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Nuclear Powered Desalination Plants.

Copy of a letter I sent to practically every politician in Australia. I recieved several replies including one from the leader of the Democrats. For privacy reasons I haven't published them in their entirety or part. I give a brief summary of two responses at the end of the page.

To The Honourable ************, Member for ********.

I am writing to you concerning the very grave situation of Australias latest in an unending series of drought crisis. There is a longterm technological solution to this problem which I feel compelled to raise. We are as you know the driest continent on Earth. Our population is steadily increasing and fresh water is a major priority for sustainable development. Where it cannot be obtained from natural sources, desalination of seawater or mineralised groundwater is now a viable alternative. Even on the scale of supplying an entire continents needs.

Most desalination plants today are powered by fossil fuels which increase greenhouse emissions. Clearly that is not a desirable option. We already produce far too much carbon dioxide. Desalination is an energy intensive process which can use a variety of low temperature heat sources depending on relative economic values. By far the most practical if controversial source of energy to solve Australia's water shortage is nuclear power. Nuclear energy has already been widely used for this purpose and has the potential for much greater use. Japan has ten desalination facilities linked to pressurised water reactors. Much relevant experience comes from nuclear plants in Russia, Eastern Europe and Canada.

Australia is practically the only developed country not using electricity derived from nuclear energy. A proposal to build a 500MWe reactor at Jervis Bay, NSW was shelved in 1972. Our abundance of cheap coal has previosly ruled nuclear energy out of contention. However, concerns about Global Warming have recently put it back on the table. Uranium is plentiful in Australia. In 2000 our Uranium exports fuelled the electricity production for 45 million people and saved the emission of over 300 million tons of carbon dioxide. We own 25-30% of the Worlds low cost Uranium resources, yet produce only 19% of World mining output. Canada by comparison has expanded its production to more than 30% of World output, on a lower resource base.

Nuclear powered desalination of sea water would solve Australia's drought problems. Forever. It is a proposal worthy of intensive scrutiny. Especially now, seeing that the World is moving steadily toward a nuclear renaissance. Recently, nuclear industry executives and U.S. government officials gathered in Washington, DC for a conference called The Nuclear Renaissance. A comeback for nuclear power in the U.S. A few days before that, the World Nuclear Association's Annual Symposium in London featured a session on the same subject.

At the session, Dr Andrei Gagarinski, a director of international affairs at Russia's Kurchatov Institute, said his atomic research facility had teamed with the U.S. Department of Energy owned Sandia National Laboratories to put together "a new atoms for peace and prosperity program". It was considered at President George Bush's summit meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin aswell. Robin Jeffrey, chairman of British Energy has also called for a nuclear renaissance. Finland has brought an end to Europes gradual phasing out of nuclear power by announcing the construction of a new plant. Energy shortages and international accords obliging nations to cut their greenhouse emissions have forced governments to reconsider the benefits of nuclear power. Lacking viable alternatives a number of them including Sweden have opted to extend the life of their plants from 40 to 50 years. This month of March 2003 there will be a Nuclear Renaissance Forum in Chicago to further discuss the matter.

The main opportunities for nuclear powered desalination have been identified as the 80-100,000 metres cubed per day and the 200-500,000 metres cubed per day ranges. Australia is ideally suited for this technology. Large-scale deployment of nuclear desalination on a commercial basis will depend primarily on economic factors but a tax to finance it would most likely be acceptable to the public. They already finance rescue packages every drought. Atleast this time it would fix the problem rather than offer a bandaid. It would be a final rescue. The UN's International Atomic Agency(IAEA) is fostering research and collaboration on this idea, with more than 20 countries involved.

When used for generating electricity, reactors produce no greenhouse emissions but its other wastes are significant and are considered a major health problem. However, these wastes are contained and managed. In fact, nuclear power is the only energy producing industry which takes full responsibility for all its waste. The risks from any concievable nuclear plant (advanced reactor type) in Australia would be even less than those from other Western plants operating worldwide since the 1960's, which have not caused any loss of life in almost 10,000 reactor years of operation. The storage problems of nuclear waste are easily taken care of with recycling. Not only does this virtually eliminate an already tiny amount of biproduct. It also increases the fuel supply indefinately. Making nuclear power far more competitive with other forms of energy.

Breeder reactors are now being planned in India with the first one beginning construction this April. Australia is far better suited to taking advantage of such cutting edge technology. President Carter of the US outlawed breeders back in 79 in response to pressure from green groups. Deftly killing the competitiveness of the industry in one penstroke and almost destroying it. Now those same grenn groups complain about the nuclear waste THEY in fact created and are responsible for.

Some people are concerned that nuclear power presents an unacceptable risk, though the record of nuclear energy in the West speaks for itself in this regard. As the greenhouse debate strongly reminded us, no course of action or inaction is without some risk, there is an urgent need to evaluate and compare all options rationally, for the sake of future generations. I am not employed by the nuclear industry in any capacity whatsoever. The view expressed here is entirely my own and the result of my own research into the matter. Since arriving at these conclusions I have come to be aware that many others advocate the same opinion.

As an Australian citizen it grieves me to witness the seeming inaction of Government in the face of a national disaster of this scale. Controversial as this answer might be, it is a real solution. A tough decision only in the sense that it would enrage environmental movements and lose their possible support in an election. It is the right decision and I believe the vast majority of Australians will welcome an innovative response like it. Many of them are now living in dust bowls. I believe that Water is more important than appeasing ignorant opposition groups.

The major technologies in use for desalination are the multi-stage flash(MSF) distillation process using steam, and reverse osmosis(RO) driven by electric pumps. A minority of plants use multieffect distillation (MED) or vapour compression(VC). MSF-RO hybrids exploit the best features of each technology for different quality products.


Wayne Smith.

I have recieved responses from the Hon Dr David Kemp, Minister for the Environment and Heritage and also from the leader of the Democrats. I forget his name and feel no compulsion to bother looking it up. The Government response was that it is uneconomical at this point in time to pursue such an expensive option. I would be interested in knowing whether you agree with this assertion. I don't. The cost to this nation in terms of farming losses makes it seem quite ridiculous. Nuclear power is the future and we cannot afford to ignore this fact. The Democrats are ofcourse against nuclear power in any way or form as they must pander to the Greens. The reasons given by their leader displayed a clear incomprehension of the subject. Often reiterating absurd gutter science I had already addressed in my original letter to him.