Small Modular Reactors

Australia / Cost-Effective SMRs Can Replace Coal And Gas Generation, Says Report

By David Dalton
7 October 2021

Plants can also be used to power regional settlements and off-grid mining operations
Cost-Effective SMRs Can Replace Coal And Gas Generation, Says Report
Small modular reactors like Nuscale’s could be used to power regional settlements and off-grid mining operations. Courtesy NuScale.
Small modular reactors could be Australia’s lowest cost 24/7 zero emission power source, underpinning reliable and secure electricity supplies and replacing generation at coal and gas plants that are scheduled to retire, according to a report by the Minerals Council of Australia.

The report considers three of the most advanced SMR designs undergoing regulatory approval – NuScale’s Power Module, GE-Hitachi’s BWRX-300 and Terrestrial Energy’s Integral Molten Salt Reactor – and their potential use in Australia.

It says large nuclear reactors could potentially be accommodated near several of Australia’s larger electricity demand centres, but it is clear that SMRs could replace retiring coal and gas capacity.

With 12,000 MW of coal and gas scheduled to retire between 2030-2040, flexible base, zero-carbon generating units in the form of SMRs make a strong case for direct replacement, and also offer the potential benefit for placement at the weaker ends of the electrical grid, to improve overall balance and system stability.

The report says a soon-to-be-published study estimates that approximately AUD130m (USD94m) worth of assets from existing coal plants could be reused in establishing a NuScale Power SMR plant. Studies suggest all workers in coal-fired power stations could be cross-trained or retrained to staff a nuclear power station, with 667 direct, indirect and induced jobs in the local community for each new plant for the 60-year operating life.

In addition to replacing fossil fuel capacity in Australia’s existing grids, SMRs might provide realistic options for decarbonising large regional settlements and off-grid mining operations.

Because SMRs have no constraint based on proximity to fuel, they might take advantage of sites on Australia’s extensive coastline. Such locations, also likely to be close to major electricity demand, can use non-potable ocean water to provide condenser cooling on a once-through basis.

An additional advantage of SMRs, compared with nuclear technology in general, is that they present no technical impediment to connection to Australia’s existing transmission network.

taking advantage of the country’s significant uranium mining sector, which supplies about 10% of global demand,

The report says there is uncertainty over the cost of SMRs, but by 2030 and beyond, the levelised costs of electricity for the three designs are estimated to be between AUD64 and AUD77 (USD46 and USD56) per MWh. This is substantially less than recent estimates for wind and solar appended to dedicated pumped hydro storage.

“If vendors achieve their cost targets, SMRs would likely play an important role in Australia achieving and maintaining a decarbonised power supply,” the report concludes.

The MCA said that with one third of the world’s uranium reserves, Australia has a significant uranium mining sector, supplying about 10% of global demand. That is enough uranium to power almost the entire output of the national electricity market with low cost zero-emission power.

“Despite this, outdated federal and state bans on nuclear power have seen Australia fall behind as the only G-20 country without access to nuclear energy or plans to develop it,” the MCA said.

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