Australia can contribute decisively to multi-lateralizing the nuclear fuel cycle

The Commission strongly believes that multilateralizing the nuclear fuel cycle would play an invaluable role in building global confidence in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and any efforts to that end should be encouraged. Such arrangements would provide an important foundation for a world free of nuclear weapons, where all sensitive fuel cycle activities will need to be under multilateral verification and control. — from the 2009 report of the International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament via @BenThinkClimate

Over the next century we need to triple the global quantity of energy production. Everything that makes civilization civil requires electricity, liquid fuels and energy for industry. Plus we need to help boost another three billion people out of poverty. That means most of the expansion of new energy production is needed in the Global South – outside the OECD nations. Safe, carbon-free nuclear fission should be a big part of that solution.

Let’s take Kenya as an example of the nations that want to build new nuclear power plants. To make that commitment they need affordable access to nuclear fuel. They need to be confident that fuel will always be available to them, regardless of future political issues. It also makes their nuclear launch much easier if they need only to contract for fuel delivery and reprocessing/disposal. If they have to also develop their own nuclear fuel cycle that probably makes the nuclear option uneconomic. If Kenya can’t access the nuclear option we know they will continue with the fossil option.

External pressures: the OECD nations may try to block Kenya’s access to nuclear power, especially if they are concerned about increasing weapons proliferation risk. Certainly anti-nuclear NGOs like Greenpeace will raise the bogeyman of proliferation to disrupt new nuclear power. 

I think it is completely obvious that a politically reliable nation like Australia is a perfect match with Kenya’s need for a dependable front-to-back nuclear fuel partner. Australia can be the “Amazon Prime” for nuclear fuel for all the new nuclear nations, and the existing cases like India and Pakistan.

I’m anticipating a favorable report from the South Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission. So is principal contributor Ben Heard who wrote yesterday explaining the benefits of the “establishment of a multinational storage facility for used nuclear fuel and the subsequent recycling of that material for clean power”.

Whatever happens tomorrow, some stakeholders will stop at almost nothing to try and frighten South Australians.

As well as the potential to benefit economically, we may have the opportunity to shift the world to a decisively safer state of relations. There has never been a more important time to listen to the experts. In more ways than one, our future depends on it.

2 thoughts on “Australia can contribute decisively to multi-lateralizing the nuclear fuel cycle

  1. I see nothing wrong with Australia’s providing nuclear fuel to other countries. However, R & D for other reactor types and fuel cycles may at some future date make that unnecessary.

    I am concerned with the November 2015 edition of the “National Geographic” which is almost exclusively about global warming and eliminating CO2 emissions. I have not finished reading it. However, based on what I’ve read so far, it assumes that the ONLY way forward is renewable energy sources. It is strongly against nuclear power.

    It is almost shocking how strong the opposition to nuclear power has become in the U.S. and in many other countries as well. It has become impossible to discuss nuclear power openly and rationally. I greatly fear that unless attitudes towards nuclear power change, global CO2 emissions will continue to increase to the detriment of everyone.

    It seems to me that much more effort should be placed on educating the public about nuclear power. The fact that there are many possible reactor designs is almost unknown by the public. It is truly bizarre that the public expects the intermittent nature of renewables to be adequately dealt with by energy storage methods which do not yet exist but assumes that it would be impossible to develop nuclear energy technologies which solve all the problems associated with our current nuclear technology.

    As part of the effort to get the public to understand the problems of intermittent power sources, I suggest producing a vignette or short drama to illustrate the problem. A salesman would be trying to sell power from wind farms to a buyer of bulk power. The script would make it clear that the reason the salesman is not succeeding in selling the power is that he cannot guarantee that the power would always be available. Surely a good script writer could do a good job of that and the vignette could be aired in TV.

  2. Thanks – I’ll have a look at National Geographic. That will get my boiler steaming. Educating politicians and the public is clearly necessary. It is a huge challenge because the really big money benefits from the status quo – building fossil. The so-called “Nuclear Industry” is mainly a collection of unrelated electric utilities. And they have no special interest in nuclear – they get paid whether they burn coal, gas, oil. If subsidies are big enough they are happy to build solar/wind. I suspect they know that when outages start affecting customers, they will get bailed out. Even the greens don’t like to have no heat or no air conditioning.

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