Nuclear Power – An Option for Australia by lindahy


Nuclear Power – An Option for Australia

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									                                                                                             August 2005

                          Nuclear Power –
                       An Option for Australia
ACCI’s July 2005 General Council meeting agreed to amend our Energy Policy so as to
refer to nuclear power for the first time as a potential option for Australia’s future
energy needs. While not specifically advocating the adoption of nuclear power, ACCI
believes the contribution it could make to helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
may outweigh previous concerns about its suitability.


The potential for nuclear power to be part of Australia’s energy fuel mix has been raised
publicly in recent months. Those calling for a debate on the issue have included not only the
traditional supporters of nuclear power but also the Prime Minister, politicians and other
groups who consider the contribution nuclear power can make to reductions in greenhouse
gas emissions may outweigh previous concerns about safety.

To allow industry a voice in the emerging debate, ACCI’s July General Council meeting in
Adelaide discussed the issue in the context of evolving concerns about greenhouse gas
emissions and whether it was now time to include nuclear power as a possible option in
Australia’s future energy mix.

General Council resolved to amend ACCI’s energy policy so as to refer to nuclear power as a
potential energy source for Australia for the first time.

This does not necessarily signify support for the adoption of nuclear power. For this to occur
much community debate, economic and policy consideration and technical appraisal still
needs to unfold.

However, by canvassing this issue, ACCI is acknowledging the reality of our future energy
needs and recognising the potential environmental impact if we continue with the current mix
of energy sources and technologies.

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Federally, nuclear power is not a policy option endorsed by either of the major parties.

Nuclear power is not canvassed in the Government’s 2004 Energy White Paper Securing
Australia’s Energy Future. Nor is it mentioned in the Howard Government’s 2004 Election
Policy Meeting Australia’s Energy Challenge.

Nuclear power is specifically ruled out in federal Australian Labor Party policy as the
Developing Australian Industry1 policy states:

“In addition [to their uranium policy], Labor will:

•   vigorously oppose the ocean dumping of radioactive waste;

•   prohibit the establishment in Australia of nuclear power plants and all other stages of the
    nuclear fuel cycle;

•   fully meet all our obligations as a party to the NPT; and

•   remain strongly opposed to the importation and storage of nuclear waste that is sourced
    from overseas in Australia.”


Given continuing economic and population growth, Australia’s future electricity needs will
require the addition of further generating capacity. Over the next fifteen years gross demand
for electricity is expected to grow by 2.4 per cent per year.

Largely reflecting some existing capacity overhang and the influence of a number of
government policy initiatives, electricity generation from black coal is estimated to grow by
an average 2.2 per cent a year while generation from (marginally more greenhouse gas
friendly) natural gas in Australia is forecast to grow by 4.7 per cent a year.2 Policy initiatives
such as the Queensland Government’s A Cleaner Energy Strategy, calls for retailers and other
accountable parties to source 13 per cent of their electricity needs from natural gas-fired
generation. In the medium term, growth in gas-fired electricity generation is projected to be
particularly strong (6.2 per cent a year) (see Table 1 below).

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                                                      Table 1
                                        Electricity Generation By Fuel Type

                                              Generation                                      Annual Growth
                      2001-02 TWH         2008-09 TWH            2019-20 TWH           2001-02 to             2001-02 to
                                                                                       2008-09 %              2019-20 %
 Black Coal              125.7                 142.4                 185.3              1.8                     2.2
 Brown Coal               48.3                  52.4                  59.4              1.2                     1.2
 Oil                         2.3                   2.3                   2.4            0.3                     0.3
 Natural Gas              30.5                  46.5                  69.3              6.2                     4.7
 Renewables               17.2                  25.3                  27.5              5.7                     2.6
   Hydro                  15.9                  17.3                  17.8              1.3                     0.6
   Biomass                   0.7                   4.1                   4.1           28.1                   10.1
   Biogas                    0.3                   1.5                   1.5           24.1                     8.8
   Wind                      0.3                   2.4                   4.1           35.3                   15.9
 Total                   224.1                     269               343.9              2.6                     2.4
Source: ABARE Australian Energy National and State Projections to 2019-20, eReport 04.11.

Also expected to increase the contribution of gas-fired electricity to national production is the
New South Wales Government’s greenhouse gas emissions benchmark.

“The benchmark is set as a 5 per cent reduction in per person greenhouse gas emissions from
the 1989-90 level by 2007, implying a per person target of 7.27 tonnes of carbon dioxide
equivalent (CO2-e) in 2007.”3

Nationally, additional capacity for electricity derived from gas-fired stations is estimated at
4660MW, while coal fired power stations are estimated to increase capacity by 3750MW by
2019-20.4 Overall, this additional capacity is expected to cost approximately $5.0 billion for
gas and $6.0 billion for coal.


Australia’s uranium deposits are the largest in the world accounting for approximately 28 per
cent of known recoverable reserves. Kazakhstan and Canada have approximately 15 and 14
per cent, respectively (see Table 2 below).

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                                                Table 2
                                  Known Recoverable Resources of Uranium

                                                        Tonnes                          Per cent of World
 Australia                                       863                                         28
 Kazakhstan                                      472                                         15
 Canada                                          437                                         14
 South Africa                                    298                                         10
 Namibia                                         235                                          8
 Brazil                                          197                                          6
 Russian Federation                              131                                          4
 USA                                             104                                          3
 Uzbekistan                                      103                                          3
 Total                                          2,840                                        91
Reasonably Assured Resources plus Estimated Additional Resources – Category 1, to US$ 80/Kg U, 1/1/03, from OECD
NEA & IAEA, Uranium 2003: Resources, Production and Demand, Uranium Information Centre.

Constraints imposed by government have not assisted the development of uranium mining in

The Australian Labor Party has long held a policy of no new mines - an adaptation of its
three-mines policy when it held power.

However, in 1996 the new Howard Government signaled its opposition to restricting the
number of uranium mines. Recently the Commonwealth and State governments have
approved new mining and the expansion of existing uranium mines in the Northern Territory
and South Australia.

The Northern Territory Government, which was opposed to new uranium mines, relinquished
control to the Australian Government in August 2005. The Northern Territory is home to the
Ranger mine in the Kakadu National Park whose reserves are in the order of approximately
$12 billion in uranium deposits. State governments, particularly Western and South Australia,
are presently maintaining the ‘no new mines’ policy although the planned expansion of the
existing Olympic mine is going ahead.


Energy from nuclear power plants accounts for 28.0 per cent of total electricity generated in
countries that operate plants and 16.0 per cent of all electricity generated worldwide. This
ranges from 80.0 and 78.0 per cent in Lithuania and France respectively, to 2.2 and 3.3 per
cent for China and India respectively (see Table 3).

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                                                    Table 3
                                  Electricity Generation from Nuclear Power

                               Nuclear Electricity        Reactors Operable           Reactors Under       Reactors Planned
                                    Generation                 May 05                  Construction            May 05
                                       2003                                              May 05
                                Billion       %e              No.           Mwe         No.      Mwe           No.              MWe
 Argentina                            7         8.6             2           935           1          692            0            0
 Armenia                            1.8         3.5             1           376           0            0            0            0
 Belgium                           44.6         55              7         5,728           0            0            0            0
 Brazil                            13.3         3.7             2         1,901           0            0            1        1,245
 Bulgaria                            16         38              4         2,722           0            0            0            0
 Canada*                           70.3       12.5             17        12,080           1          515            4        2,570
 China**                             79          **            15        11,471           4        4,500            8        8,000
 Czech Republic                    25.9         31              6         3,472           0            0            0            0
 Egypt                                0           0             0             0           0            0            0            0
 Finland                           21.8          27             4         2,656           0            0            1        1,600
 France                          420.7           78            59        63,473           0            0            0            0
 Germany                         157.4           28            17        20,303           0            0            0            0
 Hungary                             11          33             4         1,755           0            0            0            0
 India                             16.4         3.3            14         2,493           9        4,128            0            0
 Indonesia                            0           0             0             0           0            0            0            0
 Iran                                 0           0             0             0           1          950            1          950
 Israel                               0           0             0             0           0            0            0            0
 Japan                           230.8           25            54        46,342           2        2,224           12       14,782
 Korea DPR (North)                    0           0             0             0           1          950            1          950
 Korea RO (South)                123.3           40            20        16,840           0            0            8        9,200
 Lithuania                         14.3          80             1         1,185           0            0            0            0
 Mexico                            10.5         5.2             2         1,310           0            0            0            0
 Netherlands                        3.8         4.5             1           452           0            0            0            0
 Pakistan                           1.8         2.4             2           425           0            0            1          300
 Romania                            4.5         9.3             1           655           1          655            0            0
 Russia                          138.4           17            31        21,743           4        3,600            1          925
 Slovakia                          17.9          57             6         2,472           0            0            0            0
 Slovenia                             5          40             1           676           0            0            0            0
 South Africa                      12.7         6.1             2         1,842           0            0            0            0
 Spain                             59.4          24             9         7,584           0            0            0            0
 Sweden                            65.5          50            11         9,459           0            0            0            0
 Switzerland                       25.9          40             5         3,220           0            0            0            0
 Turkey                               0           0             0             0           0            0            0            0
 Ukraine                           76.7          46            15        13,168           0            0            1          950
 United Kingdom                    85.3          24            23        11,852           0            0            0            0
 USA                             763.7         19.9           103        97,587           1        1,065            0            0
 World                           2,525           16           439       366,177          25       19,279           39       41,472
Source: World Nuclear Association.

Of all OECD countries only Finland, Russia and Japan are currently building new reactors.
The majority of reactors are being built by developing countries (see previous table). The
International Energy Agency predicts that global demand for energy will rise by about 60 per

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cent over the next 25 years and that two-thirds of the increase will come from developing
countries such as China and India.

China has eight nuclear plants under construction and plans to build at least eight more
reactors by early in the next decade.

In sharp contrast Austria, Denmark, Greece, Ireland, Italy and Norway have banned nuclear
power and Belgium, Germany and Sweden have put in place policies to phase it out.

“The financial bottom line is one key factor stopping the West from constructing new
reactors. Typically nuclear power plants are two to four times more expensive to build than
fossil-fuelled plants. So rather than constructing new plants, the West’s focus is on getting
more out of existing reactors. Nuclear power plants today produce more electricity than ever
before. Performance has improved by about 11% from 1990 to 2001. For many countries,
improving old, rather than constructing new, power plants has become the way forward.”5

Decisions about competitive fuel choices need to consider the full life-cycle costs of the
given power generation technology.

“Trends may change. In May this year the Fin[n]ish Parliament decided in principle to build
a fifth Finnish nuclear power plant. It is the first decision to build a new reactor in Western
Europe in 15 years. Similarly the United States Government has committed to having a new,
nuclear plant operating in the USA before the end of the decade.”6

Expansion in the capacity of nuclear power is expected to be slow and steady with an average
increase of 4-7 per cent by 2005 and 7-15 per cent by 2010. Most additional capacity will be
added in Asian and Central and Eastern European countries. This is exemplified by the fact
that of the last thirty-one nuclear reactors built, twenty-two are in Asia - similarly, eighteen of
the twenty-seven nuclear power plants now under construction are in Asia.7

America has publicly stated its interest in building new reactors before the end of the decade
although no new nuclear power plants have yet been planned. Licence extensions for 26 US
nuclear plants to operate another 20 years have already been approved. Eighteen more
applicants are pending and 32 more have submitted letters of intent. These applications
account for 75 per cent of US operating plants. Achieving energy independence is a strong
driver in the establishment of America’s nuclear program.

Although constructing nuclear power plants is expensive, a study by the University of
Chicago found that in the future the cost of electricity generated by nuclear power would be
competitive with coal, gas and other forms of energy. This levelised cost of electricity (the
amount required to cover the operating cost and annualised capital costs of operating the
plant) for coal was estimated to be $33 to $41 per megawatt-hour (MWh), $35 to $45 per
MWh for gas-fired production, and $31 to $46 per MWh for new nuclear plants (see Table

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                                                 Table 4
                          Some Comparative Electricity Generating Cost Projections
                                            for Year 2010 on

                                         Nuclear                              Coal                       Gas
 Finland                                   2.76                               3.64                           -
 France                                    2.54                               3.33                       3.92
 Germany                                   2.86                               3.52                       4.90
 Switzerland                               2.88                                -                         4.36
 Netherlands                               3.58                                -                         6.04
 Czech Republic                            2.30                               2.94                       4.97
 Slovakia                                  3.13                               4.78                       5.59
 Romania                                   3.06                               4.55                           -
 Japan                                     4.80                               4.95                       5.21
 Korea                                     2.34                               2.16                       4.65
 USA                                       3.01                               2.71                       4.67
 Canada                                    2.60                               3.11                       4.00
US 2003 cents/kWh, Discount rate 5%, 40 year lifetime, 85% load factor.
Source: OECD/IEA NEA 2005.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology published the outcome of a 2-year study of
nuclear energy prospects in the USA. Adjusting its assumptions to those more in line with
industry expectations ($1500/kW & 4 year construction, 90 per cent capacity factor, interest
rate 12 per cent, and adding fees & taxes) the generation cost for nuclear power energy is
estimated at 4.2 c/kWh, the same as coal but without any carbon cost.9

The cost of electricity from nuclear plants relative to fossil fuel plants varies from one
country to another, although America is similar to Australia with respect to its large coal
deposits. Nuclear power has considerably higher capital costs, about three times the cost of
gas-fired plants, but the cost of the fuel is relatively low.

It is also worth noting that future coal-fired generation which incorporates sequestration or
other low emission technology may well be a costlier option than existing coal-fired
generation. The life cycle expenses of relative energy sources depend on the capital, fuel,
decommissioning and environmental costs.


The emission of greenhouse gases by nuclear power plants has been compared to that of
electricity produced using solar and wind technologies (see Table 5).

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                                                Table 5
                Range of Total GHG Emission (qCeq/kwh) from Electricity Production Chains

 Energy/Technology                                  Plant Emissions           Other Chain Steps               Total
   1990’s Technology (high)                               359                         7                       366
   1990’s Technology (low)                                247                        14                       261
   2005-2020 Technology                                   217                        11                       228
   1990’s Technology (high)                               278                        79                       357
   1990’s Technology (low)                                216                        48                       264
   2005-2020 Technology                                   181                        25                       206
   1990’s Technology (high)                               215                        31                       246
   1990’s Technology (low)                                195                        24                       219
   2005-2020 Technology                                   121                        28                       149
 Natural Gas
   1990’s Technology (high)                               157                        31                       188
   1990’s Technology (low)                                 99                        21                       120
   2005-2020 Technology                                    90                        16                       106
 Solar PV
   1990’s Technology (high)                                   0                     76.4                      76.4
   1990’s Technology (low)                                    0                     27.3                      27.3
   2005-2020 Technology                                       0                      8.2                       8.2
   Reservoir (Brazil, theoretical)                            0                     64.6                      64.6
   Reservoir (Germany, high value)                            0                      6.3                       6.3
   Reservoir (Canada)                                         0                      4.4                       4.4
   Run-of-River Reservoir (Canada)                            0                      1.1                       1.1
   High                                                       0                     16.6                      16.6
   Low                                                        0                      8.4                       8.4
   25% Capacity (Japan)                                       0                     13.1                      13.1
   <10% Capacity, Inland (Swiss)                              0                      9.8                       9.8
   10% Capacity, Inland (Belgium)                             0                      7.6                       7.6
   35% Capacity, Coastal (Belgium)                            0                      2.5                       2.5
   30% Capacity, Coastal (UK)                                 0                      2.5                       2.5
   High                                                       0                      5.7                       5.7
   Low                                                        0                      2.5                       2.5
Source: OECD Nuclear Energy and the Kyoto Protocol.

Nuclear power does not emit greenhouse gases when producing electricity, while over the life
cycle of the plant, mining to construction to operation to fuel disposal and decontamination,
emissions are no greater than that of other non-emitting generating sources.

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The International Atomic Energy Agency notes:

“Nuclear power emits virtually no greenhouse gases. The complete nuclear power chain,
from uranium mining to waste disposal, and including reactor and facility construction, emits
only 2-6 grams of carbon per kilowatt-hour.

Worldwide, if the 440 nuclear power plants were shut down and replaced with a
proportionate mix of non-nuclear sources, the result would be an increase of 600 million
tonnes of carbon per year. That is approximately twice the total amount that we estimate will
be avoided by the Kyoto Protocol in 2010.”10

To put into context the contribution of nuclear power to greenhouse gas reductions, if all
OECD nuclear plants were to cease operating in the coming decades the OECD estimates that
approximately 1200 million tonnes of additional annual emission reduction would have to be
achieved to meet Kyoto targets.11


Nuclear power, like wind or solar power, produces virtually no greenhouse gas emissions.
However, unlike wind or solar power it does produce a number of wastes that require careful

At the mining level ‘tailings’ are produced that contain material similar to the uranium ore.
Tailings are not classified as radioactive waste, however they are carefully treated on site at
mines to reduce their radioactivity and ensure their safe storage.

Nuclear power generators produce intermediate-level and high-level radioactive wastes.

Much high-level waste is reprocessed and reused. Both types of waste can be safely stored
above ground for some fifty years. However, long-term storage must eventually be found for
both intermediate and some high-level wastes. This provides a dilemma for policy makers
and countries around the globe. Current policy is leading towards long-term waste storage
within stable underground environments, contained within man-made materials (such as the
Australian product Synroc i.e. ‘synthetic rock’) that further protect against potential
contamination or leakages.

Plutonium is the other significant nuclear waste by-product. If inhaled it is a highly
dangerous and can cause cancer. Plutonium also forms the basis of nuclear weapons.
However, like uranium, it is carefully monitored under nuclear non-proliferation treaties.
Plutonium can also, like high-level waste, be reprocessed and reused in nuclear power

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The second generation of nuclear reactors, built during the 1970s, are safer than first
generation reactors built in the 1960s and 1970s, while reactors currently being designed for
the world market are safer again.

Later, third generation model nuclear reactors, which are trying to gain, or have already
gained, approval for plans from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission and various
European Utility Regulators, have substantially improved in a number of areas by achieving:

•   a standardised design for each type to expedite licensing, reduce capital cost and reduce
    construction time;

•   a simpler and more rugged design, making them easier to operate and less vulnerable to
    operational upsets;

•   higher availability and longer operating life - typically 60 years;

•   reduced possibility of core melt accidents;

•   minimal impact on the environment;

•   higher burn-up to reduce fuel use and the amount of waste; and

•   burnable absorbers (‘poisons’) to extend fuel life.

A future significant departure from second-generation designs is that many incorporate
passive or inherent safety features12 which require no active controls or operational
intervention to avoid accidents in the event of malfunction and may rely on gravity, natural
convection or resistance to high temperatures.13

Generation IV nuclear energy systems are next generation, advanced nuclear reactor and fuel
cycle technologies available after this decade but before 2030 that represent further
significant advances in economics, safety, reliability, proliferation-resistance and waste
minimisation. The countries involved in the research and development include Argentina,
Brazil, Canada, France, Japan, Korea, South Africa, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and
the United States as well as the International Atomic Energy Agency and the OECD Nuclear
Energy Agency.

Given the expected long lead-time from feasibility studies to choice of design, Australia may
have the option of building and operating a generation IV nuclear reactor.

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In contrast with many OECD countries and some rapidly developing nations in Asia, nuclear
power has not historically received serious policy consideration in Australia.

Principal among the reasons for this is the availability of abundant reserves of fossil fuels
such as coal and natural gas.

However, nuclear energy is undergoing a resurgence across the globe primarily due to
concerns about rising energy costs, energy security and greater sensitivity to the possible
effect of greenhouse gas emissions on climate change.

In the global context, 16 per cent of electricity generation is nuclear sourced with countries
such as France generating up to 78 per cent of their electricity from nuclear plants. In OECD
countries electricity from nuclear generation accounts for some 24 per cent of total
generation. Moreover the expanding and dynamic economies such as China and India are also
increasingly developing their nuclear generating capacity.

Australia’s disposition towards nuclear power is lagging international developments yet this
has always been justified given our immense reserves of fossil fuels.

There is no question such resources will continue to be the bedrock on which we build our
energy requirements and economic growth opportunities. However, if we adopt a totally ‘fuel
neutral’ approach to the provision of energy, ACCI considers it sensible to include nuclear
power as a fuel option in the future.

Greenhouse gas emissions from stationery energy sources account for 47 per cent of
Australia’s total emissions. This is a large share of the total emission burden which many
consider may be contributing to global warming and hence promoting possible climate

Against this background, energy sources which can provide base load power requirements
and don’t threaten our economic growth yet contribute low or nil greenhouse gas emissions to
the environment may be attractive or at least should not be arbitrarily ruled out of

Australia has in excess of five hundred years supply of coal and one hundred years supply of
natural gas yet neither fuel source can offer zero greenhouse gas emissions on combustion.
While there is the promise of clean coal technologies and sequestration in the future, they are
not yet commercially viable or technologically developed.

What differentiates nuclear power from other energy sources is that it is an immediately
available, zero-emission technology which is in place around the world, further a new
generation of even more efficient and safer nuclear reactors are being developed.

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Renewables are currently not a serious answer for base load electricity requirements and if
we were reliant on such technology we could not sustain our current level of economic
growth. The premature introduction of renewables would have a catastrophic impact on jobs
and our overall prosperity. Declining productivity and lower incomes would threaten our
capacity to deal with other pressing environmental concerns including water resource
management, salinity and land degradation.

In balancing all of these concerns the ACCI General Council agreed the approach to energy
policy should be ‘fuel neutral’ and that further consideration of nuclear power, as with all
energy options, must be subject to full cost benefit analysis including examination of relevant
economic, technical and environmental issues.

The new ACCI policy explicitly recognises nuclear power can make a contribution in
reducing overall greenhouse gas emissions.

In the Australian context the development of a nuclear capacity may not have any immediate
urgency although in the longer term it would be imprudent to rule it out as an option in a
suite of energy policy responses.

On the positive side for Australia nuclear power has resounding international acceptance,
technological improvements will benefit late adopters and domestic access to uranium
feedstock is assured.

There are of course high level waste management issues and security concerns to ensure
observance of non-proliferation protocols. However, neither of these matters represent
technical or political hurdles which cannot be sensibly handled.

End Notes:
   Australian Labor Party, Chapter Twelve – Developing Australian Industry, ALP National
   Platform and Constitution, paragraph 70.
   ABARE Australian Energy National and State Projections to 2019-20, eReport
   Ibid p27.
   Ibid p29.
   IAEA Asia Banks on Nuclear Power Staff report, 19 September 2002.
   The study can be found at the following link.
   Uranium Information Center The Economics of Nuclear Power, Nuclear Issues Briefing
   Paper No 8, May 2005.
   IAEA Nuclear Power Changing Future: Fastest Growth in Asia, Staff Report, 26 June
   Nuclear Energy Agency Nuclear Energy and the Kyoto Protocol, OECD 2002.

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     Traditional reactor safety systems are ‘active’ in the sense that they involve electrical or
     mechanical operation on command. Some engineered systems operate passively, e.g.
     pressure relief valves. Both require parallel redundant systems. Inherent or full passive
     safety depends only on physical phenomena such as convection, gravity or resistance to
     high temperatures, not on functioning of engineered components.
     Uranium Information Center Advanced Nuclear Power Reactors, Nuclear Issues Briefing
     Paper No 16, May 2005.

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