The use of small modular reactor (SMR) technology for nuclear power generation has been called into question by a recent report from the Australian Conservation Foundation.
Based on the findings of its study, the Foundation warned that the cost of SMRs would prove too expensive and would also lead to new and unnecessary challenges concerning the disposal of radioactive waste.
The Foundation’s nuclear-free campaigner Dave Sweeney remarked that the future of energy generation in Australia needed to be renewable, not radioactive.
Among the findings stated in the Foundation report was a particularly telling section regarding the Akademik Lomonosov, a floating nuclear power plant in Russia, which is set to use two SMR units. Unfortunately, the cost of building the facility has grown sixfold due to the cost of maintaining SMRs.
Likewise, a demonstration plant in China with two gas-cooled reactors, which began construction a decade ago, was finally completed in 2019 but at the cost of $8.8 billion, due again to the cost of SMR technology.
Two more plants, one each in China and Russia, and the third facility in Argentina have been under construction for some time now. However, they have been delayed by increasing costs and issues regarding the delivery or maintenance of the technologies used.
Given all these, the possibility of using SMR technologies to push Australia’s renewable energy goals forward may not be feasible at all.
Cutting Reactions in the Government
Australia’s Coalition Party, the strongest proponent of the use of SMR technology for greener power generation, has caught flak from both environmentalists and politicians seeking non-nuclear solutions to the energy crisis.
Last week, energy minister Chris Bowen made several cutting remarks against the Coalition for their support of the nuclear agenda, going so far as to ask ministers of parliament which one would be willing to build and maintain a nuclear reactor within their jurisdiction.
Likewise, opposition leader Peter Dutton called upon Ted O’Brien, the country’s shadow climate minister, to make a comprehensive review of the status of nuclear energy and whether it is a practical choice for Australia moving forward.
It is interesting to note at this point that nuclear energy and related technologies have been systematically banned in Australia since the end of the 20th century. However, some Coalition senators have been actively calling for the lifting of restrictions, claiming that nuclear technology is a probable solution for both the ongoing power crisis and the country’s struggle to meet its carbon neutrality goals.