Is the Opposition’s Nuclear Plan Actually Any Good?

Is the Opposition’s Nuclear Plan Actually Any Good?

Opposition leader Peter Dutton has revealed the Liberal-National Coalition’s plan for nuclear energy in Australia, which includes nominated sites across Australia and a commitment to functioning reactors by at least 2035.

The plan, long having been delayed over the past year, includes the nomination of nuclear energy sites across Australia. Such places being looked at include Lithgow, the Hunter Valley, Traralgon, and Mount Murchinson.

There are also plans to fit the sites of coal power plants with nuclear reactors, with those in Mount Piper, Liddell, Loy Yang, and Callide tipped to get the reactors.

The Coalition wants to have at least two reactors functioning by 2035 and 2037.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton officially announced the plan at a press conference this morning, aiming at current Government plans to increase the uptake of solar and wind power. He noted that this plan will go ahead if the Coalition is elected in 2025.

The Opposition mostly focused on proposed nuclear energy sites being built to utilise existing infrastructure, such as already in-place power lines.

“As coal is retired from the system, it will be replaced with zero emissions nuclear energy,” Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy Ted O’Brien said.

“We want to utilise the existing assets that we’ve got,” Dutton said. “There’s no sense in pretending that our economy can function without a stable energy system”.

Dutton said that the nuclear assets would be owned by the Commonwealth, and would need to work closely with state premiers to make such nuclear sites work.

The opposition leader promised that this nuclear plan would bring jobs for Australians and cheaper energy to the country.

On cost, Dutton criticised the Government’s plan for funding renewables, and the money going towards it. “Our proposal will cost a fraction of that cost,” the Opposition leader said, though he said that costs would be discussed “in due course”.

“It will be a big bill,” Dutton said.

Could the Opposition’s nuclear plan work out?

No doubt the Opposition’s nuclear plan has faced and will face intense scrutiny from stakeholders, researchers, and policymakers alike. Just this morning, NSW State Premier Chris Minns said that he would not consider repealing the state ban on nuclear energy. Such bans exist across several Australian states, on top of a ban at the Federal level, which would also need to be repealed.

Costings for the Opposition’s plan are yet to be revealed, though Dutton indicated they would be making it cost less than the current money dedicated to renewables. That part is a major point of contention, costings from all over the world, including from Australia’s science body, the CSIRO, indicate that nuclear is still vastly more expensive than solar or wind energy, up to eight times more expensive.

“The CSIRO numbers are pretty cut… Nuclear is pretty expensive. It’s more expensive than solar with a battery backup. There’s no way around that,” UQ professor and economist John Quiggin told Gizmodo Australia.

“[Dutton] has to come up with believable numbers about the cost,” he said.

As for the building of seven nuclear sites by 2035, Quiggin labelled the plan to have the first operational by 2035 as “absolutely ludicrous”.

“The big problem is that we don’t have a working nuclear technology that we can use,” Quiggin added.

He noted that small modular reactors would theoretically be placed strategically at the sites of still-in-place transmission lines, still don’t exist yet.

“It’s great to reuse them [the transmission lines], and we should be doing it, but we can do it with batteries, for example,” Quiggin said.

“The interesting part of the story isn’t the sites, it’s the fact that the commonwealth should own the reactors.”

What would nuclear do to the environment?

One of the bigger parts of this remains the renewable question: Will this help our climate commitments, or is it a distraction?

The Climate Council, an Australian advocacy group dedicated to environmental policy, isn’t phased. Rather, the group has slammed the policy as a smokescreen for the coal and gas industry, and the implementation of nuclear is only an offramp for such companies. The group calls it ‘radioactive greenwashing’.

“This will just be a recipe for more climate pollution and a more dangerous future for our kids,” head of advocacy at the Climate Council Jennifer Rayner told Gizmodo Australia.“It is extremely urgent that we slash climate pollution this decade. Later is much too late.”

Speaking specifically about the installation of two generators by 2037, and that most coal-fired generators will be shut down in Australia by 2038, Rayner criticised the implementation of nuclear over much faster-to-deploy and more economical solutions like solar and wind, particularly in a market like Australia where such energy sources are abundant.”It still wouldn’t be enough to fill the gap of our aging and unreliable coal-fired generators,” Rayner added.

Rayner noted this is the Liberal’s attempt at a climate policy.

“This is all about the Liberals needing to have a climate policy, but not believing or wanting one,” she said.

“It’s really important for people to understand that this is the make-or-break decade.”

The announcement comes at a time when Climate 200, the organisation that backed the ‘Teal’ candidates that took several seats from the Coalition in the last Federal Election, is starting to target more Coalition seats.

It’s a renewable energy policy designed to appeal to environmentally-minded voters, but according to Rayner, such voters want change in the here and now.

“What the Liberals have announced today will not do that,” Rayner said.

Image: Fox

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