The Royal Commission on the Nuclear Fuel Cycle has concluded that nuclear power generation is not a commercially viable option for Australia, and won’t be until the 2030s – if at all, but it still wants governments to repeal laws that ban nuclear generation.
The main findings of the Royal Commission centred around the creation of a nuclear waste dump, despite widespread criticism of the move. That recommendation will be reviewed by the South Australia government over the course of the year.
But on the same day that the last coal-fired power generator in the state was closed down, the commission has also argued the case for nuclear, saying it “might” be needed post 2030.
The Royal Commission seems to accept that nuclear power is not just too expensive, but too big to fit into the South Australia market, and it would be too risky for the state to build “new generation” technology, such as the “generation IV” reactors often promoted in nuclear circles.
Yet, further into the report, it expresses support for small modular reactors, despite the fact that this technology will likely be even more expensive, due to reduced economies of scale, and forms part of the “new generation” technologies because the first of its kind are not likely to appear within the next decade.
The commission gives some bizarre interpretations in the state of the market, saying renewables had caused an “increase in the profitability” of gas generation, “given its ability to respond rapidly to meet shortfalls in supply.”
Actually, gas generators – including recently built ones – have been closed or scaled back because they are not profitable, and are needed less than before to meet shortfalls in supply. The cost of gas generation has risen recently because gas supplies have been re-priced due to the new LNG export market.
It also says: “The profitability of baseload forms of generation has decreased, thereby discouraging new entry for baseload capacity.” Ask the energy market operator and any energy company, and they will say no baseload capacity is needed, because there is already too much – 7,000MW too much built on the assumption of surging demand that never happened. They are working out how to close baseload capacity, not build it anew.
Still, the commission wants the South Australian government to lobby Canberra to remove the ban on nuclear generation, and to start studies of how nuclear could be integrated into the grid at some point in the future. And despite its warning that it would be unwise for Australia to introduce new nuclear technology, it wants the federal government to “monitor” new nuclear reactor designs that one day might be used in Australia.
Big business is keen. The energy supply council, which represents AGL, Origin and other generators, told the commission it supports nuclear, as does the mining lobby. Innes Willox, from the Australian Industry Group, declared his support for nuclear on ABC’s Lateline program.
In its final report, the commission draws from the usual nuclear play-book on renewables: that wind and solar can’t do the job, that other renewable energy technologies are untested, and that renewables will require expensive and additional back-up power.
“The only low-carbon technologies that have been commercially deployed in Australia are wind and solar PV. With increasing reliance on such intermittent generation technologies, there will be a need for substantial investment in reliable generation supply to meet the balance of demand when sufficient wind or sunlight is not available.”
But this view was reflected by comments from another nuclear booster Professor Stephen Lincoln, from University of Adelaide, who favours small modular reactors on the Eyre Peninsula.
Appearing on ABC TV’s “The Drum” program, Lincoln did the usual nuclear thing – wind power is “very expensive” (debunked by the RC itself), the loss of coal power will mean more power cuts in South Australia (debunked by the market operator) – and seemed thoroughly confused about solar tower facilities.
He said solar tower plants were only about 20MW in capacity – compared to coal’s 1000MW – “so you would have to build many of them.” The coal plant shut on Monday was 540MW. The new solar tower plants being built in the US, south America and Africa, and being proposed for Australia, are 110MW and can deliver power 24/7.
Yet these people – and their misleading claims – feature prominently, and unchallenged, on mainstream media.
In the same program, Liberal Party candidate and former Institute of Public Affairs policy analyst Tim Wilson blamed wind and solar for the state’s high electricity prices, even though high prices precede the arrival of renewables and are largely due to the nature of the state’s network. Indeed, the coal generator’s owner Alinta closed the plant because, it said, the price of wholesale electricity was too low to support it.