Australia’s technology roadmap finds no place for nuclear

26 May 2020

Australia's recent technology roadmap has little mention of nuclear energyIn a Technology Roadmap Discussion Paper released on 21 May, the Australian Government Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources said its goal is to bring a strategic and system-wide view to future investments in low emissions technologies.

The paper puts gas and hydrogen at the centre of its post COVID-19 economic recovery plans, arguing that it is essential to hasten both emissions cuts and cost reductions over the short, medium and long term. It does not exclude coal. It cites 135 different technologies – across the electricity grid, and in critical and more challenging sectors such as buildings, transport, manufacturing and agriculture – in the course of which, nuclear energy barely gets a mention.

In the Ministerial Foreward, Australia’s federal energy and emissions reduction minister, Angus Taylor, said Australia’s emissions per person and per dollar of GDP “are now at their lowest levels in 29 years”.

He adds: “As we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, we must continue to prioritise investment in technologies that improve productivity and support a resilient economy.”

He said efforts to accelerate new and emerging technologies “will focus on areas of comparative advantage in agriculture, industry, mining and energy-intensive exports”.

He concluded: “We must support technologies that can succeed, but we must also be disciplined in recognising when technologies are struggling and in leaving deployment of technologies that have reached commercial viability to the private sector.”

Recent government initiatives – including the $1 billion Grid Reliability Fund, the development of a National Hydrogen Strategy and commitment of $500 million to support that industry “are aligned with this forward-looking philosophy”.

The Executive Summary says: “Deploying the right technology when and where it is needed will allow Australian industry to capture new opportunities from rising global demand for lower emissions products and services.The Roadmap will allow us to work towards clear priorities over the short, medium and long term."

In the short term, this includes “storage and transmission needed to balance record investment in renewable energy”. In the medium term, “we will support building storage and transmission infrastructure and the electrification of industry while scaling our domestic hydrogen industry”. Long-term focus is on “new export-facing industries in the global low emissions economy including those leveraging hydrogen and carbon capture and storage”.

The Roadmap approaches the prioritisation of technology investments in eight stages, the second of which is a survey of new and emerging technologies. This contains the only mention of nuclear in the main body of the 70-page report.

It says: “Emerging nuclear technologies (for example, small modular reactors) have potential but require R&D and identified deployment pathways. Engineering, cost and environmental challenges, alongside social acceptability of nuclear power in Australia, will be key determinants of any future deployment.”

This is repeated verbatim in Appendix B – technology analysis by sector (electricity supply). This appendix also has a section on process heating for industry, which notes that “options for high-temperature heating are typically further from commercial readiness”. It adds: “It is possible to reach temperatures over 1000°C using concentrated solar thermal heating but its reliability in very high temperature industrial applications is not yet clearly demonstrated.”

Appendix A lists the 135 different technologies which had been investigated. The section on electricity generation includes 15, including Nuclear; Nuclear (next generation); and Nuclear (small modular). However, there is little evidence of this in the text, and the eight technologies listed in the process heat section do not include high temperature reactors.

In summary, this roadmap makes it clear that there is no place for nuclear in Australia in the foreseeable future.

Photo: Map of Australia

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