto which is the EPR (Gen III reactor) that is over budget and time in Finland is only $7,500/kWe with it’s overruns and delays.

  2. I think the EC6 ticks several boxes and should be the first reactor type to be evaluated, given that SMRs probably won’t be for sale until 2025. As I’ve said before I think the old Pt Stanvac refinery site should be considered
    It has to be cleaned up by 2019. If the neighbours are apprehensive they’ve been living next to benzene contaminated soil for several decades so their alarmism is selective. One advantage is that an Adelaide suburban workforce could commute there. Before the serious concrete is poured a start could be made on a heavy water separation unit so less has to be imported. That unit could be sited next to the reverse osmosis desalination plant already on on the corner of the former refinery. It uses some PV and a mini hydro for brine discharge water. Maybe those things are a greenwash but it shows an ‘all of the above’ approach. The slight elevation should stop any tsunamis should one arrive for the first time in 1,000 years.

    Yet other advantages of an EC6 include the use of natural uranium after the use of enriched material to begin with. Some plants have been adapted to take thorium I believe, an idea which seems to be in vogue. The use of natural uranium gives years to build a SA enrichment facility (should that be chosen) with much of the electrical power coming from the EC6 giving critics less ammo about indirect emissions.

    The killer will be the sticker price. When the numbers are added up it needs to be pointed out getting 50% of SA electricity from $8-$12 a GJ gas is neither cheap nor low carbon.

  3. “Yet other advantages of an EC6 include the use of natural uranium after the use of enriched material to begin with. Some plants have been adapted to take thorium I believe, an idea which seems to be in vogue.”


    With the advantage that this is an off-the-shelf model!

    Acknowledging that the Royal Commission has barely started, but that nuclear energy is the pre-emminent technology for nation-scale decarbonisation as repeatedly demonstrated since the 80s,
    Step 1. Send engineering/physics graduates, ARPANSA staff to Argentina while CNNC starts building Atucha 3.
    Step 2. While preparing fit-for-purpose modern results-oriented nuclear regs, get Ontario to randomly pick a few dozen Ontarians to come over and talk to Adelaideans about what its like hosting Darlington and Pickering. (After 2020 they can send over some spare heavy water, too, with the Pickering decomm.) Require the operator to fund community oversight groups in the host suburb to include them in the responsible operation of the power plant.
    Step 3. With China, Argentina and perhaps Canada and South Korea on board due to our rational, fearless commitment to safely store their SNF, get an EC6 built in an unimpeded timeframe. Newer Wolsong units took 5 years. Qinshan was 4. Atucha 3 expects 8. Apprentice South Australians to all the imported experienced personel. Commission a state of the art CANDU that’ll probably last to the end of the century while exporting our state’s new expertise.

    Still unlikely, nothing about such a scenario would be easy, but it’s not unfeasible at all. Assuming SA maintains its slow population growth (say 1.9 million by 2030) this would be an addition rate of about 0.4 MWh/yr/person, which we know from recent work is a middling figure pp 455

  4. Hey Ben, if you still have the old video assets for your talk… meaning the raw video capture… could you shuttle me a copy? Pretty good… might be more useful to be able to show you talking straight-thru though for narrative purposes in other videos.

  5. just a reminder that the current version of the EC6 is the AFCR, which is slated to be built in China after the Qinshan units are back converted. The AFCR can also burn spent fuel from LWRs in DUPIC form, can burn uranium/thorium MOX, and has been proposed to the British as part of their plutonium disposal program

    If your looking at a repository for foreign SNF, & any form of reprocessing or enrichment, the AFCR starts to rack up an enhanced fit

  6. Starting with a Candu variant seems to allow different later directions. In their 8 year build time (expected in Argentina) a light water SMR should be on the market. Also by that time replicable designs may have been finalised for IFRs and MSRs. Then we’ll know if their LCOE as predicted is actually lower than a Candu. Starting with a proven design seems better than waiting and also defers the full enrichment task.

    My guess is that SA will have hit the energy panic button well before that 8 years. There will not only be drastic employee layoffs in some industries but probable water supply issues as per an article in today’s The Conversation. I predict in the meanwhile the LNG exporters will be federally ordered to set aside a percentage of moderate priced gas for domestic generators. The big job losses will be this side of 2020 but the first NP will be well after 2020. Those who delay the start of NP must shoulder some of the blame.

    1. Yes – building relations with the countries which are positioning themselves *now* for an imminent expansion of nuclear capacity – in a range of sizes and technologies – seems extremely prudent.

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