FoE Australia’s very own Jim Green looked at the possibilities for the new generation of nuclear power reactors (since the current crop are unlikely to impress anyone), and found the kinds being spruiked by pro nuke advocates in SA have a few problems.
Integral Fast Reactors … it gets ugly moving from blueprint to backyard
Integral Fast Reactors (IFRs) are a case in point. According to the lobbyists they are ready to roll, will be cheap to build and operate, couldn’t be used to feed WMD proliferation, etc. The US and UK governments have been analysing the potential of IFRs.
The UK government found that:
- the facilities have not been industrially demonstrated;
- waste disposal issues remain unresolved and could be further complicated if it is deemed necessary to remove sodium from spent fuel to facilitate disposal; and
- little could be ascertained about cost since General Electric Hitachi refuses to release estimates of capital and operating costs, saying they are “commercially sensitive”.
The US government has also considered the use of IFRs (which it calls Advanced Disposition Reactors – ADR) to manage US plutonium stockpiles and concluded that:
- the ADR approach would be more than twice as expensive as all the other options under consideration;
- it would take 18 years to construct an ADR and associated facilities; and
- the ADR option is associated with “significant technical risk”.
Unsurprisingly, the IFR rhetoric doesn’t match the sober assessments of the UK and US governments. As nuclear engineer Dave Lochbaum from the Union of Concerned
Scientists puts it: “The IFR looks good on paper. So good, in fact, that we should leave it on paper. For it only gets ugly in moving from blueprint to backyard.”
Small Modular Reactors … no-one actually wants to buy one
In any case, IFRs are yesterday’s news. Now it’s all about Small Modular Reactors (SMRs). The Energy Green Paper recently released by the Australian government is typical of the small-is-beautiful rhetoric:
“The main development in technology since 2006 has been further work on Small Modular Reactors (SMRs). SMRs have the potential to be flexibly deployed, as they are a simpler ‘plug-in’ technology that does not require the same level of operating skills and access to water as traditional, large reactors.”
The rhetoric doesn’t match reality. Interest in SMRs is on the wane. Thus Thomas W. Overton, associate editor of POWER magazine, wrote in a recent article:
“At the graveyard wherein resides the “nuclear renaissance” of the 2000s, a new occupant appears to be moving in: the small modular reactor (SMR). … Over the past year, the SMR industry has been bumping up against an uncomfortable and not-entirely-unpredictable problem: It appears that no one actually wants to buy one.”
Overton notes that in 2013, MidAmerican Energy scuttled plans to build an SMR-based plant in Iowa. This year, Babcock & Wilcox scaled back much of its SMR program and sacked 100 workers in its SMR division. Westinghouse has abandoned its SMR program. As he explains:
“The problem has really been lurking in the idea behind SMRs all along. The reason conventional nuclear plants are built so large is the economies of scale: Big plants can produce power less expensively per kilowatt-hour than smaller ones.
“The SMR concept disdains those economies of scale in favor of others: large-scale standardized manufacturing that will churn out dozens, if not hundreds, of identical plants, each of which would ultimately produce cheaper kilowatt-hours than large one-off designs.
“It’s an attractive idea. But it’s also one that depends on someone building that massive supply chain, since none of it currently exists. … That money would presumably come from customer orders – if there were any. Unfortunately, the SMR “market” doesn’t exist in a vacuum.
“SMRs must compete with cheap natural gas, renewables that continue to decline in cost, and storage options that are rapidly becoming competitive. Worse, those options are available for delivery now, not at the end of a long, uncertain process that still lacks [US Nuclear Regulatory Commission] approval.”
read the full article on The Ecologist website.