The leader of Australia's opposition has launched a formal process to examine the potential for advanced and next-generation nuclear technologies to contribute to national energy security and reduce power prices. Peter Dutton said it is "high time" for an "honest and informed debate on the benefits and costs of nuclear energy".Peter Dutton (Image: Liberal-National Party)
The review will be led by Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy Ted O'Brien, reporting to the policy committee of the Liberal Party-National Party coalition.
The current energy crisis has shown the importance of getting more dispatchable power into the grid, Dutton said. Average wholesale electricity prices have shown "unprecedented" year-on-year increases, and while renewables will play an important growing role in Australia's energy mix, they need to be balanced by sufficient investment in dispatchable generation.
Sixty per cent of Australia's coal-fired generation capacity is expected to leave the market by 2030, leaving households and businesses vulnerable to "chaos", he said.
"If we are serious about reducing emissions, while at the same time maintaining a strong economy and protecting our traditional industries, all technologies need to be on the table," the opposition leader said. "Nuclear energy is a mature, proven technology. It can provide the reliable, emissions-free, base-load electricity Australia needs. Estimates show that it would cost the world USD1.6 trillion more to meet the Paris targets without nuclear energy."
The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation has operated a nuclear research reactor at Lucas Heights for more than 60 years, but the use of nuclear power in Australia is currently prohibited by federal and state-level legislation. Successive Australian governments have maintained this moratorium, although a federal inquiry in 2019 recommended a partial lifting of the current prohibitions to allow the deployment of new and emerging technologies such as small modular reactors (SMRs).
A national conversation about the potential of nuclear energy is the "logical next step", Dutton said.
Australia is home to almost a third of known global uranium reserves. The country's 2021 production of 4192 tU made it the world's fourth largest uranium producer, after Kazakhstan, Canada and Namibia. All of its uranium production is exported.
Responding to Dutton's announcement, Tania Constable, CEO of the Minerals Council of Australia, said advanced, next-generation nuclear technologies can play an important role in building Australia's economic performance and prosperity, as well as helping it to reach net-zero emission targets and - along with other zero emissions energy sources like renewables and carbon capture and storage - to meet its commitments under the Paris Agreement.
"SMRs will be commercially available by the late 2020s," she said. "Australia could work with countries such as Canada, the UK and the US to develop a harmonised regulatory framework for SMRs." This would contribute to lower construction and deployment costs, which would lower the cost of delivered electricity, as well as revitalising Australia's nuclear engineering education potential, she said.
"The Opposition's announcement to continue the examination of this important technology is a sensible contribution to this ongoing debate."
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese earlier this year updated Australia's 2030 emissions reduction target under the Paris Agreement. The Labor Party-led government's Powering Australia plan supports a transition to renewable energy.
Researched and written by World Nuclear News