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Momentum builds behind SMR nuclear energy for regional Australia

Yoon Seok-youl (R), Korean presidential candidate, hears from a researcher about a SMR

South Australia's deputy premier and energy minister, and NSW Liberal senator Jim Molan, have thrown their support behind future nuclear energy for Australia's regions, backing up federal regionalisation minister Bridget McKenzie's view they offer great opportunities for regional development.

SA's Minister for Energy and Mining told Flow previous modelling had shown the old-fashioned, large-scale nuclear fuel systems weren’t a sustainable proposition - at "$10-15 billion dollars" with a 10-15 year lead time - for the state’s future energy plans but that small modular reactors ('SMRs') could be the way forward instead:

“We’re very focused on hydrogen as a fuel and as an export commodity and as way of helping to manage our electricity grid, but I don’t think that small modular reactors are ruled out because of that, we want as much renewable energy as possible but it has to be affordable and reliable.”
“Nuclear may be able to help with that as well.”
“They’re not actually available yet, but small modular reactors could be outstanding for South Australia – one of the reasons is they don’t require water for cooling and we haven’t got a lot of water in South Australia, it would have to be on a coastline.”

Former Australian Army major-general and NSW Liberal senator Jim Molan told Flow on Wednesday:

"As a government, we've said we've got a watching brief on SMRs and those are developing well. Essentially they are exactly the same as you'll find in a submarine or nuclear powered ship, except it is brought onto land.
"They're almost at the stage where people can start selling them overseas. Once that occurs, I think they are an extraordinary answer not just to our problems - they aren't big, they don't need to sit next to water, you can't make bombs out of them - you can put them somewhere and you're not relying on a distribution network."

Minister van Holst Pellekaan was sceptical whether any community would volunteer to host a small modular reactor, but said they potentially would reverse traditional energy grid transmission trends:

“For example, in outback South Australia with the capacity to supply surplus electricity back towards the city and reverse the trend that we’ve typically got of generators in the metro areas pushing electricity out to the country – let’s do the opposite or let’s consider doing the opposite.”

Last month, Victorian Senator and federal regionalisation minister Bridget McKenzie threw her support behind the concept of small modular reactors when speaking on Flow:

“We’re looking at small nuclear reactors, which is something that regional communities will be able to actually examine to get access to affordable and reliable energy sources.”
“We know that gas will be a big part of our future going forward, not just in exports but domestically ensuring we have access to reliable energy.”
“If you’re a food processor for instance, or a milk processor out in the regions with a production line, you can’t have breaks in your energy supply that sometimes occur if you’re only relying on renewable energy for instance, so we have to ensure that we have that base load power generation going forward and we’re confident we’ve got the settings right to secure that.”

Small modular reactors are designed to be manufactured at a plant and transported to a site to be installed.