Wednesday, 12 February 2020
Environment and Energy Committee; Report
Small modular reactors do not exist anywhere in the world, and the committee heard evidence from academics that paper based designs are always the most efficient. And they're right: everything works on paper, and it's cheaper too. But experts suggest it is conceivable that it could well be into the 2040s before such a plant would be ready for generation, because there is not currently a ready-made workforce in Australia to provide the sort of expertise that is required to plan and build such a plant, let alone the time it will take to consider where that plant might be located, as I'm sure much of the Australian population will not want one in their neighbourhood.
Nuclear power is in decline all over the world. Countries like Germany and France have been planning to and starting to decommission their plants. For them, the risk of accident or nuclear leakage and the damage that it in turn does to all life is too high, and quite obviously there is no economic advantage to keeping their plants operating.
Renewables like wind and solar, combined with technology that provides battery and base-load power, are a much cheaper alternative. In fact, that's what we see now in South Australia. The Tesla battery has saved South Australian consumers $40 million each year since development. That number's set to increase by a further $47 million as its energy output increases and it supports the grid during times of peak supply deficit.
Nuclear power is not a cheaper energy source. Without even looking at the operating expenditure, waste management and further infrastructure, the last power plant built in Canada cost Can$14.5 billion—and that was just under 20 years ago. In fact, Hinkley Point C in the UK will cost the British public between 55 billion and 91 billion pounds in government subsidies over its lifetime. We all know who would shoulder the burden of investing into a dated and expensive energy source: it would be the Australian taxpayers. A nuclear power plant has only ever been delivered through heavy government financial support. The only thing that will assist the power grid and support cheaper power in Australia is a proper energy policy that will give investors and governments certainty into the future. Certainty attracts and harnesses investment.
Nowhere in the world has truly found a safe and permanent way of dealing with the waste generated by nuclear facilities. Since the Three Mile Island disaster in 1979, there have been at least 19 incidents at or involving nuclear power stations. The most recent in Fukushima was caused not by human error but by a natural disaster, and no amount of planning and safety protocols can keep a nuclear power plant safe in these circumstances. We've just seen over the last few months how widespread a single natural disaster can be. Nine years after Fukushima, the area cannot be accessed and much of the population—human, flora and fauna—are starting to be affected by the radiation that leaked after that earthquake and continues to do so.
Nuclear won't just drain taxpayer funds; it will drain our most precious resource, water. Nuclear power production uses an extensive amount of water, and while this country continues to suffer longer and more extensive droughts, nuclear energy would simply further deplete the extremely limited water resources in our regional areas.
Nuclear power is not the answer for the rest of the world. Belgium, Germany and Switzerland are already in stages of decommissioning their reactors. Of Germany's total power generation mix in 2017, 38.5 per cent was from renewable resources. In the same year, nuclear made up 13 per cent of the total power generation mix, and Germany's use of coal was just 15 per cent.
It's time this government developed a plan for something. It has been warned for years about the need for a national energy policy, but, as usual, it doesn't listen to the experts. Let's actually be smart about our energy future and develop the framework needed to transition Australia to a lower-cost, lower-emission, higher-tech industry that will create jobs for years.
We don't have to talk about Paris agreements or targets, or whether we're going to meet them. But what we do know after the disastrous summer is that we have to reduce our impact on this planet, its resources and the climate, and we need to do it now. It's time for the name-calling and blame-apportioning to go. We just need to resolve to provide energy by cleaner and greener means. And, if it's not for ourselves, then it's for the future of our children and grandchildren. Nuclear does not provide that solution.