Dutton’s nuclear policy: a new form of climate denial

When Twiggy Forrest, Private Eye, The Financial Times and Bloomberg all describe why nuclear power is not the answer you have to wonder why Peter Dutton can’t hear the message.

Why Dutton doesn’t was nailed by Forrest at a recent National Press Club address where he said:  “If you think that nuclear came out of nowhere, no, it didn’t. It’s been pushed by the fossil fuel sector as a great way to delay the whole country for 20 years from switching over to fossil fuels forever.

“If we swallow this new lie that we should stop the rollout of green energy and that nuclear energy will be our fairy godmother, we will be worse off again….. I do know how to do projects. I do know the science. And I do know the economics. These misinformed, unscientific, uneconomic, plucked-out-of-thin-air bulldust of nuclear policies of politicians masquerading as leaders helps no-one,” Forrest said.

The new Hinkley Point project in the UK is classic example of why nuclear is ‘bulldust’.

For many years Tory UK Governments have not been able to build a garden shed without massive cost overruns and there would be doubt about whether it would be fit for purpose or even actually completed. Train lines, new trains, hospital projects and others have faced massive cost overruns and delays.

But Hinkley is something else again. It is not actually being built by a government agency but outsourced to the French company EDF. The Financial Times (17/2) explains the complicated corporate problems involved in this and confirms the Private Eye cost estimates.

The UK Department of Energy Security and Net Zero keeps saying it’s not their fault but obviously the outsourcing has been a bit like the Johnson Government’s acquisition of COVID protective equipment – riddled with massive cost overruns – although at least, unlike COVID procurement, there has been no venality with Hinkley.

Private Eye, in its long running coverage of the Hinkley project, points out that then Chancellor, George Osborne, signed a draft sales contact with the French firm, EDF, for a new nuclear project at Hinkley Point. Now, many, many Chancellors since it has been forecast that on present progress it will be at least 19 years late – if it is ever completed and that the cost has already gone from 18 billion pounds to 47.9 billion pounds.

The French contractors are keen to proceed with the Hinkley Point project as they would be when the contract for the project provides a get out. It doesn’t have to actually complete the project. As Private Eye reports: “The EDF (Hinkley contract) doesn’t require EDF to complete the project at all ever! If it downs tools and walks away it simply foregoes the electricity sales contract.”

Meanwhile Peter Dutton, with his vast knowledge of nuclear physics and the nuclear power industry, is proposing to build nuclear reactors in the Latrobe Valley on land from retired coal-fired power stations. Needless to say, the local residents are already promising major protests and have been instead campaigning to have the old open cut mines converted into lakes.

The Victorian Government – unlikely to be Liberal however badly the current Labor Government continues to perform – will also be opposed.

Moreover, currently Victoria has an act of Parliament prohibiting building and operating nuclear plants in Victoria and that would need to be repealed.

The demographic profile of the area has also changed dramatically in recent decades and if the Liberals think former brown or black coal miners in the area will welcome the plan, they will quickly find that the locals are now largely tree changers, progressives, professionals, farmers and public servants – and that the retired miners might not be that keen either.

Nevertheless, the Opposition says it is developing an energy policy in which nuclear will be a key part and Opposition Energy spokesman Ted O’Brien told The Age (26/2) that he had been advised that “communities with experience hosting coal plants could be ideal potential hosts for zero-emissions nuclear plants.”

Also, in The Age the same day, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard a columnist in the UK Telegraph said that Bloomberg New Energy Finance said renewable energy now involved more than “three times as much as capex on oil and gas.” Renewable energy roll out is almost 800 gigawatts (GW) which is more than the 700GW annual increase in power consumption.

He also cited the International Energy Agency forecast that fossil fuel use in electricity generation will decline in absolute terms this year and that the West has finally overtaken (by a bit only but still overtaken) Chinese spending on clean tech and mineral supply chains.

“There is now enough investment in the pipeline for solar, batteries and mine production to meet world’s carbon dioxide target by 2030,” he said.

Climate denial has gone through many stages. First, it just wasn’t happening. Then it was a conspiracy by leftie scientists who wanted to destroy capitalism. Then it could be a boon to the world. Then it wouldn’t be as bad as we imagined. Then it was just another part of the culture wars.

Finally, with the realisation that it was real it was no longer good enough to say – as Tony Abbott did – that climate change is crap. Nor was John Howard’s admission that he had only said climate change was real because it was politically convenient to do so even though he actually didn’t believe that.

But inconvenient realities keep intruding so new tactics beyond denial were required – and the promotion of the saviour status of nuclear power is the latest such tactic.

The UK is a basket case in many areas and nuclear power is just one of them. But Peter Dutton can safely ignore that because he has no real interest in climate change nor probably nuclear power – just a desire to have another way of putting off taking action.

…and if he was ever elected and actually launched a nuclear project would it be completed before rising seas washed over its coastal location?