For some, nuclear power conjures images of Homer Simpson carelessly handling radioactive rods at work. For others it stirs fears based in the memory of Chernobyl or Fukushima. Neither perception reflects the reality of modern nuclear technology.
The modern nuclear reactor is small, modular, self-contained and safer than any other energy generation method. It provides flexible generation capacity, as it can increase or reduce electricity output to reflect demand.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has acknowledged that all electricity generation options with the capacity to reduce electricity prices need to be considered.
On the same day he made this observation, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released another of its doom and gloom reports, claiming climate disaster is nigh. We could debate the merits of that report, but if we accept it, then we’d be foolish not to have on the table as a serious policy option the only method to generate serious baseload energy with almost no carbon emissions.
For too long we have allowed nuclear energy to remain off-limits in the discussion about the security of Australia’s energy supply. What we need is an informed and rational debate that isn’t driven by fear.
While the high capital cost of traditional nuclear reactors makes them unattractive compared to coal and natural gas as a source of dispatchable baseload power, the advent of safer and cheaper small modular reactors (SMRs), for example the NuScale facility commissioned in Idaho, offer a competitive and cost-effective entry point for Australia to cutting edge nuclear energy technology.
The projected levelised cost of electricity (LCOE) of NuScale’s SMR is comparable to other forms of dispatchable generation in the pipeline.
The argument that Australia has “missed the boat” on nuclear energy is one that looks only to the stereotypical large-scale nuclear reactor, which has a high upfront cost and a lead time of 20-25 years for delivery.