Australia has around 30% of the global resources of uranium and thorium. We have in ANSTO a professional nuclear energy research, pharmaceutical and regulatory body, with a staff of more than 1,000.
Alone among the developed nations, we have steadfastly refused to develop a nuclear energy industry. We must proceed urgently to bring the country into the 21st. century, or risk disastrous damage to our economy. This page proposes a possible course of positive action.
Continue to develop the mining and processing of metals, not only the familiar iron, aluminium, zinc, copper, lead, etc., but also the scarce products of mineral sands and rare earths, such as lithium, zirconium, beryllium, which are key ingredients in modern technology.
It is vitally important to generate sufficient non-polluting base-load power to support local metallurgical industries, for the production of alloy steels, aluminium and zinc, using electric furnaces and electrolytic smelting.
Establish an Australian-patented Silex uranium enrichment plant in the Commonwealth Government secure area at Woomera. The necessary community and engineering support facilities already exist. Woomera has well-established road, rail and air transport links to the uranium mining sites and to the northern industrial cities of South Australia. Hazardous materials may be transported between Woomera and the Whyalla seaport without passing through any centre of population.
In its heyday, Whyalla had the civic facilities to support a population of 75,000 residents. The BHP steelworks supplied plate and sections to the shipyard. There was a large industrial area, accommodating many sub-contractors for ship-sections and other engineering components. The shipyard incorporated a dry dock with capacity to build bulk ore carriers up to 75,000 tonnes. There is a deepwater port for ships up to 75ft. draught. The workforce had the skills and equipment necessary to produce high performance, low-hydrogen welded pressure vessels and ships' hulls.
These facilities could be re-activated to produce modular nuclear power stations, IFR reactor components, marine reactors, barges for the export or delivery of nuclear reactors with co-located Passarell CVES waste-energy water distillation plants, nuclear powered freighters, conventional- and nuclear-powered defence surface vessels and submarines.
It is proposed that an IFR (Integral Fast Reactor) with co-located Passarell CVES seawater distillation plant should be located at Point Lowly, South Australia, as was originally planned for the BHP Olympic Dam Expansion Project. This would generate the power needed for the Eyre Peninsula and by BHP, including the Whyalla steelworks and shipyard. It would produce adequate supplies of distilled water, with dry salt as a by-product, without damaging the marine environment through the discharge of warm water or brine. The energy efficiency and maintenance costs of the co-located distillation desalination plant would be significantly better than for the originally-proposed reverse osmosis desalination plant.
The IFR would process high-level radioactive reactor wastes and re-cycled nuclear warheads, on-site using remotely controlled robotic handling equipment. It would produce fuel assemblies for other reactors. The residual low activity, short-half-life wastes may be stored on-site for up to 5 years, by which time they will have decayed sufficiently to be buried at the original mine site.
Other IFR/water distillation plants could be manfactured at Whyalla, for deployment at coastal cities, where there would be adequate supplies of seawater for cooling and for the inexpensive production of potable water.
Modular 360MW reactors of standard design are now in regular production, and could be deployed at such locations as Geelong and Gove, for cost-effective low-emission aluminium production. Greater energy output capacity may be provided by inter-connecting two or more modular reactors, as might be required for the replacement of the end-of-life fossil-fuel generating plants at the Playford Power Station at Port Augusta in South Australia.
We could barge-mount modular reactors and co-located CVES water distillation plants, for deployment to coastal locations globally. The barges could be withdrawn for reactor fuel re-charging and maintenance when necessary, and replaced with new or re-furbished barges. In this way, it would be unnecessary to transport reactors or components through populated areas. Since it is virually impossible to extract weapons-grade material from a thorium-fuelled reactor, it is suggested that thorium-fuelled reactors should be exported if there is a security risk.
Several designs of marine propulsion reactor are in service, and have established performance and safety records. The establishment of shipbuilding and nuclear reactor manufacture at Whyalla could open a whole new market for Australian exports. As the supply and acceptability of fossil fuels diminishes, we may anticipate increasing use of nuclear reactors in military and commercial shipping of all types.
Remote Handling Equipment
CNC "robotic" mechanical handling equipment is required for the re-processing of radioactive materials, in the nuclear power industry. At present, it appears that feed-stocks of precision mechanical components, such as lead screws, are sourced from Germany. Finished lead screw parts and other components for CNC machines are usually machined in Asian countries, principally China. These manufacturing activities could be carried out in Australia by the automotive components industry, which is currently facing a gloomy future, particularly in South Australia.
Reactor Fuel Containers
We also require a metal refining and machining facility for reactor components, such as nuclear fuel containers.