Thorium nuclear not recommended – ANSTO’s Submission to #NuclearCommissionSAust

Thorium-pie-in-sky

Thorium fuelled nuclear power reactors are often put forward as a possible alternative to uranium
fuelled reactors on the basis of a number of arguments, not all of which are accurate. For example, proponents of thorium reactors often claim that the thorium fuel cycle is resistant
to proliferation risks.

However, the production of uranium‐233 during the thorium fuel cycle presents a potential proliferation risk that would require similar safeguards to those in place for the uranium fuel cycle today (ANSTO 2013).

Although the thorium fuel cycle is a theoretically feasible source of energy, there is limited evidence that significant investment in future thorium technologies would improve on the well established technologies and systems in place for the uranium fuel cycle, for which Australia is already one of the world’s largest exporters…..

ANSTO’s Submission (on all 4 Issues papers) says surprisingly little about nuclear waste management. It directs those remarks to how expert ANSTO itself is at managing nuclear waste.

It is enthusiastic about the future for nuclear power, but I note that it uses that “escape” word “potential” when predicting that good future. No author is named.


 Australian NuclearScience and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) Submission 
http://nuclearrc.sa.gov.au/app/uploads/2015/11/Australian-Nuclear-Science-and-Technology-Organisation-03-08-2015.pdf   EXTRACTS

“nuclear power, in countries with limited potential for hydropower, is the most efficient and cost‐effective low emissions fit‐for‐service base‐load electricity generation option……

 new generation nuclear power plants under construction across the world represent a mature and safe technology; and future nuclear technology has the potential to further improve safety while reducing cost and up‐front capital investment requirements…..

“Safety

Nuclear power is a historically very safe technology, outperforming other established technologies in human health outcomes. This is true even when the effects of nuclear accidents, which are extremely rare in comparison to other technologies, are taken into account.

The Fukushima accident brought renewed public attention to the question of nuclear safety, particularly in areas prone to earthquakes. Significantly, the radiological impact on the affected population has not involved any deaths and is currently estimated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to be negligible amongst the general population of the Fukushima Prefecture (WHO 2013, p 8).

As was the case at Chernobyl, the psychological impact of the Fukushima accident will potentially outweigh all other health consequences (WHO 2013, p 90). 

……. a study released by the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 2013, which found that nuclear power has likely prevented over 1.8 million deaths worldwide between 1971 and 2009 through replacing the role of fossil fuel power plants (NASA 2013)………As emerging nuclear technologies progress to maturity, their enhanced safety features, such as  passive cooling, will ensure that nuclear reactors remain one of the safest energy technologies available.”

“Emerging nuclear technologies

  1. Generation IV technologies   Generation IV technology refers to the next generation of nuclear reactor designs which will use fuel more efficiently, reduce waste production, be economically competitive, and meet stringent standards of safety, security and proliferation resistance.

International efforts to research this new reactor technology are being coordinated by the Generation IV International Forum (GIF), a consortium of advanced nations committed to  working together in long‐term research on advanced nuclear technologies. …….

  1. Small modular reactors…….SMRs have the potential to address the two major economic impediments to installing new nuclear power – high capital costs and lengthy construction  periods. Additionally, SMRs have the potentialfor increased safety and security measures…….SMRs can also potentially provide added safeguards against natural disasters, sabotage and the proliferation of nuclear materials. Several SMRs currently in development are being designed to be installed underground, limiting any vulnerability to scenarios involving external impacts………

SMRs could be used to supply energy to small or isolated grids and areas with limited space or water, or to balance larger grids. Floating SMRs, such as the 35MWe Russian KLT‐40S, might be used to provide power to small island states, coastal towns or isolated harbour‐side industry……..

  1. Thorium

Thorium fuelled nuclear power reactors are often put forward as a possible alternative to uranium fuelled reactors on the basis of a number of arguments, not all of which are accurate. For example, proponents of thorium reactors often claim that the thorium fuel cycle is resistant

to proliferation risks. However, the production of uranium‐233 during the thorium fuel cycle presents a potential proliferation risk that would require similar safeguards to those in place for the uranium fuel cycle today (ANSTO 2013).

Although the thorium fuel cycle is a theoretically feasible source of energy, there is limited evidence that significant investment in future thorium technologies would improve on the well established technologies and systems in place for the uranium fuel cycle, for which Australia is already one of the world’s largest exporters……

Legislative and regulatory

Significant legislative changes would be required in order to develop a South Australian nuclear power industry. At present, nuclear power is prohibited in Australia. At the Commonwealth level, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth) effectively

prohibits the construction or operation of nuclear fuel fabrication plants, nuclear power plants, enrichment plants or reprocessing facilities. In addition, the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act 1998 (Cth) prevents the CEO of ARPANSA from licensing the siting,

construction or operation of such facilities by Commonwealth entities. At the South Australian level, there is a conditional ban on conversion and enrichment (see section 27 of the RadiationProtection and Control Act 1982).

In addition to the removal of those legislative barriers, legislation would also be required in order to upgrade the existing regulatory structure or create new a regulatory structure capable of performing the functions required for the licensing of nuclear power reactors. There would also need to be legislation governing nuclear liability in order to bring Australia into line with  international norms……..

Technology

Nuclear power technology is well established in the majority of advanced economies around the globe. Should South Australia establish a nuclear power program, it is unlikely that the first power reactors built there would be first‐of‐a‐kind plants. Rather, in order to benefit from previous operating experiences, optimisation programs, regulatory scrutiny, and economies of scale, any local nuclear power industry would likely choose an off‐the‐shelf design already licenced in a similarly rigorous regulatory jurisdiction.

ANSTO expects that in order for South Australia to be able to take advantage of the unique applications, improved economics, enhanced safety and security, and scalability of SMRs, the particular design will also first need to be licenced by a trusted overseas regulator…..

Waste management

Should nuclear power be included in South Australia’s future energy mix, a comprehensive spent fuel and waste management strategy would need to be put in place prior to commissioning of the first power reactor. A comprehensive strategy would include the construction and operation of a radioactive waste management facility at a site with local community support……….

Already, there exists significant expertise in waste processing and management in Australia. As the operator of the OPAL research reactor, and previously the HIFAR and MOATA research  reactors, ANSTO maintains the skills, knowledge and capabilities to manage and store spent

nuclear fuel and other radioactive wastes. Following the construction of the ANSTO Nuclear Medicine facility, which is due to commence operation in late 2016, ANSTO will commission the world’s first industrial scale Synroc waste processing facility, using Australian technology to reduce final waste volumes by up to 97 per cent. 

With the rapid expansion of nuclear power throughout the region, opportunities exist to export this expertise to new and existing operators seeking efficient and effective waste management technologies that are both safe and cost effective……..

 ANSTO is well positioned to further assist the Royal Commission in its activities, and to support future nuclear development

anywhere in Australia, including South Australia..

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