Archive for the ‘technology’ Category

What future for Small Nuclear Reactors (SMRs) in Australia ?

January 11, 2022

Small nuclear reactor? It’s a lemon!

Large taxpayer subsidies might get some projects, such as the NuScale project in the US or the Rolls-Royce mid-sized reactor project in the UK, to the construction stage. Or they may join the growing list of abandoned SMR projects

In 2022, nuclear power’s future looks grimmer than ever, Jim Green, 11 Jan 2022, RenewEconomy

”……………………………………….. Small modular reactors

Small modular reactors (SMRs) are heavily promoted but construction projects are few and far between and have exhibited disastrous cost overruns and multi-year delays.

It should be noted that none of the projects discussed below meet the ‘modular’ definition of serial factory production of reactor components, which could potentially drive down costs. Using that definition, no SMRs have ever been built and no country, company or utility is building the infrastructure for SMR construction.

In 2004, when the CAREM SMR in Argentina was in the planning stage, Argentina’s Bariloche Atomic Center estimated an overnight cost of A$1.4 billion / GW for an integrated 300 megawatt (MW) plant, while acknowledging that to achieve such a cost would be a “very difficult task”. Now, the cost estimate is more than 20 times greater at A$32.6 billion / GW. A little over A$1 billion for a reactor with a capacity of just 32 MW. The project is seven years behind schedule and costs will likely increase further.

Russia’s 70 MW floating nuclear power plant is said to be the only operating SMR anywhere in the world (although it doesn’t fit the ‘modular’ definition of serial factory production). The construction cost increased six-fold from 6 billion rubles to 37 billion rubles (A$688 million), equivalent to A$9.8 billion / GW. The construction project was nine years behind schedule.

According to the OECD’s Nuclear Energy Agency, electricity produced by the Russian floating plant costs an estimated A$279 / MWh, with the high cost due to large staffing requirements, high fuel costs, and resources required to maintain the barge and coastal infrastructure. The cost of electricity produced by the Russian plant exceeds costs from large reactors (A$182-284) even though SMRs are being promoted as the solution to the exorbitant costs of large nuclear plants.

SMRs are being promoted as important potential contributors to climate change abatement but the primary purpose of the Russian plant is to power fossil fuel mining operations in the Arctic.

A 2016 report said that the estimated construction cost of China’s demonstration 210 MW high-temperature gas-cooled reactor (HTGR) is about A$7.0 billion / GW and that cost increases have arisen from higher material and component costs, increases in labour costs, and project delays. The World Nuclear Association states that the cost is A$8.4 billion / GW. Those figures are 2-3 times higher than the A$2.8 billion / GW estimate in a 2009 paper by Tsinghua University researchers.

China’s HTGR was partially grid-connected in late-2021 and full connection will take place in early 2022.

China reportedly plans to upscale the HTGR design to 655 MW (three reactor modules feeding one turbine). China’s Institute of Nuclear and New Energy Technology at Tsinghua University expects the cost of a 655 MW HTGR will be 15-20 percent higher than the cost of a conventional 600 MW pressurised water reactor.

NucNet reported in 2020 that China’s State Nuclear Power Technology Corp dropped plans to manufacture 20 additional HTGR units after levelised cost of electricity estimates rose to levels higher than a conventional pressurised water reactor such as China’s indigenous Hualong One. Likewise, the World Nuclear Association states that plans for 18 additional HTGRs at the same site as the demonstration plant have been “dropped”.

The World Nuclear Association lists just two other SMR construction projects other than those listed above. In July 2021, China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) New Energy Corporation began construction of the 125 MW pressurised water reactor ACP100. According to CNNC, construction costs per kilowatt will be twice the cost of large reactors, and the levelised cost of electricity will be 50 percent higher than large reactors.

In June 2021, construction of the 300 MW demonstration lead-cooled BREST fast reactor began in Russia. In 2012, the estimated cost for the reactor and associated facilities was A$780 million, but the cost estimate has more than doubled and now stands at A$1.9 billion.

SMR hype

Much more could be said about the proliferation of SMRs in the ‘planning’ stage, and the accompanying hype. For example a recent review asserts that more than 30 demonstrations of ‘advanced’ reactor designs are in progress across the globe. In fact, few have progressed beyond the planning stage, and few will. Private-sector funding has been scant and taxpayer funding has generally been well short of that required for SMR construction projects to proceed.

Large taxpayer subsidies might get some projects, such as the NuScale project in the US or the Rolls-Royce mid-sized reactor project in the UK, to the construction stage. Or they may join the growing list of abandoned SMR projects.

failed history of small reactor projects. A handful of recent construction projects, most subject to major cost overruns and multi-year delays. And the possibility of a small number of SMR construction projects over the next decade. Clearly the hype surrounding SMRs lacks justification.

Everything that is promising about SMRs belongs in the never-never; everything in the real-world is expensive and over-budget, slow and behind schedule. Moreover, there are disturbing, multifaceted connections between SMR projects and nuclear weapons proliferation, and between SMRs and fossil fuel mining.

SMRs for Australia

There is ongoing promotion of SMRs in Australia but a study by WSP / Parsons Brinckerhoff, commissioned by the South Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission, estimated costs of A$225 / MWh for SMRs. The Minerals Council of Australia states that SMRs won’t find a market unless they can produce power at about one-third of that cost.

In its 2021 GenCost report, CSIRO provides these 2030 cost estimates:

* Nuclear (SMR): A$128-322 / MWh

* 90 percent wind and solar PV with integration costs (transmission, storage and synchronous condensers): A$55-80 / MWh

Enthusiasts hope that nuclear power’s cost competitiveness will improve, but in all likelihood it will continue to worsen. Alone among energy sources, nuclear power becomes more expensive over time, or in other words it has a negative learning curve.

Dr Jim Green is the national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth Australia and the author of a recent report on nuclear power’s economic crisis.

The murky world of financing Small Nuclear Reactors (SMRs)

December 30, 2021

IKEA it ain’t: don’t go looking for friendly nuclear option, no matter the spin

MICHAEL WEST MEDIA, By Noel Wauchope|December 30, 2021  Despite the Murdoch media hype over small nuclear reactors as a solution for Australia’s “clean energy” future, this is costly technology which barely exists in a commercial sense. Noel Wauchope explores the murky world of funding for Small Nuclear Reactors (SMRs).

Small nuclear reactors are being proposed as the solution for Australia’s ‘clean energy’ future.  Australians should be aware of the financial  gymnastics going on in the USA, with NuScale, and in the UK, with Rolls-Royce. That’s just to single out the two most advanced of the many dubious SMR projects still at the starting gate.

The Murdoch media is enthusiastic about SMRs. Missing from the hype are a lot of unanswered questions. For a start — the ”M” stands for ”modular” — meaning that these reactors will be built in pieces, sort of, and transferred to a site, where they will be assembled, like a piece of IKEA furniture. But in fact there are at least 50 designs being promoted, and not all are modular. 

The critical question comes down to – the money

The enthusiasm of the SMR lobby for the economic viability of SMRs is not matched by the facts.

 For one thing to consider – there’s the price of the electricity to be eventually delivered by these small nuclear reactors. The Minerals Council of Australia estimates that by 2030 and beyond, SMRs could offer power to grids from $64-$77MWh, depending on size and type.

An analysis by WSP / Parsons Brinckerhoff, prepared for the 2015-16 South Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission,  estimated  a cost of A$225 / MWh for a reactor based on the NuScale design, about three times higher than the MCA’s target range. CSIRO  estimatesSMR power costs at A$258-338 / MWh in 2020 and A$129-336 / MWh in 2030.

Then there are the costs of actually getting SMRs in the first place.

In Russia, China, France, and Argentina, the construction is done entirely or largely at taxpayers’ expense, and there is little or no transparency about the costs. But generally in the Western world, electricity production is supposed to be a commercially viable operation.  In the context of promoting low -carbon technologies, SMRs are promoted as being cheaper than large ones.  It is generally acceptable for the government to kick-start the process, with some funding, but with the understanding that the industry will become successful, profitable. 

NuScale financing contortions………………….

Now NuScale is to go public by merging with what’s known as a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC……..

US Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Gary Gensler wants to tighten regulations on SPACs:

Glitzy corporate presentation decks, hyped press releases and celebrity endorsements can balloon a SPAC’s equity well beyond a reasonable value long before proper disclosures are filed,  Gensler said.

SPACs have had a chequered history — they enable the sponsors to avoid financial loss, even if the business fails, as many did, in the 1990s.  Sixty-five per cent of deals completed in 2021 at a valuation above $1bn are trading below $10 — the price at which they were floated. All of the companies are trading below their stock market highs with some of them down by as much as 70%. Senator Elizabeth Warren and three other Democrats are investigating the imbalance between the financial results for the sponsors and banks versus the early investors.

Rolls-Royce still looking for money

The process of getting funding for the UK’s SMRs is equally tortuous. ……………….   

Rolls-Royce will be seeking more investment for the project to help fund the building of actual SMRs.

The government is currently passing legislation that will allow investors to back projects like SMRs using a regulated asset base (RAB) model, which allows them to recoup upfront costs from the consumers, over the construction period, long before those consumers actually get any electricity from the project. 

Mythical beasts

So — what it all boils down to is an agreement to spend about £400 million over the next three years — to perhaps produce a design for a reactor, which might get approved by the regulators, and might find investors who might be willing to pay what will be at least £2 billion to build each one.

Where does all this leave Australia? Confused, probably like everyone else?  It’s not at all clear who is going to end up paying the most for small nuclear reactors, or indeed, if that fleet of SMRs will ever become a reality. It will probably be the taxpayers.  I haven’t mentioned all those ancillary costs — of winning community approval, of security, waste disposal. In all the hype about solving the climate crisis, it’s not likely that Australia will have the necessary thousands of small nuclear reactors operating in time to have any effect on the climate. 

In the meantime, it’s worth being wary about the financial aspects, given the obscure manipulations going on in the US and UK, and remembering that not yet does one of these mythical beasts, Small Modular Nuclear Reactors actually exist.

Renewables remain the cheapest “new-build” source of energy generation. They exist. They work. 

Australian Greens blast nuclear submarine deal.

September 16, 2021

Floating Chernobyls: : Greens blast sub deal, Matt CoughlanAAP, September 16, 2021

The Greens have warned Australia acquiring nuclear-powered submarines will create “floating Chernobyls” in the heart of major cities.

The UK and US will give Australia access to top secret nuclear propulsion technology for a fleet of new submarines to be built in Adelaide through new security pact AUKUS.

Greens leader Adam Bandt believes the move increases the prospect of nuclear war in the region and puts Australia in the firing line.

“It’s a dangerous decision that will make Australia less safe by putting floating Chernobyls in the heart of our major cities,” he told the ABC on Thursday.

It’s a terrible decision. It’s one of the worst security decisions in decades.”

Mr Bandt said the Greens would fight the decision and urged Labor to do the same.

“The prime minister needs to explain what will happen if there’s an accident with a nuclear reactor now in the heart of one of our major cities?” he said.

“How many people in Brisbane, Adelaide or Perth, will die as a result of it? What is going to happen if there is a problem with one of the nuclear reactors?”

It is understood the submarines will not require a civilian nuclear capability but rather will have reactors and fuel which will last the life of the vessel.

Independent senator and former submariner Rex Patrick wants an urgent parliamentary inquiry to report before the next federal election.

Senator Patrick, who has been a vocal critic of the $90 billion French submarine deal that is now over, said scrutiny was crucial.

We have to be careful we don’t move from one massive procurement disaster into something else that hasn’t been thought through properly,” he said.

The government has sunk $2.4 billion on the French program and is negotiating on other compensation, which remains commercial in confidence.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese and three senior frontbenchers received a briefing ahead of the announcement on Thursday morning.

Australian government hypocrisy about its new nuclear reactor deal with China

January 8, 2021

Double standards on research cooperation with China, Independent Australia 4 January 2021,   The Government is hypocritical in its approval of Australia’s nuclear research body to work with China on the development of nuclear reactors, writes Noel Wauchope.

PRIME MINISTER Scott Morrison’s Liberal Coalition Government seems to remain in silent approval of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation’s (ANSTOpartnership with a Chinese company to develop Generation IV nuclear technologies such as small nuclear reactors.

But it’s a different story when it comes to the Morrison Government’s concern to put a stop to the Victorian Labor Government’s cooperation with China in developing agricultural, communications and medical research.

We hear very little about the Australian Government’s research connections with China, managed under the Australia-China Science and Research Fund (ACSRF), which has the aim of ‘supporting strategic science, technology and innovation collaboration of mutual benefit to Australia and China’.

One remarkable collaboration between Australia and China is in the strategic partnership between ANSTO and the Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics (SINAP) to develop the Thorium Molten Salt Nuclear Reactor (TMSR) and other Generation IV nuclear reactor designs.

In March 2019, Dr Adi Paterson, then CEO of ANSTO, welcomed renewal of this agreement and was reported as stating that it was “consistent with ANSTO and Australia’s interest in and support of Generation IV reactor systems”. This statement was made at a time when Australia’s federal and state laws clearly prohibited the development of nuclear reactors.

The Age quoted anonymous senior Federal Government sources who reveal that the Australian Government may use its powers to tear up a research agreement between the Victorian Government and China’s Jiangsu province. This agreement was signed in 2012 and renewed in 2019……….

The USA partly funds the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, which strongly advises against cooperative research with China. And, of course, Victorian Liberal Opposition leader Michael O’Brien was quick to join in the chorus, condemning the Labor Government for having the deal with China.

All this makes it all the more inexplicable as to why the Australian Government should have an agreement with China to develop nuclear reactors. Under federal law, Australia prohibits establishing nuclear installations.  ……..

There has been virtually no media coverage of Dr Adi Paterson’s deal with China, which goes back to 2015. I have previously written about this and the secrecy under which it was conducted.

Indeed, ANSTO’s operations and its funding have been conducted in secrecy, under the comfortable shroud of national security.

Right now, there is a move to corporatise the nuclear medicine facility at Lucas Heights as a separate entity to ANSTO. At the same time, the Government is in an unseemly rush to set up a nuclear waste dump near Kimba in South Australia. In the midst of all this came the sudden unexplained resignation of the CEO, Dr Adi Paterson.

The silence on all this is disturbing. It must be especially so for the small rural community of Kimba and for the Indigenous Title Holders as they wait in limbo for the vexed question of the nuclear waste dump to be solved. For the rest of South Australia, that is a concern, too. Victorians may well wonder why their medical research cooperation with China is seen as so dangerous. Meanwhile, is it okay for Australia’s nuclear research body, ANSTO, to work with China on the development of small nuclear reactors?,14664

South Australia’s Jim Whalley provides nonsensical and misleading propaganda, spruiking small nuclear reactors

November 3, 2020

A military industry enterprise senior adviser to SA State gov is spruiking pro-International Nuclear Waste multi-decadestorage (not disposal), claiming ‘free’ nuclear energy in future, wanting to sell uranium processed into fuel rods with contracted high-level nuclear waste ‘return’ to SA, this is propaganda, non-sense and misleading.

And, by the way, The Advertiser, a pro nuclear right-wing paper, runs a poll on this – but only subscribers to this biased rag, are able to vote.  Hardly suprising that they get a pro nuclear result!

Chief entrepreneur Jim Whalley urges free nuclear power in South Australia, Nuclear energy would link up with renewable powerhouses and turn SA into a hi-tech Mecca, our chief entrepreneur says. Paul Starick, Chief Reporter, The Advertiser, Subscriber only, November 2, 2020

Chief entrepreneur, Jim Whalley, urges SA look at providing free energy through a combination of renewable and nuclear fuel, capitalising on technology advances to use small reactors to power towns across the state.

Premier Steven Marshall’s hand-picked chief entrepreneur is urging SA to consider providing free energy by coupling nuclear power with renewables to exploit a “real, natural advantage”.

Jim Whalley says hi-tech small modular nuclear reactors could be used to power places such as Adelaide, Whyalla, Port Lincoln and Mt Gambier.

Mr Whalley, who was appointed South Australia’s first chief entrepreneur in 2018 and is tasked with positioning the state as a destination for innovation, said embracing all aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle was a great opportunity that should be re-examined.

Mr Whalley, the chairman of defence firm Nova Systems and a former fighter jet pilot, told an Advertiser virtual roundtable of business leaders his “big idea” to kickstart the state from a coronavirus-induced recession was to examine free energy.

“I think energy is a real natural advantage we should have. I’d like to see us looking at providing free energy,” he said.

“We should be able to do it with renewables. We can definitely do it if we get smart about nuclear. We’ve got 42 per cent of the world’s mineable uranium. Even if we don’t start using nuclear energy, we can at least start supplying fuel rods, bring them all back, so they’re not used in weapons and bits and pieces like that. I think that does need to be looked at again.

“On the renewable side, we’ve got wind, we’ve got solar, we’ve got batteries – we should be the petri dish for future energy, and I’d like to see us take a real step forward there.”

Mr Whalley said this would make SA extremely attractive for energy-intensive industries, such as aluminium production.

“With the technology the way it’s evolving now, that stuff that we bring back and store now in another 20 years will actually be able to be used again,” said Mr Whalley, whose chief entrepreneur role is unpaid.

In November 2016, Mr Marshall withdrew support for further study of the case for a high-level nuclear waste repository, with the Liberals citing serious risks on both revenue and cost sides of the business case produced for the royal commission.

Energy and Mining Minister Dan van Holst Pellekaan said the 2016 royal commission made it clear large nuclear power generators were not economically viable.

“Small modular reactors have been proposed for several years now, but have not yet been proven up or available,” he said. “If small modular reactors become available in the future, we will assess whether they might be appropriate for our needs.”

He said SA was becoming a clean energy exporter, resulting in cheaper power.


Small Nuclear Reactors economic? Sorry, that’s a mirage

June 24, 2020

Small modular reactor rhetoric hits a hurdle    Jim Green, 23 June 2020, The promotion of ‘small modular reactors’ (SMRs) in Australia has been disrupted by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO).

The latest GenCost report produced by the two agencies estimates a hopelessly uneconomic construction cost of A$16,304 per kilowatt (kW) for SMRs. But it throws the nuclear lobby a bone by hypothesising a drastic reduction in costs over the next decade.

The A$16,304 estimate has been furiously attacked by, amongst others, conservative politicians involved in a federal nuclear inquiry last year, and the Bright New World (BNW) nuclear lobby group.

The estimate has its origins in a commissioned report written by engineering company GHD. GHD provides the estimate without clearly explaining its origins or basis. And the latest CSIRO/AEMO report does no better than to state that the origins of the estimate are “unclear”.

Thus nuclear lobbyists have leapt on that muddle-headedness and filled the void with their own lowball estimates of SMR costs.

Real-world data

Obviously, the starting point for any serious discussion about SMR costs would be the cost of operational SMRs – ignored by CSIRO/AEMO and by lobbyists such as BNW.

There is just one operational SMR, Russia’s floating plant. Its estimated cost is US$740 million for a 70 MW plant.

That equates to A$15,200 per kW – similar to the CSIRO/AEMO estimate of A$16,304 per kW.

Over the course of construction, the cost quadrupled and a 2016 OECD Nuclear Energy Agency report said that electricity produced by the Russian floating plant is expected to cost about US$200 (A$288) per megawatt-hour (MWh) with the high cost due to large staffing requirements, high fuel costs, and resources required to maintain the barge and coastal infrastructure.

Figures on costs of SMRs under construction should also be considered – they are far more useful than the estimates of vendors and lobbyists, which invariably prove to be highly optimistic.

The World Nuclear Association states that the cost of China’s high-temperature gas-cooled SMR (HTGR) is US$6,000 (A$8,600) per kW.

Costs are reported to have nearly doubled, with increases arising from higher material and component costs, increases in labour costs, and increased costs associated with project delays.

The CAREM SMR under construction in Argentina illustrates the gap between SMR rhetoric and reality. In 2004, when the reactor was in the planning stage, Argentina’s Bariloche Atomic Center estimated an overnight cost of USS$1,000 per kW for an integrated 300-MW plant (while acknowledging that to achieve such a cost would be a “very difficult task”).

When construction began in 2014, the cost estimate was US$15,400 per kW (US$446 million / 29 MW). By April 2017, the cost estimate had increased US$21,900 (A$31,500) per kW (US$700 million / 32 MW).

To the best of my knowledge, no other figures on SMR construction costs are publicly available. So the figures are:

A$15,200 per kW for Russia’s light-water floating SMR

A$8,600 per kW for China’s HTGR

A$31,500 per kW for Argentina’s light-water SMR

The average of those figures is A$18,400 per kW, which is higher than the CSIRO/AEMO figure of A$16,304 per kW and double BNW’s estimate of A$9,132 per kW.

The CSIRO/AEMO report says that while there are SMRs under construction or nearing completion, “public cost data has not emerged from these early stage developments.” That simply isn’t true.

BNW’s imaginary reactor

BNW objects to CSIRO/AEMO basing their SMR cost estimate on a “hypothetical reactor”. But BNW does exactly the same, ignoring real-world cost estimates for SMRs under construction or in operation.

BNW starts with the estimate of US company NuScale Power, which hopes to build SMRs but hasn’t yet begun construction of a single prototype. BNW adds a 50% ‘loading’ in recognition of past examples of nuclear reactor cost overruns.

Thus BNW’s estimate for SMR construction costs is A$9,132 per kW.

Two big problems: NuScale’s cost estimate is bollocks, and BNW’s proposed 50% loading doesn’t fit the recent pattern of nuclear costs increasing by far greater amounts.

NuScale’s construction cost estimate of US$4,200 per kW is implausible. It is far lower than Lazard’s latest estimate of US$6,900-12,200 per kW for large reactors and far lower than the lowest estimate (US$12,300 per kW) of the cost of the two Vogtle AP1000 reactors under construction in Georgia (the only reactors under construction in the US).

NuScale’s estimate (per kW) is just one-third of the cost of the Vogtle plant – despite the unavoidable diseconomies of scale with SMRs and despite the fact that independent assessmentsconclude that SMRs will be more expensive to build (per kW) than large reactors.

Further, modular factory-line production techniques were trialled with the twin AP1000 Westinghouse reactor project in South Carolina – a project that was abandoned in 2017 after the expenditure of at least US$9 billion, bankrupting Westinghouse.

Lazard estimates a levelised cost of US$118-192 per MWh for electricity from large nuclear plants. NuScale estimates a cost of US$65 per MWh for power from its first plant. Thus NuScale claims that its electricity will be 2-3 times cheaper than that from large nuclear plants, which is implausible.

And even if NuScale achieved its cost estimate, it would still be higher than Lazard’s figures for wind power (US$28-54) and utility-scale solar (US$32-44). BNW claims that the CSIRO/AEMO levelised cost estimate of A$258-338 per MWh for SMRs is an “extreme overestimate”.

But an analysis by WSP / Parsons Brinckerhoff, prepared for the SA Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission, estimated a cost of A$225 per MWh for a reactor based on the NuScale design, which is far closer to the CSIRO/AEMO estimate than it is to BNW’s estimate of A$123-128 per MWh with the potential to fall as low as A$60.

Cost overruns

BNW proposes adding a 50% ‘loading’ to NuScale’s cost estimate in recognition of past examples of reactor cost overruns, and claims that it is basing its calculations on “a first-of-a-kind vendor estimate [NuScale’s] with the maximum uncertainly associated with the Class of the estimate.” Huh?

The general pattern is that early vendor estimates underestimate true costs by an order of magnitude, while estimates around the time of initial construction underestimate true costs by a factor of 2-4.

Here are some recent examples of vastly greater cost increases than BNW allows for:

* The estimated cost of the HTGR under construction in China has nearly doubled.

 The cost of Russia’s floating SMR quadrupled.

* The estimated cost of Argentina’s SMR has increased 22-fold above early, speculative estimates and the cost increased by 66% from 2014, when construction began, to 2017.

* The cost estimate for the Vogtle project in US state of Georgia (two AP1000 reactors) has doubled to more than US$13.5 billion per reactor and will increase further. In 2006, Westinghouse said it could build an AP1000 reactor for as little as US1.4 billion – 10 times lower than the current estimate for Vogtle.

* The estimated combined cost of the two EPR reactors under construction in the UK, including finance costs, is £26.7 billion (the EU’s 2014 estimate of £24.5 billion plus a £2.2 billion increase announced in July 2017). In the mid-2000s, the estimated construction cost for one EPR reactor in the UK was £2 billion, almost seven times lower than the current estimate.

* The estimated cost of about €12.4 billion for the only reactor under construction in France is 3.8 times greater than the original €3.3 billion estimate.

* The estimated cost of about €11 billion for the only reactor under construction in Finland is 3.7 times greater than the original €3 billion estimate.


BNW notes that timelines for deployment and construction are “extremely material” in terms of the application of learning rates to capital expenditure.

BNW objected to the previous CSIRO/AEMO estimate of five years for construction of an SMR and proposed a “more probable” three-year estimate as well as an assumption that NuScale’s first reactor will begin generating power in 2026 even though construction has not yet begun.

For reasons unexplained, CSIRO/AEMO also assume a three-year construction period in their latest report, and for reasons unexplained the operating life of an SMR is halved from 60 years to 30 years.

None of the real-world evidence supports the arguments about construction timelines:

* The construction period for the only operational SMR, Russia’s floating plant, was 12.5 years.

* Argentina’s CAREM SMR was conceived in the 1980s, construction began in 2014, the 2017 start-up date was missed and subsequent start-up dates were missed.

If the current schedule for a 2023 start-up is met it will be a nine-year construction project rather than the three years proposed by CSIRO/AEMO and BNW for construction of an SMR.

Last year, work on the CAREM SMR was suspended, with Techint Engineering & Construction asking Argentina’s National Atomic Energy Commission to take urgent measures to mitigate the project’s serious financial breakdown. In April 2020, Argentina’s energy minister announced that work on CAREM would resume.

* Construction of China’s HTGR SMR began in 2012, the 2017 start-up date was missed, and if the targeted late-2020 start-up is met it will be an eight-year construction project.

* NuScale Power has been trying to progress its SMR ambitions for over a decade and hasn’t yet begun construction of a single prototype reactor.

* The two large reactors under construction in the US are 5.5 years behind schedule and those under construction in France and Finland are 10 years behind schedule.

* In 2007, EDF boasted that Britons would be using electricity from an EPR reactor at Hinkley Point to cook their Christmas turkeys in December 2017 – but construction didn’t even begin until December 2018.

Learning rates

In response to relentless attacks from far-right politicians and lobby groups such as BNW, the latest CSIRO/AEMO GenCost report makes the heroic assumption that SMR costs will fall from A$16,304 per kW to as little as A$7,140 per kW in 2030, with the levelised cost anywhere between A$129 and A$336 per MWh.

The report states that SMRs were assigned a “higher learning rate (more consistent with an emerging technology) rather than being included in a broad nuclear category, with a low learning rate consistent with more mature large scale nuclear.”

But there’s no empirical basis, nor any logical basis, for the learning rate assumed in the report. The cost reduction assumes that large numbers of SMRs will be built, and that costs will come down as efficiencies are found, production capacity is scaled up, etc.

Large numbers of SMRs being built? Not according to expert opinion. A 2017 Lloyd’s Register report was based on the insights of almost 600 professionals and experts from utilities, distributors, operators and equipment manufacturers, who predicted that SMRs have a “low likelihood of eventual take-up, and will have a minimal impact when they do arrive”.

A 2014 report produced by Nuclear Energy Insider, drawing on interviews with more than 50 “leading specialists and decision makers”, noted a “pervasive sense of pessimism” about the future of SMRs.

Last year, the North American Project Director for Nuclear Energy Insider said that there “is unprecedented growth in companies proposing design alternatives for the future of nuclear, but precious little progress in terms of market-ready solutions.”

Will costs come down in the unlikely event that SMRs are built in significant numbers? For large nuclear reactors, the experience has been either a very slow learning rate with modest cost decreases, or a negative learning rate.

If everything went astonishingly well for SMRs, it would take several rounds of learning to drastically cut costs to A$7,140 per kW. Several rounds of SMR construction by 2030, as assumed in the most optimistic scenario in the CSIRO/AEMO report?

Obviously not. The report notes that it would take many years to achieve economies, but then ignores its own advice:

“Constructing first-of-a-kind plant includes additional unforeseen costs associated with lack of experience in completing such projects on budget. SMR will not only be subject to first-of-a-kind costs in Australia but also the general engineering principle that building plant smaller leads to higher costs. SMRs may be able to overcome the scale problem by keeping the design of reactors constant and producing them in a series. This potential to modularise the technology is likely another source of lower cost estimates. However, even in the scenario where the industry reaches a scale where small modular reactors can be produced in series, this will take many years to achieve and therefore is not relevant to estimates of current costs (using our definition).”

Even with heroic assumptions resulting in CSIRO/AEMO’s low-cost estimate of A$129 per MWh for SMRs in 2030, the cost is still far higher than the low-cost estimates for wind with two hours of battery storage (A$64), wind with six hours of pumped hydro storage (A$86), solar PV with two hours of battery storage (A$52) or solar PV with six hours of pumped hydro storage (A$84).

And the CSIRO/AEMO high-cost estimate for SMRs in 2030 ($336 per MWh) is more than double the high estimates for solar PV or wind with 2-6 hours of storage (A$90-151).

Reality bats last

 The economic claims of SMR enthusiasts are sharply contradicted by real-world data.

And their propaganda campaign simply isn’t working – government funding and private-sector funding is pitiful when measured against the investments required to build SMR prototypes let alone fleets of SMRs and the infrastructure that would allow for mass production of SMR components.

Wherever you look, there’s nothing to justify the hype of SMR enthusiasts.

Argentina’s stalled SMR program is a joke. Plans for 18 additional HTGRs at the same site as the demonstration plant in China have been “dropped” according to the World Nuclear Association.

Russia planned to have seven floating nuclear power plants by 2015, but only recently began operation of its first plant. South Korea won’t build any of its domestically-designed SMART SMRs in South Korea – “this is not practical or economic” according to the World Nuclear Association – and plans to establish an export market for SMART SMRs depend on a wing and a prayer … and on Saudi oil money which is currently in short supply.

‘Reality bats last’, nuclear advocate Barry Brook used to say a decade ago when a nuclear ‘renaissance’ was in full-swing.

The reality is that the renaissance was short-lived, and global nuclear capacity fell by 0.6 gigawatts last year while renewable capacity increased by a record 201 gigawatts.

Dr. Jim Green is the national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth Australia and editor of the Nuclear Monitor newsletter.

USA desperate to sell Small Modular Nuclear Reactors to Australia?

November 20, 2019

Australia is the great ‘white’ hope for the global nuclear industry, Independent Australia, By Noel Wauchope | 19 November 2019, The global nuclear industry is in crisis but that doesn’t stop the pro-nuclear lobby from peddling exorbitantly expensive nuclear as a “green alternative”. Noel Wauchope reports.

The global nuclear industry is in crisis. Well, in the Western world, anyway. It is hard to get a clear picture of  Russia and China, who appear to be happy putting developing nations into debt, as they market their nuclear reactors overseas with very generous loans — it helps to have stte-owned companies funding this effort.

But when it comes to Western democracies, where the industry is supposed to be commercially viable, there’s trouble. The latest news from S&P Global Ratings has made it plain: nuclear power can survive only with massive tax-payer support. Existing large nuclear  reactors need subsidies to continue, while the expense of building new ones has scared off investors.

So, for the nuclear lobby, ultimate survival seems to depend on developing and mass marketing “Generation IV” small and medium reactors (SMRs). …..

for the U.S. marketers, Australia, as a politically stable English-speaking ally, is a particularly desirable target. Australia’s geographic situation has advantages. One is the possibility of making Australia a hub for taking in radioactive wastes from South-East Asian countries. That’s a long-term goal of the global nuclear lobby.   …..

In particular, small nuclear reactors are marketed for submarines. That’s especially important now, as a new type of non-nuclear submarine – the Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) submarine, faster and much cheaper – could be making nuclear submarines obsolete. The Australian nuclear lobby is very keen on nuclear submarines: they are now promoting SMRs with propagandists such as Heiko Timmers, from Australian National University. This is an additional reason why Australia is the great white hope.

I use the word “white” advisedly here because Australia has a remarkable history of distrust and opposition to this industry form Indigenous Australians…..

The hunt for a national waste dump site is one problematic side of the nuclear lobby’s push for Australia. While accepted international policy on nuclear waste storage is that the site should be as near as possible to the point of production, the Australian Government’s plan is to set up a temporary site for nuclear waste, some 1700 km from its production at Lucas Heights. The other equally problematic issue is how to gain political and public support for the industry, which is currently banned by both Federal and state laws. SMR companies like NuScale are loath to spend money on winning hearts and minds in Australia while nuclear prohibition laws remain.

Ziggy Switkowski, a long-time promoter of the nuclear industry, has now renewed this campaign — although he covers himself well, in case it all goes bad, noting that nuclear energy for Australia could be a “catastrophic failure“. ……

his submission (No. 41) to the current Federal Inquiry into nuclear power sets out only one aim, that

‘… all obstacles … be removed to the consideration of nuclear power as part of the national energy strategy debate.’

So the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act) should be changed, according to Switkowski. In an article in The Australian, NSW State Liberal MP Taylor Martin suggested that the Federal and state laws be changed to prohibit existing forms of nuclear power technology but to allow small modular reactors.

Switkowski makes it clear that the number one goal of the nuclear lobby is to remove Australia’s national and state laws that prohibit the nuclear industry. And, from reading many pro-nuclear submissions to the Federal Inquiry, this emerges as their most significant aim.

It does not appear that the Australian public is currently all agog about nuclear power. So, it does seem a great coincidence that so many of their representatives in parliaments – Federal, VictorianNew South WalesSouth Australia and members of a new party in Western Australia – are now advocating nuclear inquiries, leading to the repeal of nuclear prohibition laws.

We can only conclude that this new, seemingly coincidental push to overturn Australia’s nuclear prohibition laws, is in concert with the push for a national nuclear waste dump in rural South Australia — part of the campaign by the global nuclear industry, particularly the American industry, to kickstart another “nuclear renaissance”, before it’s too late.

Despite its relatively small population, Australia does “punch above its weight” in terms of its international reputation and as a commercial market. The repeal of Australia’s laws banning the nuclear industry would be a very significant symbol for much-needed new credibility for the pro-nuclear lobby. It would open the door for a clever publicity drive, no doubt using “action on climate change” as the rationale for developing nuclear power.

In the meantime, Australia has abundant natural resources for sun, wind and wave energy, and could become a leader in the South-East Asian region for developing and exporting renewable energy — a much quicker and more credible way to combat global warming.,13326

Small Modular Nuclear Reactors – a REALLY bad idea for Australia

August 17, 2019

7 reasons why Small Modular Nuclear Reactors are a bad idea for Australia,,13010  

International news reports that, in a failed missile test in Russia, a small nuclear reactor blew up,  killing five nuclear scientists, and releasing a radiation spike.

In Australian news, with considerably less media coverage, Parliament announced an Inquiry into nuclear energy for Australia, with an emphasis on Small Modular Reactors (SMRs). Submissions are due by September 16.

A bit of background.  The U.S. government and the U.S. nuclear industry are very keen to develop and export small modular nuclear reactors for two main reasons, both explained in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2018     Firstly, with the decline of large nuclear reactors, there is a need to maintain the technology and the expertise, trained staff, necessary to support the nuclear weapons industry. Secondly, the only hope for commercial viability of small nuclear reactors is in exporting them – the domestic market is too small.  So – Australia is seen as a desirable market.

The USA motivation for exporting these so far non-existent prefabricated reactors is clear.  The motivation of their Australian promoters is not so clear.

These are the main reasons why it would be a bad idea for Australia to import small modular nuclear reactors.

  1. COST.Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University’s Department of Engineering and Public Policy concluded that the SMR industry would not be viable unless the industry received “several hundred billion dollars of direct and indirect subsidies” over the next several decades. For a company to invest in a factory to manufacture reactors, they’d need to be sure of a real market for them – Australia would have to commit to a strong investment up front.

The diseconomics of scale make SMRs more expensive than large reactors.  A 250 MW SMR will generate 25 percent as much power as a 1,000 MW reactor, but it will require more than 25 percent of the material inputs and staffing, and a number of other costs including waste management and decommissioning will be proportionally higher.

study by WSP / Parsons Brinckerhoff, commissioned by the 2015/16 South Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission, estimated costs of A$180‒184/MWh (US$127‒130) for large pressurised water reactors and boiling water reactors, compared to A$198‒225 (US$140‒159) for SMRs.

To have any hope of being economically viable, SMRs would have to be mass produced and deployed, and here is a “Catch-22″  problem The economics of mass production of SMRs cannot be proven until hundreds of units are in operation. But that can’t happen unless there are hundreds of orders, and there will be few takers unless the price can be brought down. Huge government subsidy is therefore required

  1. Safety problems. Small nuclear reactors still have the same kinds of safety needsas large ones have. The heat generated by the reactor core must be removed both under normal and accident conditions, to keep the fuel from overheating, becoming damaged, and releasing radioactivity.   The passive natural circulation coolingcould be effective under many conditions, but not under all accident conditions. For instance, for the NuScale design a large earthquake could send concrete debris into the pool, obstructing circulation of water or air.  Where there are a number of units, accidents affecting more than one small unit may cause complications that could overwhelm the capacity to cope with multiple failures.

Because SMRs have weaker containment systems than current reactors, there would be greater damage if a hydrogen explosion occurred.  A secondary containment structure would prevent large-scale releases of radioactivity in case of a severe accident.  But that would make individual SMR units unaffordable. The result?  Companies like NuScale now move to projects called “Medium” nuclear reactors – with 12 units under a single containment structure.  Not really small anymore.

Underground siting is touted as a safety solution, to avoid aircraft attacks and earthquakes. But that increases the risks from flooding.  In the event of an accident emergency crews could have greater difficulty accessing underground reactors.


Proponents of SMRs argue that they can be deployed safely both as a fleet of units close to cities, or as individual units in remote locations. In all cases, they’d have to operate under a global regulatory framework, which is going to mean expensive security arrangements and a level of security staffing.  ‘Economies of scale’ don’t necessarily work, when it comes to staffing small reactors.   SMRs will, anyway, need a larger number of workers to generate a kilowatt of electricity than large reactors need.  In the case of security staffing, this becomes important both in a densely populated area, and in an isolated one.

  1. Weapons Proliferation.

The latest news on the Russian explosion is a dramatic illustration of the connection between SMRs and weapons development.

But not such a surprise. SMRs have always had this connection, beginning in the nuclear weapons industry, in powering U.S. nuclear submarines. They were used in UK to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. Today, the U.S. Department of Energy plans to use SMRs  as part of “dual use” facilities, civilian and military. SMRs contain radioactive materials, produce radioactive wastes – could be taken, used part of the production of a “dirty bomb” The Pentagon’s Project Dilithium’s small reactors may run on Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) , nuclear weapons fuel – increasing these risks.

It is now openly recognised that the nuclear weapons industry needs the technology development and the skilled staff that are provided by the “peaceful” nuclear industry. The connection is real, but it’s blurred.  The nuclear industry needs the “respectability” that is conferred by new nuclear, with its claims of “safe, clean, climate-solving” energy.

  1. Wastes.

SMRs are designed to produce less radioactive trash than current reactors. But they still produce long-lasting nuclear wastes, and in fact, for SMRs this is an even more complex problem. Australia already has the problem of spent nuclear fuel waste, accumulating in one place – from the nuclear reactor at Lucas Heights.  With SMRs adopted, the waste would be located in many sites, with each location having  the problem of transport to a disposal facility.  Final decommissioning of all these reactors would compound this problem.   In the case of underground reactors, there’d be further difficulties with waste retrieval, and site rehabilitation.

6. Location. 

I have touched on this, in the paragraphs on safety, security, and waste problems.  The nuclear enthusiasts are excited about the prospects for small reactors in remote places. After all, aren’t some isolated communities already having success with small, distributed solar and wind energy?   It all sounds great. But it isn’t.

With Australia’s great distances, it would be difficult to monitor and ensure the security of such a potentially dangerous system, of many small reactors scattered about on this continent. Nuclear is an industry that is already struggling to attract qualified staff, with a large percentage of skilled workers nearing retirement. The logistics of operating these reactors, meeting regulatory and inspection requirements, maintaining security staff would make the whole thing not just prohibitively expensive, but completely impractical.

  1. Delay. 

 For Australia, this has to be the most salient point of all. Economist John Quiggin has pointed out that Australia’s nuclear fans are enthusing about small modular nuclear reactors, but with no clarity on which, of the many types now designed, would be right for Australia.  NuScale’s model, funded by the U.S. government, is the only one at present with commercial prospects, so Quiggin has examined its history of delays.   But Quiggin found that NuScale is not actually going to build the factory: it is going to assemble the reactor parts, these having been made by another firm, – and which firm is not clear.  Quiggin concludes:

Australia’s proposed nuclear strategy rests on a non-existent plant to be manufactured by a company that apparently knows nothing about it.

As  there’s no market for small nuclear reactors, companies have not invested much money to commercialise them. Westinghouse Electric Company tried for years to get government funding for its SMR plan, then gave up, and switched to other projects. Danny Roderick, then president and CEO of Westinghouse, announced:

The problem I have with SMRs is not the technology, it’s not the deployment ‒ it’s that there’s no customers. … The worst thing to do is get ahead of the market. 

Russia’s  programme  has been delayed by more than a decade and the estimated costs have ballooned.

South Korea decided on SMRs, but then pulled out, presumably for economic reasons.

China is building one demonstration SMR, but has dropped plans to build 18 more, due to diseconomics of the scheme.

There’s a lot of chatter in the international media, about all the countries that are interested, or even have signed memoranda of understanding about buying SMRs, but still with no plans for actual purchase or construction.

Is Australia going to be the guinea pig for NuScale’s Small and Medium Reactor scheme?  If so,when?  The hurdles to overcome would be mind-boggling. The start would have to be the repeal of Australia’s laws – the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999 Section 140A and Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act 1998. Then comes the overcoming of States’ laws, much political argy-bargy, working out regulatory frameworks, import and transport of nuclear materials, – finding locations for siting reactors, – Aboriginal issues-community consent,  waste locations.  And what would it all cost?

And, in the meantime, energy efficiency developments, renewable energy progress, storage systems – will keep happening, getting cheaper, and making nuclear power obsolete.

Pushing the fantasy of Small Modular NUCLEAR Reactors (SMRs) to rural Australia

December 11, 2017

Volunteers wanted – to house small modular nuclear reactors in Australia,Online Opinion,  Noel Wauchope , 11 Dec 17, 

We knew that the Australian government was looking for volunteers in outback South Australia, to take the radioactive trash from Lucas Heights and some other sites, (and not having an easy time of it). But oh dear– we had no idea that the search for hosting new (untested) nuclear reactors was on too!

Well, The Australian newspaper has just revealed this extraordinary news, in its article “Want a nuclear reactor in your backyard? Step this way” (28/11/17). Yes, it turns out that a Sydney-based company, SMR Nuclear Technology, plans to secure volunteers and a definite site within three years. If all goes well, Australia’s Small Modular Reactors will be in operation by 2030.

Only, there are obstacles. Even this enthusiastic article does acknowledge one or two of them. One is the need to get public acceptance of these so far non-existent new nuclear reactors. SMR director Robert Pritchard is quoted as saying that interest in these reactors is widespread. He gives no evidence for this.

The other is that the construction and operation of a nuclear power plant in Australia is prohibited by both commonwealth and state laws.

But there are issues, and other obstacles that are not addressed on this article. A vital question is: does SMR Nuclear Technology intend to actually build the small reactors in Australia, or more likely, merely assemble them from imported modular parts – a sort of nuclear Lego style operation?

If it is to be the latter, there will surely be a delay of probably decades. Development of SMRs is stalled, in USA due to strict safety regulations, and in UK, due to uncertainties, especially the need for public subsidy. That leaves China, where the nuclear industry is government funded, and even there, development of SMRs is still in its infancy.

As to the former, it is highly improbable that an Australian company would have the necessary expertise, resources, and funding, to design and manufacture nuclear reactors of any size. The overseas companies now planning small reactors are basing their whole enterprise on the export market. Indeed, the whole plan for “modular” nuclear reactors is about mass production and mass marketing of SMRs -to be assembled in overseas countries. That is accepted as the only way for the SMR industry to be commercially successful. Australia looks like a desirable customer for the Chinese industry, the only one that looks as if it might go ahead, at present,

If, somehow, the SMR Technologies’ plan is to go ahead, the other obstacles remain.

The critical one is of course economics. …….

Other issues of costs and safety concern the transport of radioactive fuels to the reactors, and of radioactive waste management. The nuclear industry is very fond of proclaiming that wastes from small thorium reactors would need safe disposal and guarding for “only 300 years”. Just the bare 300!

The Australian Senate is currently debating a Bill introduced by Cory Bernardi, to remove Australia’s laws prohibiting nuclear power development. The case put by SMR Technologies, as presented in The Australian newspaper is completely inadequate. The public deserves a better examination of this plan for Small Modular Reactors SMRS. And why do they leave out the operative word “Nuclear” -because it is so on the nose with the public?

Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) signs up to develop nuclear reactors

September 25, 2017

Noel Wauchope, 20 Sept 17, Now, many weeks after Australia signing up to the Framework Agreement For Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems, the public is informed of this. I found it at the bottom of page 23  of the print version of The Age today.  Why haven’t we heard about this before?

 How is it that Dr Adi Paterson of ANSTO signed up to this, in advance of Parliamentary approval, and that the whole thing can be done without any proper public consultation? Australian tax-payers are now to be supporting the development of these new dreams of nuclear power –  advanced nuclear reactors that exist now only as blueprints, and will be expensive, require government funding, and will not be commercially operational for many decades, if ever.
Surely it is time for a thorough inquiry into ANSTO’s funding and finances. The New Generation nuclear reactors are controversial, to say the least. They are in fact, part of the global nuclear lobby’s push to save itself –  its future being threatened by its dire economics, and by its connection to the nuclear weapons industry.
The Australian media is regularly used to promote ANSTO’s nuclear reactor as having as its purpose “medical research”  and “medical isotopes saving lives” – despite the fact that non nuclear production of these isotopes can be, and is, being done.  The reality is that ANSTO is part of the global nuclear industry lobby, and its reactor produces long-lasting radioactive wastes and it should be shut down.

I couldn’t find it on The Age online.  The print version, 19 Sept 17 – small article at the bottom of page 23:

Australia joins nuclear research club,  by Cole Latimer
Australia has officially joined an international group focused on developing future nuclear energy systems, The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation has been welcomed into the Generation IV International Forum Framework, which aims to develop next generation nuclear power systems, and which ANSTO calls “a potential game-changer in global energy creation”.
Although Australia joined the GIF charter last year, the event marked the  country’s official accession to the nuclear framework agreement, which is focused on six different nuclear reactor designs that provide poeer and “stringent standards in relation to safety and non proliferation”.
However, ANSTO stated that this was not about  advancing the cause of nuclear energy in Australia’s current energy mix: instead it was about utilisingAustralian skills in research and development.
“Australia has no nuclear power program, but we do have significant local expertise in next generation research, which is what this partnership is about”  ANSTO chief executive officer Adi Paterson said.
ANSTO will leverage our world class capabilities, particularly in relation to the development of advanced materials and with applications in extreme industrial environments, and of nuclear safety cases.
“This agreement will enable Australia to contribute to an international group focused on peaceful use of nuclear technology, and the international energy systems of the future”
An ANSTO spokesman said Australia was a world leader in terms of nculear safety, “due to the high levels of oversight and paperwork required” to operate.
GIF is a co-operative of 14 nations led by France, a country where nuclear power accounts for  nearly 75% of energy generation. This reliance on nuclear energy has helped the nation slash its carbon emissions.