Physical Insights

An independent scientist’s observations on society, technology, energy, science and the environment. “Modern science has been a voyage into the unknown, with a lesson in humility waiting at every stop. Many passengers would rather have stayed home.” – Carl Sagan

Nuclear Power for Australia: Where to put it?

with 7 comments

In 2007, combustible fuels, mostly coal, generated 224,771 GWh of electricity, 91.8% of Australia’s 244,777 GWh of electricity generation. [Source – IEA’s International Monthly Energy Statistics, May 2008.]

If we were to replace all this electricity generation with nuclear fission, using nuclear power reactors each with a nameplate capacity of 1100 MW and a capacity factor of 90 to 95%, just like the United States’ nuclear power routinely achieves, then 25 nuclear reactors are required to replace all those fuel-combustion plants.

The UMPNER report (aka the Switkowski report) found that “In one scenario, deployment of nuclear
power starting in 2020 could see 25 reactors producing about a third of the nation’s electricity by 2050.”

I have to admit, I don’t quite follow that, because as above, based on the 2007 IEA statistics, 25 nuclear reactors could supply 92% of Australia’s electricity. I suppose they based that figure on the predicted increase in consumption between now and 2050, which is completely reasonable, of course.

Anyway, since the UMPNER report’s release, “25 reactors” has been the benchmark in political debate over the potential for a nuclear-powered Australia.

Now, Penny Wong states:

“The last election showed that Australians are absolutely of one mind about not having 25 nuclear power plants dotted around their suburbs and in and around their cities.”

That’s funny, because when I went to fill out the ballot paper, I didn’t notice anything about a referendum on nuclear energy. In fact, I believe if such a referendum were ever done, Wong and Garrett might be in for a rude surprise – a recent poll I posted to a large Australian online forum of computer users found 90 percent of respondents in favour of nuclear power for Australia. Not the most formal statistics, I know, but it gives you some idea.

[Thanks to Nuclear Australia for reproducing Senator Wong’s sound bites.]

This comes hot on the heels of Ian MacFarlane’s call last week not for nuclear power, but merely for the rational discussion of nuclear power. The mere discussion of nuclear power is taboo for the Federal Government.

Furthermore, Wong says:

“Are they really saying that they have a plan for 25 nuclear reactors in Australia? Where are they going to put them?”

Now, 25 nuclear reactors does not mean 25 nuclear power plants – we can generally put two (or three, or four, or seven, or just one, but we’ll say two, usually, on average, for argument’s sake) nuclear reactors at the same power plant.

So, where do we put them? If we put 25 nuclear reactors in Australia, we need 13 sites for plants.

Since I’m not a politician, maybe I can break the taboo, and actually start naming names? Where could we put nuclear power plants?

Firstly, three plants can go outside of Morwell, replacing their 6000 MW or so of brown coal fired capacity, taking advantage of the region’s access to the electricity grid, ability to support large heat sinking capacity, the skills and labour base there, and so forth, as required to support large coal fired power plants.

Another two can go in Port Augusta, South Australia, replacing the coal-fired stations there.

Three nuclear power plants can go in various sites in Queensland, replacing the coal-fired generators there, at Gladstone, for example.

Three nuclear generating stations can go in the Hunter Valley in New South Wales, again replacing the majority of the states’ coal-fired generating capacity.

Another plant can go at other sites in the state, at Eraring, for example, or somewhere else on Lake Macquarie or on the coast.

Co-locating and ultimately replacing coal fired power plants with nuclear power, provides known access to local rivers or lakes, or existing cooling towers, even, that provide heat sinks suitable for large heat engine plants, provides good access to roads and logistics, provides a solid local labour market and engineering base with relevance to the electrical, mechanical and thermohydraulic engineering and technical trades required to run a large power plant, and provides solid access to the electricity generation infrastructure.

Finally, it would be sensible to stick one last reactor over in WA, outside of Perth. Kwinana could be well suited.

So, there you go. If these were deployed by 2050, we would see a 50% reduction in Australia’s anthropogenic emission of greenhouse gases, relative to present levels, with the stationary energy generation by way of fossil fuels accounting for 50% of greenhouse gas emissions.

Anyway, these are just some of my thoughts, and my answer to Wong’s question, and the oft-asked question of where the nuclear power plants should go. I’m not a politician, of course – working out where to develop different heavy industries is not my day job.


Written by Luke Weston

August 19, 2008 at 6:23 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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7 Responses

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  1. Nice post Luke. I’ve drafted a similar one and used your IEA information to make a related point – in the end, fossil based generation is 5% higher that the same period last year.

    Doesn’t get much more objective than that.

    Regarding the confusing maths, I found the below assumptions in UPNER.

    “Projections suggest the need for over 100 GW of capacity by 2050 (compared to the current Australian installed capacity of 48 GW).” – Pg. 5

    “Electricity consumption is projected to reach approximately 410 TWh by 2029–2030.[55] Figure 4.1 shows the projection to 2050, with an annual electricity demand of more than 550 TWh. Servicing such demands would require over 100 GW of generating capacity by 2050. Large baseload plant may provide two-thirds or more of this capacity.” – Pg. 45


    August 19, 2008 at 7:07 pm

  2. Luke, excellent post! Really. We need more “Grand Plan” type posts on our blogs and in response to the antis to give a better picture. We are trying to do this at as well.

    Your country is one of most ideally suited countries in the world for large scale nuclear energy given that 90% of the people live within 20 miles of the ocean. Any NEW site that could be located on the coast and far away from a large population center (because people’s fears are simply NEVER going to reconcile living near a NP) but can be largely clustered….4 to 6 reactors producing 6GW to 12GWs. Clustering them makes them cheaper for all sorts of reason but also for grid access. If a new HVDC or high voltage AC transmission line has to be built, the cost of doing this for a “nuplex” makes a lot more sense and becomes *almost* an incremental cost. Thus you can have nuplexes further away and not spent so much for tying it altogether.

    I think you plan is great, just that the new, greenfield sites ought to be 3 or more reactors.


    David Walters

    August 20, 2008 at 4:29 pm

  3. (“because people’s fears are simply NEVER going to reconcile living near a NP)”

    What Never? Zoom out from this.

    Jim Baerg

    August 21, 2008 at 2:52 am

  4. I decided Luke to stir this up. I did my own version of your plan for the US and posted it to

    174 comments so far!


    David Walters

    August 21, 2008 at 3:57 am

  5. Or try this one:,2.136787&spn=0.005609,0.015986&z=16

    Gravelines nuclear power plant : 6 x 950 MWe over 100 hectares (about 250 acres).

    Who said that sitting reactors was such a problem? All you need is a cooling source and the grid.


    August 22, 2008 at 10:10 pm

  6. Recall when the boat people started arriving in numbers they were detained at Woomera rocket range, perhaps more for punishment than difficulty of escape. Notwithstanding water and transmission issues I think there is good psychology behind siting reactors in tough towns. I’d mention
    1) the abattoir factor – kept out of sight so people don’t think of those cute little lambs as they munch on lamb chops
    2) rubbing salt into the wound – building a nuke next to an existing coal station is like saying you have sinned and must now be publicly corrected
    3) battle hardened locals – the people who can live in places like faded mining towns may not only be grateful they may not have the sensitivities of city slickers.
    4) co-location with desalination since warmer inlet water for vacuum flash or reverse osmosis means less pressure difference is needed.

    On the question of cooling water the Parliamentary report suggests (Table 4) that a 1000MWe plant with cooling towers will lose 24 gigalitres per year or 66 megalitres per day. Well that cuts out Woomera but with some pumping effort a town like Broken Hill could draw on Medindee Lakes, currently full. On transmission line if the easement already exists I’ve seen a figure of $300,000 per kilometre for high voltage alternating current, with 10% power loss per 1000 km.
    Thus I wonder whether it might pay to trade off some efficiency for sites with fewer hassles. As a former SA resident I was always surprised that the two Pt Augusta coal plants can use such shallow salty water at the top of the gulf. I understand the nearby mangroves are showing signs of stress. The more logical site seems to be near Whyalla (Pts Lowly/Bonython/Stony) down the gulf with strong currents at normal salinity and temperature. That is where BHP Billiton plans a big desal plant. Thus overbuild at Whyalla (say 1600 MW) and forget Pt Stanvac near Adelaide. Sure there will be higher costs but also less political opposition. Each of the above ‘psychology’ factors works out better.

    John Newlands

    August 23, 2008 at 3:20 am

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