Archive for the ‘technology’ Category

Jim Green debunks the hype about Generation IV “new nuclear”

September 4, 2017

James Hansen’s Generation IV nuclear fallacies and fantasies, REneweconomy, Jim Green, 28 Aug 2017,

The two young co-founders of nuclear engineering start-up Transatomic Power were embarrassed earlier this year when their claims about their molten salt reactor design were debunked, forcing some major retractions.

The claims of MIT nuclear engineering graduates Leslie Dewan and Mark Massie were trumpeted in MIT’s Technology Review under the headline, ‘What if we could build a nuclear reactor that costs half as much, consumes nuclear waste, and will never melt down?’

MIT physics professor Kord Smith debunked a number of Transatomic’s key claims. Smith says he asked Transatomic to run a test which, he says, confirmed that “their claims were completely untrue.”

Kennedy Maize wrote about Transatomic’s troubles in Power Magazine: “[T]his was another case of technology hubris, an all-to-common malady in energy, where hyperbolic claims are frequent and technology journalists all too credulous.” Pro-nuclear commentator Dan Yurman said that “other start-ups with audacious claims are likely to receive similar levels of scrutiny” and that it “may have the effect of putting other nuclear energy entrepreneurs on notice that they too may get the same enhanced levels of analysis of their claims.”

Well, yes, others making false claims about Generation IV reactor concepts might receive similar levels of scrutiny … or they might not. Arguably the greatest sin of the Transatomic founders was not that they inadvertently made false claims, but that they are young, and in Dewan’s case, female. Ageing men seem to have a free pass to peddle as much misinformation as they like without the public shaming that the Transatomic founders have been subjected to. A case in point is climate scientist James Hansen ‒ you’d struggle to find any critical commentary of his nuclear misinformation outside the environmental and anti-nuclear literature.

Hansen states that 115 new reactor start-ups would be required each year to 2050 to replace fossil fuel electricity generation ‒ a total of about 4,000 reactors. Let’s assume that Generation IV reactors do the heavy lifting, and let’s generously assume that mass production of Generation IV reactors begins in 2030. That would necessitate about 200 reactor start-ups per year from 2030 to 2050 ‒ or four every week. Good luck with that.

Moreover, the assumption that mass production of Generation IV reactors might begin in or around 2030 is unrealistic. A report by a French government authority, the Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety, states: “There is still much R&D to be done to develop the Generation IV nuclear reactors, as well as for the fuel cycle and the associated waste management which depends on the system chosen.”

Likewise, a US Government Accountability Office report on the status of small modular reactors (SMRs) and other ‘advanced’ reactor concepts in the US concluded: “Both light water SMRs and advanced reactors face additional challenges related to the time, cost, and uncertainty associated with developing, certifying or licensing, and deploying new reactor technology, with advanced reactor designs generally facing greater challenges than light water SMR designs. It is a multi-decade process …”

An analysis recently published in the peer-reviewed literature found that the US government has wasted billions of dollars on Generation IV R&D with little to show for it. Lead researcher Dr Ahmed Abdulla, from the University of California, said that “despite repeated commitments to non-light water reactors, and substantial investments … (more than $2 billion of public money), no such design is remotely ready for deployment today.”……  , http://reneweconomy.com.au/james-hansens-generation-iv-nuclear-fallacies-fantasies-70309/

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Only the Australian Greens have the courage to reject ANSTO’s push for new nuclear reactors

June 25, 2017
Dissenting Report – Australian Greens, Senator Sarah Hanson-Young Australian Greens Senator, 
While not always supporting the outcomes, the Australian Greens have acknowledged previous JSCOT inquiries on nuclear issues for their diligence and prudence. We are disappointed on this occasion to submit a dissenting report into the Generation IV Nuclear Energy Accession. The inquiry process into the Framework Agreement for International Collaboration on Research and Development of Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems has been unduly rushed and lacked adequate public hearings or detailed analysis and reflection of public submissions. This is particularly disturbing given that this inquiry relates to public spending for an undefined period of time towards a technology that is prohibited in Australia.
The Australian Greens’ dissent to Report 171 (Section 4: Generation IV Nuclear Energy Accession) is based on a range of grounds, including:
The lack of transparency regarding the costs to the Australian taxpayer over an undefined period of time;
The technology that this agreement relates to is prohibited under Australian law and its promotion is inconsistent with the public and national interest;
The lack of consideration of the global energy trends away from nuclear technology;
The lack of procedural fairness in refusing adequate public hearings and consideration of public submissions;
An unjustified reliance on the submissions from the highly partisan Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO). The Australian Greens note that ANSTO is not a disinterested party in this policy arena. Furthermore, ANSTO has made a number of unfounded assertions, particularly regarding the Agreement’s impact on Australia’s standing on nuclear non-proliferation.

Unchecked capacity and resourcing

The timeframe for the agreement is loosely stated as being between 10 and 40 years. Over this period there is a commitment for Australia to pledge resources and capacity at the expense of Australian taxpayers. In exchange for this undefined public expense for an undefined period of time, there is no clear public benefit – given that the technology is, properly and popularly, prohibited in this country.
Point 4.20 states that the Framework is in essence about spreading the significant costs associated with the development of Generation IV reactors. In public submissions made to JSCOT there are detailed cost estimates for individual projects that are all in the range of billions of dollars. There have been numerous delays, cost constraints and problems with the various types of reactors described as Generation IV. While some countries continue to pursue this technology, there is no clear end-game in sight and many nations are stepping away from this sector. Most Generation IV reactors only exist on paper while some others are modified plans of expensive failed projects but are still just conceptual.
It is understandable that countries who are invested in Generation IV would seek to transfer costs and inflate the potential benefits. It is unreasonable, however, for a Government agency to commit Australian resources to fund and develop this technology which is decades away from being anything more than a concept.
ANSTO submits in the National Interest Analysis that the “costs of participation in the Systems Arrangements will be borne by ANSTO from existing funds”. The Australian Greens note that in the last financial year ANSTO reported a loss of $200 million (including $156 million in subsidies). The commitment of funds and resourcing from an agency that operates with an existing deficit that is already funded by the Australian people is fiscally irresponsible and has not been investigated through the JSCOT process.
The Australian Greens maintain that there is a particular need for the rationale of any contested public expenditure to be rigorously tested. Sadly, this Committee has failed in this role.
Point 4.24 of the report states that “Australia was required to demonstrate that it could contribute to the research and development goals of the GIF” yet the inquiry process failed to establish exactly what form those contributions will take and the cost of those contributions to the Australian people.

Prohibited Technology

Point 4.39 on the question of nuclear power in Australia brushes aside the fundamental issue that the future of nuclear energy in Australia is entirely dependent on changing Commonwealth laws.
Report 171 section 4 fails to acknowledge that the technology in question is prohibited under two separate pieces of Commonwealth legislation:
Section 37J of the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999;
Section 10 of the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act 1998.
These Acts reflect considered positions, public opinion and the environmental and economic risk associated with nuclear technology which has repeatedly proved to be dangerous and expensive. The position reflected in these laws has been repeatedly reiterated in subsequent Government reports into the technology and prospects for development in Australia. For example:
The Switkowski Report – Uranium Mining, Processing, and Nuclear Energy – opportunities for Australia? (2006)
The Australian Power Generation Technology Report – Summary (Nov 2015)
Department of Energy and Science Energy White Paper (2015)
Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission (South Australia) (May 2016)
These reports all arrive at the same conclusion: that there is no case to develop nuclear power in Australia, albeit for different reasons. These reasons include costs, time constraints, legal constraints, public opposition, restrictions on availability of water and other environmental factors.

Lack of Procedural Fairness and over reliance on evidence from ANSTO

ANSTO has pursued this agreement, signed the agreement, will be responsible for enacting the agreement, drove the National Interest Analysis and were the only agency invited to present at a hearing. This agency is publicly funded, has run at a deficit, and is seeking to further commit Australian resources to a technology that is not only unpopular but is prohibited under Australian legislation.
There is a wide range of experts and public interest groups who have lodged detailed submissions and requested an audience with the Committee to offer some scrutiny and balance to the highly selective view of Generation IV options presented by ANSTO.
These submissions are barely mentioned in Report 171 and additional public hearings were denied. This level secrecy and denial of procedural fairness is of grave concern and, while out of character for JSCOT, is very much in line with the secrecy synonymous with ANSTO and the wider nuclear industry.

Australia’s accessibility to nuclear technology and standing on nuclear non-proliferation

ANSTO claim in the NIA that a failure to accede “would impede Australia’s ability to remain constructively engaged in international nuclear activities and would limit our ability to forge links with international experts at a time when a significant expansion in nuclear power production is underway……. It would diminish Australia’s standing in international nuclear non-proliferation and our ability to influence international nuclear policy developments in accordance with our national economic and security interests.”
The Australian Greens understand that Australia currently pays $10 million per annum to the International Atomic Energy Agency which grants us access to the safety and regulatory fora and to publicly published research. Where there is a commercial interest in the technology this would no doubt be made available to Australia at a price – but a price not borne by the taxpayer in this crude subsidy by stealth proposed in report 171 (Section 4).
Claims that our failure to accede would somehow diminish our standing on nuclear non-proliferation are absurd. While the industry might promote Generation IV as addressing issues of nuclear non-proliferation there is little concrete evidence that it can or ever would be done. It was the same promise industry proponents made about Generation III reactors and failed to deliver.
Australia’s standing on nuclear non-proliferation is currently being diminished because this Government is actively boycotting the current UN process supported by 132 nations on negotiating a treaty to ban nuclear weapons, not because our country has not been funding research into nuclear power.
The Australian Greens fundamentally dissent from this Committee’s findings and believe that no compelling or credible case has been made to proceed with the treaty action. Rushed, limited and opaque decision making processes are a poor basis for public funding allocations in a contested policy arena.

Australia’s Parliamentary Inquiry in Generation IV nuclear reactors: analysing submissions

May 25, 2017

Should Australia invest funds and resources in developing Generation IV nuclear reactors? Online opinion, 

By Noel Wauchope, 23 May 2017 Without any fanfare, with no media coverage, Australia’s Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCOT) is presently considering Australia signing up to the International Framework for Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems (GIF), which will commit this nation to take part in developing new nuclear reactors.Dr Adi Paterson, CEO of the Australia Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, signed up to this GIF Framework last year. However, that does require confirmation by the Australian government. Hence there was the need for the JSCOT Committee to at least take a look at it, before the government completes the membership. Apparently there is no need for public discussion, or probably even Parliamentary discussion.

This Committee very quietly invited submissions, and very few were in the know about this. Now the received submissions have been published – at http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Joint/Treaties/NuclearEnergy/Submissions.

Anyway, it looks as if ANSTO is the driving force behind this process, and judging by the submissions received, the nuclear lobby was in the know, even if the public was not. Fourteen submissions were received. Of these, eleven were strongly pro- nuclear, and three were opposed. The opposing submissions came from Friends of the Earth (FOE), (jointly with the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF ), Medical Association For The Prevention of War (MAPW), and myself, (I came upon the Parliamentary website just by chance).

In assessing these submissions, of course, I have to admit to bias on my part. Still, I think that any reader would find that there is one submission that stands out for clarity, and a detailed, factual discussion of the GIF plan. That is the one written by Jim Green and Dave Sweeney, for FOE and ACF.

Green and Sweeney respond to assertions made in ANSTO’s National Interest Analysis. They question claims that the new reactors reduce weapons proliferation risks, are economic, efficient, and solve waste problems. They rebuke the claim of ANSTO that “a significant expansion in nuclear power production is underway “, listing the overall decline in nuclear power growth, with the exception of China. They discuss at length the very long time frame expected even by nuclear industry experts, before any Generation IV reactors could be commercially viable.

They go on to discuss each of the six proposed new nuclear reactors, giving a detailed history of the attempts to develop each, and factual information that refutes those claims made by ANSTO. For all of their statements, Green and Sweeney provide evidence and references.

The Medical Association for Prevention of War (MAPW)’s submission questions the government’s high subsidising of ANSTO, and points out the poor prospects for private investment in new nuclear power. It refutes the argument that Gen IV reactors would solve the nuclear waste problem, quoting analysis by the US National Academy of Sciences. They discuss the history of attempts to develop Gen IV nuclear reactors: ” a track record of repeated failure and massive cost”. They discuss the direct and indirect costs, and ANSTO’s secrecy about nuclear costs. Safety and reliability issues, and proliferation risks, are examined. They also point out that the recent Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission (NFCRC) was not supportive of new nuclear technology. The Commission proposed:

…monitoring and reporting” of new designs, not participation in research and active subsidization. The Royal Commission also places emphasis on economic value for nuclear power generation, which is clearly entirely absent from fast reactor operations.

My own submission also discusses non-proliferation, nuclear waste, and claims about climate change, but it focuses on the lack of public information and discussion. In view of Australia’s laws prohibiting the development of nuclear power in Australia, I find it disturbing that the government is about to put money and resources into developing new nuclear reactors.

Now – to the eleven pro nuclear submissions. In general these faithfully repeat the claims made by ANSTO, stressing the value of Australia participating in an international forum. (e.g: submission from Australian Nuclear Association)

Now – to the eleven pro nuclear submissions. In general these faithfully repeat the claims made by ANSTO, stressing the value of Australia participating in an international forum. (e.g: submission from Australian Nuclear Association)

  • Most submissions praise ANSTO and universities ANU and UNSW for their expertise.
  • Then there’s the claim that nuclear power will decarbonise the economy. (submission by The Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE)). (and from Barrie Murphy)
  • Joining GIF will increase the visibility of Australia’s cutting-edge research (from Nuclear Engineering Research Group, School of Electrical Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, UNSW Sydney)
  • Would increase Australia’s ability to influence international policy – will increase the international status of ANSTO and Australia’s universities. (from Warren Centre for Advanced Engineering)
None of these submissions discussed the proposed reactors or provided any evidence for those claims…….http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=19049

Generation IV nuclear reactors for Australia?- Useless for waste disposal, astronomically expensive for tax-payers

May 15, 2017

Here’s another fine submission to Australia’s Parliamentary Inquiry into Australia joining the Framework Agreement for Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems . This one blows out of the water any idea that these so far non existent reactors could solve any nuclear waste problem, or be in any way economically viable.  It also throws the spotlight on The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO). Just how much of tax-payers’ money is going to this secretive organisation?

The latest reason for generation IV reactors centres on the unsolved problem of how to safely dispose of spent nuclear fuel. The proposition is that plutonium and other long lived transuranics in reactor fuel (that like plutonium also create a disposal problem) could be used up in so called “burner” reactors.

Analysis by the US National Academy of Sciences found this proposal to have such very high cost and so little benefit that it would take hundreds of years of recycling to reduce most of the global inventory.

Should ANSTO propose collaboration can occur without further cost to the taxpayer, then a funding review should be conducted to establish what research is already being done by ANSTO, at what cost, for what purpose and at whose behest. With an average loss of A$200 million annually, ANSTO should be able to provide disaggregated accounts for both transparency and accountability.

Generation IV Nuclear Energy – Accession  Submission Medical Association for Prevention of War  (MAPW) PO Box 1379, Carlton VIC 3053 Australia (03) 9023 195 m. 0431 475 465 e. eo@mapw.org.au w. http://www.mapw.org.au

Executive Summary

MAPW recommends strongly against Australia becoming a party to this agreement. There is no proposal for Australia to get a nuclear power program.

This framework agreement applies to technologies that are economically, socially, environmentally, and from a nuclear security perspective, very dubious. Generation IV reactors are an assortment of proposed technologies that have been put forward over the last 70 years, tried and failed.

ANSTO is already very heavily subsidised by the Australian government, and extending its operations into this research sphere will require further scientific effort, expertise and funding. This is highly inappropriate given the current major constraints on government spending, and the urgent need to focus research energies on realistic, financially viable and proven measures to contain emissions from electricity generation.

Collaboration would mean taxpayer subsidies would go to an industry which has already wasted many billions in public funds and resulted in major adverse legacies. No private industry is prepared to invest in this research without large government subsidies because none are prepared to lose so much money.

It is also clear that Australia has no policy to use these long promised and never commercially delivered reactors. Therefore any involvement just subsidises those who hope to use them. If Australia wishes to expand its nuclear expertise, then research into “non nuclear waste” generating technologies (such as those to produce medical isotopes) would be much more productive and also be of positive benefit to the Australian population.

Background

Objectives of GIF Framework Agreement

1)The objective of this Framework Agreement is to establish a framework for international collaboration to foster and facilitate achievement of the purpose and vision of the GIF: the development of concepts for one or more Generation IV Systems that can be licensed, constructed, and operated in a manner that will provide a competitively-priced and reliable supply of energy to the country(ies) where such systems may be deployed, while satisfactorily addressing nuclear safety, waste, proliferation and public perception concerns.

2) Collaboration under this Framework Agreement shall be conducted only for peaceful purposes and in accordance with non-proliferation objectives and the Parties’ international obligations relating thereto; and on the basis of equality, mutual benefit, and reciprocity.

The Generation IV International Forum notes in its introduction:

For more than a decade, GIF has led international collaborative efforts to develop next generation nuclear energy systems that can help meet the world’s future energy needs. Generation IV designs will use fuel more efficiently, reduce waste production, be economically competitive and meet stringent standards of safety and proliferation resistance. Generation IV Nuclear Energy – Accession

The Gen IV International Forum guidelines aim for a lifecycle cost advantage over other energy sources and to have a level of financial risk comparable to other energy projects.

However the reality is dismal track record for both objectives. Fast neutron reactors providing easy access to plutonium for weapons.1

Statements that collaboration under the agreement will “only be used for peaceful purposes” clearly ignore the evidence from past use of this technology. An estimated $100 billion has been spent on development over more than six decades, with no commercially viable model found.2

Justifications for Generation IV systems

In the 1960’s there was concern was that global uranium supplies were limited. At this stage generation IV reactors were described as “breeder” reactors, aiming to solve long term energy supply problems by requiring much less uranium. But exploration since then has shown there are ample reserves of uranium globally. Russia and India have been two of the nations most concerned about uranium supply in the past, and continue to be among the nations most heavily subsidising these systems, despite changes in global availability of cheap uranium ore.

The next justification given for generation IV research was the difficulties arising from storing and disposing of spent fuel wastes from standard light-water reactors. The storage issues could be partially ameliorated by reprocessing, which separates out the one percent plutonium in the spent fuel. This does not remove the problem of ultimate disposal, but does provide a short term measure and defers the very difficult issue of how to safely dispose of spent nuclear fuel.

It was planned that the plutonium separated out could then be used as fuel for fast neutron reactors. However the increase in spent fuel reprocessing has significantly increased stockpiles of weapons grade plutonium.1 This clearly represents an increase in risk of proliferation of nuclear weapons.

The latest reason for generation IV reactors centres on the unsolved problem of how to safely dispose of spent nuclear fuel. The proposition is that plutonium and other long lived transuranics in reactor fuel (that like plutonium also create a disposal problem) could be used up in so called “burner” reactors. These would hypothetically leave behind mostly shorter lived isotopes that would be much less of a disposal problem.

Analysis by the US National Academy of Sciences found this proposal to have such very high cost and so little benefit that it would take hundreds of years of recycling to reduce most of the global inventory.3

In addition an economic analysis of reprocessing versus direct disposal of spent nuclear fuel found uranium found that uranium would need to cost more than $340 /kg to favour the use of fast reactors on a financial basis

  1. 3. The current price of uranium (March 2017) is $54/kg.

Generation IV reactors – a track record of repeated failure and massive cost

The unbridled optimism and powerful lobbying of the nuclear industry have been sadly let down over the many decades of investment in research in this area. Promises of electricity that was “too cheap to meter” have failed to materialise. Global nuclear capacity is one tenth of what was projected in the early 1970s. As can be seen from the 2010 table below, [on original]  the vast majority of fast reactors have been shut down.4

Since this table was published:

In September 2016 the Japanese government abandoned plans to restart the Monju fast breeder reactor, due to many failures. These include sodium coolant leakage and fires, accidents and failure to conduct safety inspections on safety critical equipment. The Japanese government had spent US$12 billion, and in 2012 it was estimated decommissioning would cost US$3 billion.56

India’s Department of Atomic Energy has promised construction of hundreds of fast neutron reactors, yet its test reactor (FBTR) took 26 years from planning approval to operation, and design work for a larger prototype (PFBR) started in 1985 and construction started in 2004. It has yet to start operating.

China has an experimental 20Mwe fast reactor, which has operated for less than one month in the 63 months from start up in 2010 to October 2015. Plans for a 600MWe and a 1000Mwe reactors have yet to be approved. According to the World Nuclear Association, at best China may have one commercial scale reactor by 2034.7

Russia has three fast reactors in operation and has announced plans for 11 reactors in the next 14 years, but their nuclear program (like India) has a history of very ambitious projections that fail to materialise. The current economic crisis in Russia means it is likely most new reactors will be cancelled.8

Germany, the UK and the US have all cancelled their prototype fast reactors, and France is considering a fast reactor but will not decide until the end of the decade.

Cost Issues

Economists classify costs as direct and indirect.

Direct Costs of fast reactors have been outlined, with an estimated over US$100 billion spent over six decades on development with no commercially viable model found.9

5 Running Monju reactor for 10 years would cost gov’t 600 billion yen extra August 29, 2016 Mainichi Japan http://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20160829/p2a/00m/0na/017000c accessed 25th April 2017

6 Decommissioning of troubled fast-breeder reactor Monju would cost 300 billion yen February 16, 2016 Mainichi Japan http://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20160216/p2a/00m/0na/005000c accessed 25th April 2017

7 World Nuclear Association, China’s Nuclear Fuel Cycle 6th December 2016 http://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/country-profiles/countries-a-f/china-nuclear-fuel-cycle.aspx accessed 22 April 2017

8 Slivyak , V. Russia is planning new reactors but prospects are murky August 2016 Nuclear Monitor https://www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/829/nuclear-monitor-829-24-august-2016 accessed 22nd April 2017

9 Cochran, T.B. et al. It’s Time to Give Up on Breeder Reactors Bulletin of Atomic Scientists http://thebulletin.org/2010/may/its-time-give-breeder-reactors accessed 22 April 2017 Generation IV Nuclear Energy – Accession

In Australia the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) is a statutory body of the Australian government. It would be the Implementing Agent in the framework agreement. The enthusiasm of this organisation for this agreement needs to be carefully weighed up by looking at cost and benefit.

In the 2015-16 financial reports ANSTO received A$156.7 million from the government in both the 2015 and 2016 financial years, and additionally had deficits of A$56.3 million and A$40.9 million respectively. So in the two most recently reported financial years, the government is already spending A$213 million and A$198 million annually on nuclear issues.10 Given the current climate of budget deficits and fiscal restraint it seems highly inappropriate to commit further expenditures, especially to an endeavour with such high costs and such a conspicuous lack of success. Interested parties however continue to push for increased role and subsidies, regardless of the likely outcomes.

Should ANSTO propose collaboration can occur without further cost to the taxpayer, then a funding review should be conducted to establish what research is already being done by ANSTO, at what cost, for what purpose and at whose behest. With an average loss of A$200 million annually, ANSTO should be able to provide disaggregated accounts for both transparency and accountability.

Allison MacFarlane, former chair of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, recently made this sarcastic assessment of fast reactor technology: “These turn out to be very expensive technologies to build. Many countries have tried over and over. What is truly impressive is that these many governments continue to fund a demonstrably failed technology.”11

Even the South Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission found the outlook for the deployment of fast reactors and other innovative designs had many significant challenges.

“Presently there are no operational fast reactors or other innovative designs that can be used to validate their potential for commercial deployment. Several countries have research and development programs for improved fast reactors, with some being in place since the 1950s, with significant challenges still to be overcome before commercial operation is achieved.”12

Indirect costs can also be referred to as opportunity costs. Any resources put towards this Framework Agreement means those resources cannot be directed to other crucial areas. Given the

10 Annual Report of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) for the period 1 July 2015 to 30 June

  1. September 2016 http://www.ansto.gov.au/Resources/Publications/AnnualReports/index.htm accessed 5th March 2017

11 Stapczynski,S. and Urabe,E. Japan’s Nuclear Holy Grail Slips Away With Operator Elusive 1st June 2016 https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-05-31/nuclear-holy-grail-slips-away-from-japan-with-operator-elusive accessed 25th April 2017

12 South Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission Report 6th May 2016 South Australian Government http://nuclearrc.sa.gov.au/ accessed 25th April 2017

clear need for emissions reduction in energy production, committing resources to renewable energy and developing energy storage would be far more likely to have a successful commercially viable outcome, without the major safety issues, nuclear proliferation risks and unsolved very long term toxic waste issues inherent in fast reactors. Existing light-water reactors are already too expensive compared with other forms of energy production.

131415 Even if eventually a commercial model was developed, the likelihood of fast reactors providing cheaper electricity than existing reactors is very remote, given their complexity, and major reliability and safety problems.

If the motivation of the government is to be a good global citizen, it could deliver a demonstrable benefit much more cost effectively and safely by subsiding reputable foreign aid organisations to deliver projects such as vaccination of children, or famine relief in East Africa.

Safety issues

Fast reactors have particular safety problems that have been a major factor in why they are so often shut down for long periods. Existing fast reactors use liquid metals such as sodium for coolant, which reacts violently with water and burns if exposed to air. Sodium fires have been responsible for shut downs in a large proportion of countries who have experimented with fast reactors. Indeed, in the 30 years of operating Russia’s BN-600, it has had over 30 incidents connected with sodium leaks and fires.16

Reliability issues

The vast majority of demonstration fast reactors have been shut down for most of the time that they should have been generating electricity. It is very difficult to maintain and repair equipment that is immersed in sodium, given the already described properties that make sodium likely to explode or catch fire when exposed to water or air. To undertake repairs the fuel has to be removed, the sodium drained and the entire system very carefully flushed to remove any residual sodium. This means repairs can take months or years. The world’s only commercial-sized fast reactor, France’s

13 Sophie Vorrath & Giles Parkinson 26 November 2015 Nuclear priced out of Australia’s future energy equation in new report Renew Economy http://reneweconomy.com.au/nuclear-priced-out-of-australias-future-energy-equation-in-new-report-67465/ Accessed 25th April 2017

14 Nuclear power The dream that failed 12 march 2012 The Economist http://www.economist.com/node/21549936 accessed 28th April 2017

15 Next-Generation Nuclear Reactors Stalled by Costly Delays February 2nd 2017 Bloomberg Markets https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-02-02/costly-delays-upset-reactor-renaissance-keeping-nuclear-at-bay accessed 28th April 2017

16 Galina Raguzina August 4th 2014 Holy grail or epic fail? Russia readies to commission first plutonium breeder against uninspiring global track record http://bellona.org/news/nuclear-issues/nuclear-russia/2014-08-holy-grail-epic-fail-russia-readies-commission-first-plutonium-breeder-uninspiring-global-track-record accessed 25th April 2017 Generation IV Nuclear Energy – Accession

Superphenix, was famous for its lengthy shutdowns. Its lifetime capacity factor (from time of grid connection in January 1986 to shut down in December 1996) was less than 7 % of what is would have been had it operated at full capacity. Japan’s Monju, the UK Dounreay and Prototype Fast Reactors and the US Enrico Fermi 1 Demonstration reactors similarly had very extensive shutdowns. Russia’s smaller BN-600 has done better, but only because of a willingness to continue to operate despite multiple sodium fires.

Proliferation risk

Fast reactors require the separation of plutonium from spent fuel. Any increase in this process increases access for creation of nuclear weapons, by both state and non-state actors. Indeed, India used plutonium from its fast reactor program to create its first nuclear weapon. This happened despite signed undertakings that India’s reactor technology would only be used for peaceful purposes. India continues to refuse to put its fast reactors under international safeguards so that plutonium production cannot be monitored.17 The significance of keeping their fast reactor outside of the safeguards regime has not been lost, especially on Pakistan. France used its Phenix fast reactor to make weapons grade plutonium.

Australia’s position on nuclear energy

The recent South Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission made a detailed exploration of the prospects of Australia commencing a nuclear power program.12 The Royal Commission found:

“Taking into account the South Australian energy market characteristics and the cost of building and operating a range of nuclear power plants, the Commission has found it would

not be commercially viable to develop a nuclear power plant in South Australia beyond 2030 under current market rules.

Given the prospect that new reactor designs, and in particular smaller reactors, might be viably integrated in the Australian electricity network, the Commission recommends that the South Australian Government also collaborate with the Australian Government to commission expert monitoring and reporting on the commercialisation of new nuclear reactor designs that may offer economic value for nuclear power generation.”

It is of note that the Royal Commission proposed “monitoring and reporting” of new designs, not participation in research and active subsidization. The Royal Commission also places emphasis on economic value for nuclear power generation, which is clearly entirely absent from fast reactor operations.

17 Ramana, M.V. A fast reactor at any cost: The perverse pursuit of breeder reactors in India 3rd November 2016 http://thebulletin.org/fast-reactor-any-cost-perverse-pursuit-breeder-reactors-india10124 accessed 25th April 2017 Generation IV Nuclear Energy – Accession

Research is open access

The hypothesis that being a party to this Framework Agreement would keep Australia “in the loop” and on top of the science is deeply flawed. This is publicly funded civilian nuclear research which is published in peer reviewed articles, so any interested party can get access to the science. If it is not accessible then we have to assume a) it involves weapons research; or b) it is unlikely to withstand peer scrutiny. Either way, as an important member of the IAEA, Australia can avail itself of the evolving research without participation – the two are not contingent.

Should Australia wish to increase its expertise in the nuclear research field, it would be of much greater benefit to research into “non nuclear waste” generating technologies (such as those to produce medical isotopes). Cyclotron manufacture of isotopes is the fastest growing branch of nuclear medicine. Such research would lend itself to international collaboration and most importantly have outcomes that are much more achievable and would actually be of benefit to the Australian population.

Conclusion

With any proposal, it is always worthwhile to closely examine the underlying motivation of the parties advocating for change, and who exactly is likely to benefit. Given Australia has no plans to have a nuclear reactor, and that all legitimate research in this area will be publicly accessible, it is difficult to see any community benefit in Australia participating. After 60 years of research there is still no commercially viable fast reactor, and these reactors pose major nuclear proliferation and safety hazards. No matter how elegant the physics behind the process, the outcomes have been very poor.

In an era of fiscal restraint, subsidising research on clearly failed, expensive and dangerous technologies is not in the public interest. Australian scientific effort, expertise and funding would be much better focused on areas where there will be a real benefit to the Australian community.

1 Cochran, T. B. et al. Fast Breeder Reactor Programs: History and Status February 2010

https://www.google.com.au/search?q=Cochran%2C+T.+B.+et+al.++Fast+Breeder+Reactor+Programs%3A+History+and+Status+&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&client=firefox-b&gfe_rd=cr&ei=HNr-WPOTEqHM8gf_3YH4Ag accessed 22 April 2017

2 Cochran, T.B. et al. It’s Time to Give Up on Breeder Reactors Bulletin of Atomic Scientists http://thebulletin.org/2010/may/its-time-give-breeder-reactors

3 Bunn, M. et al. The economics of reprocessing vs. direct disposal of spent nuclear fuel January 2005 Nuclear Technology 150 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/237772055_The_economics_of_reprocessing_vs_direct_disposal_of_spent_nuclear_fuelaccessed 25th April 2017

4 Cochran, T. B. et al. Fast Breeder Reactor Programs: History and Status February 2010

Destroyed! – the very poor case for Australia to develop Generation IV nuclear reactors

May 13, 2017

Today, I am taking the unusual step of publishing an entire submission. That’s because it is so good.  The nuclear lobby pulled a swifty on Australians, by having government and media very quietly do what is sure to be a “rubber stamp” job on Australia joining up to the Framework Agreement for Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems.

They allowed a very short time for submissions to the Parliamentary Inquiry. The nuke lobby must have been in the know, as they put in 11, whereas there were only 3, (one mine) critical of the plan.

Fortunately the critical ones contain compelling information. So, here, in full, is the:

Submission from Friends of the Earth Australia and the Australian Conservation Foundation .

Contacts:

• Jim Green (Friends of the Earth, Australia) jim.green@foe.org.au, 0417 318 368

• Dave Sweeney (Australian Conservation Foundation) dave.sweeney@acf.org.au, 0408 317 812

Contents

1. Introduction and Response to National Interest Analysis

2. Generation IV Reactor Concepts ‒ Introduction

3. Decades Away

4. Purported Benefits

5. French Government’s IRSN Report

6. US Government Accountability Office Report

7. The Slow Death of Fast Reactors

8. Integral Fast Reactors

9. Thorium 10. Small Modular Reactors 11. Fusion Scientist Debunks Fusion

  1. INTRODUCTION AND RESPONSE TO NATIONAL INTEREST ANALYSIS Friends of the Earth Australia and the Australian Conservation Foundation welcome the opportunity to make a submission to this inquiry and would welcome the opportunity to appear before a hearing of the Committee.

The Committee will likely receive submissions promoting the construction of Generation IV reactors in Australia and it is therefore worth noting comments by the SA Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission in its May 2016 Final Report: “[A]dvanced fast reactors and other innovative reactor designs are unlikely to be feasible or viable in the foreseeable future. The development of such a first-of-a-kind project in South Australia would have high commercial and technical risk. Although prototype and demonstration reactors are operating, there is no licensed, commercially proven design. Development to that point would require substantial capital investment. Moreover, electricity generated from such reactors has not been demonstrated to be cost competitive with current light water reactor designs.”1

Here we provide brief responses to a number of comments in the National Interest Analysis (NIA).2

The NIA asserts that participation in the Generation IV International Forum (GIF) will further Australia’s non-proliferation and nuclear safety objectives. No evidence is supplied to justify the tenuous assertion. There is much else that Australia could do ‒ but is not doing ‒ that would demonstrably further non-proliferation objectives, e.g. a ban on reprocessing Australian Obligated Nuclear Materials (AONM); a reversal of the decision to permit uranium sales to countries that have not signed or ratified the NPT; or refusing uranium sales to countries that refuse to sign or ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. There is much else that Australia could do ‒ but is not doing ‒ that would demonstrably further safety objectives, e.g. revisiting the decision to sell uranium to Ukraine in light of the ongoing conflict in that country, refusing to supply uranium to nuclear weapon states that are not fulfilling their NPT obligations, insisting that uranium customer countries establish a strong, independent regulatory regime (as opposed to the inadequate regulation in a number of customer countries, e.g. China, India, Russia, Ukraine and others).

Nuclear non-proliferation would also be far better realised by active Australian engagement in the current UN process around the development of a nuclear weapons ban treaty. Instead Australia has spurned this pivotally important initiative and is refusing to participate. If Australia is serious about its international standing, our representatives would be at the table in New York.

The NIA states that ongoing participation in GIF will help Australia maintain its permanent position on the IAEA’s 35-member Board of Governors. ANSTO routinely makes such arguments ‒ in support of the construction of the OPAL reactor, in support of the development of nuclear power in Australia, and now in support of Australian participation in GIF. Australia has held a permanent position on the IAEA’s Board of Governors for decades and there is no reason to believe that participation or non-participation in GIF will change that situation.

The NIA asserts that accession to the Agreement and participation in GIF will have important economic benefits. No evidence is supplied to justify that tenuous assertion. There are no demonstrated economic benefits from participation in GIF ‒ however there are clear costs.

The NIA states that the “costs of participation in the System Arrangements will be borne by ANSTO from existing funds.” ANSTO should be required to provide a detailed account of past expenditure relating to this Agreement and anticipated future expenditure.

The NIA states that ongoing participation in GIF “will improve the Australian Government’s awareness and understanding of nuclear energy developments throughout the region and around the world, and contribute to the ability of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) to continue to provide timely and comprehensive advice on nuclear issues.” Those arguments are tenuous, especially given that little about GIF is secret.

The NIA states that “Generation IV designs will use fuel more efficiently, reduce waste production, be economically competitive, and meet stringent standards of safety and proliferation resistance.” Those false claims are rebuked in later sections of this submission.

The NIA states that the success of Australia’s bid for membership of GIF was based in part on ANSTO’s “world-class capabilities and expertise” in the “development of nuclear safety cases.” ANSTO should be asked to justify that assertion. ANSTO could also be asked whether, based on its “world-class” expertise in nuclear safety, whether it considers it is appropriate for Australia to sell uranium to countries with demonstrably inadequate nuclear regulatory regimes, e.g. China, India, Russia, Ukraine and others.

The NIA asserts that “a significant expansion in nuclear power production is underway or under consideration by a number of countries, including several in the Asia Pacific region.” In fact:

  • Globally, nuclear power has been stagnant for the past 20 years.
  • For the foreseeable future, there is zero likelihood of a “significant” nuclear expansion of nuclear power and there will be an overall decline unless growth in China matches the decline elsewhere. Declines can be predicted with great confidence in North America, across all EU countries combined, in Japan, and in numerous other countries and regions ‒ and a very large majority of the world’s countries (about five out of six) are nuclear-free and plan to stay that way.
  • No country in the Asia Pacific or South East Asia is seriously planning to introduce nuclear power. The only country that was seriously planning to introduce nuclear power in the region ‒ Vietnam ‒ abandoned those plans last year.

The NIA states that Australia’s participation in GIF falls within the existing functions of ANSTO under Section 5 of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation Act 1987. The Joint Standing Committee on Treaties should assess whether Australia’s participation in GIF is consistent with legislation banning nuclear power in Australia (the EPBC and ARPANS Acts). 2.

2. GENERATION IV REACTOR CONCEPTS ‒ INTRODUCTION (more…)

Secretive push to get Australia to join Generation IV nuclear reactor development

May 13, 2017

The Parliamentary Committee Inquiry on Australia joining the Framework Agreement for International Collaboration on Research and Development of Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems has now published the submissions that it received.

As this Inquiry has been kept quite secret from the media and the public, it is not surprising that nearly all of the submissions have come from companies and individuals with either a very clear, or a vested, interest in the nuclear industry.

For the moment, I will just single out one that particularly interested me. This is from SMR Nuclear Technology Pty Ltd .  They don’t actually have much to say about Small Modular Nuclear Reactors, but just go on to fulsome praise of Generation IV nuclear reactors in general, and of ANSTO.:

…….SMR Nuclear Technology Pty Ltd is an independent Australian specialist consultancy established to advise on the siting, development and operation of safe nuclear power generation technologies, principally Small Modular Reactors (SMRs). Two of SMR-NT’s directors were senior managers at ANSTO and have a good understanding of the facilities and capabilities of ANSTO…..

SMR Nuclear Technology Pty Ltd most warmly supports Australia acceding to the Framework Agreement for International Collaboration on Research and Development of Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems as extended by the Agreement extending the Framework Agreement for International Collaboration on Research and Development of Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems” more http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Joint/Treaties/NuclearEnergy/Submissions

SMR Nuclear Technologies sounds pretty much like ANSTO in disguise.

They dropped a little hint of what ANSTO is up to, in their previous, (rather weak and contradictory) submission to the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission, in which they stated: “Thorium is now being revisited, particularly in China. Australia (ANSTO) is assisting with this work” –  http://nuclearrc.sa.gov.au/app/uploads/2016/03/SMR-Nuclear-Technology-Pty-Ltd-30-07-2015.pdf

We didn’t know that the Australian tax-payer was funding thorium nuclear reactor development in China, did we?

Submissions until 28 April to Australian govt’s secret nuclear inquiry, but nobody knows about this

April 26, 2017

The gift of the ‘GIF’: Generation IV International Forum, Independent Australia,  19 April 2017 The Turnbull Government has quietly signed Australia up to the GIF Framework Agreement for the development of Gen IV nuclear reactors and is currently conducting a Parliamentary Inquiry of which most of us are unaware, writes Noel Wauchope.

YOU HAVE probably never heard of the “GIF”.

I hadn’t, until just this week when by chance, I heard of the Parliament Inquiry into the Framework Agreement for International Collaboration on Research and Development of Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems.

The Committee consists of nine Liberal MPs, six Labor and one Green.

That inquiry is being held now and the Committee calls, or more correctly, whispers, for submissions by 28 April 2017.

It is all about the GIF — Generation IV International Forum. The Australian Government signed up to this, in 2016, without any public discussion.

What is The Generation IV International Forum (GIF)?

An international collection of 14 countries: Argentina, Brazil, Canada, France, Japan, South Korea, South Africa, the UK and the USA (original charter members, 2005); Switzerland, Euratom, China, Russia and Australia (signed later).

The World Nuclear Association describes the collection as countries for whom:

‘ … nuclear energy is significant now and also seen as vital for the future’.

What is the 2005 Framework Agreement AKA “the charter”?

According to the World Nuclear Association the 2005 Framework Agreement:

‘ … formally commits them [signatories] to participate in the development of one or more Generation IV systems selected by GIF for further R&D.’

Australia signed the charter on 22 June 2016 represented by Dr Adi Patterson, COE of the Australia Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO). — pending this Joint Standing Committee on Treaties review. ANSTO is to be the implementing agent.

When the Australian Government quietly signed up to the GIF, it made no commitment to any particular action towards developing new nuclear reactors.  Other countries – including Japan, Canada, France, South Korea – have committed to working on particular types of Generation IV reactors. Australia might be expected to not only fully sign up as a member of the charter but perhaps also to provide funding and resources to develop one or more types.

Australia’s signing of the GIF

Media reports indicate Australia made a bid, or approach, to join GIF. The active seeking out of such an agreement that is at odds with public opinion, at odds with the current government’s policy position on nuclear power and is inconsistent with Australian laws, which prohibit the use of this technology, is astounding…….

ANSTO makes a number of questionable assumptions about Australia joining in developing new nuclear reactors. For example, ANSTO claims that it would ‘further Australia’s non-proliferation and nuclear safety objectives’, and ‘further strengthen our claim as the most advanced nuclear country in SEAP’ and will position Australia to develop Generation IV reactors.

There are so many questions about — one hardly knows where to start:…….https://independentaustralia.net/politics/politics-display/the-gift-of-the-gif-generation-iv-international-forum,10215#.WPbL2mlNX7g.twitter

Australians should reject the government’s secret joining in Generation IV Nuclear Systems – Submissions due by 28 April

April 18, 2017

Submissions received until 28 April by Parliamentary Committee

Right now a Parliamentary Committee is considering Australia’s further involvement in the ‘Charter’  or   Framework Agreement for International Collaboration on Research and Development of Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems. The Committee consists of 9 Liberal MPs, 6 Labor, and one Green.

Australia secretly signed the ‘Charter’ on 22 nd June 2016 – signed by
Dr Adi Patterson COE of the Australia Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation. (pending this JSCOT review). ANSTO is to be the implementing agent.

The An international collection of 14 countries: Argentina, Brazil, Canada, France, Japan, South Korea, South Africa, the UK and the USA ( original charter members 2005) Switzerland, Euratom, China, Russia and Australia (signed later)  . The World Nuclear Association describes the collection as countries for whom nuclear energy is significant now or seen as vital in the future.

When the Australian government quietly signed up to the GIF, it made no commitment to any particular action towards developing new nuclear reactors.  Other countries, including Japan, Canada, France, South Korea, have committed to working on particular types ofGeneration IV reactors Australia might be expected to not only fully sign up as a member of the Charter, but perhaps also to provide funding and resources to develop one or more types.

Involvement of various countries in developing particular types of new nuclear reactor

Australia’s pro nuclear lobbyists more interested in Small Modular Nuclear Reactors than in waste storage

September 13, 2016

Australia nuclear toilet

Back on the radar: Developing nuclear reactors along with storing nuclear waste, Independent Australia  Noel Wauchope 7 September 2016,  “……..recent pro-nuclear submissions to the South Australian Parliament’s Joint Committee on Findings of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission have instead focussed on the benefits of “new nuclear” technology, particularly “small modular reactors” (SMRs) — note how the word “nuclear” is left out since people distrust it.
The global nuclear lobby is keenly interested in the South Australian government’s plan to import nuclear waste, because it would solve the waste problem for nuclear companies wanting to sell reactors and particularly, new types of nuclear reactors, to Asian countries.

This idea was pioneered by Australians and spelt out early in 2015, just as the NFCRC was starting, in an ABC Radio National talk by Oscar Archer. Since then, we haven’t heard any more about this, as the whole emphasis in SA government propaganda, has been on the billions supposedly to be made by that state from importing nuclear wastes. The idea of developing new nuclear technology is mentioned in the NFCRC report (p56 and p63) but very much played down and not recommended for South Australia.
Still, for foreign nuclear companies, the underlying aim is to further, or more correctly, to save, the nuclear industry by setting up new nuclear reactors, in particular SMRs.
It is vital for the nuclear industry to have a nuclear waste disposal plan. The industry has pretty much given up on selling nuclear reactors to countries that already have nuclear power and they are struggling with the waste problem. The big hope is to sell to “new” countries.
They are clearly looking to South Asia, as shown at the conference, The Prospects for Nuclear Power in the Asia Pacific Region, held in August, in Manila. The deputy director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEAMikhail Chudakov said that IAEA sees South Asia as a region where nuclear energy is “high on the agenda” and could be one of the drivers for global nuclear power deployment.
The thing is, no country is going to embark on the nuclear power path – for small or large reactors – unless they have a prior plan for the disposal of radioactive wastes. This is vital for the nuclear industry — which is where Australia comes in…..

despite the NFCRC’s distinct lack of enthusiasm for new nuclear technology, three of the only five pro nuclear submissions were focussed, not on waste importing, but on new nuclear reactors.

Ben Heard‘s whole argument is directed at new reactors:

Our research indicates that South Australia could make a significant contribution in this technology development beginning at a modest reinvestment of revenues from used fuel.

Many nations in this region already exploit nuclear technology however this use is constrained by lack of a back-end solution…… The availability of a multinational solution for the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle could change these investment decisions profoundly.

Heard backs up his argument by playing the climate card of nuclear being “low carbon” and so on.

Dayne Eckermann writes:

‘The main motivation for myself and others to embrace and openly support this technology is its immense power output from a relative small facility.’

And the South Australia Chamber of Mines and Energy’s (SACOME‘s) view:

Australia’s well-equipped political, legal and educational structures mean that a reactor program could – with the support of experienced international partners – be started swiftly

SACOME strongly believes that the advances in small modular reactors and advanced reactor designs will provide the necessary facilities…..

I understand that, for the Parliamentary Committee, all submissions were actually published. This is in contrast to the NFCRC process, in which submissions from interested parties such as foreign nuclear companies were kept confidential……..

 Like Oscar Archer, at the beginning of the NFCRC saga, the Australian nuclear lobby is primarily keen for “new nuclear”, with the waste import as a necessary prelude……

https://independentaustralia.net/politics/politics-display/back-on-the-radar-developing-nuclear-reactors-along-with-storing-nuclear-waste,9437