The Economic Case For Australia Taking The World's Used Nuclear Fuel

The Economic Case For Australia Taking The World's Used Nuclear Fuel

The proposals could add significant value to Australia’s existing uranium mining.

In delivering its interim findings after almost a year of research, consultation and testimony, the South Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission has extolled the potential benefits of a facility for the storage and disposal of international used nuclear fuel. The commission, led by Kevin Scarce, says it has uncovered potential benefits that far exceed the expectations of previous investigations.

They point to a future wealth fund growing at around A$6 billion per year and a present value of more A$50 billion – potentially a significant economic boost to South Australia through ramping up its engagement with the nuclear fuel industry.

If conservatively invested, those revenues, totalling A$267 billion, could give rise to a state wealth fund estimated to reach A$467 billion after 70 years of operations. While other questions will remain, one has been decisively answered: in economic terms, the nuclear opportunity is there for the taking.

Taking the world’s waste

The Royal Commission has identified the potential to establish and operate a facility to accept 138,000 tonnes of heavy metal (MtHM) from spent fuel over a period of some 50 years. Such a facility would be a globally significant piece of infrastructure and a major step forward in the internationalisation of the nuclear fuel cycle.

With no directly comparable service in operation today, demand for service is high, although that means the prices to be paid for using it are also uncertain. The Royal Commission estimates a figure of A$1.75 million per MtHM as a conservative baseline price. For context, that figure is above the A$1.37 million per MtHM adopted in my own modelling as the mid-price. If the Royal Commission’s estimates are correct, the market for taking other nations' spent nuclear fuel is more lucrative than previously anticipated.

The relatively rapid establishment of an above-ground interim storage facility would enable this process to begin relatively quickly. The Commission has estimated this could be funded by upfront contracts for receiving the first 15,500 MtHM based on the A$1.75 million per MtHM figure. That would be followed in future by underground disposal. However, with 11 years' establishment and 17 years of above ground loading, there seems ample scope to revisit a range of pathways for the used fuel material before it is buried beneath the ground.

That may occur via the commercialisation of advanced nuclear technologies such as fuel recycling and fast reactors. At this stage, no advanced technology pathway has been advocated for South Australia, however a scientific research group tied to the facility has been recommended.

Research by me and my colleagues suggests these technologies are ready for commercialisation now and this would be an opportune investment of revenues for South Australia. We believe there is a great opportunity here, although the commission has taken a more conservative view.

Nuclear power a trickier prospect

There also appears to be no prospect of domestic nuclear power for Australia, in the short term at least. The commission has highlighted a range of size, cost and technical challenges, including the need for greatly strengthened climate policy. This is a fair and accurate reflection of Australia’s current generating requirements, resources and policy settings and a reasonable, though conservative, reading of the current state of technology.

But importantly, the findings repeatedly stress that the nuclear generation option may be either beneficial or demanded in future to achieve the necessary deep decarbonisation of our economy. Nuclear electricity should not be ruled out, and it therefore follows that some planning options should be investigated. Should any of a range of conditions change and Australia decides nuclear power is a necessary inclusion, we would then be better positioned to do it.

The Commission has found likely benefits to expansion of uranium mining, although they are relatively small with royalties in the tens of millions of dollars per year. No case has been found for short-term engagement with value-adding processes of conversion, enrichment, and fabrication of nuclear fuel.

An exception to this is the concept of “fuel leasing”, which allows Australian uranium to be sold overseas with an accompanying agreement that the spent fuel will be sent back here for a fee. Having an international nuclear waste storage facility would obviously help this approach, in turn locking in more value from uranium mining.

Given the economic benefits identified by the commission in providing multinational services in used fuel storage and disposal, the domestic use of nuclear power should not be arbitrarily impeded. It may be vital in future, and expanded mining and fuel leasing might provide yet more economic benefits.

Politically, of course, the issue is in the hands of the South Australian public.

About The Author

Ben Heard, Doctoral student, University of Adelaide. His appreciation of the climate crisis forced a rethink of his long-held opposition to nuclear power.

Appeared On The Conversation

Related Book:

InnerSelf Market

Amazon

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeiwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptruesswsvthtrukurvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook icontwitter iconyoutube iconinstagram iconpintrest iconrss icon

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

LATEST VIDEOS

The Great Climate Migration Has Begun
The Great Climate Migration Has Begun
by Super User
The climate crisis is forcing thousands around the world to flee as their homes become increasingly uninhabitable.
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
by Alan N Williams, et al
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that without a substantial decrease…
Earth Has Stayed Habitable For Billions Of Years – Exactly How Lucky Did We Get?
Earth Has Stayed Habitable For Billions Of Years – Exactly How Lucky Did We Get?
by Toby Tyrrell
It took evolution 3 or 4 billion years to produce Homo sapiens. If the climate had completely failed just once in that…
How Mapping The Weather 12,000 Years Ago Can Help Predict Future Climate Change
How Mapping The Weather 12,000 Years Ago Can Help Predict Future Climate Change
by Brice Rea
The end of the last ice age, around 12,000 years ago, was characterised by a final cold phase called the Younger Dryas.…
The Caspian Sea Is Set To Fall By 9 Metres Or More This Century
The Caspian Sea Is Set To Fall By 9 Metres Or More This Century
by Frank Wesselingh and Matteo Lattuada
Imagine you are on the coast, looking out to sea. In front of you lies 100 metres of barren sand that looks like a…
Venus Was Once More Earth-like, But Climate Change Made It Uninhabitable
Venus Was Once More Earth-like, But Climate Change Made It Uninhabitable
by Richard Ernst
We can learn a lot about climate change from Venus, our sister planet. Venus currently has a surface temperature of…
Five Climate Disbeliefs: A Crash Course In Climate Misinformation
The Five Climate Disbeliefs: A Crash Course In Climate Misinformation
by John Cook
This video is a crash course in climate misinformation, summarizing the key arguments used to cast doubt on the reality…
The Arctic Hasn't Been This Warm For 3 Million Years and That Means Big Changes For The Planet
The Arctic Hasn't Been This Warm For 3 Million Years and That Means Big Changes For The Planet
by Julie Brigham-Grette and Steve Petsch
Every year, sea ice cover in the Arctic Ocean shrinks to a low point in mid-September. This year it measures just 1.44…

LATEST ARTICLES

green energy2 3
Four Green Hydrogen Opportunities for the Midwest
by Christian Tae
To avert a climate crisis, the Midwest, like the rest of the country, will need to fully decarbonize its economy by…
ug83qrfw
Major Barrier to Demand Response Needs to End
by John Moore, On Earth
If federal regulators do the right thing, electricity customers across the Midwest may soon be able to earn money while…
trees to plant for climate2
Plant These Trees To Improve City Life
by Mike Williams-Rice
A new study establishes live oaks and American sycamores as champions among 17 “super trees” that will help make cities…
north sea sea bed
Why We Must Understand Seabed Geology To Harness The Winds
by Natasha Barlow, Associate Professor of Quaternary Environmental Change, University of Leeds
For any country blessed with easy access to the shallow and windy North Sea, offshore wind will be key to meeting net…
3 wildfire lessons for forest towns as Dixie Fire destroys historic Greenville, California
3 wildfire lessons for forest towns as Dixie Fire destroys historic Greenville, California
by Bart Johnson, Professor of Landscape Architecture, University of Oregon
A wildfire burning in hot, dry mountain forest swept through the Gold Rush town of Greenville, California, on Aug. 4,…
China Can Meet Energy and Climate Goals Capping Coal Power
China Can Meet Energy and Climate Goals Capping Coal Power
by Alvin Lin
At the Leader’s Climate Summit in April, Xi Jinping pledged that China will “strictly control coal-fired power…
Blue water surrounded by dead white grass
Map tracks 30 years of extreme snowmelt across US
by Mikayla Mace-Arizona
A new map of extreme snowmelt events over the last 30 years clarifies the processes that drive rapid melting.
A plane drops red fire retardant on to a forest fire as firefighters parked along a road look up into the orange sky
Model predicts 10-year burst of wildfire, then gradual decline
by Hannah Hickey-U. Washington
A look at the long-term future of wildfires predicts an initial roughly decade-long burst of wildfire activity,…

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

New Attitudes - New Possibilities

InnerSelf.comClimateImpactNews.com | InnerPower.net
MightyNatural.com | WholisticPolitics.com | InnerSelf Market
Copyright ©1985 - 2021 InnerSelf Publications. All Rights Reserved.