Why the world’s largest uranium producer is not a nuclear power heavyweight
Australia is a country almost the size of the continental United States with a population of around 26 million people.
It is a country with vast open spaces. Most of its population is found on its east coast in New South Wales and Queensland, with some population centers in Western Australia, South Australia, the Northern Territories and the island of Tasmania. Most of the larger populations of these areas are found in a few cities and their suburbs with a lot of open spaces between them in many places.
The largest electricity grid runs down the east coast and loops to South Australia. There is another in Western Australia, although smaller than on the east coast, and still much smaller in the Northwest Territories. These networks are not connected.
Why is this important for nuclear power?
If we think of large reactors, they can only be deployed in areas where the market can support them. If we think of small modular reactors, SMRs, then there are other uses for small towns in less densely populated areas.
Australia is rich in energy. It is the largest exporter of coal in the world. It is one of the main exporters of gas and, previously, it was even the largest exporter of LNG in the world. It has enormous potential for wind, solar, geothermal, wind, tidal and wave energy. It has significant hydroelectric resources, but recent droughts have challenged them. Considering its small population and vast energy resources, around 2/3e of its energy production is exported. It is a growing net importer of petroleum and refined petroleum products. Oil, however, is a weak point in Australia’s energy security and resilience.
Most of Australia’s primary energy consumption is made up of fossil fuels. About 80 percent of its electricity still comes from fossil fuels, with a predominance of black and brown coal, but renewables have grown in importance, especially since 2008.
On the whole, electricity production has increased well until a slowdown also in 2008. It continues to grow, but not as fast as before. There are considerable differences in the fuels and methods used to generate electricity across its territories and states. New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland mainly use coal. Western Australia is dominated by gas. South Australia uses primarily gas and a much larger percentage of renewables than any other region. Tasmania is primarily hydroelectric. The Northern Territories are almost dominated by a uniform mixture of gas and oil. With the exception of South Australia, renewables do not account for a large portion of electricity generation elsewhere in the country.
Hydropower has been part of Australia’s energy mix for a very long time. Solar and wind didn’t really start to take hold and develop until the 2000s. Bioenergy is a small percentage, but not entirely insignificant. Overall, for the country, the use of coal in electricity is declining. Natural gas and renewable energies are increasingly used in the production of electricity.
In terms of power generation, Australian coal has been growing strongly for some time. Oil is in decline. Natural gas has grown a lot in recent years. In all of power generation, renewable energy is a lick of paint on top of the others. Coal dominates energy production and natural gas lags far behind.
Nuclear energy is mainly used for electricity. However, the only nuclear reactor in Australia is in Sydney. It’s a tiny 20 MW reactor that makes nuclear isotopes for medical purposes. Nuclear energy can be curative in the medical sense. Many know this from personal experience.
Nuclear power is controversial in Australia. It is important to note that ânuclear power generation is currently not permitted under two main Commonwealth laws: Australia’s Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act 1998 (the ARPANS Act) and the 1999 Law on the Protection of the Environment and the Conservation of Biodiversity (the EPBC Law). These laws expressly prohibit the approval, licensing, construction or operation of a nuclear fuel fabrication plant; a nuclear central ; an enrichment plant; or a reprocessing facility. There are also a series of other laws, including state and territory legislation, that regulate nuclear and radiation-related activities.. “
There are also state and territory laws strictly regulating it, and in some cases, such as in Victoria, it is banned outright. Thus, there are many legal levels with obstacles for nuclear energy.
Australia has the largest known reserves of uranium on the planet. It is the third largest exporter of uranium. However, it does not have nuclear power plants to generate electricity. It is possible that the new strategic cooperation agreement with the United Kingdom and the United States, the AUKUS agreement, which provides for Australia to obtain the assistance of the United Kingdom and the United States to develop and deploy nuclear submarines, can spark more conversations and debates about nuclear energy. These nuclear submarines will require growing nuclear expertise in Australia. This nuclear expertise will be necessary to maintain and develop this fleet of nuclear submarines. In the United States, many people working in nuclear power plants are Navy nuclear experts and engineers.
Some in Australia see the nuclear submarine deal as a marker to reignite the nuclear energy debate in the country. Others are fiercely opposed to nuclear power. Many laws and regulations are still in place to curb nuclear power in the country. However, as concerns about climate change continue to increase, there could be a growing trend towards nuclear power in the country.
Nuclear power plants do not produce any greenhouse gas emissions. The main source of greenhouse gas emissions in the nuclear fuel cycle is uranium mining. Australia has very high per capita greenhouse gas emissions, especially if emissions from its massive energy exports are added to the equation. Most of its national emissions come from the combustion of coal, natural gas, petroleum and petroleum products.
Ecology is developing in Australia. Recent droughts, fires, floods and heat waves are contributing to this. The options for low-emission fuels do not include coal and petroleum, unless there are gigantic and very expensive programs for carbon capture and storage, CCS, and capture and capture. carbon use, CCU.
Australia’s energy transition could include further moves towards natural gas, but this would reduce one of its biggest exports, LNG. Australia’s energy transition is likely to include renewable energies, for which it has enormous potential. However, renewables are intermittent and there will be a huge need for energy storage and demand management if Australia decides to go down this route.
With nuclear as part of its energy transition, Australia would have another way to reduce its carbon emissions. Nuclear power is a base load that operates 24/7 except during refueling and maintenance.
Nuclear energy can have capacity factors until the 90s. Renewable energies are not even close. Nuclear energy could help stabilize the country’s electricity grids. This could contribute to the energy security, energy reliability and energy resilience of the country. Nuclear power is over time, and on average, contrary to many media and other reports, one of the safest and least polluting sources of energy.
Coal-fired plants that are retiring, and many are slated for retirement and have been retired, can be reused as nuclear plants in some places. The transition from coal to natural gas and renewables could be complemented by a transition from coal to nuclear. Nuclear power could increase the diversity of the energy transition.
One nuclear power option Australia might consider is small modular reactors. These produce smaller amounts of nuclear power than standard power plants. They can be constructed in a modular fashion, like building blocks, and when an area needs more power, they can be added. They can have passive safety characteristics far beyond standard nuclear power plants. Beside that, they have a much lower risk of proliferation.
It could be years before SMRs can be deployed anywhere in the world in large numbers, but many questions about standard reactors can be resolved with SMRs. They are not the perfect answer, but in a world increasingly concerned about the effects of greenhouse gases like CO2 and methane, for many countries nuclear will be close to a requirement in their energy transitions. . Australia has a lot of renewable energy potential, but it may be worth restarting nuclear.
Australia needs energy security, energy reliability and energy resilience. It also needs environmental security, environmental reliability and environmental resilience. Australia has had very difficult times with fires, floods, droughts, storms etc. Climate change is happening. Australia can be part of the problem or part of the solution.
By Paul Sullivan for Oil Octobers
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