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Nuclear power gains traction as clean energy option

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By Colin Hay - 
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Ministers from 161 countries recently met in Paris to reaffirm their commitment to nuclear energy.


Once considered a major threat to the environment, the use of nuclear energy is gaining a growing international following with nations around the globe as part of the answer to their future clean energy equations.

With the world racing to meet climate neutrality by 2050 at the latest, numerous countries and regions are revisiting nuclear power’s potential to provide cleaner energy.

Just recently, ministers and high-level representatives of 161 countries met with the EU Commissioner for Energy in Paris to unveil their opinions on nuclear energy.

The gathering reasserted a commitment to a pursued strengthening of European cooperation in the field of nuclear energy as an important component of Europe’s energy and climate ambition.

Reduction of fossil fuels

The attendees highlighted nuclear power’s potential as an addition to renewable energy and its ability to help reduce Europe’s fossil-free electricity supply.

It was suggested that nuclear energy could provide up to 150 GW of electricity capacity by 2050 to the European Union, compared to the current approximately 100 GW of supply.

That would require the construction of up to 30 to 45 new build large reactors and Small Modular Reactors (SMR) in the EU.

Moving forward, the ministers and high-level representatives have agreed to pull together on a road map to help trigger the involvement of the European Union in the field of nuclear energy.

Finnish electricity prices fall dramatically

The Paris gathering came at the same time as Finnish residents were celebrating a massive drop in their electricity prices following the start-up of a new nuclear plant.

The introduction of power from the Olkiluoto 3 (OL3) nuclear plant, saw the average spot electricity prices in Finland fall to €60.55 (US$65.69) per megawatt hour in April from €245.98 per megawatt hour in December, a decrease of 75.38 per cent.

Initially scheduled to begin construction in 2005, OL3 is Europe’s first new nuclear plant in 16 years. It has a design capacity of 1600 megawatts of energy (MWe) and is said to be able to provide up to 15 per cent of Finland’s power needs.

Joint declaration on plans to accelerate nuclear developments

Elsewhere, the World Nuclear Association (WNA) has confirmed that a joint declaration has been issued calling on G7 governments to support the long-term operation of existing nuclear power plants and to accelerate the deployment of new nuclear power plants.

The declaration was signed by World Nuclear Association Director General Dr Sama Bilbao y León, alongside leaders of five other nuclear trade associations – the Canadian Nuclear Association, the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum, nucleareurope, the Nuclear Energy Institute (US) and Nuclear Industry Association (UK).

The WNA told the delegates at a Nuclear Energy Forum that as governments strive to decarbonise economies and mitigate the impacts of global warming, nuclear energy must serve as a cornerstone of the just transition to a clean and sustainable energy future.

“To support decarbonisation at the scale required, the international community must work to extend the operating period of existing nuclear generation resources, develop the policies to enable new nuclear deployment and accelerate the development of a new portfolio of reactor technologies.”

Australia still waits

While the Australian Nuclear and Science Technology Organisation (ANSTO) recently celebrated 70 years since Australia officially ushered in an age of nuclear science and innovation, the country still waits on policy changes that may see nuclear energy playing a role in the country’s clean energy future.

ANSTO has controlled Australia’s only nuclear reactors: HIFAR for nearly 50 years, Moata for 34 years, and since 2007, the state-of-the-art OPAL multi-purpose reactor.

The organisation’s chief executive officer, Shaun Jenkinson, said Australia has made significant contributions to global nuclear science and technology.

“Many might not recognise Australia as an early adopter of nuclear technologies. But merely a year or so after electricity was first generated from a nuclear power plant in the United States, Australia had established the AAEC and formally officiated this with the Atomic Energy Act,” Mr Jenkinson said.

“Australia also played a key role in the formation of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) years later in 1957, and ANSTO’s long-held ties with the IAEA continues to be globally recognised today.

“We may be a small nuclear nation but we’re a highly sophisticated one, leveraged by our 70 years of nuclear expertise and capabilities that will continue to lead Australia into a bright and promising future.”

Australia’s world leading uranium supplies

The Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) says the nation currently contains world’s largest uranium reserves and is also the world’s third largest producer of the energy metal behind Kazakhstan and Canada.

However, while there have been mutterings for a change of attitude from Australian governments, the nation’s uranium can only be used for peaceful purposes under bilateral agreements with customer countries.

The MCA has stated it will continue to advocate for the lifting of the nuclear energy ban in Australia, suggesting its banning less than two decades ago has cost the nation significant global investment and scientific collaboration on new nuclear technologies.

“The good news is the nuclear ban can be reversed with a single amendment to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Nuclear energy is a safe, readily deployable, zero emissions power source and should be included in Australia’s energy mix. It provides around 10 per cent of the world’s power, safely providing zero emission electricity to billions of people in more than 30 countries.”

Uranium demand rising

According to the Federal Department of Industry, Science and Resources’ latest Resources and Energy Quarterly, global uranium prices and Australia’s exports are about to increase.

The report pointed to geopolitical issues such as the Russian invasion of Ukraine creating increased concerns over potential disruptions to supply, and a consequent push towards greater supply security.

With this in mind, it has forecast a jump in uranium prices from US$51 a pound in 2022 to above US$60 a pound by 2028. Is said that this is likely to encourage stronger production from Kazakhstan, Australia, Canada and Namibia.

Australian exports are forecast to increase, from 4,933 tonnes in 2021–22 to almost 8,000 tonnes by 2027–28.

New Australian uranium production coming

While Australia’s production currently comes from only two mines, help is on way.

Boss Energy (ASX: BOE) recently declared its Honeymoon mine in South Australia is on target to re-open this year.

Currently on care and maintenance, Honeymoon is tipped to produce around 1,100-1,200 tonnes of uranium per year for at least 10 years.

Meanwhile, conservation plans for the sandhill dunnart at Deep Yellow’s (ASX: DYL) Mulga Rock site have now received formal approval, bringing start-up for the proposed mine a step closer.

Mulga Rock is one of Australia’s largest undeveloped uranium resources and lies in the Great Victoria Desert in Western Australia.

A revised DFS is currently underway at Mulga Rock, with a previously completed DFS confirming a project with a 15-year life of mine using a simple, low-cost uranium mining and recovery process.