Scott Hargreaves, executive director of the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) in Melbourne, has criticised Energy Minister Chris Bowen over his claims that a nationwide transition to nuclear energy will cost taxpayers $387 billion (US$249 billion).
“The energy minister is not being fair dinkum with Australians about the cost of nuclear and our energy future. It’s about time he was honest with Australians about the cost of the federal government’s flawed renewables plan,” Mr. Hargreaves said in a statement.
“When you compare the minister’s claim today to the costs calculated by Net Zero Australia, which puts the cost of the energy transformation to renewables at $1.5 trillion (US$968 billion) by the end of the decade, it would make $387 billion to go nuclear a comparative bargain.”
Mr. Hargreaves also expressed scepticism towards renewable energy sources over environmental concerns.
“The federal government will sacrifice Australia’s prime agricultural land to solar panels, windfarms, and transmission lines, destroying our ability to grow food and fibre. There must be a better way, and all options must be considered.”
The comments follow Energy Minister Bowen’s claim on Sept. 18 that a nationwide transition from a reliance on coal-fired power stations to nuclear energy facilities will cost taxpayers a total of $387 billion.
The figure was produced by staff within the government’s energy department and is based on the extrapolated cost of replacing Australia’s remaining coal fleet with at least 71 small modular reactors (SMRs), each with a power capacity of 300 megawatts (MW.)
Minister Bowen’s sentiments constitute a pre-emptive strike from his government against the opposition, who plans to push for the introduction and legalisation of nuclear power as part of their energy policy put forward in the leadup to the next election.
In an open letter written to the government in mid-August, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton clearly outlined why his government is choosing to advocate for nuclear energy as its preferred power source.
“The time has come to cast aside antiquated thinking on nuclear power—just as more than 50 other countries are doing—and discuss the undeniable benefits of new small and micro modular reactors,” Mr. Dutton wrote.
Nuclear Only Realistic Power Source, Says Opposition LeaderIn his letter, the Opposition Leader also conveyed his certainty that nuclear energy is the only realistic power source that can be adopted in Australia’s pursuit towards net zero emissions by 2050 without creating negative externalities in the form of job losses and increases in power bills.
“Nuclear is the only credible and proven source of power to allow Australia to reach net-zero emissions. For the sake of our children and theirs in turn, a bipartisan embrace of nuclear power will deliver a better environment, cheaper electricity and more reliable power in the years ahead.”
Nuclear power’s prohibition in Australia mainly constitutes two pieces of legislation. Although it has never been popularised as a primary power source, it was only officially banned in 1998 after John Howard’s Liberal-led Coalition Government agreed with a Greens amendment to the National Radiation and Nuclear Safety Act.
The agreement was made in exchange for Senate support for the admittance of a particular nuclear power facility, with the amendment stipulating a veto on the development of all other facilities.
A year later, in 1999, the prohibition of nuclear technology for power generation was cemented with the introduction of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, which effectively disallows the construction or operation of any nuclear energy facilities across the nation. If the Coalition does indeed harbour legitimate ambitions of overturning the prohibition on nuclear, this is the act they will have to revise with the removal of four words—‘a nuclear power plant.’
Today, Greens Leader Adam Bandt has come out in response to the government’s projections, asserting that in his belief, it is now clear that parliamentary battle lines have been drawn in regard to energy policy.
Greens Want Clean Renewables“The Liberals are for nuclear, Labor is for more coal and gas, and the Greens are for clean renewables,” Mr. Bandt said today in a media statement.
“Across the country, Labor wants to prop up dirty coal-fired power stations, open new coal mines, and frack for more gas in the middle of a climate crisis. Peter Dutton is living in nuclear fantasy land, but Labor’s reality of more coal and gas is dangerous.”
In declaring that the Albanese Labor Government is aligned with fossil fuels, Mr. Bandt is referring to its willingness to approve certain developments in the wake of startling predictions from analysts and engineers in the energy sector.
A recent AEMO report forecasted rolling blackouts to occur during the coming summer months when cooling loads put immense pressure on demand for output in both Victoria and New South Wales at the grid’s current rate of transition.
The government is cognisant of such a predicament and is taking measures to maintain some of the nation’s most critical energy infrastructure, most notably opening talks with Brookfield Asset Management—owners of Origin Energy—to keep Eraring Power Station open beyond its current set date of closure as well as allowing metallurgical coal mines in Queensland’s Bowen Basin to be maintained.