Keane wrong on nuclear power

David Rossiter FICE, FIEAust, FAIE (retired): Re. “Nuclear: the power source for innumerates and socialists” (December 1). The old chestnuts keep coming. Chestnut 1: Renewables can’t produce base load power. How did Tasmania have a 100% renewable energy based electricity system prior to the introduction of RET.  Did it have base load? It certainly did. It ran an aluminium smelter the base load to beat all base loads.  It used storage hydro as base load power (and Snowy did similar base load power before it realised it could sell power at higher prices on peak and shoulder). Nuclear is therefore not the only zero emissions base load power system. Solar with pumped storage hydro, wind with pumped storage hydro and hydro storage alone are base load renewable systems with zero emissions that work and are feasible options for the future.

Further base load was a concept invented by lumbering power plants that were difficult to turn down during periods of low electricity demand, such as brown coal power plants in Victoria (on lower outputs the fire would go out due to the high moisture content of the coal, and nuclear power plants that would produce more expensive power unless they ran all the time). Remember night store heaters for free in Victoria and off peak hot water storage systems run on ultra low tariffs at night — all as a result of the lack of turn down on brown coal power plants and to some extent the same applies to black coal plants in NSW and Qld too.

And yet further the demand curve for electricity is also becoming more peaky as air conditioning becomes more widely used and solar water heaters eat into that ‘base load’ of artificially created demand. Less base load and more peaking means solely base load plants are becoming an even bigger liability in the electricity market — installing lumbering nuclear power plants needing to run on base load to generate electricity at the cheapest possible rates due to their high capital cost and low fuel cost will not help.  Pumped storage hydro and storage hydro can be run as peaking or as base load power plants — nuclear is lumbering base load and slow to respond like coal to rapid load changes and can’t be used for peaking loads.

Chestnut 2: ‘Modular’ nuclear power plants. Nuclear power plants have always been modular, that is,  a reactor matched to a steam turbine of say 500MW, 660MW, 850MW etc.  In fact most power stations are modular. I think modular has been misused here and it may mean small size power plants which of course will be spread around the country disguised no doubt as nuclear power plants!  Smaller power plants lose the economies of scale of larger plants and as a result their energy costs are more expensive — even large ones are of very questionable economics.

As a matter of my background I have worked on the design and construction of nuclear power plants (in Scotland in the late 1960s), coal power plants, gas power plants, hydro power plants and was the inaugural renewable energy regulator from 2001 to 2008 for the RET.  I have worked on power system planning for major electrical grids in Australia and overseas and am very familiar with the concepts of base load.

Joe and the bad news budget

Terry Edwards writes: Re. “Anaemic GDP growth is awful news for Hockey” (December 3). Joe Hockey has warned that if the Senate continues to block his key budget “reforms”, Australia’s living standards will fall. Has it not occurred to Joe that if his key measures are passed by the Senate,  living standards will certainly fall, especially for those targeted by Joe — the unemployed, pensioners, the sick, university students and, it seems, the middle and lower socioeconomic groups, generally. Talk about a tin ear!

Peter Fray

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