Coalition pushes for nuclear ban to be lifted, Labor says it's madness | RenewEconomy

Coalition pushes for nuclear ban to be lifted, Labor says it’s madness

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Nuclear inquiry report calls on Australians to say “definite yes” to nuclear energy for Australia, despite the new SMR technology’s enormous expense and as-yet unproven status.

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Federal Coalition MPs have called on the Morrison government to lift the ban on nuclear energy and pave the way for “emerging” nuclear technologies to be introduced into Australia’s energy mix, despite their enormous expense, huge environmental risks, and as-yet unproven technical status.

The controversial push comes with the tabling of a 230-page report on Friday, the result of the inquiry into nuclear power called by energy and emissions reduction minister, and ex anti-wind campaigner Angus Taylor.

It was conducted by the Liberal dominated House Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy and chaired by pro-nuclear MP Ted O’Brien. See also: Federal nuclear inquiry report: Loopy lunatics in charge of the asylum

The finding from the Coalition MPs is unsurprising, but it should be noted that it goes against the advice from some of Australia’s foremost energy market authorities, including the Australian Energy Market Operator, who – as part of an expert panel including representatives from the market regulator (AER) and rule maker (AEMC) – told the inquiry that nuclear power just didn’t stack up against firmed renewables.

The nuclear report – entitled Not without your approval – was unveiled by O’Brien on Friday, who said it was “informed” by months of evidence-taking and the assessment of over 300 submissions on the prerequisites for nuclear energy in Australia.

In a statement released with the report, O’Brien urged Australians to “say a definite ‘No’ to old nuclear technologies but a conditional ‘Yes’ to what he called new and emerging technologies such as “small modular reactors,” which the inquiry was told by nearly all experts would not be commercially available for at least a decade.

But the Coalition report largely skated over the costs, and the delays in new technologies, and the projections from AEMO that Australia’s grid could reach 90 per cent renewables by the time that nuclear could be built in Australia, and instead relied on the highly contestable submissions from a group of nuclear proponents and ginger groups.

The focus on small modular reactors, or SMRs, is in line with the advice to the Committee from Ziggy Switkowski, who headed up the Coalition’s last nuclear thought bubble.

In fact, Switkowski told the Committee that the only hope for nuclear in Australia hinged on the future of Small Modular Reactors – which, as Jim Green explains here, are currently “non-existent, overhyped, and obscenely expensive.” The CSIRO and the AEMO agree – at least on the expensive bit.

O’Brien appears to have taken Switkowski’s advice and spun it into something resembling action on climate change, which is a new angle for the federal Coalition.

“If we’re serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions, we can’t simply ignore this zero-emissions baseload technology,” he said, ignoring AEMO’s and other advice about the potential of emission cuts from renewables, something backed up by the latest government report.

“But we also need to be humble enough to learn lessons from other countries who have gone down this path. It’s as much about getting the technology right as it is about maintaining a social license based on trust and transparency.” No mention of the massive cost blowouts and delays in every other western country that has tried to build new nuclear.

O’Brien also said “the Australian people should be at the centre of any approval process,” a reference to a separate and possibly self-defeating recommendation of the report, that the partial-lift of the moratorium be subject to a commitment to community consent as a condition of approval for any nuclear power or nuclear waste disposal facility.

The federal opposition has slammed O’Brien’s recommendation, which it says has been made “despite clear evidence nuclear power is enormously expensive, slow, inflexible, and dangerous to the environment and human health.”

The Committee’s deputy chair, ALP MP Josh Wilson, said O’Brien’s view was not supported by Labor – which has argued in a dissenting report that the pursuit of nuclear power is “madness.”

“The report, supported by the Coalition members of the Committee, is unbalanced and ignores the clear evidence provided by a series of expert witnesses, including key government agencies,” Wilson said.

“The Chair’s report is not supported by Labor and our dissenting report shows that on any measure – cost, timing, energy needs, waste, environmental & health risks, and non-proliferation – the pursuit of nuclear power is madness.”

Mark Butler, federal Labor’s shadow climate and energy minister said the entire inquiry was “nothing but an indulgence” for a party that would “rather fantasise about nuclear energy than come up with a credible national energy policy.

“As a result of this Government’s energy paralysis, Australian households and businesses are paying far higher power prices and renewable energy investment has been cut by over 60 per cent this year,” Butler said.

Green groups are not impressed, either. The Australian Conservation Foundation said on Friday that it strongly believed Australia’s “long standing and prudent prohibition on nuclear energy” should remain in place.

“From the heartland to the harbour, the terrible drought and bushfires we are experiencing leave no doubt that Australia must quickly transition away from climate-wrecking fuels like coal, oil and gas,” said the ACF’s Nuclear Free Campaigner, Dave Sweeney.

“The Australian Energy Market Operator’s roadmap for the efficient development of the National Electricity Market makes it clear that Australia’s energy transition is heading towards small and large-scale renewables.

“Australia’s long standing, sensible moratorium on nuclear energy, enacted by John Howard, does not preclude discussion or debate on nuclear. There has been plenty of both.

“But while no commercial operator will touch nuclear, the moratorium remains important as it prevents a reckless government pouring public money into this economically and environmentally risky industry.”

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30 Comments
  1. Rod 5 months ago

    So the report says no GW scale nukes. That is a good start.

    If the unicorn fart SMRs are feasible, how about we wait until we can buy a proven model with a fixed price tag.

    Taxpayers should not spend a cent on “research” paid to the only SMR research company in the country. Owned by COALition donor, Trevor St Baker.

  2. Patrick Comerford 5 months ago

    This country can’t afford two Coalition run infrastructure stuff ups. The shamozzle that the NBN has become under Trumble and Scumo should be more than enough warning to not let them anywhere near Nukes.

  3. Paul Surguy 5 months ago

    Australia could pick up a second hand nuclear power plant from Japan. fukashima power plant has been part dismantled bring it over here I AM not sure if there was an operating procedure manual to go with it it might of gone missing in the blast lol

  4. Maddogeco 5 months ago

    Nuclear is just a delay tactic to keep coal alive. Theyll run with the line, we don’t need to build renewables or new transmission lines because we are building nukes. We’ve got to subsidies coal in the mean time.
    Mean while the free market will have built out the wind and solar.

  5. Tom 5 months ago

    Give them what they want. Then there’s no excuse not to have a proper emissions reduction plan. “let the market decide”
    Gen4 doesn’t exist so there’s no risk they’ll squander billions on nuclear.

    • Steve Woots 5 months ago

      I wouldn’t trust this mob not to throw billions away. If anything, it’s what they do best. Just have some nuke company donate a few thou to the Libs, and get millions in return.

  6. MrMauricio 5 months ago

    Madness is the order of the day-around the world.Not much hope for humanity imho.

  7. Craig Steddy 5 months ago

    Let’s say yes. Call their bluff.

    • solarguy 5 months ago

      Don’t temp fate. Give a weak head an inch………..

      • Craig Steddy 5 months ago

        they would have to find somewhere to build them; and then transmission lines to connect to the grid; it will take 20 years and cost a fortune to build them and we don’t have the technical capability to manage them. and given the smarts of this lot I really don’t think they could do it in a fit.

  8. Steve Woots 5 months ago

    Oh spare us all, what a time waster this will be. Although the LNP might manage to throw a few billion away on it, somehow.

  9. UndoubtedlyDoubtful 5 months ago

    Last Rupert sponsored documentary I watched about nuclear energy had 3 eyed fish.

    Doh!

    https://www.vox.com/2015/6/12/8769467/rupert-murdoch-fox

  10. Peter Eburne 5 months ago

    Nuclear – Here we are with another distraction. Very similar to the distraction of ‘green hydrogen’ from fossil fuels. A number of reports on ‘green’ hydrogen and energy are suggesting coal, fossil and now nuclear. All the coalition is doing is muddying the water in the hope that fossil or nuclear will waste everyone’s time instead of getting on with solar, wind, hydro as the base for ‘new’ energy (sustainable).

  11. Alan Wilson 5 months ago

    Its just more LNP power porn … they off on it every 6 months

  12. Radbug 5 months ago

    Easy way to shoot it down. It’s as easy as (Hinckley) A, B & C.

    • Alan S 5 months ago

      Hinckley C – you mean $40B construction cost, around 3 decades to build and
      $180/MWh strike price for questionable generation flexibility? Sucks me in.

  13. Ken Fabian 5 months ago

    I think it is all puff and fluff and noise. More diversion and distraction and blame-shifting on clean energy from a government dominated by people who see growing numbers of people wanting strong and decisive action on emissions as the climate problem they want most to fix.

    We have an LNP government that gets more political value from nuclear as something others oppose, who they can point accusatory fingers at and blame than as an actual policy of their own – one that risks their own members breaking out from behind the pro coal and gas Wall of Denial. If they truly believed it was both necessary and the best option it would be their policy right now – but it is not. Since when do they need Labor and The Greens to be in agreement with them first to commit to a policy?

    Pro coal and gas climate science deniers – the LNP – like it because it is something we do not have, that will take a very long time to develop so the coal and gas status quo must be continued until community attitudes change. The position of RE being inadequate and a waste of effort and inferior as given, just as nuclear’s superiority is taken as given – not to be subject to close examination. That RE has already crossed the price threshold that makes it superior is not a fact they care to acknowledge; lack of nuclear, like concern about climate change in the first place is something they can apply their special talent for blame-shifting on.

    As something that we do not have it can be as wonderful as speculative optimism can make it; real critique by these opponents of climate action is impossible until they accept the seriousness of the problem. Whereupon they will discover RE is lower cost and is far more achievable in the necessary time frame.

    • Marcus 5 months ago

      Yes I think you are spot on.

  14. jackson 5 months ago

    Three times the price of firmed renewables, no engineering capability nationwide and a community unwilling to accept safety concerns. Could the LNP possibly be that stupid? I think not, sounds more like a political play to bash the Labour party for being uncooperative on ‘carbon reduction’ with what they will try to sell as a viable scheme. They are not as dumb as they look, unfortunately, just willfully playing political games.

    • Mike Westerman 5 months ago

      Quotable quote from RN this morning (I think John Daley from Gratten Inst) “Governments have become very good at winning elections, increasingly poor at governing” sums up the success of a sacked ad man running the country. What do you sell – it doesn’t matter, just get the fearful to cough up, while you dream of redecorating…

  15. Aluap 5 months ago

    Oldest trick in the book. The Coalition is using a distraction to lure people away from thinking about their recent climate change performance. Nuclear power will have a time scale of decades before it can be implemented. The second oldest trick is to move a problem down the road until they find a suitable tme to announce it, like they are doing ith the submarine split up.

  16. MaxG 5 months ago

    What puzzles me most is that the neo-libs get any traction at all; people seem to love voting for the conservatives who inceitivse big corporations at any turn, while pillaging the public into oblivion; see Brexit. IT looks like deep down the plebs are conservatives up to their eyeballs, keeping quiet during the years and putting it all out on election day. I am looking at this nonsense for 5 decades, and its getting worse.

  17. Ken Blackmore 5 months ago

    I don’t really follow the logic that because nuclear energy is uneconomic it also needs to be banned.

    • Alexander Hromas 5 months ago

      Malcolm Frazer wanted to build a nuc at Jervis Bay and got as far as preparing the site. He lots the next election to Bob Hawke who promptly pushed through a bill to ban nuclear power stations in Oz. Right now it does not matter as all reactor builders are either broke or on a government financial drip to keep them just alive and nuclear power has turned out not to be cheap or very safe. I have been to numerous meetings of nuclear societies these all follow the similar themes, complexity of control of a reactor, interesting if you are an engineer interested in controls i.e. me, and the future gen 3 and 4 reactors that will solve all the current problems as they will be cheap, safe, reliable and easy to build, boring as they have been saying this for at least 15 years and these brilliant reactors are always just around the corner. We will probably get a fusion reactor up and running long before we see a gen 3 or 4 fission reactor that meets all the hype. You are right why all the fuss and feathers?

    • Mike Westerman 5 months ago

      In a democracy bannings don’t need to be logical, just beliefs held by the majority! Nuclear power suffers from a triple witching: expensive, banned and irrelevant.

      • Michael Murray 5 months ago

        And the small matter of storage of highly dangerous waste for hundreds of thousands or perhaps millions of years. Oh and the potential for very serious consequences if an accident occurs.

        • Mike Westerman 5 months ago

          Details Michael! If the species is extinct in 50,000y who cares about the following million? Or if God ends it all on 21 December, even less of a worry

  18. Honest Mike 5 months ago

    there are some good reasons for using nuclear like leasing nuclear powered submarines to exponentially increase the range/efficacy, although it doesn’t sound like this is what is being discussed. poor efficiency is poor efficiency no matter whether its coal or nuclear. less than 15% of the calorific content is made available at the household power socket as electricity, which is atrocious

    at the moment a nuclear fusion reaction is powering life on this planet, so the debate on nuclear power seems a little redundant. its more of a discussion on creating nuclear fission reactions on earth to create electricity or investing more funds into renewables/energy storage to harness the nuclear fusion of the sun more efficiently

  19. Jon Knight 5 months ago

    Nuclear + Aussie standards = buy shares in Iodine.

  20. Ken Fabian 5 months ago

    It is worth pointing out that the nuclear “ban” was always purely symbolic – political theatrics – and a majority vote in parliament could repeal it at any time. It is worth pointing out that doing so will be… purely symbolic, political theatrics.

    Should any Australian government have the policy and the numbers in parliament to commit Australia to nuclear power they will find that repealing the “ban” would be a tiny and probably easiest part of the legislation that would be required.

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