Liberal MP says sacked car workers could operate nuclear plants

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Dennis Jensen – the Liberal MP and climate science denier who wanted to be science minister in the Abbott government – has had another brainstorm: He suggests Australia set up a nuclear power industry so it can employ entrenched car workers.

Quite what the Liberal member for the Perth electorate of Tangney thinks happens in a nuclear reactor that might make car workers and engineers a logical hiring is not known. But here he was in parliament last week: … “with the car industry going, where are engineers going to be employed? Nuclear energy is a very good start.”

simpson copyJensen, whose biography states has a PhD in Materials Science and Physics from Monash University, is a big fan of nuclear, although he may be a little over-optimistic about the ability to apply knowledge of the internal combustion engine to nuclear fission. But, I guess, as long as someone has a spanner handy, they’ll be able to figure it out. If Homer Simpson can do it ….

Jensen also doesn’t seem to understand some of the finer points of the electricity market. He justifies the pursuit of nuclear in the same speech because electricity prices have risen to “reflect the reality of the market as far as gas and coal-fired power is concerned. Nuclear is very much in the picture.”

Actually, the electricity prices that are rising are retail prices, the price paid by consumers. These, his electorate will know, have doubled in recent years, mostly due to soaring network costs and retail margins, with a little help from the carbon price and other green incentives.

Unless Jensen hopes to substitute rooftop solar with a mini-reactor in everyone’s back garden (hand-the-man-a-spanner), the price that nuclear energy would have to compete with is the wholesale price of electricity, and that is currently at record lows of around 4c-5c/kWh, meaning many coal and gas-fired generators can’t make money.

Just how Jensen thinks a nuclear plant with a benchmark price of 17c/kWh (the heavily subsidised price struck in the UK for its first reactor in a few decades) is not known. Even the Australian government’s own Bureau of Resource and Energy Economics has had a rethink of its overly-optimistic view of nuclear cost.

However, Jensen’s ignorance of the energy industry is multi-faceted. He describes renewables as “not being able to cut it” economically or in terms of reliability, and quotes The Australian newspaper pundit Judith Sloane and her completely unsubstantiated claim that the RET will lift electricity prices by 45 per cent by 2020 (actually it will be less than 3 per cent).

Jensen says renewable spending should be focused on R&D, blithely ignoring the massive cost reductions achieved in deployment, and cites Spain as an example of where renewables caused an economy to plummet (actually, it was a bursting property bubble). And, of course, on his climate hobby-horse he dismissed the IPCC and claims: “There has been a lack of warming for well over 10 years, contrary to model projections.”

Jensen, of course, is not alone on this. George Christensen, Liberal MP for the Queensland electorate of Dawson, told parliament: “In fact, nearly universally, all climate scientists will tell you that for the last 17 years there has not been evidence of warming in the globe. That is something that even the most ardent proponents of the theory of man-made climate change are scratching their heads about.”

It could all be quite amusing. But these comments from Jensen, Christensen and other Coalition MPs are simply repeating the same talking points disseminated by the likes of the Institute of Public Affairs and some other whacky right-wing web-sites and other arch-conservative commentators. The truly worrying thing is that it has permeated all the way through to the inner core of Coalition policy making.


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  • barrie harrop

    Average lead time to get a nuclear energy plant up and operating let alone the Federal Govt Bank guarantee say 15 years wondering what car workers do in the meantime?

    • Alen

      Someone please explain the logic behind this 17 year ‘pause’ claim so many people are referring to. From the recent CSIRO and BoM report seven of the ten warmest years occured in this period, oceans are found be warmer, expanding and rising..acidification now is at levels 25 million years ago and land ice is continuing to melt at relatively rapid rates, all directly linked to oceans absorbing increased levels of CO2 and heat. So can someone still argue and say global warming ‘paused’?

      A study also recently indicated the aerosols emitted by the number of volcanic eruptions over period also contributed to ‘masking’ some heat gains. What am I missing that still makes this 17 year period a viable argument?

      • Bob_Wallace

        It’s simple. What to prove that the Earth has not warmed during the last 16 – 17 years?

        1) Look only at troposphere/near Earth air temperature. Pretend that the oceans are not part of the planet.

        2) Use the flawed HadCRUT3 database. The one that under-measures polar temperature.

        3) Cherry-pick the 1998 temperature spike.

        4) Ignore the role of an extremely hot El Nino event which contributed most of 1998’s unusual warmth.

        5) Ignore data from other, better data sets which have shown that temperatures were higher for other years post 1998.

        6) Don’t look at multi-year averages which put the single year spike into perspective.

        With just a bit of scientific dishonesty one can prove that the Earth hasn’t been heating.

        Clearly nothing supports this 17 year stuff foolishness. It’s just a desperate ploy by a few who so badly want to believe that the science is wrong.

      • Ken Fabian

        It isn’t a viable argument, just a politically effective one when given a push by people who should know and probably do know better and when heard by people with limited and confused understanding of the issue.

        When the planet is not warming the average surface air temperature goes up and down, up and down. When it’s warming the rises are greater, with the dips smaller. Now we are at the point where a temperature rise is followed by a levelling off, without any going down. Which is exactly what an accelerating warming trend looks like! By the time the climate science denier’s threshold for conceding it actually is still warming – the threshold of temperature going up followed by temperature going up some more – they will have moved onto some other argument – and the rate of warming will probably have increased as well.

        Bob Wallace has the main ways the “warming has stopped for 17 years” claim is wrong covered.

  • purserj

    Yeah, sorry, it’s retrenched, not entrenched.

  • Coaltopia

    Another Lib denier, one has to assume they all are now. Funny that their big government fears never extend to nuclear.

    I actually had wondered if Latrobe Valley power station workers could transition to nuclear power, however their skills are just as suited to solar thermal. Car makers I imagine not so much: isn’t this more like an assembly plant, say for Solar PV or a wind turbine?

  • Michel Syna Rahme

    It has permeated also into vast swathes of the Australian public – and that is the true tragedy here! The fact that Australians in general are not up in arms over the truly ridiculous, moronic, outrageous, off the planet remarks and policies of this government is the true shame! It’s actually all quite bizarre – and I look forward to the change of wind.

    Short term gain – long term shame Australia!!!

  • JohnRD

    With the mining construction boom winding down it is the unemployed construction workers who will be best placed to get any new construction jobs, not someone who has lost their job on an automated production line.
    As for nuclear………

  • Marcus Hicks

    Look at Finland-a Country with past experience in nuclear power station construction. They began building a 5th power station in 2003 &-to the best of my knowledge-it still hasn’t been built yet. It was meant to be finished in 2009. It also is currently about 50% over budget too. Yep, that sure is money well spent. (/sarcasm).

    • Alen

      87% complete and expected ccommision date is pushed back to 2018

      • Marcus Hicks

        Thanks for that, Alen. I confess my last update was from around 2011-12, so a bit out of date. So 15 years from start to finish….assuming it doesn’t get pushed back yet again! Wonder how many wind farms, run-of-river hydro plants, tidal power generators, wave power generators & bio-gas generators they could have built in that time-& for that cost?

        • Alen

          What cost are referring to, the billion dollar initial quote or extra billion dollar price tag due to the project having so many problems, delays, and now add legal fees to that.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Recent cost estimates are running about 8.5 billion euros. I assume that does not include accumulated interest.

          A lot of wind and solar capacity could have been built and would have been online for a decade already. So add in the fuel cost savings that have been lost.

          • Marcus Hicks

            According to my reading, the original estimated cost was EU$3 billion-so if what you’re saying is correct, then they’ve gone more than 100% over budget-which is pretty typical for nuclear power project. They suck you in with a reasonable sounding “low-ball” price & build time, then leave you with massive cost & time over-runs. That’s why the World Bank doesn’t fund nuclear projects in developing nations anymore-several nations tried (like the Philippines) & the whole thing went to hell (the nuclear power stations shells were converted to gas in most cases).

          • Bob_Wallace

            Here’s a graph of projected and actual costs for US nuclear reactors.

            Most countries/utilities have caught on to the estimate low/deliver high game. Over the last four years we’ve seen four calls for “turnkey” bids. A guaranteed final cost, not a lowball estimate.

            The cost of that power has run from 16 US cents plus significant subsidies (Hinkley Point) to 22 US cents (Turkey).

            Here’s my source for the 8.5 billion euros and the statement that initial estimates were 3.2 euros.

            Nov 2013


          • Bob_Wallace

            It looks like the other European reactor being built is also going to cost 8+ billion euros. The Flamanville reactor was initially estimated to cost 1/3rd that much.


            The new US reactor being built in Georgia is also over budget. In fact, the builders have stated that they will release no more cost information until after the plant is brought on line. I guess that’s to keep customers from insisting that they throw no more good money after bad and just eat the loss to date.

            I suppose if Australia has a big need for some place to dump unneeded money then building a few nuclear reactors should do the job.

  • Dominic Gladheart

    Clearly if enough shock-jocks say global warming is a load of bunk then it must be true. NOT!

  • Marcus Hicks

    I reckon one of these power plants could be built quicker, & cheaper.

  • Mike Ballard

    And here’s another great idea: get Aboriginal workers to move the waste from the nuclear plants to Australian desert regions. Jobs for all! After all, it doesn’t matter what sort of job you have as long as it makes some capitalists a profit from hiring you to do it for wages.

    • Bob_Wallace

      That’s a job that creates more jobs. It’s an excellent way to employ a lot of people.

      Both US underground waste storage facilities (Washington and New Mexico) are leaking radioactive materials into the soil. Just think about all the work that’s going to be created as we scramble to keep it out of the aquifers.

      And if we fail, think about all the jobs that will be created in the medical field.

      • Mike Ballard

        In future, please e-mail me at the following address:

        [email protected]

        Mike B)

    • Giles

      Mike, I think you just broke the embargo on the Green Army announcement

      • Mike Ballard

        In future, please e-mail me at the following address:

        [email protected]

        Mike B)

  • Marka

    So govt subsidies for the car industry are bad but even bigger subsides for nuclear power are good?

  • Ken Fabian

    The Libs and Nats will never push for nuclear like it actually matters until they ditch climate denial and obstructionism and I don’t see a single one willing to speak up for serious climate action. Even Malcolm Turnbull keeps his head down and mouth closed on the issue.

    They won’t fight for it because power companies don’t want it – they don’t want renewables either, but what they really want is to keep on using coal without any consideration of climate consequences involved and not have to pay the externalised climate costs of doing so. They are being offered that option, so why would they go nuclear?

    The biggest hit nuclear has had in recent times wasn’t Fukushima, or environmentalist making a fuss about Fukushima, it was the Conservative Right choosing to deny the reality and seriousness of the climate problem. No climate problem, no need for nuclear. Weakness of support keeps nuclear down, not strength of opposition.

    The question becomes why Jensen bothers. A dig at anti-nuclear greenies? That’s always popular, and reliably distracting from the real issues. But I do wonder if the real point is to allay disquiet about brazenly dismissing and ignoring the science on climate – there has to be some in their ranks who are dismayed and worried about climate even if they don’t dare speak it aloud. Jensen could be giving a backhanded message, that IF the climate issue overwhelms their preference for denial they can just build some nuclear plants and problem will be solved.

    Australia will never have nuclear without overwhelming LNP support for strong climate action.

    • Bob_Wallace

      That and a disdain for the financials.

      • Ken Fabian

        I did a reply but it vanished into Disqus. I’ll try again.

        I should have said we might have had an Australian nuclear program right now if the LNP hadn’t chosen denial and obstructionism as it’s response to the climate problem; 2 decades of conservatives campaigning FOR climate action would have made a big difference to nuclear’s situation. Pre Fukushima saw opposition to nuclear weakening.

        At the same time I think an LNP that accepted the science would have been more supportive of renewables over that 2 decades as well and we’d be further along on that front. Whether such a nuclear program would survive financially would be a genuine question. I think the opportunity for nuclear to be a player in Australia was lost with that expedient choice of the LNP to deny the climate problem and the financials are going to increasingly favour renewables. I’d like to think that solar, with storage, will get cheap enough that it’s not a question.