In the blog post Senator Sean Edwards spruiks for the South Australian nuclear lobby the following statement is made in relation to integral fast reactors:

They “deliver abundant energy without any mining”. Hey – he doesn’t count the mining required for the conventional reactors to produce the wastes to put into the reprocessing reactors that he is touting!

That material has already been mined, in some case decades ago. It is stored above ground at dozens of locations around the world. Nearly all of that material can be used again for energy in the advanced reactors Senator Edwards has referred to. Lots of energy. Perhaps the author thinks the material can only be used once in an IFR and needs a completely fresh feed of material every time from old reactors? I’m not sure what the author thinks, however that is not the case.

Via the recycling process, when a fuel core has completed a cycle, the fuel is cleaned up and re-formed into new fuel for another cycle, with a small amount of “make-up” material added to take the place of the one tonne of material per gigawatt per year that is removed as true waste. As Senator Edwards recently pointed out, the equivalent energy production from brown coal emits 8.5 million tons of carbon dioxide. That one tonne of material has a far shorter half-life of around 30 years. That, combined with the tiny amount, makes it suitable for temporary storage followed by much simpler disposal.

I would expect a site like this to be relatively familiar with this material, as it has been the cornerstone of opposition to nuclear power for decades. Integral fast reactors present a solution to that problem.

Over time, we might reasonably expect (hope) these type of reactors to become the norm and displace the reactors using the once-through fuel cycle. Instead of mining fuel, we might collectively meet out clean energy needs with the material we already have available and we could do that for many hundreds of years, removing the need for energy mining

I am sure the anti-nuclear community in Australia will become more familiar with this technology as the year proceeds. I am confident many will be prepared to draw a line in the ideological sand and get behind a solution that makes sense on so many levels.

5 comments

  1. I think the bottom line is that we’ll either need a renewable energy storage breakthrough or cookie cutter 4th generation reactors to get the year 2100. The reactors need to be either breeders and/or hydrogen generators because planes if they still exist will be running on synfuel not oil. However I don’t think we should wait another decade for IFRs. The Candu is a non-breeder high burnup reactor that can be built now and can handle depleted uranium and thorium. It can clear the path for IFRs when they arrive. If SA got enough 3rd generation NP to meet its needs in that interim period an IFR could help get more into interstate electricity exports… both wind power and NP. After all NSW is short of gas, Vic is over reliant on brown coal and Tas hydro dams are low which perhaps reflects the long term picture.

    1. Yes, running a 1 GWe nuclear plant at about 90% capacity factor saves about 8.5 million tonnes of avoided CO2 emissions per year, depending on the quality of the coal being displaced. (Hard coal is about 7.8 million tonnes.) Over a nominal 60 year lifetime, nuclear power avoids about half a gigatonne of CO2 emissions per GWe.

      Over time, we might reasonably expect (hope) these type of reactors to become the norm and displace the reactors using the once-through fuel cycle. Instead of mining fuel, we might collectively meet out clean energy needs with the material we already have available and we could do that for many hundreds of years, removing the need for energy mining.

      Indeed. WNA’s article China plans for nuclear growth suggests China is planning for a maximum Gen III LWR capacity of about 200 GWe by 2040, after which new reactor builds are planned to be Gen IV fast reactors and perhaps LFTRs, R&D depending. So if SA wishes to cache in on an unwanted energy resource that others are currently glad to pay someone else to take off their hands, she should get it while its hot.

      Left unmentioned is the depleted uranium byproduct of LWR enrichment process. DU is safe, stable, and highly refined. While there is (or should be) no rush for fuel-fabricating nations to unload that stuff, its worth noting that the US has over 63,000 tonnes of LWR spent fuel, increasing by 2 – 2.4 ktonnes annually (see NRC’s Spent Fuel Storage.

      In addition, the U.S. currently stores about 700,000 metric tons of depleted UF6,
      containing about 470,000 metric tons of uranium
      .

      A fast reactor has a heavy metal burnup energy conversion of about 909 GW day/ton
      (GWd/t) or 2.5 GW year/ton (GWy/t or GWa/t). At current US average electric generation /
      consumption of 1.3 TW, this DU reserve would last us 2.5 GW a/t * 470,000 t / 1,300 GW = 900 years in fast reactors. The 63,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel could last another 100.

      Call it 1000 years at current generation levels. Of course, current levels can’t be maintained in the face of climate change, and the U.S. Department of Energy estimates U.S. generation will need to approximately double by mid-century if we are to maintain our economic lifestyle and electrify all the HVAC, transportation, and synfuel generation necessary to reduce CO2 emissions
      economy-wide by 80% beneath 1990 levels. This estimate includes a 30% increase in overall energy efficiency.

      500 years, then. 500 years worth of nearly emissions-free energy — remember, the mining and refining emissions are already paid for — before we’d need to mine another gram of Uranium. If the United States had a fast reactor program, which we don’t. The point is that accepting other countries unwanted lightly used nuclear fuel for a healthy fee is not Australia’s only potential nuclear revenue stream. Should she decide to get into the uranium enrichment and fuel fabrication business in addition to fast reactors, there is the depleted uranium bonus as well.

      No need for Iran to hog all the freebies. Plenty enough for all.

  2. I think SA has about 5.3 GW generating capacity all up but is these days draws ~2.5 GW in mid summer. Nameplate wind capacity is under 1.5 GW and PV about 0.5 GW. As we speak on a mild autumn day SA is consuming 900 MW for ~1.7m people… select SA on
    http://empowerme.org.au/market.html#
    The 400 MW Torrens Island A steam cycle gas plant has been retired we’re told. To my surprise the 250 MW Playford coal station is still going (as well as the 540 MW Northern station) when I thought it got paid big bucks to cease under Gillard’s ‘contracts for closure’ program .

    A 700 MWe Candu operating at 90% capacity should produce 0.7 X 0.9 X 8.76 = 5.52 Twhe per year. That could lead to the permanent shutdown of the Northern and Playford coal stations, reduce gas fired baseload at Torrens island, Pelican Pt and elsewhere but leaving the peaking gas plants on standby. Interstate imports of carbon intensive electricity are documented in the recent BNC article ‘a path to energy nirvana’. After line upgrades eventually most interstate flows could be from SA to the coal addicted east coast.

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