Watch Indonesia. Its nuclear energy sector is heavily pregnant. Polls show remarkable popularity for the technology. Its regulator, BATAN, has been talking to Japan and Russia about prototype reactors.

What will a nuclear Indonesia mean for Australia? I suspect a broad segment of our country will have great difficulty with the prospect. Further, if we are not at least paralleling their development in the next few years, things could get awkward.

It was in this framing that an anti-nuclear tweeter quite politely suggested I access a collection of nuclear-critical videos. I politely accepted. And I have to say, the documentary about the fallout from the British weapon tests at Monte Bello Island and Maralinga is fascinating. It really helps with understanding the deep concern about contamination, particularly from radiostrontium.

This is important nuclear history for us. Is it applicable to the potential for safe modern energy production? No. Furthermore, using it to perpetuate fear over knowledge is a fundamental part of the stale narrative who’s time has passed. The peoples of Maralinga have certainly tried to move on Following a link to “helpful nuclear information sites” gives:

and a few other sites which maintain an overarching theme – they do not engage with the professionals in the scientific field that they want rejected.

So, would this film festival screen something that challenges its narrative, like Sundance did?

If not, how is it really different to an anti-vaccination convention, highlighting the faltering steps of early polio immunisation and perpetuating thiomersal fears, and neglecting to invite any conventional  immunologists to present a differing view?


Mother Jones, 1976; and in 2015. This needs to speed up a bit.


Caution: overselling may damage your battery

In my energy numeracy primer I have suggested we think of power stations as factories for electricity. To illustrate, we can compare them to a popcorn factory: corn gets delivered, workers run the machines, popcorn comes out and is sold for a price which is affordable yet still high enough to cover the cost of corn, wages, operation/maintenance, debt, regulatory compliance, and so on. A thermal power station takes in fuel – coal, gas, uranium, etc – and makes voltage and current from high quality heat by spinning magnets really fast. For solar and wind power the fuel is of course free (nature delivers it) but it’s best to put these power stations/factories out where it’s sunniest and windiest.

The analogy is just as valid for energy storage, except the fuel is the same as the product. Electricity is transformed into gravitational or chemical potential energy, then changed back again. At the scale of a regional electricity grid – an industrial scale – the economics of a factory still roughly apply.

Here is a “microgrid scale” battery.


It is part of the massive US$179 million Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Demonstration Project. Racks of lithium ion cells are housed within an 8,000 square foot (approximately 740 m²) warehouse, and can supply 5 megawatts of power for one half of an hour. The facility cost US$23 million to install. The results were recently compiled, with impressive success of the networked supply control systems.

So, when proponents of avoiding the consideration of nuclear energy invoke the promise of sufficient storage to replace conventional fossil fuel “backup” for renewable wind and solar, is this what they specifically have in mind?

Well, the sort of nuclear energy technology we have in mind, when built, can generate considerably more than 5 MW for half an hour. The 622 MW PRISM power block will supply 311 megawatt hours (622 x 0.5) in that time. The battery facility, 5 x 0.5 = 2.5 MWh. To match this 1/48 of a day nuclear output, the battery must be expanded by 124 times. Hopefully, the economies of scale might help to reduce the price tag below $4 billion (Australian dollars at current exchange rates), although the useful lifetime of these lithium ion cells will be very short on grid timescales. It would also be pretty big (124 x 740 m²).


It would pretty much fill the entire grounds of the new Royal Adelaide Hospital.

But how expensive is that? Australia’s most recent proposed grid-scale storage project, the $282 million Genex Kidston pumped hydro facility west of Cairns will produce 330 MW for 5 hours on a full reservoir, i.e. 165 MWh in a half hour. A tenth of this capacity would equal $28.2 million – so it is clear why pumped hydro storage is universally recognised to be the cheapest form of storage! And just to be clear, Kidston is not even intended for storing intermittent renewable energy (despite some heavily insinuating it may be so).


The most up-to-date estimate for the first PRISM power block puts it around $8.3 billion. With a physical footprint comparable to a conventional nuclear plant and a sixty year design life (with years between outages, not 5 hours, or half an hour), there is little need to further labour the point. Storage technologies are cool, and have a part to play in our energy system, but invoking them to dismiss modern nuclear energy has to be the oversell of the decade. If we’re not replacing fossil fuels in our energy mix at the scale of PRISM, we’re not really decarbonising.


Further reading:

Do the Math: A Nation-Sized Battery

Do the Math: Pump Up the Storage

The Future of Energy: Will ‘Cheap as Dirt’ Batteries Transform the Grid?

Moore’s Law and battery technology: No dice & Why Moore’s Law Doesn’t Apply to Clean Energy Technologies

The Catch-22 of Energy Storage

Watt Clarity: Approaching 62 hours becalmed on the mainland – what would this mean for battery storage?

Utility Drive: What’s behind the 900% growth in energy storage in Q2 2015?

Oil Price: California Public Utilities Vote No On Energy Storage

Georgia Power’s 1 MW battery is underpinned by diverse conventional generators


This is real. We know how to do these things.

The irrepressible Kirsty Gogan was inspired to pen this article.

Unveiling a plan to deliver free electricity to all citizens of South Australia, while abolishing state taxes and generating billions of dollars in revenue for the state, Senator Sean Edwards called for South Australia to receive and recycle spent nuclear fuel rods from other countries.

Conventional nuclear reactors use less than one per cent of the available energy in the uranium fuel and right now, the rest is classified as waste: a global stockpile of around 240,000 tons.

While many countries have set aside billions of pounds to safely store and dispose of this material, advanced reactor developers aim to recycle this waste, extracting the vast amount of remaining energy and turning something toxic into something useful..

Senator Edwards proposes to transform this waste into wealth, largely by South Australia being paid to recycle it into carbon-free electricity in advanced reactors. The GE-Hitachi PRISM fast reactor is a strong contender to do this, and the same technology is also being looked at in the UK for plutonium disposition.

What difference would it make? Well, deploying modern nuclear technologies at scale to replace coal, and tackle the waste issue along the way, could save literally millions of lives. Research by climate scientists James Hansen and Pushker Kharecha concludes that conventional nuclear power has already prevented 1.8 million deaths due to air pollution from fossil fuels and that it could save as many as seven million lives in the next four decades.

Here is the Senator speaking about the opportunity in Sydney.

Ben Heard is serving as the lead advisor in this effort, and has taken to radio to explain the idea. A more recent appearance on The Adelaide Show podcast explored it in depth.

The proposal has nothing to do with precluding other forms of emissions-free electricity production. Yet Green groups are increasingly portraying it – and the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission more broadly – as such. What does this achieve apart from confusing the issues and relegating their relevance in the grown up discussion? Indeed, if they eventually reject outright the legitimacy of the Royal Commission, it would be having the cake they’ve already eaten through contributing various anti-nuclear submissions to the official process – submissions invariably prepared with an obvious lack of consultation with experienced professionals from the scientific/engineering field in question.

“This is not a dream. This is not somebody’s calculations on a piece of paper. This is real. We know how to do these things.”

I’m glad I could assist Ben with the proposal in surveying numerous sites where dry casks of used fuel are stored. Thousands of small communities co-exist with these sites, COLb7FMUwAAswpQand are in no danger whatsoever. Not a few famous cities are similarly within a couple of hundred kilometres of securely shielded, irradiated actinides and fission products. I recommend a read of the submission for a review of the current state of knowledge around dry cask storage.

As far as the power reactor is concerned, I’m still trying to believe how similar these events are to this piece of creative writing from the middle of last year. Hopelessly optimistic? Not any more! Certainly the first-of-a-kind PRISM proposal is about as ambitious as we can get. There are “conventional” alternatives, such as the Direct Use of PWR fuel In CANDU.

Good thing a tender has been awarded to quantify the costs involved in pursuing CANDU technology (among others).

But then, we also have GE Hitachi themselves proposing their PRISM fuel recycling reactor to the Royal Commission. Maybe we’ll be seeing that scale model around the place by 201X, after all.