Modular nuclear power stations a credible opportunity

Advances in modular nuclear reactor technology and the passage of the Clean Energy Future legislation means that nuclear power should be seriously considered, according to a report from the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA).

The think-tank’s Australia’s Nuclear Options report states that the costs of establishing a nuclear regulatory framework and developing suitably qualified technicians can be considered a worthwhile investment providing greater flexibility for future energy supply.

CEDA’s report recommends establishing a national regulatory regime to oversee and monitor any potential deployment of nuclear power and training nuclear engineers by establishing an equivalent of the previous School for Nuclear Engineering or the Australian School of Nuclear Technology.

The report also suggests that Small Modular Nuclear Reactors (SMRs) also represented a new stage in nuclear reactor design and have the capacity to provide an economically competitive method of electrical power generation.

The possible uses for SMRs in Australia include powering Australian Defence Force sites; remote mining locations; large industrial sites requiring reliable; competitively priced electricity or process heat supplies; desalination plants; water treatment plants; recycling schemes or irrigation systems; and baseload electricity supply for small grid systems.

“Historically nuclear power plants have been built larger and larger. This trend was an attempt to obtain economies of scale in deployment to overcome the high fixed construction costs. As a consequence, modern nuclear power plants incurred substantial financial costs and required large, well-connected electricity grids. There were limited options for deployment of such energy generators in Australia,” the report states.

According to CEDA, a major advantage of SMRs is their passive safety.

“No electrical supplies or pumps are required to cool the reactor, as this is achieved by natural convection and gravity coolant feed. This feature ensures the reactor will remain safe under severe accident conditions. This also reduces the capital and maintenance costs compared to large power reactors and fundamentally changes the economic equation in favour of SMR nuclear power generation.”

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