The House of Representative’s Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy has released its report “on the circumstances and prerequisites necessary for any future government’s consideration of nuclear energy generation.”
The majority report, written by Coalition MPs, is predictably pro-nuclear and calls for a partial, conditional repeal of legislation banning nuclear power in Australia. Labor’s dissenting report supports retention of the ban.
A point of interest was the position that Zali Steggall, independent MP for Warringa, would take. We expected Ms. Steggall to be critical of the pro-nuclear propaganda presented to the inquiry (and indeed she is highly critical) but weren’t sure whether she would support maintaining the legal ban.
Steggall states in her dissenting report that she does not support repealing the legal ban, and repeatedly refers to the pro-nuclear bias in the majority Coalition report:
“Substantial evidence both for and against lifting the moratorium on nuclear energy was received, yet the report overwhelmingly refers to evidence in support. In so doing, the Report overstates benefits and understates risks of the technology. …
“I agree with paragraph 1.9 in the Report which states that: ‘Australia should be goal-oriented in seeking to deliver affordable and reliable energy while fulfilling its international emissions reduction obligations.’ However, there have been several misrepresentations throughout the Report that overstate nuclear energy’s ability to meet these goals, particularly in comparison to other technologies. …
“The Report does not accurately reflect the evidence received on affordability and economics. It is unlikely that new nuclear will be able to compete with renewables without any kind of timeframe it could be operational in Australia, especially given the rate of price deflation of renewables. …
“There is no doubt Australia needs to decarbonise its energy supply. The long development times of nuclear, canvassed in the Report as between ten and twenty years, mean it is ill-suited to the decarbonisation of the energy sector that is required. There is a risk that by focusing on future technologies like SMRs we may be leaving decarbonisation too late.
“Lifting the moratorium and considering nuclear energy distracts from current and emerging technologies. It does not make sense when Australia has the potential to be an energy superpower with renewables and hydrogen.”
Steggall tried but failed to get Coalition MPs to agree to this recommendation: ‘The Committee recommends that the Australian Government legislate a Net Zero emissions target by 2050.’ Opposition MPs agreed to the proposed recommendation but they might struggle to get federal Labor to adopt it as binding policy.
Coalition lunatics in charge of the asylum
The key recommendation of the majority Coalition report is as follows:
“The Committee recommends that the Australian Government allow partial and conditional consideration of nuclear energy technology by:
- maintaining its moratorium on nuclear energy in relation to Generation I, Generation II and Generation III nuclear technology; and
- lifting its moratorium on nuclear energy in relation to Generation III+ and Generation IV nuclear technology including small modular reactors, subject to the results of a technology assessment and a commitment to community consent as a condition of approval.”
All the nonsense about Generation 3+/4 nuclear technology and small modular reactors (SMRs) was considered by the stridently pro-nuclear SA Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission, which concluded in its final report in 2016:
“Advanced fast reactors and other innovative reactor designs are unlikely to be feasible or viable in the foreseeable future. The development of such a first-of-a-kind project in South Australia would have high commercial and technical risk. Although prototype and demonstration reactors are operating, there is no licensed, commercially proven design. Development to that point would require substantial capital investment.”
The Coalition seems bent on repeating the mistakes of the Howard government. Howard became a nuclear power enthusiast in 2005 and the issue was alive in the 2007 election contest.
The government’s nuclear promotion did nothing to divide the Labor Party or the environment movement. On the contrary, it divided the Coalition, with at least 22 Coalition candidates publicly distancing themselves from the government’s policy during the election campaign. The policy of promoting nuclear power was seen to be a liability and it was ditched immediately after the 2007 election.
Howard was too clever by half. And the current Coalition government is too clever by half. Its push for nuclear power has done nothing to divide the ALP or the environment movement (leaving aside some industry-funded greenwashing).
Meanwhile. deep rifts are evident within the Coalition. The SA Liberal government’s submission to the inquiry opposed the pursuit of nuclear power, as did the Tasmanian Liberal government’s submission and even that of the Queensland Liberal-National Party.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison is alert to the political risks. That’s why he handed the inquiry to the Environment and Energy Committee instead of the Industry, Innovation, Science and Resources Committee headed by Barnaby Joyce.
That’s why the PM gave the Committee just a few months to inquire, and why the report has been dropped on a Friday in mid-December. And that’s why the terms of reference rule out any near-term repeal of the legal ban, instead asking the Committee to consider prerequisites necessary for any future government’s consideration of nuclear power.
That’s all well and good. But the Environment and Energy Committee includes Coalition MPs every bit as dopey as Barnaby Joyce. Keith Pitt, for example. Committee chair Ted O’Brien pre-empted the outcome at the beginning of the inquiry by asserting that that SMRs and other new nuclear technologies are leading to “cleaner, safer and more efficient energy production”. They aren’t.
The Prime Minister no doubt hopes that the Committee’s report will be dead and buried and forgotten by the new year. But the ALP won’t let it be forgotten, and neither will the nuclear lobby. An ALP media release states:
“The Liberal dominated House Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy today handed down a report recommending nuclear power be pursued in Australia despite clear evidence nuclear power is enormously expensive, slow, inflexible, and dangerous to the environment and human health.
“With the inquiry initiated by embattled Angus Taylor, Scott Morrison must come clean about his Government’s nuclear power plan and let Australians know which regions are in his nuclear firing line. Over 100 Australian communities have previously been identified as possible locations for nuclear reactors and nuclear dumps, including; Jervis Bay NSW, Townsville QLD, Gladstone QLD, Perth WA, Western Port VIC, and the NSW North Coast.”
Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull recently described nuclear power as the “loopy current fad … which is the current weapon of mass distraction for the backbench”.
The current PM has thrown a bone to the conservative culture warriors pushing nuclear power and now they’ll be demanding a rump steak with tomato sauce.
Dr. Jim Green is the national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth Australia.