Nuclear Power: Perfect Cure For Wind & Solar Driven Pricing & Supply Calamity

Europe’s power market is in a diabolical mess: massive subsidies to intermittent wind and solar have undermined reliable and affordable power supplies, sending Germany and Denmark’s power prices through the roof (see above). Since Vladimir Putin’s adventure in Ukraine, German power prices have rocketed, further still, recently hitting a record 40 US cents per kWh. Whereas, France’s heavy reliance on reliable and affordable nuclear means that the French enjoy power prices a mere fraction of those suffered by their wind and solar-obsessed neighbours.

The hard numbers above put paid to the often-repeated lie that wind and solar are cheap as chips and that the cost of nuclear power is ‘off the charts’ unaffordable.

Indeed, France is so well endowed with cheap nuclear power that it exports substantial volumes of nuclear-generated electricity to the Germans whenever the sun sets and/or calm weather sets in. Without French nuclear power and (even cheaper) Polish coal-fired power Germans would spend most of their time freezing in the dark.

The French have been generating substantial volumes of their electricity using nuclear plants since the 1960s; currently, they receive around 75% of their power from nuclear plants.

Europe’s persistent and ongoing wind droughts and Vlad’s restrictions on his gas exports to Germany, spell the end for never-reliable wind power and the renaissance of ever-reliable nuclear.

As a consequence of the Big Calm and a total collapse in wind power output across Western Europe and the UK during the latter half of 2021, the Brits enlisted Rolls Royce to build a fleet of small modular reactors.

And the French are set to build 14 next-generation nuclear plantsadding to the 56 plants currently operating, supplying power to French households and businesses at a cost roughly half that being paid by their wind and solar ‘powered’ German neighbours. Long-standing French government plans to shutter its existing plants have been quietly shelved.

The reason that nuclear power generation is back with a vengeance is twofold: the evident impossibility of relying upon sunshine and breezes for reliable power; and the political desire to reduce carbon oxide gas emissions. True it is that even Germany’s Greens have dropped their CO2 emission reduction ambitions, but here in Australia the suicidal desire to destroy what’s left of our reliable and affordable power supplies still runs unchecked.

Given that Australians are stuck with net-zero carbon oxide gas targets for the foreseeable future (in the absence of sensible political leadership) the only way of ensuring the lights stay on is to employ nuclear power: the only stand-alone power generation source that does not emit carbon oxide gas emissions during the process and which is available 24 x365, whatever the weather.

Australia’s wind and solar-driven power pricing and supply calamity means that anyone with half a brain is talking about the reliable and affordable energy source that the hard green left love to hate. Tony Grey is one of them.

There’s no shame in changing our mind about the elephant in the room
The Australian
Tony Grey
6 July 2022

Labor scraped into government in a climate change election in May primarily because of promises it made on the vexed issue. If the new government fails to put the country on track to achieve its target of cutting 43 per cent of CO2 emissions by 2030, it can be safely predicted disappointed voters will exact stern retribution.

The big question is: how will Labor replace the 76 per cent of Australia’s power generated by fossil fuels, mostly coal, to achieve its 2030 target? No one seriously believes it will be solar and wind alone. The elephant in the room is emissions-free nuclear, which logically would provide baseload to complement intermittent solar and wind. This can’t happen, however, until the 1999 legislation that denies Australia the benefits of nuclear power is repealed.

We are the only nation in the top 20 economies that does not have nuclear. France, where Anth­ony Albanese recently announced a deepened commit­ment on climate, derives 70 per cent of its energy from nuclear.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the most authoritative voice on the subject, notes that during the past 50 years the use of nuclear power has reduced CO2 output by more than 60 gigatonnes. That amounts to nearly two years’ worth of global energy-related emissions.

Energy Security Board chair Anna Collyer and Alinta Energy chief executive Jeff Dimery will be speaking about Australia‘s energy crisis at the Strategic Business Forum in Melbourne on July 20. Tickets and program here.

Furthermore, the IPCC states, “Achieving the pace of CO2 emissions reduction in line with the Paris Agreement is already a huge challenge. It requires large increases in efficiency and renewables, as well as an increase in nuclear power.” It calls for doubling of global nuclear energy generated by 2050. How can the government ignore that opinion?

Renewables need another power source when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine. Technology has not yet been invented for batteries large enough to do the job. In Australia fossil fuels do it, but as the 24 coal-fired power stations responsible for 54 per cent of the nation’s power generation close – and with questions hanging over the gas generators that produce another 20 per cent – the nation will be left with the stark choice: add nuclear or suffer power shortages.

The nuclear industry has responded to the safety concerns over nuclear since Chernobyl and Fukushima. Reactors are now designed with passive safety features that operate without human intervention.

Small modular reactors, which would be ideal for Australia, are gaining widespread acceptance throughout the world. Russia has one in the Arctic Far East, China is building one to be in operation by the end of 2026, and NuScale of the US is fast-tracking several, the first module scheduled for start-up in late 2029. Four Canadian provinces have just released a joint strategic plan setting out a path for developing and deploying SMRs. Their left-leaning Finance Minister says SMRs offer a “promising pathway to support Canada’s low-carbon transition”.

Contrary to ill-informed and outdated claims by some people, SMRs do have (as do most modern reactors) “load-following capacity”. That means they can quickly change from operating at 100 per cent of capacity to a lower rate and back up again. This gives them flexibility to adjust their output to changes in demand, as in the case of supplementing renewables. They would be ideal to provide a baseload back-up, or firming as the industry calls it, to replace coal power.

[Note to Tony: the French do not supplement or ‘firm’ intermittent wind and solar with nuclear power, their nuclear plants do the heavy lifting all by themselves and at a fraction of the cost born by their German neighbours. By the time Australia built next-generation nuclear plants the majority of its wind turbines and solar panels will be defunct and dumped in landfills (see our note below). So the sooner we start building nuclear plants, the better.]

Recent estimates show costs of SMRs are falling significantly as technology advances. Costs are helped by mass production in factories to the same design and by shorter construction times.

Although operating costs of renewables are lower than nuclear, the real cost to the power system is materially higher. According to Tony Irwin, a nuclear engineer with 30 years’ experience in operating nuclear plants in Britain, to discover the real costs of renewables it is necessary to include cost factors such as:

  • The low capacity factor of renewables.
  • Extra transmission costs (SMRs can occupy the sites of retired coal-fired plants).
  • Firming costs.
  • Higher replacement requirements (25 to 30-year lifetime for renewables, 60 years for SMRs).

[Note to Tony: there is absolutely no evidence to support your claim that wind and solar panels have a 25 to 30-year lifetime. Solar panels diminish in efficiency from the moment they start operating, after seven or eight years their output is a fraction of their original nameplate capacity, at the 15-year mark most of them have already been crushed and dumped in landfills.

Wind turbines have an economic lifespan of around 15 years, the point at which their maintenance and repair costs become exorbitant as gearboxes, generators and blades repeatedly fail: see this paper: The Performance of Wind Farms in the United Kingdom and Denmark.]

After adjustment for these factors, he calculates capital costs (on an overnight basis) to be $5596/kW for SMRs, $14,882/kW for solar and $12,372/kW for wind. So, it is not correct to say, as some claim, that costs should be seen as a deterrent to the adoption of nuclear. The opposite is the case.

Encouraged by improvements in safety and Finland’s progress in constructing a waste disposal facility (the world’s first), together with the advent of SMRs, public opinion is swinging behind nuclear. Finland’s Green Party, part of the government coalition, voted to adopt a fully pro-nuclear stance, including a streamlined approval process for SMRs. A poll published in The Australian in May demonstrated two-thirds of Australians support nuclear or believe it should be considered.

In applying its climate change policy, the imperative of success should propel the government to take a new look at nuclear, especially SMRs. There would be no shame in acknowledging that the facts have altered in the past two decades to the point where a change of mind is warranted.
The Australian

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July 9, 2022 at 02:31AM

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