FAQs

Q1: Why should Australia be concerned about green-house gas emissions?

A: Because of Australia's dependence on coal for electricity generation, we have one of the highest rates of emissions worldwide. Australia is committed to reducing emissions.

Q2:Why does Australia need nuclear power?

A: To reduce geen-house gas emissions from the current high levels we will need to consider every available low emissions technology. This includes wind, solar and nuclear, plus geothermal, tidal energy and carbon capture and storage (CCS) when these technologies become commercially available.

 

Q3: Does nuclear have any advantages over other low emissions technologies?

A: A fundamental advantage is that a nuclear power plant will generate electricity day-in, day-out, independent of whether the wind is blowing or the sun is shining.

Q4: What about safety?

A: With the old designs of nuclear reactor, electrical power is always required to operate the cooling systems and if the grid supplies fail, and the back-up diesels fail and emergency back-ups fail there is a problem as was seen at Fukushima. The latest designs of reactor do not require electrical supplies for cooling. They use natural safety systems - water fed by gravity, natural convection heat exchangers and gas pressurised water tanks. These are called "passive safety systems"

Q5: Do Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) have safety benefits over large reactors?

A: A SMR contains less nuclear fuel than a large reactor so will be easier to keep cool, but there are also two important other benefits:

  • All the primary cooling system that removes heat from the nuclear fuel can be fitted inside the reactor vessel. This eliminates any safety problems due to coolant pipes breaking. This safety feature is known as an "integral reactor".
  • The reactor containment can be located underground providing protection against external hazards and unauthorised access.  

Q6. Do SMRs have any other benefits compared to large reactors?

A: SMRs are small enough to be factory built and shipped to site as a complete package. This reduces the capital cost and also reduces delays due to site construction problems. 

Q7. How long would it take to build an SMR in a suitable location in Australia?

A: After community agreement, and after all government approvals have been granted, it would take 3-5 years. The selected modular reactor would be manufactured overseas and delivered to Australia. Construction of civil works and facilities to connect the plant with the local electricity grid would be carried out in Australia.

Q8: If we were to experience seismic activity like Japan’s earthquake in Fukushima, what would be the risk to an SMR?

A: An SMR sited in Australia would have seismic protection designed in accordance with IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) guidelines and would withstand earthquakes many times greater than Australia has ever experienced.

Remember that even in the Fukushima incident, the reactors were not damaged by one of the world's largest earthquakes, it was the tsunami that caused the problems.

In accordance with IAEA guidelines for reactor siting, SMR-NT will review the history and future predictability of seismic activities in each location.

The goal of the SMR is to have a multi-layered defense that is very robust against all major threats and events, which would include a deeply embedded reactor building containment that mitigates any seismic response, where the attenuation and dissipation of energy makes it inherently robust from an earthquake perspective. With their natural safety design, the SMR does not require AC power for any safety functions. In addition, the SMR's design differs fundamentally from the Fukushima reactors, as the spent fuel pool and the reactor are at the lowest point, the water sources are higher. and given the inherent and passively safe design, pumps are not required.

The apparent damage to the reactor and the supportive infrastructure at Fukushima was caused by an external event and therefore  having an underground reactor and containment building, and all the natural safety systems would likely ensure less exposure to some kind of external event.

Q9: What about nuclear waste?

A: There is no highly radioactive waste produced from day-to-day routine operations and maintenance. The small amount of routine low-level waste produced will be stored on site. When the proposed Australian Radioactive Waste Facility is available, the low-level waste can be transferred to this central facility, along with the waste from hospitals and the Australian research reactor etc.

The small number of highly radioactive spent fuel assemblies from refuelling the reactor will be stored on site. Many SMR designs include a provision to store  all  the spent fuel from the lifetime of the reactor on site.

There are four international alternatives for the longterm management of spent fuel:

  • Reprocess the fuel, extracting and recycling the uranium and any plutonium. This reduces the volume and radioactivity and puts the residue in a vitrified wasteform which is better for longterm management. This is the system used in France.
  • Store the spent fuel in dry, naturally cooled casks on site. This is the system used in the USA.
  • Deep geological disposal. After 30 years of research, Finland and Sweden have both developed, with community agreement,  underground facilities, 500m deep in 1.9 billion year old granite, which will be operational by 2020.
  • Use the spent fuel as new fuel for a fast neutron reactor. This  produces power and reduces the long-lived waste to short-lived waste. This system was proved in the USA (EBR2 Integral fast reactor) and is now being re-examined as the best alternative for the final dosposal of spent fuel.

Q10: Could there ever be a Chernobyl-type disaster in Australia?

A: No, for two main reasons. First, SMRs are only a small fraction of the size of Chernobyl reactors. Secondly, and much more importantly, Chernobyl was based on outdated technology. SMRs, by contrast, are based on the latest technology, and with built in natural safety systems.