Australia begins search for National Radioactive Waste Management Facility

On March 2, 2015, the Australian Government announced that it had opened the process for voluntary site nominations for a future “National Radioactive Waste Management Facility” that will be designed to handle 4,248 cubic metres of low level and 656 cubic metres of intermediate level nuclear waste. The Australian Nuclear Association, in summarizing the government’s proposal, outlined the key objectives of the initial site identification phase which include: community well-being, equity, environmental protection, security, and economic viability.

Australia’s recent past with nuclear waste has been fraught with debate. In 2010, the Australian government passed the National Radioactive Waste Management Bill. The Bill paved the way for what some media outlets called a highly controversial plan to store nuclear waste in Muckaty Station, a northern Aboriginal community.

The Muckaty Station plan fell apart, and in response the government amended the Bill in 2012 with provisions for a new voluntary land nomination process. This shift to a voluntary process, in addition to the increased protection for Aboriginal communities, quelled the initial controversy over the 2010 Bill. However, with the nomination process now underway, the media and public’s attention has shifted to a number of new issues.

In an article posted March 7, 2015, Cameron England of Australia’s Sunday Mail discussed the government’s announcement and the broader political, economic, and social debate over nuclear waste storage in South Australia.  England argues that:

“Currently Australia is only involved in the first stage of the nuclear fuel cycle – that is, we mine uranium and ship it overseas for others to use. Like many other commodities, such as iron ore and wheat, we miss out on the lucrative ‘value adding’ that is involved in making the raw commodity a useful product.”

Citing a paper commissioned by the Committee for Economic Development in Australia, England argues that this involvement in the full nuclear fuel cycle, including reprocessing and long-term disposal, could boost the value derived from uranium by about 250 per cent.

Alternately, Mark Parnell, a South Australian Greens leader, is quoted in the article as pointing out the potential negative impact on public health and tourism in the region and the industry’s lack of development and deployment of small modular reactors (SMRs). In addition, Parnell argues that nuclear’s role in our energy future is uncertain due to the rise of and public preference for alternative energy sources.

Australia is not alone in its current development of nuclear fuel storage plans. In Canada, the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO), a federally mandated body created in part with Ontario Power Generation Inc. and Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, is currently evaluating proposals for a number of nuclear waste storage sites in Ontario and one in Saskatchewan.

A recent feature article in The Globe and Mail takes a decidedly critical look at the development of a future Deep Geological Repository (DGR) for long-term spent-fuel storage. Another article, published March 9, 2015 in The London Free Press, covers much of the same ground on the issues surrounding the DGR site selection process. This local story, in part, starts in 2002, when the Canadian Federal government passed the Nuclear Fuel Waste Act, which mandated the creation of the NWMO and the development of a waste disposal strategy. The preamble to the Act explicitly calls for a “comprehensive, integrated and economically sound approach” to the management of nuclear fuel.

The Canadian Act, and much of the NWMO’s own goals, mirror the same Australian policy objectives highlighted in the introduction: balancing economic, environmental, and social responsibility. If we can highlight a single take-away from the media articles noted above, it is that industry and government must do anything and everything possible to make the process as transparent and open as possible. That means not just education but conversation, and a balanced approach to discussing not only how important nuclear energy is to our current energy system, but what role it will play in the future. Such efforts can not only shift the substantive outcome of the selection process, picking the best and safest site for nuclear waste management, but also inform and shape the integrity of the process itself.

 

Nuclear Innovation announced as theme for Future of Nuclear 2014 Conference

In recent weeks, sources as diverse as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and the Dalai Lama have all commented on the relentless growth of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the earth’s atmosphere and the need to mitigate resultant climate change effects.  In all instances the sources have talked about the need for nuclear energy to play an increased role in the global energy mix.  Along with renewable forms of energy such as wind and solar, together with innovations in smart grid and energy storage, leading thinkers believe there still may be a chance to rein in overall global warming before certain irreversible tipping points are reached.

In our post-Fukushima world many leading policy makers, politicians, and stakeholders are revisiting and reassessing the role that nuclear power can play in the global energy mix. What innovations have taken place since the Fukushima generation reactors were designed and deployed?  What innovations have there been in safety, regulation, and decommissioning?  Have there been advances in quantifying the risks and liabilities of nuclear projects?  What are the innovations and considerations in public policy, education and awareness that have prompted several jurisdictions to ramp up their nuclear programs?

On November 4, 2014, Mindfirst will host the second Future of Nuclear Conference that will address many of these questions. We are currently in the process of developing the agenda, content and speaker list.  Interested participants and potential speakers may contact admin@futureofnuclear.com.  Click here to view the agenda from last year’s Future of Nuclear conference.

Early bird registration is available at:
http://futureofnuclear2014.eventbrite.com

 

 

 

Dates Announced for Future of Nuclear Seminar Series

Mindfirst Inc. (M1) is pleased to announce that it will organize six (6) luncheon seminars on various nuclear energy related topics over the course of 2014 as part of the Future of Nuclear Seminar Series. Dates, topics and speakers are determined through the input of the Future of Nuclear Advisory Board and participant surveys.

The dates for the 2014 Future of Nuclear Seminar Series are:
January 21 – Speaker Assistant Deputy Minister, Rick Jennings, re. Long Term Energy Plan (LTEP) and Nuclear
– March 4 – Humans Resources Requirements of Nuclear Refurbishment
 May 8 – Trends in Nuclear Energy Finance, the UK Experience, Jonathan Dart and Panel
– June 24 – TBA
– September 23 – TBA
– November 4 – Full Day Conference, Innovation in Nuclear Energy, Science, Research and Applications

Please contact Future of Nuclear organizers directly if you have speaker suggestions for the following six (6) topics will be addressed on the given dates:

– Export opportunities for nuclear industries
– Jobs analysis and Growing HR Needs in Canada’s nuclear industry
– Chalk River
–  Ontario’s  refurbishment programs – an overview from OPG and Bruce Power
– Trends in Finance, UK’s experience in planning and financing new nuclear|
– Nuclear Waste Technologies

Following each seminar organizers provide a written report of the Top 10 Learnings as compiled from the survey of seminar participants.

The Future of Nuclear Series is possible through the support of Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, OPG, Power Workers’ Union and Torys. Additional sponsors are welcome so that we may continue to build on our mission to build awareness and discussion for important energy topics.

The Future of Nuclear Power and The Long View

Below is a comment from Future of NuclearChair Henry Vehovec on his opening remarks and in response to post-event press coverage:

“The day after Wednesday’s Future of Nuclear 2013 Conference in Toronto the Premier Kathleen Wynne and the Province of Ontario announced that new build nuclear reactors would not be pursued at this time. Articles in the press cited pricing pressure from cheap shale gas, a decline in energy demand, and increased resistance to nuclear power in the post-Fukushima world as reasons for the decision. Although there has been a recent decline in nuclear power in the global energy mix it would be premature to dismiss nuclear in the longer term.

Henry Vehovec, Chair, Future of Nuclear

Henry Vehovec, Chair, Future of Nuclear

The global mix of major energy sources evolves over decades and plays out in time frames of a century or more. The first oil well was drilled in Pennsylvania in 1859, however, it wasn’t until the development of the Model-T Ford fifty years later that oil truly took off as a major global energy source. Similarly, civilian nuclear energy started about fifty years ago and the industry now needs game changing innovation if it is to compete with shale gas and address concerns of radioactive waste, safety and proliferation.

Are there any such game changing innovations on the horizon? At the Future of Nuclear Conference we heard about several nuclear technologies that hold the paradigm shifting potential to compete with shale gas.  New nuclear technologies that are on the drawing board can burn spent fuel, are incapable of meltdown, and do not produce fissile material. We heard about fusion from General Fusion, thorium and molten salt reactors (MSR) from Terrestrial Energy, small modular reactors (SMR) from Babcock and Wilcox, portable reactors, travelling reactors, floating reactors and more. These technologies have attracted investors such as Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates as well as some of the wealthiest sovereign funds. The only problem with most of these technologies is that they require at least a decade to develop and would cost several billion dollars to produce their first prototype let alone a commercially available product. In this era of short term pressures for quarterly results in business and governments that rarely think beyond the horizon of a 4-year election term it is difficult to find jurisdictions that plan decades into the future as is required when considering energy infrastructure.

China, India, Russia and UAE are examples of countries that are taking an appropriate long view to energy planning. Not coincidentally, these are also among the countries that are proceeding aggressively with their plans to build nuclear power capabilities. China alone has 29 reactors currently under construction. Although some jurisdictions in the west do not have local demand to support new reactors it would certainly make sense to stay engaged with the industry and act as a supplier to international markets where possible. As a commodity, shale gas will not be cheap and plentiful forever.”