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.”
Jensen, 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.