13 December, 2019
Statement on the Environment and Energy Nuclear Inquiry
For the last five months, the House Standing Committee on Environment & Energy, of which I am a member, has inquired into the circumstances and prerequisites for a future government to consider nuclear energy, including small modular reactor technologies in Australia. It’s been an interesting experience as we received over three hundred submissions and held eleven public hearings all over Australia. I commend the Chair, Ted O’Brien MP, for conducting a thorough inquiry in a short time frame.
The findings of the inquiry are now available online.
Australia is undergoing a revolutionary energy transition. We are shifting away from coal-fired baseload power to more variable forms of energy like solar and wind. Australia is now a world leader in the uptake of clean power.
Some feel that this transition should include nuclear energy, which has previously been banned from consideration. This inquiry was tasked to investigate what conditions and prerequisites would have to be in place for a future government to consider lifting the moratorium on nuclear energy.
After extensive deliberation, I agreed with some findings of the main report, nevertheless, I ultimately dissented due to a number of reasons. Which you can find in detail here (PDF).
I supported Recommendations 1 and 2 in the main report, which in part recommend an independent assessment of available and emerging nuclear technology, as well as the viability of nuclear power in the Australian context, especially compared with other technologies.
Extra scrutiny of the evidence by independent bodies is welcome and should enhance any decisions made by a future government on nuclear energy. Nuclear must also be considered alongside other technologies like solar and wind, which I consider to be safer and better options.
I did not agree with Recommendation 3 which sought conditional approval for lifting the moratorium on specific technologies like small modular reactors with the prior consent of affected communities. The prospect of nuclear energy divides our community. Therefore, prior to any consideration, nuclear energy must be put to the Australian people either by a plebiscite or federal election.
Further, any community engagement program undertaken by the Government must include education and awareness of other technologies like solar, wind and hydrogen. Nuclear is not an either-or proposition. It must be considered in context.
As for the substance of the main report, it both overstates the benefits of nuclear and understates the risks, especially when compared to other technologies like renewables. Particularly as it pertains to:
- Waste management, transport and storage
- Health and safety
- Energy affordability and reliability
The Australian people deserve transparency, especially on such an important matter. Ultimately the people will decide on what direction the country should go down, which is why I provided details on the evidence omitted from the main report to inform better decision making.
The main report also lacked consideration for two essential prerequisites: a long-term target to reach net zero emissions by 2050 and a settled national energy policy.
Any consideration of nuclear must be in light of our commitment to the Paris Agreement, which is a commitment to limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. This requires Australia to reach net zero by the middle of the century, a fact supported by evidence submitted and heard during the inquiry. Australia must follow the example of many other nations and legislate a net zero target by 2050.
You cannot guide an energy transition without a national energy policy, a fact supported by many submissions and eminent Australians. This policy must consider the ambitious direction that our various State and Territory governments are taking, shifting their jurisdictions to renewable energy. Australia has a huge opportunity to be a renewable energy superpower.
(Photo: Reuters, Benoit Tessier)
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