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Prime Mover Magazine

Nuclear offers solutions for baseloads and emission reduction: Expert

Nuclear expert Dr. Benjamin Heard has implored government to consider nuclear energy as a serious solution to reduce emissions while keeping soaring power supplies affordable and reliable.

Speaking at International Mining and Resources Conference 2018 in Melbourne earlier in the week, Heard said other countries all over the world were balancing technologies including nuclear to prove that the challenge to reduce emissions reliably without spiking costs was achievable.

He said fear and politics continued to be a wedge that stood between people having a realistic understanding of the risks of modern nuclear power.

“In Australia it’s against the law for the Federal Minister to approve a nuclear power facility – so there’s absolutely no appetite for anyone to even consider it,” said Heard.

“We are not a huge nation, so we do need to be picky in terms of what we invest in. If we positioned ourselves as one of the best jurisdictions in the world to design, test, commercialise, manufacture, deploy and operate small modular reactors, this would be incredibly powerful,” he said.

“If we also accepted the revenues available from taking used nuclear fuel, and developed and commercialized the most advanced recycling as waste conditioning and disposal options, like boreholes for disposal of short-lived, conditioned fission products, we would be an absolute powerhouse of innovation and excellence.”

With commercial vehicle electrification on the horizon, small modular reactors can in theory offer future solutions in road transport. How best refuel 50 electric heavy vehicles efficiently at a charging station one of the challenges certain to arise.

Heard, who specialises in modelling energy systems and climate change adaptation and mitigation, said nuclear energy systems were evolving at a rapid pace, in terms of their capital cost, operating efficiency, and environmental and health performance.

There was opportunity to specialise in deploying Small Modular Reactors that produce around 60 MWe, according to Heard, which
suit the diverse geography of Australia.

This would supply cost effective, clean energy that would support regional areas and industry.

Heard said the school of thought that Australia’s CO2 emissions were too small to matter, therefore we should not consider these when seeking lower energy costs, was false logic.

“What is rational in isolation becomes deeply irrational as a collective of smaller nations. Purely on the maths, we must play our part as must they,” he said.

“As to the politics, our ability to influence the energy trajectory of a nation like Indonesia or India is paltry when we, one of the richest nations on earth, has one of the dirtiest energy supplies. So the moral example we set matters very much.”

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