Yet again we are seeing the anti-climate change forces reverting to support for nuclear energy as a ‘solution’ to the pending climate catastrophe.
Opposition Leader, Peter Dutton, is offering nuclear projects but ones which seem to be another ‘new improved’ product like the products spruiked on late night TV shows and online shopping channels.
Dutton is, admittedly, part of an international push including France (which already has an industry but whose nuclear power plants are in trouble) and the UK which has never built a nuclear power station on time and on budget nor one which has worked properly or avoided dangerous discharges.
The last big nuclear effort in Australia was the 2006 report on nuclear power led by Ziggy Switkowski and commissioned by John Howard. It which suggested Australia could have up to 25 reactors providing over a third of the country’s electricity by 2050.
The Murdoch media gushed over the report and gleefully published a map from it showing where nuclear power plants could be located. It didn’t cross their mind that the map was a gift to any anti-nuclear campaigner wanting to say they are threatening to build one in your backyard.
To his credit Ziggy Switkowski’s final report found that nuclear energy would be 20-50% more expensive than coal without carbon pricing and that setting up a nuclear power industry would take between 10 and 15 years to establish.
This might be optimistic. For instance, the Hinkley Point nuclear power station has had regular completion estimates extended and is 3.7 billion pounds over budget so far. The Guardian (5/2022) reported that the cost of decommissioning the UK’s seven ageing nuclear power stations has nearly doubled to £23.5bn and is likely to rise further according to the UK public accounts committee and that the “The soaring costs of safely decommissioning the advanced gas-cooled reactors (AGRs), including Dungeness B, Hunterston B and Hinkley B, are being loaded on to the taxpayer.”
Failures in the government’s investment strategy for the fund, which was set up to pay for the decommissioning, have led to the taxpayer topping it up by an additional £10.7bn in just two years.
In 2019, Switkowski, in giving evidence to a parliamentary inquiry, revisited his report and said was little prospect for Australia to develop a nuclear energy industry because the window for large gigawatts nuclear generators had closed for Australia.
He said a nuclear industry would take too long to establish and be too costly to build compared to alternative infrastructure. He also said it was unlikely the industry could establish enough support to gain a social licence to operate.
Roll on three years and the Dutton Opposition knows better than the successful business leader and nuclear physicist Switkowski.
The Guardian (11/12) reports that the Dutton Opposition has told the Cop28 climate summit that it will back a global pledge to triple nuclear energy if Dutton becomes PM. “Speaking on the sidelines of the conference in Dubai, the opposition’s climate change and energy spokesperson, Ted O’Brien, also said a Coalition government would consider supporting Generation III+ large-scale nuclear reactors, and not just the unproven small modular reactors it has strongly touted”.
Moreover, Dutton has pledged that he will triple nuclear energy if he becomes prime minister but will not support Australia tripling its renewable energy.
Why on earth a country with many natural advantages, enabling it to harness renewable energy (becoming more pronounced as the Earth gets hotter), would prefer nuclear to renewable is incomprehensible.
But of course, that is not the calculation. It is not that Dutton is passionate, or knowledgeable, about nuclear power but simply another diversion from the need to address climate change as quickly and as economically as possible.
So, to facilitate the pro-nuclear anti-renewable campaign we will see the same sort of misinformation and disinformation we saw during the Voice campaign.
Hopefully though we will avoid the grosser examples of anti-climate change rhetoric the US has seen.
For instance, the comments of Kristina Karamo, the chair of the Republican Party in Michigan, who said on September 22 “We need to be good stewards of our planet. But that doesn’t mean I need to do away with my gas vehicle and drive an electric vehicle with a battery from China…. America’s Democrats are trying to convince us that if we don’t centralise power in the government, the planet is gonna die. That seems like one of the biggest scams since Darwinian evolution.”
But then it is possible that there are some in the Dutton Opposition who are also possibly a bit doubtful about evolution along with all that climate change science nonsense.
…and what’s the main lesson from all this? A well-structured carbon price is the best mechanism to deal with climate change – a view supported by most economists and scientists – but as toxic in Australian political debate as the discharges from a UK nuclear power station.
But perhaps the final word on the subject should go to The Shovel (12/2) which wrote: “A political party that was so chaotically inept that it could not manage to build a few dodgily-funded car parks next to a suburban train station, has unveiled plans to replace Australia’s entire energy grid with nuclear reactors.
“While it is true that we were unable to project manage the construction of a two-level concrete building in Kooyong, we are confident that we’ll have no issues overseeing the assembly of seventy nuclear fission reactors across the country,” Liberal Party leader Peter Dutton said today.