Mr Downer's Magically Cheap Nuclear Power Plant
A couple of days ago, Australia’s foreign Minister, Mr Downer said, "…it may be possible to build a nuclear power plant in SA supplying 1000 megawatts an hour of electricity and 75 gigalitres of water at a cost in the order of $2.5 to $3 billion,"
It looks like the magical pixie dust that the federal government sprinkles on ethanol production to make it seem economical and not the massive waste of tax payer’s money that it appears to be, also works on nuclear power.
Now if Mister Downer had named a single country that has so far managed to build a 1,000 megawatt reactor of modern safety standards for less than 3 billion Australian dollars he might not have sounded like such an idiot. Since a 1,000 megawatt coal plant costs well over a billion dollars these days it’s hard to see how a nuclear power plant plus desalinisation capacity would cost less than 3 billion dollars. And while some people insist that nuclear power plants can be built for less than 50% more than an equivalent coal powered plant, as far as I’m aware, none ever has. Thus Mr Downer’s statement is the metaphorical equivalent of the end product of a male cow’s digestive process.
Now personally I’m all for anything sensible that reduces the rate of climate change in the world today, including nuclear power, but either lying about the true costs or just being plain incompetent is not helping matters. Mr Downer’s comments make the government appear too silly to be trusted with something as inherently tricky as nuclear power.
Since most of the cost of producing desalinated water is for energy and not capital costs, and since wind power is cheaper than nuclear power, it may be more economical to expand South Australia’s wind generating capacity and build desalination plants that operate during times of surplus electrical generation. Also, expanding the amount of reclaimed sewage water used is an additional option.
But the most sensible thing to do first of all is to have a logical system of chargeing for water use for both rural and urban areas across Australia. For example there are still many people in Adelaide who do not pay for the water they use. (Or at least I've never paid. If I end up in jail after I post this I take back the last sentence.) And yes, this would have to involve compensation for some current water users.