The Guardian • Issue #2068


Nuclear (con) fusion

It’s increasingly evident that the reason the LNP quietly introduced the AUKUS pact into Australia just prior to the nation going into an election, was because they knew they were on the way out but that this would wedge the ALP into agreement.

This action also brings the nuclear energy debate back into the conversation despite the fact that there are two pieces of Commonwealth legislation currently prohibiting nuclear power in Australia. There are the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act and the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act, which prevent the construction or operation of nuclear facilities for power generation, as well as facilities for the fabrication of nuclear fuel, uranium enrichment, and the reprocessing of nuclear waste.

In NSW, Victoria, and Queensland there is also legislation prohibiting the construction of nuclear plants, with WA, SA, and the NT all having legislation in place to prohibit the transport or disposal of nuclear waste.

We are now seeing all the usual right-wing warriors – Gina Rinehart, Warren Mundine, Ted O’Brien, Andrew Liveris (former co-conspirator with Angus Taylor for his abortive ‘gas-fired recovery’ plan); the IPA (Institute of Public Affairs), and the Murdoch media – using AUKUS in the battle for acceptance of nuclear power as a tolerable alternative energy source to renewable energy, which they all loathe – being heavily invested in fossil fuels.

Dutton, in a speech to the IPA recently began pushing the idea of small modular reactors (SMRs), as well as micro modular reactors (MMRs) – nuclear batteries (both still at the prototype stage). He doesn’t appear to realise that it’s illegal under those two separate pieces of legislation to have nuclear power in Australia, despite this having been passed by the Howard government in 2006, after receiving the review by nuclear physicist, Ziggy Switkowski. His review concluded that to produce nuclear power would cost between 20-50 per cent more than coal. But of course, Dutton is using the AUKUS agreement to argue that Australia is already buying into SMRs, albeit on submarines rather than on land.

What Dutton ignores is that renewables and storage have rapidly become cheaper, and what he doesn’t mention is just how long SMRs and MMRs would take to become operational. They can’t possibly help Australia reach its 2030 emissions reductions target. But he probably knows that!

Nationals Senator, Matt Canavan, wants to remove bans on nuclear power, arguing dishonestly that nuclear energy will be the most competitive carbon free option for producing electricity. However a recent government committee has recommended that the bans remain. But this will only be so long as Labor and the anti-nukes who currently dominate the cross benches remain in power.

The Murdoch media – naturally – has made much of a Minerals Council of Australia poll held recently. A lot of leading questions, but none asking voters if they’d like a nuclear plant or waste facility in their backyard.

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