Paper discussion: requirements for operational nuclear plants in Australia

Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) present a possible solution to support a transition to renewable energy grids. Engineers Australia hosted the leader of a preliminary concept study on SMRs to explain the work, which examines requirements for the technology in Australia.
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In July, the Sydney Division Nuclear Engineering Panel hosted a webinar by Professor Stephen Wilson of the University of Queensland about the Requirements for Operational Nuclear Plants in Australia from the 2030s – Preliminary Concept Study.

The presentation was based on a recent study conducted by a team of students and their mentors at the university, looking into the idea of Small Modular (nuclear) Reactors (SMRs) and their potential role in Australia’s energy landscape.

Professor Wilson delivered a comprehensive description of the study his team had undertaken, the report for which is in its final university faculty review before publication later this year.

The study was prompted by the idea that as Australia’s coal fired power generating stations head towards end of life, and investment in renewable energy is gaining traction, new forms of generation can be considered to balance the energy market.

SMRs could be part of this future market and have caused much discussion and debate in Australia and around the world.

According to the World Nuclear Association there are five SMRs currently operating around the world, two in Russia, and one in China, India and Siberia with many more under development.

Currently the introduction of nuclear power in Australia is inhibited by several federal and state legislative acts. Most importantly the 1999 Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act which prohibits nuclear installations for fuel fabrication, power generation, enrichment, or reprocessing.

Wilson pointed out that as SMRs have a small footprint there could be opportunity to deploy the first plants upon existing coal-fired power plant locations. Once created SMRs can then have modules added to the original if demand increases.

However, research and reports suggest that there are further challenges to be resolved to demonstrate that the technology is competitive and can be commercialised or deployed at scale.

Once released, Professor Wilson’s study will map out the ten steps needed for the implementation of SMRs in Australia and will open discussion for the feasibility of this technology in our energy landscape.

Engineers Australia members can watch Professor Wilson’s presentation on the study on EA OnDemand.