Yesterday (March 8th, 2011) I attended a talk by Ben Heard (http://www.thinkclimateconsulting.com.au/) and Professor Barry Brooks (http://bravenewclimate.com/about/) The topic was “Powering Cleaner Australia”, organized by Technology Industry Association (www.tia.asn.au)
Ben gave a very logical argument on why Australia should consider Nuclear Energy. He said he was opposing Nuclear Energy. He listed his initial concerns, and presented a case for each of the issue that has prompted the change his views.
Ben’s initial concerns against Nuclear Energy were:
- Nuclear Power is not safe
- Uranium mining is difficult and unsafe
- There is no viable waste disposal technology for Nuclear waste
- Nuclear Power can trigger Nuclear Arms race in the region
- The end-to-end fuel life cycle of Uranium will have larger carbon foot print
- Nuclear Energy is expensive to operate
- People I respect are anti-nuclear
Ben took up each of these points and presented the evidence that influenced to change his stand. I may not agree with his rationale, but liked his presentation approach.
I do agree that Nuclear Energy option cannot be rejected at the first instance. It should certainly be considered like any informed decision making process.
The second part of the presentation by Professor Barry Brooks touched upon the technology. He considered Thermal reactors ( Boiling Water Reactors, Pressurized Heavy Water Reactor) and Fast Breeder Reactors. His choice was to go for Fast Breeder Reactors.
He talked about Integral Fast Reactor (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Integral_Fast_Reactor) that uses metal fuel (as opposed to uranium oxide pellets used in conventional reactors) , has in-site recycling facility and boasts passive safety features.
During the question time I raised two points:
- Fast Reactor technology is not proven. There are significantly less Fast Reactors in the world than Thermal reactors.
Fast Reactor is difficult to operate
Prof Brooks said before Australia goes Nuclear (say 15-20 years), the technology will mature. He said he is favoring the Fast Breeder Technology because of the advantage of recycling. He said the Australian public has concerns about recycling and it is easy to convince them about the advantages of efficient recycling.
Regarding the second question (operational difficulty), he acknowledged the engineering challenges of Liquid Sodium leaks. He said, the technology has matured over time.
I am not fully convinced at this stage whether Fast Reactor technology is a way to go. India has chosen to experiment with Fast Reactors because of the abundance of Thorium. In Australia, there is no economic incentive as it boasts highest Uranium reserves in the world. It would be easier, economical and faster, if Australia takes the thermal reactor route.