NFG talks about the Nuclear Option

| #australia | #Editorial | #nuclear |

Nuclear’s a big thing in Australia this year. I was a supporter of the Pirate Party, before they fused with a few other no-hopers and became the Fusion party, which is an unfortunate name when we’re talking about fission power generation, but whatever.

The tl;dr of this is: We need more clean power immediately, if not sooner. Nuclear will take 20 years to bring one plant online. Australia creates one nuclear plant worth of renewable power every two years. Nuclear costs far, far more than renewables.

So we can wait for nuclear to produce 10% of the power of renewables in 20 years at a higher price per kWh, or we can keep doing what we’re already doing and have clean, cheap, plentiful power.

The Liberals

The Fusion rep rightly pointed out that the Liberal party (Australia’s right-wing asshole party, one of the two big parties here) is scoring points by being pro nuclear in a time when the masses want coal-free power that doesn’t literally cost the Earth. Because nuclear plants mean big money to their cronies. Because, while we wait for nuclear to be built, we keep burning coal. It is, in the words of Australian MP Matt Kean, “A Trojan horse for the coal industry.” (source)

The power companies don’t want nuclear. (source)

AGL Energy‘s CEO Damien Nicks said nuclear energy was not part of his company’s plans. There is no viable schedule for the regulation or development of nuclear energy in Australia, and the cost, build time and public opinion are all prohibitive,”

“At this stage, our primary focus is adding more supply from these mature low-emissions technologies,” Origin‘s spokesperson said.

[Alinta‘s] Dimery compared the federal opposition’s plans to replace coal plants with nuclear power to “looking for unicorns in the garden”. He also dismissed the idea of using Alinta’s LaTrobe Valley site or any other existing coal plant to build nuclear reactors.

Now, I preface the rest of this by assuring you I’m not an expert in these matters. I just follow the story, read the articles, and form some opinions that seem to closely match actual experts. This is rumour control, these are the facts:

Nuclear costs more, it really does. The last reactor built in Europe almost tripled in price, to ~12 billion Australian Dollaridoos, by the time it was finished. And what does that $12B get you? About 900 megawatts of power generation. Which is about equal to two large solar farms.

Which cost literally thousands of times less.

So unless you’re spectacularly bad at math, you can’t suggest nuclear competes on cost. And do remember, my friends, you’ll be paying for that electricity when it heats up your shower water.

Nuclear takes a long time.

OL3 is the name of the last Finnish reactor. yo_ean on Twitter posted this:

“when the latest plant OL3 was started, all solar panels ever produced combined to 2GW. Price was at 3$ per Wp. A year after it finished, cumulative PV production hits 2TW and modules are 0.15$/W.”

“When OL3 was started, all Li-Ion batteries ever produced combined to 8GWh and cells were at $850 per kWh.
A year after it finished, cumulative Li-Ion battery production reached 1TWh and cells were at ~$55 per kWh.”

A nuclear plant made anywhere is going to take 20 years to build. If you started it today. Which you won’t.

Nuclear Hazards

Some people will argue about the hazards of nuclear, like that’s enough to win the argument, and maybe it is. Maybe the hazards are outweighed by the benefits, though I think when we consider time, cost and amount of power, nuclear has already failed before you get to the waste issue.

Nuclear reactors may be robust, but the cost of a failure is massive. You need to be careful about how and where they’re built, then deal with the waste (on an eternal sort of timeline) and the security for both of those things, then you have to accept that, should war, terrorism or other conflict break out, it’s a major target. It’s hard to weaponize a solar farms.

Ukraine has shown us the problems they represent: Russia went for the Chernobyl plant pretty quickly, and they’re a great bargaining chip. “Give us what we want or the reactor falls down some stairs” is hard to ignore.

And storing the waste? That comes at a cost, in terms of the place, and the guards, and the maintenance and monitoring. You don’t need to monitor your pile of old solar panels quite as vigilantly.

And what of the price of failure? If a nuclear plant melts down, it’s a problem. If a solar panel fails, or a wind turbine flings all its blades into the air in a fiery fit of fuck you, it’s not quite as big a deal.

Energy Availability

“Oh but it’s not sunny at night!” screams the ‘we got ya with our understanding of diurnal cycles’ crowd. To which I can only reply: wind, geothermal, wave, batteries.
They all work at night. And while lithium batteries aren’t great, they’re greater than nuclear fuel or waste. And they’re cheaper.

Remember, we were seriously, legitimately thinking of creating solar farms and running an extension cord to fucking Singapore (source). For $22 billion, or 1.5 nuclear plants. In four years, start to finish.

And it’d produce as much power as 22 Finnish nuclear plants.


The Hornsdale battery in South Australia was 100m Euros, or 150 million AUD, give or take. That’s your cloudy weather night-time insurance. Finland’s last reactor, OL3, was supposed to bring a new era of on-time on-budget reactors. But, as these things always do, it went over budget. The starting price was 3 billion Euros. The final price was more than 8 billion Euros (12B AUD).

Do you know how many Hornsdale equivalent batteries you can buy for $12 billion Australian dollars?

One hundred.

One hundred city-scale batteries to tide us over on those rainy days or those pesky nights when the sun isn’t shining on our solar farms and the power brought in from the other side of the country or across the world isn’t enough for us.

California’s already doing the battery thing. (source)

About 20% more solar power being generated, and look at how much less gas they’re burning, because batteries take up that slack. Throw more batteries into that mix, and they won’t need gas at all. A few more again, and they won’t need the nuclear they already have.

And we haven’t even talked about how solar farms improve soil quality, and provide better conditions for livestock farming. Because that’s a thing.

Meanwhile, in Finland

Finland was the most recent European country to build a new reactor (in 2005, which was -fifteen years- after the last one began construction in Europe). By the time it was online, in 2023, they were already forced to reduce its output because renewables had dropped the price of electricity into the negatives. (source) That’s already happened in Australia too. We’re making more power than we’re using, FFS. What do we need nuclear for?

Nuclear was a good idea before solar and batteries, but even in places where the sun don’t shine, they don’t want it anymore. In Australia, where the sun never f**king stops, nuclear is silly.

So it’s pretty conclusive, right? Nuclear takes a long time, costs a lot to build and produce power, and really doesn’t produce much power. 900 jigawatts sounded like a lot 20 years ago, but we could literally make that much power with solar in two years.

If we started today.

Which we can do, and are doing.

And, for good measure, Germany closed their plants

From Ars Technica in April 2024:

“Predictions that the nuclear exit would leave Germany forced to use more coal and facing rising prices and supply problems, meanwhile, have not transpired. In March 2023—the month before the phaseout—the distribution of German electricity generation was 53 percent renewable, 25 percent coal, 17 percent gas, and 5 percent nuclear. In March 2024, it was 60 percent renewable, 24 percent coal, and 16 percent gas.

Overall, the past year has seen record renewable power production nationwide, a 60-year low in coal use, sizeable emissions cuts, and decreasing energy prices.”

An interesting read, covering Germany’s historical distaste for nuclear energy. “In the words of one industry observer: “Once you switch off these nuclear power stations, they’re out.” And there’s no easy way back.”


[ Jun 24 2024 ]

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