First of all, in the scopes of this research paper, it is important to rely on the fact that the nuclear power in Australia is a very disputable question at the moment. On the one hand, there are no nuclear manufacturing facilities located in the territory of Australia, but 23% of the world’s uranium deposits are located in Australia. In addition, it is possible to consider Australia as the world’s second largest producer of uranium after Kazakhstan (Chapin 2002, 56).
For a durable period of time, the low cost natural gas and coal have been used as the core arguments against nuclear power generation in the country. Currently, the negotiations between the Australian government and China concerning the weakening of the safeguard terms for allowing the uranium exports there take place. The development of new mines is blocked by those states which are controlled by the Australian Labor Party in accordance with theALP’s “No New Mines policy”.
Even taking into account the fact that the set of the precautions is involved into the nuclear reactor designing, constructing, and operation of the nuclear installations, it is not possible to claim that such construction is an absolutely safe one. That is why it is possible to consider the following questions in the scopes of this research paper while investigating the nuclear power in Australia and its safety: evaluation of the risks for life, safety, and the health of population in the case of accidents.
While discussing the impact of the nuclear energy on the human health, it is important to refer to the fact that the low exposure to ionizing radiation is not harmful for humans. The group of risk in the nuclear fuel cycle made of people who work at nuclear reactors or live near such reactors. According to the International Commission on Radiological Protection and Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council recommendations, the generally accepted annual dose of nuclear radiation is 20 millisieverts, and the maximal rate is to be 50 – 100 millisieverts. That is why before the construction of the nuclear reactor in Australia, all the above listed factors should be taken into account and analyzed; consequently, the preventive measures should be developed and practically applied.
Defence-in-Depth Approach to Nuclear Energy in Australia
In order to reach the optimum safety, the ‘defence-in-depth’ approach is applied by the nuclear plants of the developed countries. That means that the features of the core of the reactor are supplemented by the multiple safety systems. The main aspects of ‘defence-in-depth’ approach may be represented in the following manner:
- Practical application of the equipment that prevents the human errors and failures and operational disturbances;
- The design and construction of the reactors should be prefect;
- Testing and determining the operation and equipment failures and its comprehensive monitoring should be carried out on the regular basis;
- Using of the diverse and redundant systems for controlling the fuel damaging and the big radioactive releases prevention;
- Possessing of the provision which is applied for limiting the impacts of significant fuel damage or for any other related problem on the plant.
Generally, it is possible to say that in order to minimize the outcomes of failures, constant prevention, monitoring, and action should be done.
The provisions of safety imply the set of the physical barriers which are established between the environment and the radioactive reactor core. In addition, the safety systems provision with backup which are developed for the human error accommodation are the core aspects of the safe nuclear power manufacturing.
It is important to put an emphasis on the fact that approximately one quarter of the nuclear reactors’ capital cost is accounted for the safety systems. There are both physical and institutional aspects of safety. The physical barriers of the typical nuclear power plant are: solid ceramic (UO2) pellets is a typical form of the fuel, and the radioactive products of fission are located inside these pellets when the fuel burning takes place. The pellets are located in the sealed zirconium alloy tubes which, in turn, form the fuel rods. The rods are located inside the big pressure vessel made of steel. The walls of such vessel are up to thirty centimetres thick, because the primary water cooling pipe work is an important aspect of the general safety of the system.
The entire system described above is enclosed in the robust concrete containment structure. The walls of such structure should be not less than one meter thick. That is why it is possible to see that there are three physical barriers surrounding the fuel. The fuel itself is resistant to the high temperatures.
The constant monitoring of the three above listed barriers is carried out on the nuclear energy plants. In order to monitor the fuel cladding, the quantity of the radioactivity of the cooling water is tested and measured. The water leak rate is used to monitor the high pressure cooling system, and the air leak rate is measured by containment structure. To conclude, it is important to outline the three main safety functions in a nuclear reactor: reactivity, the fuel cooling, and the radioactive substances containing.
First of all, it is important to mention the fact that there are three types of risk: acceptable, unacceptable, and tolerable. They are separated by numerical boundaries. The structure for the risk management in the nuclear power industry is provided by the tolerable risk framework. For the first time, the concept of tolerable risk in the nuclear industry has been applied by the British Health and Safety Executive (HSE) when it has been working on the safety of nuclear power plants.
The risk which implies the small probability of occurrence or not harmful outcomes and which may be accepted by a particular social group is considered as the acceptable risk. That is why the actions directed for such risk reduction are not required. The next type of the risk in the nuclear power industry is an unacceptable risk (when the society is not willing to bear it), and the measures directed to its likelihood reduction are to be undertaken. The last type of the risk is the tolerable risk. It is the non-negligible risk which has not been minimized to the acceptable level, but, at the same time, the particular social group has the intensions of its bearing in order to get the benefits which are associated with the risky activity implying it.
According to the tolerable risk range, it is possible to seek the further risk reductions by taking into consideration the costs, feasibility, and other criteria. That is why it is important to reduce the tolerable risks (which are between the acceptable and unacceptable risks) to the rate “as low as reasonably practicable” (ALARP), which means the rate when the costs or other concerns make the further reductions impossible. It is possible to make a conclusion that the core purpose of the risk management in the nuclear power industry is pushing the risks from unacceptable to the acceptable region while applying the specific ALARP considerations.
The core potential source of risk and of hazard in the nuclear reactor construction and operation in Australia is the radioactive products of fission which are retained in the process of normal operation of the system within the fuel elements. That is why the most risky accidents are those which are related to the fuel elements failures: the reactor core overheating or the failures in the systems which are initially developed for the releases containing. In order to evaluate the probabilities of such accidents, the information, concerning the failure of the components in the nuclear industry and in the conventional industries should be analyzed (Ball 1994, 44).
There are such situations in the nuclear power industry when the risk is so high that it is considered as the intolerable. In such situations, there is a need of managing the situation in order to reduce the risks as soon as possible (as in the case of Chernobyl in 1986). Such situations are considered to take place only in the cases when the unexpected failures occur or some non-human circumstances make their impact on the cases (case of Fukushima Dai-ichi 2011, which has been mainly caused by the natural non-human factor – earthquake). In such cases, the activities which would result in the improved safety should be undertaken. At the same time, it is important to put an emphasis on the fact that it is not acceptable to allow the plant of the nuclear power industry to operate at the highest level of risk until the other alternative source of the energy is found. In the circumstances when the long-term risks reduction activities imply the short-term risk occurrence, all the efforts should be directed to carrying out the set of activities aimed at the risk minimization.
To conclude, it is important to put an emphasis on the fact that the concern of nuclear power is Australia is a disputable question, because it has both pros and cons. At the same time, the deep analysis of the possible risks and threats should be carried out before building the nuclear energy plant in a particular region/ state of Australia.