Australia joins international forum to develop new Gen IV nuclear reactors

This first appeared on Independent Australia

Yes, I bet that you’ve never heard of the GIF, either. I hadn’t, until just this week, when by chance, I heard of The Australian Parliament’s Treaties Committee’s Inquiry into the “Charter” or  Framework Agreement for International Collaboration on Research and Development of Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems. The Committee consists of 9 Liberal MPs, 6 Labor, and one Green.

That inquiry is being held now, and the Committee calls, or more correctly, whispers, for submissions by 28 April 2017.

It is all about the GIF – The Generation IV International Forum     The Australian Government signed up to this, In 2016, without any public discussion

What is The Generation IV International Forum (GIF)?

An international collection of 14 countries: Argentina, Brazil, Canada, France, Japan, South Korea, South Africa, the UK and the USA ( original charter members 2005) Switzerland, Euratom, China, Russia and Australia (signed later)  . The World Nuclear Association describes the collection as countries for whom nuclear energy is significant now or seen as vital in the future.

 What is the 2005 Framework Agreement aka ‘the Charter’?

According to the World Nuclear Association the 2005 Framework agreement “formally commits them (signatories) to participate in the development of one or more Generation IV systems selected by GIF for further R and D.” Australia signed the ‘Charter’ on 22 nd June 2016 – by Dr Adi Patterson COE of the Australia Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation. (pending this JSCOT review). ANSTO is to be the implementing agent.

When the Australian government quietly signed up to the GIF, it made no commitment to any particular action towards developing new nuclear reactors.  Other countries, including Japan, Canada, France, South Korea, have committed to working on particular types ofGeneration IV reactors Australia might be expected to not only fully sign up as a member of the Charter, but perhaps also to provide funding and resources to develop one or more types.

Australia’s signing of the GIF

Media reports indicate Australia made a bid or approach to join GIF. The active seeking out of such an agreement that is at odds with public opinion, at odds with the current Governments policy position on nuclear power and is inconsistent with Australian laws which prohibit the use of this technology is astounding.

What the Gov’t said in 2016 in relation to joining GIF: Christopher Pyne, said:

Australia’s invitation to join this important global project marks an exciting opportunity to be at the forefront of global innovation in the nuclear industry.” He added, “Inclusion in the GIF further strengthens Australia’s position as a nation that has the research muscle to deliver innovations on the global stage. It reinforces the governments 1 $billion National Innovation and Science Agenda, encouraging our best and brightest researchers to collaborate with international experts.

Julie Bishop said in relation to joining GIF:

 Australia has firm non-proliferation goals and nuclear safety objectives, and   contributing to the global conversation on this level is an opportunity to assist in the research that is making nuclear technologies safer around the world in the long term.

What are Gen IV (Generation 4 reactors)

Generation IV reactors describe 6 models/concepts of reactors that claim to solve many of the problems with nuclear power – waste, proliferation risks, safety. There are six reactor technologies described as Gen IV. A 2014 industry update on the road map for development of these 6 technologies can be seen at seen at Technology Roadmap Update for Generation IV Nuclear EnergySystems

In short all 6 technologies are in the ‘viability’ (conceptual) or ‘performance’ (engineering) phase. The earliest prediction for the development of a prototype would be 2022, but it’s expected it will take much longer.

ANSTO makes a number of questionable assumptions about Australia joining in developing new nuclear reactors. For example ANSTO claims that it would “Further Australia’s non-proliferation and nuclear safety objectives” , and “Further strengthen our claim as the most advanced nuclear country in SEAP”, and will position Australia to develop Generation IV reactors.

There are so many questions about this – one hardly knows where to start:

  • Why was there no public discussion about this and yet it is a departure from existing energy policy in Australia – for a technology that is currently prohibited – a prohibition which is supported by all major parties in Australia?
  • What conversations between ANSTO and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Science were had about the signing of the 2005 Framework?
  • What exactly was the intention behind signing the ‘Charter’ what does Australia hope to gain from being involved?
  • What capacity or resources are being allocated for involvement in GIF?
  •  if the objective on joining the GIF is to strengthen non-proliferation and safety – why is ANSTO the implementing agent not the Australia Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office?
  • Given that Australia has clearly and repeatedly made the assessment that nuclear energyis not an option for Australia, why is our active participation – using Australian taxpayers resources for the development of nuclear power technology, in our interest?
  • National Interest Analysis states that Australia had “to demonstrate that it could contribute to the research and development goals of the GIF in a unique and substantive way” – how did Australia do that – and what contributions is ANSTO advocating Australia make towards the research and development goals of the GIF?
  • What are the anticipated costs of such contributions?  Over what period of time?  For what guaranteed outcome?
  • What are the Government and ANSTO’s intentions  in relation to advancing or positioning Australia to develop nuclear energy (a technology which is currently prohibited under Australian laws)?

Nuclear Power has continually been dismissed as an energy option for Australia. Recent Reports from Pro nuclear or neutral orgs on nuclear – all excluding nuclear as an energy option for Australia.  Some examples :

Nuclear power cannot be approved under either The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 EPBC Act or the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act 1998.

In 2017 the “conventional” nuclear industry, with the leading companies AREVA, Toshiba, Westinghouse, is beset by financial problems.  At the same time new renewable energy systems are flourishing, and coming down in price. It seems absurd that the Australian government should now want to venture into development of new nuclear reactors, that exist only in the design phase, that have problems in getting private investment or insurance.

 

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