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.

 

A radical change in pro nuclear spin

This an an abridged version of the article that first appeared on michaelwest.com.au (as Reactorvated: new nuke push ramps up)

We don’t hear much about this, yet. It’s an international nuclear industry plan to develop new nuclear reactors, ones that are still only in the design phase. The Australian Parliament’s  Treaties Committee is holding an Inquiry into the Framework Agreement for International Collaboration on Research and Development of Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems. Australia already signed up for this in June 2016, without any public discussion.. Now the plan is to extend Australia’s involvement, and the Committee calls, (rather quietly)  for submissions by 28 April 2017.

Anyone would think that the idea of expanding the nuclear industry in Australia was dead and gone, following last year’s debacle of the South Australian government’s attempt to get a nuclear waste import business set up in Australia. However, the latest plan is different.

The South Australian plan was unsuccessfully touted as a bonanza for that state. It was also promoted to the global nuclear corporations as the answer to their problem of where to put radioactive wastes. It would have been a plus for AREVA, Westinghouse, Toshiba, G.E. Hitachi, enabling them to market nuclear reactors to South East Asia, with the promise of having the waste disposal issue solved.

The failed plan was set out in the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission Final Report .  The idea of Australia developing new generation nuclear reactors got the barest mention, in Chapter 10. However, this idea was always quietly a part of the nuclear lobby’s plan for the future.

When it comes to pro nuclear propaganda, what is radically different now, is that Generation IV nuclear energy systems are no longer touted as a helpful solution for those “conventional ” nuclear corporations, (that I will call “Big Nuclear”). In the current climate of financial crisis for AREVA, Westingouse, Toshiba etc, the “new nuclear” companies, Terrestrial Energy, Transatomic, NuScale etc now pitch their products as not a help, but a radically different alternative to the conventional reactors.

This new nuclear propaganda is certainly out there, but is not yet prevalent in Australia. The nuclear lobby’s first step now is to get government commitment in principle, getting Australia in step with USA and the other nations in the campaign. While the government is certainly well aware of the rejuvenated pro nuclear campaign, the soft sell to the Australian public is barely underway, yet

In 2017, the change in both content and style has come about both because of recent developments in the nuclear industry, and also because of the changing media environment. Today’s persuasion campaign is promoting a different product, targeting different audiences, using different media outlets, and above all, has adopted a revitalised style.

The product ? The favoured product is the Small Modular Reactor, (SMR) which does not yet actually exist, except as a design. Some are said to be under construction in China. It’s not at present possible to build them commercially in America or UK: licensing and safety regulations would have to be changed first.

The target audiences? There are several. First, governments have to be won over, particularly because of need to change nuclear regulations, and also because of costs. With the availability of cheap gas and renewable energy, nuclear projects do not currently attract private investment. Even the Bill Gates’ billionaires’ SMR project, Breakthrough Energy Coalition  is seeking tax-payer funding, via the governmental Mission Innovation programme. In Britain, Weinberg Next Nuclear not only informs the government, but has achieved the status of a registered charity.

Secondly, mainstream journals are targeted. Not a week passes without ecstatic articles on SMRs popping up in mainstream media. Almost certainly, these derive from carefully worded handouts from the SMR firms, or better, from journalists like James Conca, who specialises in writing for the SMR lobby.

However, the most important target is the public, and particularly, youth.

Media outlets? You have to hand it to the new nukes lobby. They are way ahead of other industries, and especially of Big Nuclear, in their use of Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, SoundCloud and also of TV, film, radio and podcasts

Style? I think this is what counts, in winning hearts and minds. The media manipulators for the SMR lobby display publicity skills, with a versatility worthy of Joseph Goebbels. Lavishly produced TV series, such as Uranium: Twisting the Dragon’s Tail and the film Pandora’s Promise, carry a very subtle soft sell for new nuclear. A new pro nuclear spin film, The New Fire, is in production.

In fact, quite a small number of individuals produce both wordy technical presentations for government, industry, and mainstream journals, and bright, snappy, easily accessible messages for the young, and for non-technical environmentalists. The best example is Michael Shellenberger who writes extensively, and runs numerous nuclear front groups – Environmental Progress Ecomodernists, etc, – of great appeal to enthusiastic environmentalists.

In Australia, this propaganda genius is shown by Ben Heard, who sends sophisticated submissions to government , tweets incessantly, and also runs a touchy feely nature-loving nuclear front group “Bright New World” 

Especially in the USA, these very appealing groups pop up quickly, to meet changing circumstances. The latest is Generation Atomic, formed in April 2017, specifically to organise a clear pro nuclear presence in the March for Science, an American and international event on 22 April.

Reading back through this, I realise that it shows that, as Marshall McLuhan said,The Medium is the Massage.  What the message IS might matter less than its attractive style.

However, the nuclear propaganda message is always there, though it has evolved over decades.

The decades of nuclear spin from the late 1940s to the 1990s could be called the era of Defensive Spin.  Apart from one ambitiously positive 1950s campaign about Cheap Electricity “too cheap to meter”, pro-nuclear propaganda became mired in the fear, and the support for weapons, that characterised the Cold War period. The defensive themes of the 1970s -80s followed news of nuclear accidents, and could be summarised as Downplaying Radiation Effects, and Assurances of Safety. 

I have skimmed through that Defensive Spin era because the later Positive one is much more interesting, and relevant to today.

1990 The first burst of positive nuclear spin came  at around the time of the first IPCC Climate Report. Already, nuclear corporations like AREVA were talking about Fossil Fuel Depletion and Energy Security: nuclear power was the answerThe industry was reluctant to yet push the low-carbon argument, as many in these corporations did not believe in global warming. However, they could still push the line about nuclear power being Clean and Pollution Free (Nuclear Energy Institute)

2003, The Breakthrough Institute  was the first big foray of a new nuclear front group. They pushed the clean energy line, but courageously in 2004 touted the benefits of nuclear power to combat global warming. While some nuclear lobbyists are still pushing that line, it has also somewhat lost favour, because research is showing that this line has resulted in promotion of renewable energy, rather than nuclear

Over the 2000s, nuclear front groups have sprung up. For a long time they promoted “new nuclear” – Generation IV reactors as Supporting Big Nuclear.    The big selling point was the promise that Generation IV reactors would eat the wastes of conventional reactors. They still push that promise to the world, but are now not keen to be seen as associated with the troubled Big Nuclear   companies.

The message is always a positive and optimistic one.  Even the Fukushima disaster becomes twisted as some sort of evidence for the benefits of new nuclear.

With the more youthful and digitally aware target audience in mind, the Ecomodernism  movemen brought in a new spin angle – Humanitarian and nature loving. It has the feel of an alternative to big corporations, although billionaires are behind it.

The overall message is saving the planet. This encompasses: endless cheap and pollution-free energy for all of humanity, recycling nuclear wastes and thus solving that problem, combatting climate change, and promoting the beneficial uses of ionising radiation, freeing people from irrational fears, and from anti-science.

I am not here interested in scrutinising the claims made by today’s pro nuclear spin. I am in awe of their chutzpah. The Generation IV- SMR lobby has been successful, in gaining the attention of government and media for technologies which do not yet even exist.  In today’s world of “alternative facts”, I guess that this success is not surprising. It remains to be seen if “new nuclear” can win the public approval that it needs.

Integral Fast Nuclear Reactors – the latest confidence trick from the nuclear lobby

The nuclear lobby seems to get quite irate when some amateur comes along and criticises their latest gimmicks. They sure revel with delight if some non-technical peasant should make any mistake, however small, in using the approved language of nuclear terminology. It’s really like the Catholic Church in earlier days, when they had all their dogmas and liturgy in Latin, so that the people just had to believe it all, with no explanation available in the vulgar tongue.

It must be reassuring to the nuclear lobby to know that the great unwashed, the hoi polloi, the peasantry, have no idea about the differences between the various types of nuclear reactors now in operation — the Generation 2 and Generation 3 reactors. Let alone the new developing blueprints of Generation IV: Integral Fast Reactors, Lead Cooled Fast Reactors, Molten Salt Reactors, Sodium Cooled Fast reactors, Thorium Liquid Fuel reactors; the peasant mind boggles! And wait, like those old TV commercials – there’s more! – Generation V is now in the minds and on some bits of paper of the nuclear boffins.

Well, the nuclear priesthood is pretty safe in all this. They keep the argument narrowly technical, with pages and pages on the various technicalities of cooling systems, reprocessing of fuel systems, passive safety systems and so on; in other words, they induce in the public a kind of mindless torpor as they dazzle us with science.

At the same time, the nuclear priesthood, like some gifted but autistic child with specialist knowledge in just one area, seems to have little grasp of other issues concerning nuclear power — blinkered as they are in their apparent view that the technicalities are the whole story.  This is the case with their latest propaganda for the ‘Integral Fast Reactor’ or IFR.

Continue reading Integral Fast Nuclear Reactors – the latest confidence trick from the nuclear lobby

Australia’s nuclear lobby: Barry Brook pushing Integral Nuclear Fast Reactors

Australia’s nuclear propagandists are at it again, although Ziggy Switkowski, the usual leader of the pack, has been very quiet lately. However, Professor Barry Brook, and his acolyte, Terry Krieg of Australian Nuclear Forum, seem to be taking up the torch now.

The Australian reported Barry Brook, speaking in Adelaide last week, as saying that Australia ‘would have no choice but to embrace nuclear power and would focus on next-generation nuclear technology that provided safety, waste and cost benefits.’ He said an attractive sustainable nuclear technology for Australia was the Integral Fast Reactor. “Integral Fast Reactors can be operated at low cost and high reliability.”They are also inherently safer than past nuclear reactors due to passive systems based on the laws of physics.”

To quote from The Australian:

Professor Brook said that by 2025 the first contracts would be issued for small nuclear reactors built on outback mining sites and by 2030 small amounts of nuclear-generated power will start to flow into the national electricity grid.

By 2050 larger nuclear power plants will be located at a dozen energy parks and in various remote areas, and by 2100 Australia will have 100 gigawatts of installed nuclear power, he predicted.

Now let’s dissect this:

Climate Change

I should start from Barry Brook’s own starting point. He is the director of climate science at the University of Adelaide’s Environment Institute, – so his main argument is that nuclear power is needed to counteract climate change – to replace greenhouse gas- emitting fossil fuels, coal and gas. This position is in itself debatable. Given that climate scientists are warning that climate change is near to becoming irreversible, one might well ask – will all the nuclear reactors be built in time to prevent this, even if they are not greenhouse gas producers? (And in the total cycle from uranium mining to waste disposal, nuclear power IS a greenhouse gas producer).

Safety

Let’s examine the facts on the Integral Fast Reactors:

Continue reading Australia’s nuclear lobby: Barry Brook pushing Integral Nuclear Fast Reactors