Coalition MPs want nuclear energy for a clean secure energy future

Coalition MPs want nuclear energy for a clean secure energy future

From The Australian 18/2/2021



Nationals senators have drafted legislation allowing the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to invest in nuclear power as two thirds of Coalition MPs backed lifting the ban on the controversial fuel source to help shift the nation to a carbon neutral future.

The block of five Nationals senators, led by Bridget McKenzie and Matt Canavan, will move an amendment to legislation establishing a $1bn arm at the green bank to allow it to invest in nuclear generators, high-energy, low-emissions (HELE), coalfired power stations and carbon capture and storage technology.
The Nationals’ move comes as a survey of 71 Coalition backbenchers conducted by The Australian revealed that 48 were in favour of lifting the longstanding prohibition on nuclear power in the EPBC act.

Liberal MPs Andrew Laming, John Alexander and Gerard Rennick are among backbenchers who want Scott Morrison to take a repeal of the nuclear ban to the upcoming election — a move that would open a new divide with Labor as the nation sets a course for a low-emissions future.
“I’m very keen to see the prohibition lifted,” Mr Laming said. “It is something that has to be taken to an election so Australians realise there is a significant change in energy policy.”
Mr Alexander said it was like “trying to fight Muhammad Ali with one arm tied behind your back if you are going to ignore nuclear energy”.
“This is a new era; let’s be right at the cutting edge,” Mr Alexander said.

On Wednesday, the government was forced to delay a vote on a key piece of legislation to establish the Grid Reliability Fund after Barnaby Joyce pushed an amendment for the fund to be allowed to invest in HELE plants.

The fund would sit within the CEFC’s remit and support low emissions dispatchable power projects, as well as transmission and distribution infrastructure. It is aimed at stabilising the energy system and balancing the growth of intermittent renewables.

The new amendment proposed by the Nationals would go further than Mr Joyce’s push by ensuring the CEFC — established by the Gillard government in 2012 to invest in green energy initiatives — could help kick-start nuclear projects as well as new clean coal plants.
Senator McKenzie said: “We compete against the world with one hand behind our back while other nations avail themselves of cutting-edge, low-emissions technologies. For too long, Australia has blocked energy innovations such as nuclear and carbon capture technologies in addition to allowing (HELE) projects.”

Out of the 71 Coalition backbenchers surveyed by The Australian, only Queensland senator Paul Scarr was opposed to changing the nuclear prohibition enshrined in the EPBC Act, citing a lack of community support “at this stage”. A further 22 backbenchers were undecided or did not respond to questions.

Other supporters of lifting the ban on nuclear generation, including Trent Zimmerman, Ted O’Brien and Rowan Ramsey, believe the government should not move ahead with legalising the energy source while the proposal is bitterly opposed by Labor.
In-principle support for lifting the nuclear prohibition is prevalent by members in every faction of the Coalition, which has been divided over climate change action since Tony Abbott became prime minister in 2013.

City-based Liberal MPs who back strong action on climate change — including Jason Falinski, Tim Wilson, Katie Allen, Andrew Bragg and Dave Sharma — argue that nuclear should be an option in a technology agnostic approach to Australia finding a pathway to zero-net emissions. Conservative MPs who are cautious about green-energy policies — including Mr Joyce, Senator Canavan, Eric Abetz, Craig Kelly, Kevin Andrews and Tony Pasin — say nuclear energy could provide an option for a zero-emissions dispatchable power
source to balance out the growth of intermittent renewables.

The Prime Minister has signalled he will not move ahead with legalising nuclear energy unless there is bipartisan support with Labor. MPs told The Australian Mr Morrison was unlikely to pursue a policy change on the issue in this term of parliament. However, small modular nuclear reactors were included as a potential technology in the federal government’s technology
investment roadmap discussion paper.

Nuclear energy, which does not produce direct carbon emissions, is used in nations that have set zero-net emissions by 2050 targets, including Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Japan and South Korea. The Biden administration is also supportive of nuclear power.
West Australian Liberal Vince Connelly said Australia was being “held back by an outdated ideology that seeks to paint nuclear technology as inherently evil”.
Ms Allen said, it was “hugely significant” the US was progressing with prototypes for small modular reactors.

South Australian senator Alex Antic said nuclear was “effective, reliable, safe and virtually emission-free”. “The radical left cannot have their ideological cake and eat it too when it comes to energy generation,” he said.
Mr Wilson attacked Labor and the Greens as nuclear science deniers. “You aren’t serious about climate change if you oppose nuclear outright,” he said. “Only nuclear plus baseload renewables can deliver Australia a sustainable net zero future with cheap, reliable electricity.”

Many government MPs acknowledge the power source is not currently competitive on price, but say investment decisions should be a matter for private companies and lifting the nuclear ban would encourage technological advancement.

Other Liberal MPs in favour of lifting the prohibition are: Warren Entsch, Russell Broadbent, James Stevens, Ian Goodenough, Rick Wilson, David Fawcett, Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, Sarah Henderson, Hollie Hughes, James McGrath, Jim Molan, Julian Simmonds, Bert van Manen, Ben Small, Dean Smith, David Van, Terry Young and James Paterson.

Nationals MPs who want the energy source legalised include Anne Webster, Damian Drum, Perin Davey, Llew O’Brien, Sam McMahon, Susan McDonald and Ken O’Dowd. Boothby MP Nicolle Flint has previously publicly backed nuclear power.

  • Peter Farley
    Posted at 21:20h, 23 February Reply

    If you were one of the most risk averse prime ministers in this country’s history with effectively a hung parliament why would you stick your neck out to fight a battle that will just make you a target for all sorts of environmentalist attacks when there is about a snowball’s chance in hell of a nuclear plant actually being built.

    Here is a simple equation for you to work through,
    Plant Vogtle will have a peak summer rating of 2.1 GW and will be offline altogether for an average of 100 hours per year and at half power for at least 600 hours and will generate about 17 TWh per year at an operating cost of about US$40/MWh will have a finished cost of US$25bn. That capital cost will leave a finance and depreciation bill of around $1.8bn per year, that adds around $100/MWh to the power cost. i.e. if the plant achieves 90% capacity factor for its entire life the averaged delivered power cost will be around US$135-150/MWh.

    For US$25bn today in the US you can build 6 GW of dispersed wind US$8bn, 9 GW of tracking solar $10bn and 2.5 GW 33 GWh hours of batteries $7 bn. At modern US capacity factors the wind will generate 23 TWh, the solar 22 TWh or almost 125 GWh per day, approximately 2.6 times the energy from the nuclear plant. In most of the US wind is stronger at night and in winter and solar is clearly stronger during the day and in summer so if you examine seasonal variations in a balanced wind and solar grid like the NEM, you will find that the seasonal variations are quite small even though daily generation can vary by a factor of two or a little more. In fact on the NEM recently the worst wind and solar day has been 70% of the average wind and solar day. As the proportion of high CF wind and east west solar increases, day to day variation declines

    So lets assume that on a really bad day the wind/solar combo only delivers 50% of its average daily output or 62 GWh that is still more than the nuclear plant running absolutely flat stick which would be 53 GWh. Even if the wind and solar combo dropped to 30% of average or 10% CF for the whole day, that plus only 50% of the battery storage is still slightly more than the nuclear plant on its best day.

    Now there will also be really good wind and solar days where generation is more than the system can absorb or store and some is lost in and out of storage so lets say we can only use 40 of the potential 45 TWh generated per year. The operating and maintenance costs for wind are around US$15/MWh and solar $10 so lets say an average of $13. The life of the components is shorter than the nuclear plant so the finance and depreciation bill will be around $2.4 bn or $60/MWh for a total of $73/MWh including storage.

    Now the financial equation is actually much worse than this for nuclear because the nuclear project will take 4-5 years to go from concept approval at board level to turning the first sod and 10 years to commissioning, all the while consuming vast amounts of money, so the investors have to carry that cost for 14 + years. For the wind/solar/storage combo which will be built in 100-200 MW stages they can be producing first revenue in 18 months and be at profitability within 4 years. The whole project would have returned most of its capital before the nuclear plant was turned on.

    Further the idea that a nuclear plant in a high renewable grid could achieve 90% capacity factor is fanciful. Within five years there will be days where renewables can briefly supply 100% of demand on the NEM, and those periods will increase every year. So unless the nuclear plant is prepared to bid negative prices it will have to ramp down. Thus achieving a capacity factor much above our existing black coal fleets 62% would be heroic. In the meantime if the wind/solar storage investment is spread out over say six or seven years, at current rates of decline the last solar farms will be half the current costs, the wind farms will be 40% cheaper and the last batteries 60% cheaper, so in reality the total renewable cost will be 20-30% less than the above numbers while a nuclear plant in Australia will be expected to cost 15-20% more than an equivalent US plant simply because we would have tto import most of the skills and components

    From a system reliability point of view the renewable generators and storage would be spread over 50-100 sites and a a similar number of transmission lines, it will never have zero generation and with the storage all the spinning reserves are built in, the nuclear plant needs at least 6 GW of alternate generators running at part load or two GW of its own storage to provide trip protetction, but if a storm causes transmission to go down or a drought reduces cooling water flow the storage won’t help

    So please explain why anyone with any idea of getting a return on investment would invest money in nuclear in Australia

  • Barrie Hill
    Posted at 09:20h, 25 February Reply

    Unfortunately electricity grid engineers are forced to design a reliable system that copes with all eventualities. So when looking at future planning options it really has to be worst case versus worst case not some hypothetical optimistic average as we are currently seeing with the Australian Electricity Market Operator. Information on worst case nuclear versus worst-case variable renewables is now readily available for actual Australian conditions.The technical design is onerous although the costing is a little more straightforward.
    The big problem which keeps showing up is the cost of under utilisation of expensive backup equipment required for worst case variable renewable options.The current electricity market was not designed to encourage investment in anything so we see the government forced to step in to cope with the emerging problems with variable renewable energy.
    A very complex problem not amenable to speculation only long and thorough engineering/economic analysis followed by difficult choices.

  • Pingback:Saturday’s good reading and listening for the weekend - Pearls and IrritationsPearls and Irritations
    Posted at 02:08h, 02 March Reply

    […] National Party backbenchers – favour allowing the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to invest in nuclear energy. Morrison, however, will not move to lift the ban on nuclear energy without bipartisan […]

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