Professor Barry Brook, director of climate science at the University of Adelaide’s Environment Institute, said when Australia does decide to build nuclear plants it will choose to focus on next-generation nuclear technology that provides “major safety, waste and cost benefits”.
Mr Brook said one particularly attractive sustainable nuclear technology for Australia is the Integral Fast Reactor (IFR). Although the scientific community has known about the benefits of IFR-type designs for many years, there are currently none in commercial operation because the energy utilities are typically “too risk averse to bet on new technologies”, he said.” This is a wasted opportunity for Australia and for the rest of the world.”
Mr Brook said IFRs are much more efficient at extracting energy from uranium, can use existing nuclear waste for fuel, produce far smaller volumes of waste that does not require long-term geological isolation, and can be operated at low cost and high reliability.
“In order to re-start the nuclear power debate in Australia, it is best to have a solution that overcomes as many public objections as possible: safety, constraints on uranium supplies, long-lived waste, cost, and proliferation. The IFR technology offers a vast improvement in all of these areas.”
Mr Brook said that by 2025 contracts for new nuclear plants could be issued and small modular reactors (SMRs) could be built at outback mining sites. By 2030, around 3,000 megawatts of nuclear could be connected to the national grid.
Australia has no commercial nuclear plants, but the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation does operate the Opal research reactor near Sydney.
Australia also produces uranium for export. According to the Australian Uranium Association, Australia has around 40 percent of the world’s uranium resources that are “recoverable at reasonable cost”.
However, the association argues that due to political and other constraints the industry has not expanded to its full potential. Australia currently supplies less than 20 percent of the uranium the world needs.