House debates

Wednesday, 12 February 2020


Environment and Energy Committee; Report

4:00 pm

Photo of Josh WilsonJosh Wilson (Fremantle, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for the Environment) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm glad to make some comments on the tabling of this Environment and Energy Committee report, which covers the inquiry we were tasked with by the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction to look into the prerequisites for a nuclear power industry in Australia. I should be absolutely clear at the outset, for those who might not listen too far into this speech, in saying that there was no testimony or evidence to the inquiry that supported a change to Australia's existing bipartisan moratorium on nuclear energy.

More than 10 years on from the Switkowski review, nuclear energy continues to be expensive, slow, inflexible, uninsurable, toxic and dangerous. In evidence to our inquiry, Dr Switkowski, who conducted the review for the Howard government, said there is 'no coherent business case to finance an Australian nuclear industry'. Dr Switkowski also said:

… one of the things that have changed over the last decade or so is that nuclear power has got more expensive rather than less expensive.

So it is frankly bizarre that Liberal and National members of the committee have recommended that the moratorium on nuclear power—the bipartisan and longstanding moratorium on nuclear power in Australia—should be lifted, and, what's more, that considerable government and agency resources should be expended to pave the way for that to occur. In itself, that would be madness. But, in the circumstances we find ourselves in in this country, with the challenges we have before ourselves with respect to climate change and our energy system more broadly, to waste those resources on a nuclear frolic would be nothing short of ridiculous, especially when you consider that it is the record of this government to cut funding to the CSIRO and to cut funding to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.

The clearest, most sensible and most consistently supported proposition to emerge from the evidence to our inquiry was that Australia's highest priority should be the design and settlement of a national energy policy. Almost every expert who appeared before us made that point. I will quote one of them, Ian Macfarlane, a member of a previous coalition government. It was put to him:

… would you agree with Dr Switkowski that the No. 1 priority in Australia is a settled national energy policy framework?

Mr Macfarlane said:

Of course I would, having been the longest serving energy minister in Australia and seeing the various and diverging views. Until we settle on a single energy policy you'll continue to have the investor uncertainty that is creating all sorts of issues combined with the unreliability of the grid, due to different mixes of energy which don't sustain the frequency and, therefore, are prone to blackouts and shortages of energy at certain peak periods. So it would be, in my opinion, a great outcome to achieve a single national energy policy.

Yet that is the one core task of the government, particularly in this portfolio area, that they can't bring themselves to focus on. We don't have a national energy policy to guide Australia at a significant time of change, when our electricity system is being transformed and reconfigured. That's an abject failure of this government. It's cost them multiple leaders. We're onto our third prime minister, largely because they cannot get their act together on that front. Yet, when Labor members of the committee recommended quite simply that government should work towards the design and settlement of a national energy policy, they wouldn't have that, and government members of the committee said they wouldn't have that because they thought it would reflect badly on the government.

I want to address some of the key myths that underpin the strange recommendations in this inquiry report. The first is that we need to lift a moratorium on nuclear power in order to have a conversation about nuclear power. We're having a conversation about nuclear power right now. I spent four or five months, as you did, Deputy Speaker Zimmerman, and as did other members present, having a conversation about nuclear power. Of course, it follows on, at the federal level, from the Switkowski review 10 years ago. In the meantime, there was the royal commission in South Australia. There is currently a Victorian upper house inquiry. We have done nothing other than have conversation after conversation after conversation about nuclear power. That is an utter furphy.

The second myth is—notwithstanding all its other failures: that it's slow, that it's dangerous, that we don't know what to do with the waste, that it doesn't suit the emerging needs of our energy system—that somehow nuclear power is cheap. Nothing could be further from the truth. The GenCost report by CSIRO and AEMO originally found that nuclear, in terms of capital cost, was far and away the most expensive form of new generation. That was updated in December. I know there were members of the committee who didn't want to accept the original report. It was updated in December, and it repeats the findings of the earlier report that nuclear power is far and away the most expensive form of new energy.

We had evidence from countless experts, including AEMO, about the way that we should go with respect to new generation in our system. The chair of AEMO said:

What we find today at current technology cost is that unfirmed renewables in the form of wind and solar are effectively the cheapest form of energy production. If we look at firmed renewables, for example wind and solar firmed with pumped hydro energy storage, that cost, at current cost, is roughly comparable to new build gas or new build coal-fired generation. Given the learning rate effect that we have just discussed, our expectation is that renewables will further decrease in their cost, and therefore firmed renewables will well and truly become the lowest cost of generation for the NEM.

That's not just what our experts find in Australia; that is what is happening around the world. In the previous decade, levelised cost estimates for utility-scale solar dropped by 88 per cent and wind by 69 per cent, while nuclear increased by 23 per cent. Remember that the evidence from Dr Switkowski, who undertook a review for the Howard government, previously found that, in the years that have since elapsed, nuclear has only got more expensive.

Myth No. 3: we can never get a zero emissions electricity system without nuclear energy. That has also been shown to be wrong. I put it to Professor Blakers of the ANU that some people believe that maybe 60 or 70 per cent renewables is the most that we can get. Professor Blakers said:

No, you can never get beyond 100 per cent, and 100 per cent is technically straightforward. It's also not very difficult economically.

That's what Professor Blakers, an expert in new energy technology, said to the inquiry.

Myth No. 4: the rest of the world is going big in nuclear and Australia is somehow missing out. Again, nothing could be further from the truth. The World Nuclear Industry Status Report makes it clear that nuclear power generation peaked in 2006. The number of reactors peaked in 2002. The share of nuclear power in the electricity mix worldwide peaked in 1996. The number of reactors under construction peaked in 1979. The share of nuclear power in the world has dropped from its peak in 1996 of 17 per cent to 10 per cent today. Countries that were big in nuclear, like France, have committed to reducing their current reliance by a third. Countries like Korea that were looking at building nuclear in their own country have decided not to do that. Nuclear is a dead industry, and the idea that we would take it up is, frankly, absurd.

The fifth myth is that nuclear is now safe and no longer a problem, so we should build nuclear plants in coastal cities around Australia. This industry likes to tell fairytales at every turn, and the fairytale is always that the nightmares of the past have been magically fixed by the nuclear fairy and we don't have to worry about that anymore. That was said after Three Mile Island. Then we had Chernobyl. It was said after Chernobyl. Then we had Fukushima. In Fukushima, 40,000 people continue to be displaced. Nuclear radiation is pouring into the ocean with every day. It has cost the Japanese government $200 billion. The Japanese government estimate is that the final cost will be between $450 billion and $650 billion. Our own agencies, ANSTO and ARPANSA, say that nuclear should never and can never be considered safe. We have a plan, even in New South Wales, in relation to the very small ANSTO facility that ensures that there's sufficient iodine kept for the possibility of some sort of nuclear accident. It's the same in France; it's the same in all developed countries.

It's absurd that, when we should be talking about the big priorities in this country in relation to energy and emissions, we have been sent off on another nuclear frolic and some people are taking that as the basis for floating all kinds of nuclear thought bubbles. We don't have a settled energy policy in this country. Our emissions are not falling and we are not taking on the challenges when it comes to transmission and grid design that we desperately need. Nuclear power should never occur in Australia, and anyone who argues that has their head in the sand.

Photo of Sharon BirdSharon Bird (Cunningham, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the document be noted. I call the member for Goldstein.

4:10 pm

Photo of Tim WilsonTim Wilson (Goldstein, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Fremantle and I may share the same surname and I may occasionally joke that he is my cousin—since apparently you can now go back to just about any generation and claim cousins, which the member has accused me of at times in the past—but I can, sure as hell, tell you that we do not share the same views on the future of our great country. I say that because I have never heard so much rubbish as we just heard from the member for Fremantle. Why are the Australian Labor Party opposed to the future? Why are they so anti science, so anti technology and so anti the potential of what we can do for this great country?

We have an enormous challenge in confronting the transition of our energy market. Why would they close down viable technologies—even a discussion, even a consultation, even a pathway about what we could do to deliver a lower carbon future? They are so anti science that they would shut down a pathway or a discussion around one energy generation model. It is simply absurd. But it's what we've come to expect from the Australian Labor Party, because they're anti science and they're not interested in technological solutions. The only thing they're interested in—and, of course, the minister made this point in question time today—are new taxes. They love new taxes. They don't see the solution to our challenges around climate change, around reducing our emissions or around transitioning our energy grid through the prism of what we can build for the future; they put it on the basis of how they can tax it for themselves. No answers; no solutions. That's why they sit on the other side of this chamber.

What we got from this report, expertly led by the wonderful member for Fairfax, was a good and serious consideration of the important issues that we need to discuss if we are to consider nuclear energy. Labor's answer is simply to dissent and say, 'No go.' We're working with the community to make sure that we can have viable options to consider the future generation challenge that Australia needs. It actually came back with a series of expert recommendations. I think that is an excellent consideration and should be fully supported and endorsed.

Mr Josh Wilson interjecting

The member for Fremantle again indulges himself by throwing out propositions in his antiscience crusade and antiscience agenda. Some of us are going to stand by the science, stand by the technology and stand by the ideas that will help build the future of this country. If you want to stay, member of Fremantle, on your continued antiscience, antitechnology and antifuture agenda, then I just hope that the good people of the electorate of Fremantle know the consequences of your antiscience, antitechnology and antifuture agenda. We on this side of the chamber are about the future. So, what are we doing? We're looking at making sure that there is serious consideration of different options of lower emissions technology to generate future energy investment. Of course, it has to be done strategically to make sure that we take the Australian community with us.

We agree, fundamentally, that old-school reactors that created problems in the past—with low-grade technology, with low-grade regulations, and with serious challenges regarding environmental factors or human health—should not be considered. We start from that very basic proposition. That's what this report proposes as well. But, when it comes to new technology and innovation, the merits of proposals should be properly considered and not just ruled out by the anti-science, anti-technology, anti-future member for Fremantle and many other members of the Labor Party on the other side of the chamber—and the Greens, mind you. If they really believe a lot of their rhetoric then they should be having a proper discussion about technology solutions and they should not be having closed minds.

Mr Josh Wilson interjecting

The member for Fremantle's asking what it is I'm calling him. I'm calling you technology bigots. You have closed minds. You are technology bigots about the future of this country and what can be achieved through things like a discussion around nuclear power.

We need to make sure we have the regulations in place so that we can fully consider it. We need to make sure we have in place assistance for and development of proposals by ANSTO to make sure that they can fully consider it and so there's a proper assessment about the viability, if we're going to go down the pathway to nuclear power. We had a discussion, and the committee made a particular recommendation, around commissioning the Productivity Commission or other equivalent expert reviewer to undertake an independent assessment to inform the discussion on things like the contribution that can be made by nuclear power. Of course, we also have to make sure that, if there is any consideration in the future, it maintains a moratorium on old, outdated technology that won't have any value in the future of the energy grid in this country.

But the approach of the member for Fairfax and the committee that he led—open-minded, forward-looking and interested in the power of technology to contribute to the future building of this country—is such an important part of this discussion. The technology bigotry that we hear from the opposition benches is so disappointing but completely unsurprising. So rarely have we seen an example of a solution from them when there are serious challenges we face. The Labor Party like to talk about the challenge of climate change, as I do, but, when it comes down to it, I look for answers and solutions. That's because I actually take it seriously. No-one can look at the challenge of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, while trying to deliver reliable and affordable power to households, and then take whole options off the table without any proper consideration of the technological changes that make them viable. This is the big part—

Mr Josh Wilson interjecting

Photo of Trent ZimmermanTrent Zimmerman (North Sydney, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source


Photo of Tim WilsonTim Wilson (Goldstein, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

If the member for Fremantle wants to dismiss these important propositions as part of that discussion then he is selling out his own constituents and the people of Australia. He's selling out the health of our environment and our climate so that he can make partisan political points in this chamber and in the House of Representatives. That is why so little credence is given to the narrow-minded, technology-bigoted approach of the Australian Labor Party towards nuclear power. Let's face it: we know that even their own supporters don't agree with them. The CFMMEU wrote a letter, published in newspapers only recently, talking about why Labor's technology bigotry should end around these issues of nuclear power.

The reality is that there are opportunities and there are jobs, depending on what pathway we go down.

Mr Josh Wilson interjecting

Photo of Trent ZimmermanTrent Zimmerman (North Sydney, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! I warn the member for Fremantle.

Photo of Tim WilsonTim Wilson (Goldstein, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

When we have the Labor Party's technology bigotry and anti-science, anti-technology, anti-future agenda—with not just the member for Fremantle but all other members of the opposition as well not prepared to look seriously at the challenges and opportunities that can come out of a discussion around nuclear power—what we're seeing is a close-minded approach. That's what this report specifically tries to prise open—a serious discussion around the issues.

In the Goldstein electorate, we're actually interested in these challenges around technology. We're very fortunate that, recently, the member for Fairfax, who led this important inquiry, came to the Goldstein community to have a discussion with community representatives and people who are interested in this topic, on Thursday 13 January 2020. In fact, he had two discussions. During the community forum, we had 50 locals express an interest in the issues of nuclear power and energy generation. One of the people who attended—it was wonderful to see him there—was Ian Hore-Lacey, who is a senior adviser to the London based World Nuclear Association. He categorically destroyed many of the arguments, through simple facts, evidence and reason about the potential safety of the technology and what it can do, and he made sure that there was a proper discussion with the member for Fairfax about the complexity of the issues.

Sitting behind it more than anything else when community representatives came forward—and there were pro and negative people on the issue—were genuine concerns, about health and safety and environmental management, around long-term issues around the storage of spent uranium. They came forward and said, 'Raise those concerns and put to people the facts, particularly around where storage solutions occur.' But the one thing that became abundantly clear was that people's concerns were genuine but they were often also based on misinformation. It's the sort of misinformation that we heard from the member for Fremantle and I've no doubt we'll hear from other members of the Labor Party. They're always very excited about running a scare campaign. They don't actually like to deal with the facts. That's going to be our great challenge: how to make sure the misinformation from the Australian Labor Party that leads to scaring people—as they so often do, and they have a long track record of doing so—does not mislead the Australian people.

4:20 pm

Photo of Anne StanleyAnne Stanley (Werriwa, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to make my contribution on the House of Representatives Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy's report Not without your approval: a way forward for nuclear technology in Australia. I acknowledge the work done by the secretariat and members and thank all those who made contributions to this report.

I think it would be fair to say that I find the recommendations of the report to be disappointing and not a reasonable conclusion in the second decade of the 21st century. I acknowledge and concur with the dissenting report compiled by Labor members and the remarks by the member for Fremantle in this place today. I was privileged to be a member of the House of Representatives environment and energy committee in the 45th Parliament. I note with interest that the expert contributors to this report are still in agreement that it is the uncertainty of energy policy which needs to be addressed by this government. That was the first recommendation of a report by this committee in the 45th Parliament entitled Powering our future: inquiry into modernising Australia's electricity grid. I further note, with disappointment, that three years later the government has still to respond to that report.

The government frequently lectures about its economic credentials, yet it has not taken expert advice that has one clear message: providing energy security, certainty and stability in the grid will in turn drive down prices. Certainly Mr Ian Macfarlane, Chief Executive of the Queensland Resources Council and a former energy minister, agreed in the evidence he gave to the committee for this report. He said:

Until we settle on a single energy policy you'll continue to have the investor uncertainty that is creating all sorts of issues combined with the unreliability of the grid, due to different mixes of energy which don't sustain the frequency and, therefore, are prone to blackouts and shortages of energy at certain peak periods. So it would be, in my opinion, a great outcome to achieve a single national energy policy.

The government is continually hampered by the many contrary views within its ranks. It seems as though the need to ensure the numbers in its party room has this government too paralysed to do anything at all.

Nuclear power does not provide the circuit-breaker the government is looking for. It will not enhance the government's economic credentials. Nuclear is not a cheaper alternative. The committee heard evidence from Dr Ziggy Switkowski—it is in the committee Hansard of 29 August 2019, page 2—that 'there is no coherent business case to finance an Australian nuclear industry'. He further added that 'one of the things that has changed over the last decade or so is that nuclear power has got more expensive rather than less expensive'.

Hon. Members:

Honourable members interjecting

Photo of Trent ZimmermanTrent Zimmerman (North Sydney, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! There is too much chatter in the chamber. I ask you to be more respectful of the speaker, please.

Photo of Anne StanleyAnne Stanley (Werriwa, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

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.

4:28 pm

Photo of Katie AllenKatie Allen (Higgins, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise in support of this document, which I am pleased to say has had a huge amount of consideration. I'd like to congratulate the member for Fairfax for chairing the committee that presented this very fine report. And I would like to note that in my first speech I stated that I believe in climate action, that I know that climate change is real and that, as a scientist, I was very sure that as a community we need to think about all forms of technology going forward.

For me, it's not just an environmental imperative to have climate action; it's an economic imperative. In fact, with the world transitioning to a carbon-neutral future, it's also an economic inevitability. Australia is at that tipping point where we can be part of the technological revolution. As a scientist, to hear that we are considering, with an open mind, the many options that are available to us is absolutely fantastic.

I wanted to address some of the information that was passed from the other side of this House. Firstly, I think it's very important to delineate that this report from the House Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy, Not without your approval: a way forward for nuclear technology in Australia, was a very carefully worded title—that is, we need to understand the community's view on new nuclear. The report made very clear the difference between first- and second-generation nuclear and third- and fourth-generation nuclear.

I won't disagree with some of the things that were said by the other side in this chamber about first- and second-generation nuclear. In fact, much, if not all, of their debate was about first- and second-generation nuclear. That's actually unhelpful and extremely disappointing. With the greatest respect, I've heard a lot from the other side that they would like to see a bipartisan way forward. What we're talking about here is a discussion that's a sensible discussion based on the sensible proposition that third- and fourth-generation nuclear is in the future. It hasn't been commercialised. It's not yet scalable. It's an opportunity for Australia to consider.

The report said that, in order to even consider a partial lift of the moratorium on the environment protection act, four things would need to occur. Firstly, we'd need to have a technological assessment, and that would need to be undertaken by ANSTO. Secondly, we would need a readiness assessment, and that would be undertaken by ARPANSA. The reason we'd need a readiness assessment is that, unfortunately, we don't have a large body of nuclear physicists or nuclear engineers and we'd need to look into things like facilities that may be required to build a new nuclear industry. Thirdly, it talked about the Productivity Commission looking into the economics of new nuclear—third- and fourth-generation nuclear. Fourthly, it said there'd need to be bipartisan support and a public willingness to explore this as an option.

To me, as a scientist, that is incredibly sensible, very practical and very tangible. It doesn't say, 'Let's get in there, boots and all.' What it says is that we need to think about this in a considered and open-minded way. That's why I'm very disappointed that the opposite side of the benches have just come in and started talking about all these things which are true for first- and second-generation nuclear, but, if they read the report—which I did very carefully—the report was very careful to delineate between old nuclear and new nuclear.

I have a strong commitment to climate action. The people of Higgins have told me that they have a strong commitment to climate action. But the issue with climate action is that it is highly unlikely for there to be one silver bullet on energy. We know this because we know already that the world is transitioning to a carbon-neutral future, but there are different energy mixes in each country. We do know that many of those countries that already have carbon neutral 2050 targets—particularly larger economies—have nuclear in their mix.

To be fair, the nuclear that is in their mix is second-generation nuclear, and some of those are closing shop because of—quite rightly, as the opposition has said—the safety concerns around first- and second-generation nuclear. Chernobyl and Fukushima were first- and second-generation nuclear effectively, and that old technology has issues with large amounts of waste. It has concerns around nuclear proliferation. It has concerns about cost. And of course there are concerns about waste disposal. Many of those things have not been solved.

However, third- and fourth-generation nuclear has had massive investment by social good ventures—such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has invested billions of dollars into this technology—because this new technology is based on a completely different technological underpinning. This is because the accidents that occurred, like the Japanese accident, were based on this old technology where, if there was an explosion or a natural disaster, the energy activation that occurred was not halted. The exciting possibility about new nuclear is that, if an accident were to happen, it actually, through gravity, disconnects the mechanism, dropping that modular reactor into a nuclear bunker and therefore immediately stopping it and protecting safety.

This is a really different way of thinking about things, and it's amazing it wasn't thought of with first and second generation, but there are new technologies coming all the time. New nuclear, which includes small modular reactors and molten salt reactors, has a very different way of using and being safe—from the point of view of the actual chemical reaction itself. It is also based, more often, on different types of compounds. With new nuclear, molten salt reactors use thorium, for instance, and thorium is abundant everywhere in the world, it's a highly abundant natural element, and it doesn't have the same association with nuclear proliferation, so the risks of nuclear proliferation are not the same as they are for uranium based nuclear, for instance.

When we talk about waste—and I am not a technocrat when it comes to nuclear; I am a medical researcher, so I don't know as much about the technical details—what I understand is the production of waste is much smaller with new nuclear than old nuclear, so the requirement for the storage of waste is much smaller than it is for old nuclear. We know in Australia—and a previous federal minister for health, the Hon. Michael Wooldridge, likes to tell me about this—that when we first talked about using nuclear medicine in Australia there was a very large reaction from the community, a very negative one, quite frankly. Michael likes to tell me, 'We changed the framing of the words so that people could understand how this technology would benefit them.' Now we know that nearly one in two Australians are using some form of nuclear medicine in their diagnosis and treatments for things like cancer—and people are so much more accepting, because they understand how it benefits them. If we're going to have a strong reaction from the opposition using terminologies that relate to an old form of technology, I personally think that's very unhelpful for an open-minded discussion about how we're going to get to a carbon-neutral future.

To get back to what we're trying to achieve: we want to move to a carbon-neutral future and we're very committed to climate action, but what we need to do is be open-minded about the technologies that might be available. As a scientist, I know that it's sometimes very difficult to predict the future of science and technology development. I can give you a number of examples. I was involved in gene therapy and stem cell research, and it's very hard to predict the benefits that will come out of those sorts of technologies. At the turn of the century, for instance, we thought that we would have gene therapy available for treatment for patients. The technology that was developed in mice has resulted in something called transgenic mice models, and the result of that is helping the development of medicines, each and every day, for patients. It's helping the development of biological models, which are incredibly powerful. We would never have been able to predict that in 1999, but in 2020 we know that transgenic mice and gene therapy in these sorts of models have been incredibly effective and very useful for humankind. I would argue the same is true for new technologies, particularly in this area of energy. Being a scientist, I am quite well connected to the global scientific community, and there are massive amounts of investments in this new energy area.

A division having been called in the House of Representatives—

Sitting suspended from 16 : 37 to 16 : 50

I'd like to highlight that today, Australia's Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel, delivered a very important speech at the National Press Club. I'd like to quote directly from his speech:

I want you to imagine a highway exclusively devoted to delivering the world's energy. Each lane is restricted to trucks that carry one of the world's seven large-scale sources of primary energy: coal, oil, natural gas, nuclear, hydro, solar and wind—

note that hydrogen is a storage; it's not an energy—

Our current energy security comes at a price, the carbon dioxide emissions from the trucks in the three busiest lanes: the ones for coal, oil and natural gas. We can't just put up roadblocks overnight to stop these trucks; they are carrying the overwhelming majority of the world's energy supply. But, what if we expand clean electricity production carried by the trucks in the solar and wind lanes — three or four times over — into an economically efficient clean energy future.

Alan Finkel is talking about imagination, openness and possibility. We need to focus on harnessing the power of new technology, including new nuclear, in my view. It's worth keeping an open mind to developing new opportunities. (Time expired)

4:51 pm

Photo of Fiona PhillipsFiona Phillips (Gilmore, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this report today as a supplementary member on the nuclear inquiry. I stand today in steadfast opposition to the inquiry's report. I strongly oppose the lifting of the moratorium on nuclear energy and a shift towards nuclear power. In my very first speech in this place, I spoke about nuclear energy. I talked about how the government needed to turn its attention away from nuclear energy proposals, and I made a commitment to my community that I would fight against any plan to pursue this. Today, I want to reassure my community that I stand by that commitment.

I will never accept a nuclear power plant being built in our community. The risks are simply too great. There are risks to our beautiful coastline, to our health, to the reputation of our primary producers and to the hospitality and tourism industries that thrive on our environment. We know that accidents happen. We have seen that.

We also know all too well at the moment that natural disasters happen. Already, this year, we have seen unprecedented bushfires and the devastation they have caused. Sadly, just this week, my community has also seen the damage that floods can do. We cannot afford to add nuclear power risks to our precious environment.

Risks aside, there is simply no evidence for nuclear power in Australia. I do not believe that we need to undertake further investigations into the science and economics of nuclear energy as the second recommendation in this report states. As far as I am concerned, this is already settled and putting more resources into this is a costly and wasteful distraction. There is already so much evidence against this.

Nuclear power has been in decline across the world for years. According to the World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2019, nuclear energy produces less power now than 10 years ago, while wind and solar continue to grow. The capital cost of nuclear energy per kilowatt hour has increased, not decreased, as you would expect of an industry that has been around for 60 years.

The New Delhi Energy and Resources Institute's senior director of electricity and fuel division called nuclear energy 'frightfully expensive' and stated that it has only ever been delivered through very considerable government financial support. The Australian Energy Market Operator and the CSIRO found in their GenCost 2018 report that nuclear energy was hugely expensive—both large and small-scale. What did the market operator instead tell the committee? That the cheapest form of energy production was unfirmed wind and solar—renewables.

Dr Switkowski, a nuclear physicist and Chancellor of RMIT told the committee:

There is no coherent business case to finance an Australian nuclear industry.

Dr Switkowski also made clear that nuclear power is getting more expensive, not less expensive. I could go on. Submission after submission, expert after expert, clearly saying that nuclear power is not the way to go. Instead, what we need to be doing and what we should be talking about is renewable energy. It is absolutely clear that we need more investment in renewables. We need cleaner, cheaper power—and that cannot be found in nuclear energy, but it can be found in renewables.

This whole discussion, this whole report, is merely a distraction so the government can hide from the fact they are taking no action to move Australia forward in the renewable energy space. We don't even have a national energy policy, something the experts continually pointed out during these hearings as well. While the government spends time talking about nuclear energy, we are wasting the opportunities that renewables can provide.

My electorate on the New South Wales South Coast has the lowest workforce participation rate in Australia. We have the highest youth unemployment rate in New South Wales. We need jobs and we need them now. A renewable energy hub in our region would create jobs that we desperately need—and I believe this is where our future lies—jobs in industries like engineering, construction and maintenance of renewable energy infrastructure; jobs in battery manufacturing and installation, logistics and distribution. The list goes on. Local community groups like the Southcoast Health and Sustainability Alliance and Repower Shoalhaven have already seen that potential in renewables. These groups are helping the individuals, businesses and community groups invest in solar energy, reducing power bills and helping the transition to cleaner, cheaper power. My concern is the damage that proposals like nuclear energy can make and will make to the potential of those jobs.

Tim Buckley, the director of Energy Finance Studies at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis told the committee about the harm lifting the moratorium could do to regional investment and jobs. He told us about the likely negative investor reaction to the suggestion that Australia might lift the moratorium. I will quote Mr Buckley's reasoning for this. He said:

… this would cause significant community debate over an extended period of time, and if it were eventually passed, the presumption would be that the Government was proposing to then provide a massive multi-decade capital subsidy towards nuclear generation capacity. After a decade of energy policy chaos and a trebling of gas and electricity prices, a further delay to debate this issue would further lift investor uncertainty in Australian electricity markets.

Mr Buckley went on:

If successful, this would then crowd out private capital investment in lower cost alternatives, and with a 10-20 year construction timetable, the Australian people and Australian industry would have to continue carrying the burden of higher energy prices while we wait.

Instead, Mr Buckley suggested that a wind or solar project could be built 10 times faster in one or two years. Not only will nuclear power be unsafe, costly and slow but it will also put investment in renewables and the jobs this can create at risk. I simply will not accept that. The New South Wales South Coast could be benefiting from this job growth right now, but the government's obsession with nuclear power is putting that at risk. They continue to pursue this dead issue against all evidence. This report is only one example of that.

The Morrison government's biggest advocate for nuclear power has just had a promotion. He is the new minister for resources and water. Keith Pitt has been a vocal advocate for nuclear power, and appointing him to the resources portfolio sends quite a message. I have a message in return: the people of the South Coast will not accept a nuclear reactor in Jervis Bay. We will not accept a nuclear reactor in our pristine environment anywhere along the South Coast—not now, not ever.

Forgive me for diving into the history books for a short moment. I'd like to briefly touch on the long background of the proposed nuclear reactor in Jervis Bay, because this is not a new proposal. It is not something that those opposite thought up yesterday or even while hearing the evidence during this inquiry. A nuclear reactor in Jervis Bay was first explored in the late 1960s. In 1969, the Liberal-National government led by John Gorton gave in-principle support for the construction of a nuclear power station at Murrays Beach in Jervis Bay. Back then, it was expected to cost $131.3 million to build. It took until 1972 for the cabinet to decide to not altogether discount but defer the project 'pending clarification of technical problems with overseas reactor systems and of Australian fuel and power-generating policies'. Sounds oddly familiar.

Today, nothing has changed. We still have a Liberal-National government that wants nuclear power in Australia. In 2018, the Nationals even went so far as to pass a motion at their federal council calling on the federal and state governments to 'abolish such regulation as is necessary to allow the development of sustainable nuclear energy'. They have appointed their biggest nuclear advocate as the resources minister, and now we have this report calling for an end to those regulations preventing nuclear proliferation in this country.

Nothing has changed with the challenges in Jervis Bay either. In a 2007 report published by The Australia Institute, the prospect of a reactor at Jervis Bay was again raised. This report noted a medium earthquake risk at the site. It noted important heritage and ecological sites, 70 nationally listed species and at least 43 migratory species in the area. So again I say that I will strongly oppose any plans this government has to build a nuclear reactor that will endanger the ecological and heritage values of Jervis Bay, a reactor that will endanger the lives, health and safety of thousands of local people who would be caught in the fallout radius of such a plant. We need cleaner, cheaper power, and we need jobs for local people, not nuclear.

5:01 pm

Photo of Rick WilsonRick Wilson (O'Connor, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to make some very brief comments supporting what is an excellent report. I thank the chair, the member for Fairfax, Ted O'Brien, for the great work that he did in marshalling the troops and also all those who were on the committee and contributed and are here today. Although there was perhaps a diverse range of opinions, everyone worked, I think, cooperatively. I think it's a very fine report and reflects well on the parliament.

I just want to make some preliminary comments. We have seen this movie unfold before. As a farmer, I have had a lot of involvement in advocacy for genetically modified crops. Those crops are now being grown Australia-wide, as the South Australian Liberal government recently lifted the moratorium on GM crops in South Australia. They will have that technology available to their farmers this year. We have seen state Labor governments around the country, antiscience luddites, who have opposed this technology all the way along. There has been no recorded incident of an adverse health impact with the billions of meals that have been consumed. Genetically modified crops are grown all over the Americas, both north and south, and consumers in those countries regularly consume genetically modified corn and other products and, as I say, no adverse impact of consuming those GM crops has ever been recorded. They have wonderful environmental benefits, as we have seen with Bt cotton here in Australia, where the amount of chemicals used to control insects has been reduced by a factor of nine. Yet still we see state Labor governments, with their Greens fellow travellers, oppose this technology at every step of the way.

As I say, the last moratorium imposed by state government, a state Labor government, was lifted by the Liberals in South Australia. We can now truck GM canola seed from Victoria to Western Australia, whereas previously we had to truck it from Victoria via the Northern Territory and down through the north of Western Australia to the southern districts. As I say, we have seen this movie play out before.

But I will come back to the nuclear inquiry and the recommendations. The first recommendation is that nuclear energy be considered as part of Australia's future energy needs. This is a very measured and sensible recommendation, as are all the recommendations. 'It be considered'—all that means is that it be considered as part of our future energy mix.

The second recommendation is that a body of work be undertaken to include economic assessment, technological assessment and readiness assessment. That, once again, is not building a nuclear power plant at Jervis Bay—as the previous speaker said, seeking to whip up fear without actually absorbing what the report said. Thirdly, we recommended a partial and conditional lift on the moratorium to allow third and fourth generation nuclear technology to be considered in this country. If the moratorium sits there, there is no commercial operator that will do the research and do the business plan if they have no hope of ever commercialising that project.

I just want to make a few comments about nuclear energy and where it currently sits. We have heard from other speakers that it is on the way out. At the moment, there are 452 reactors operating across 31 countries around the world. Importantly, there are 495 plants either under construction or in the planning phase. So that's almost a doubling of the nuclear fleet in the next 10 years. The two countries where nuclear energy plays a very large role in their energy mix are Canada and France, both very sophisticated countries that we can learn some lessons from. The current wholesale price of electricity is US$28 per megawatt hour, which is around A$40. That is compared to Australia's current wholesale price of electricity of around $100 per megawatt hour. So the argument that nuclear energy is expensive is not borne out by the facts in these countries.

In terms of emissions reduction, one golf ball sized piece of uranium represents a lifetime's energy for an individual. That compares with 1,000 kilograms of coal, a tonne of coal, 564 litres of oil or 481 cubic metres of gas. So that's one golf ball sized piece of uranium. And we've got plenty of it here in Australia. In fact, in my electorate I've got three uranium projects that are, hopefully, about to go into the production phase. They've received all their approvals and are looking at the future very optimistically.

The technology that we're talking about here, that would possibly be installed if we ever got to that stage, would be the small modular nuclear reactors with the thorium salt as their main power source, and those small reactors, three of them, could power 1.08 million households in Australia.

In overseas countries it is difficult to extrapolate the figures exactly, but the estimated plant cost is around A$4 billion, which would represent an electricity generation cost of around $60 per megawatt hour. So that's very competitive with the current price. But, effectively, that's not the government's problem, in my view. I don't believe in subsidising nuclear power stations. Personally, I don't believe in subsidising coal power stations and I don't believe we should be subsidising renewable energy. We should be completely technology agnostic in this, and the best power source, the most efficient, and the source that provides firm base-load power is the technology that should win the day.

Finally, I want to touch on the safety aspect. There have been three nuclear incidents—some may say accidents—with the first and second generation power plants. At Three Mile Island there were no deaths from exposure to radiation. At Chernobyl, there were 19 deaths from exposure to radiation. At Fukushima there were no deaths from exposure to radiation. They died when they drowned as they were trying to shut the reactor down. They were in a basement and they drowned in the tsunami. So, from a safety perspective, I don't have the numbers but I can guarantee that many, many more people die in the coalmining industry, in the generation of electricity through coal-fired power stations and others, than die at a nuclear reactor.

I commend the report to the House. I think it's an excellent piece of work. It's something that should certainly stimulate discussion. People with an open mind, people who can move beyond that antiscience mindset that I described with the GM crops, should be able to have a rational debate about this. The best technology to provide low emissions baseload power should be the technology that this country adopts.

5:11 pm

Photo of Zali SteggallZali Steggall (Warringah, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

During 2019, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy, of which I am a member, inquired into the circumstances and prerequisites for a future government to consider nuclear energy, including small modular reactor technologies in Australia. We received over 300 submissions and held 11 public hearings all over Australia. I commend the chair, the member for Fairfax, for leading a thorough inquiry in a short period of time.

The background is important. 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 the conditions and prerequisites that would have to be in place for a future government to consider lifting the moratorium on nuclear energy. The findings are important. After extensive deliberation—and this is an issue that motivates and creates a lot of reaction—I agreed with some of the findings of the main report, but, nevertheless, I ultimately dissented due to a number of reasons, and they are put in detail in my dissenting report.

I supported recommendations 1 and 2 in the main report, because ultimately I do believe information and an open mind is always important. They, in part, recommend an independent assessment of available and emerging nuclear technology as well as the viability of nuclear power, but it must be done in the Australian context, especially when 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. It was clearly evident during the hearing process that we had vastly diverging views and evidence being put forward to the committee. 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 of the lifting of the moratorium or any part of the moratorium in relation to nuclear energy, nuclear energy must be put to the Australian people, either by plebiscite or by 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 the context of other means of energy production.

As for the substance of the main report, it both overstates the benefits of nuclear and understates the risks, especially when compared with other technologies, like renewables, particularly as it pertains to waste management, transport and storage, health and safety—which is vitally important—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, which is why I provided detail, in the dissenting report, on the evidence omitted from the main report—to inform better decision-making by the Australian people.

The main report also lacked consideration of 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 heard during the inquiry—even by those supporting and requesting a lift of the moratorium on nuclear energy. Australia must follow the example of many other nations and legislate a target of net zero by 2050.

Finally, 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 of our various state and territory governments. They are shifting their jurisdiction to renewable energy. This has to be the focus.

Australia has a huge opportunity to be a renewable energy superpower. We have a duty in this place to investigate the possibilities in front of us and find a sensible way forward. Time is of the essence, and I urge the government to not be distracted but to focus on implementing a long-term plan to encourage investment in large-scale renewable projects—technologies that are ready now, not that hope to come online sometime in the future. The technologies that are ready now will deliver clean and cheap energy to Australians and, most importantly, are much safer for Australians. That is ultimately our first and foremost duty in this place.

5:17 pm

Photo of David GillespieDavid Gillespie (Lyne, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to put on record that this report on the inquiry into the prerequisites for nuclear energy in Australia is one of the most important inquiry documents in this term of this parliament. There is the energy conundrum of how to decarbonise our electricity system but still maintain an industrial base—have a modern industrial society where energy is required 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year—and meet our commitments and aspirations for reducing the CO2 impact on the atmosphere and the climate. The nuclear report emphasises that by its very name, Not without your approval: a way forward for nuclear technology in Australia.

In this inquiry, we were charged with looking at the prerequisites that would have to be in place before we proceeded further. That amounts to a certain three big recommendations. They are all measured and very sensible. We recommended, first of all, that a body of work be done by ANSTO, outlining all the generations of nuclear technology, generations I through IV—in other words, a technology assessment; second, that a regulatory assessment be done, by ARPANSA; and, third, that an economic assessment be done, by the Productivity Commission.

With regard to technology, some of the speakers have mentioned a few things on which I would like to correct the record. The big recommendation is to not remove the moratorium until we get those things in place but to consider a partial removal, particularly of the old technology—maintain the moratorium for type I, type II and type III versions of nuclear reactors, and look and assess generations III+ and IV. Just to reassure the member for Gilmore, the Jervis Bay one that was being looked at quite seriously in the 1960s was generation II.

If you look at where the accidents have happened, Three Mile Island was an early generation II; Chernobyl was a beginner model, a generation I—it was poorly maintained, it was working beyond its capacity and it wasn't being used appropriately—and even Fukushima, which was damaged by the tidal wave, is a generation II. If they'd followed the guidelines that had been recommended, that the diesel pumps that ran the cooling water should be moved up out of the tsunami area—it was recommended many times, which is quite disturbing—it wouldn't have had the hydrogen explosion that it did.

But, overall, nuclear reactors are incredibly safe. When you compare those events to the safety of traditional electricity production technology, like coal in China, you find that, for each petawatt of energy produced, it's estimated that there are 90,000 deaths. This is Massachusetts Institute of Technology data. Compare that to the safety of nuclear, where, even with the limited number of deaths, for the same amount of energy produced, the rate is 90 deaths. So it goes from 90,000 to 90. Coal in America is obviously safer because of their occupational health and safety, but it's really a myth that nuclear power is dangerous.

In fact, one of the depositions in the inquiry by Professor Erich Weigold explained that, with the engineering changes now:

The probability of core damage or the loss of structural integrity … for modern nuclear reactors is close to one in a million years.

Small modular reactors use traditional technology in a smaller, factory-built modular sense, which delivers passive safety features so they can actually be air-cooled. An accident like Fukushima couldn't happen because they have passive safety features built into it. By the time all the water evaporates, the modules are small enough that they can all be air-cooled. Engineers do this stuff. They model all the things and all the capabilities. Professor Weigold goes on to say:

Small Modular Reactors … are even safer, with a CDF of only 5 in a billion years.

In a design sense, that is incredibly safe.

Getting back to the other observations, there is so much that you could talk about in this report. I recommend that everyone read it. One of the conditions we had to look at was the workforce capability of Australia if we wanted to go down that track. That is a really misunderstood capability. We are a nuclear nation. We've been running reactors in Lucas Heights since the 1950s. We are one of the biggest producers of medical isotopes in the world. It is all run by Australians. We have a huge engineering and scientific base in this country. Most of the engineers involved in nuclear power plants aren't nuclear engineers; they're regular electrical and mechanical engineers. As for most of the construction, it's only the inner core where the radiation is that gets inherently nuclear. Most of it is traditional, high-grade civil engineering, which we do in spades in the mining industry and in the construction of major projects. And we have many Australian expats who are working around the world running nuclear plants who would be back here in a heartbeat.

We have a huge regulatory set-up already with ARPANSA, the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency. We have the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office. We have state levels of regulation for all the movement of isotopes and nuclear material. And there's another observation I'd like to make which most people don't understand: we have a nuclear waste facility in this country already. It's great news that the one in Kimba has finally been approved by the local community, which harks back to that sentiment that we're not going to do this without people's approval. So we need to educate people about the real nature of nuclear energy and the real cost of it, which is highly competitive with even coal, which is the cheapest. The system levelised cost of energy in these countries that build nuclear plants all the time, which is confirmed by the International Energy Agency, is very competitive. We subsequently visited India, and the nuclear corporation that runs their nuclear power plants is a profit-making entity for the nation of India. So it is economically viable if you do it well. We can be a late adopter of technology, so we can get the very best, and, if we do it right, we have the potential to solve the conundrum—that is, the climate requirement for us to reduce our carbon footprint.

One other thing I would like to say concerns this furphy that 'it uses too much water'. Most of these new modern reactors—whether they're molten-salt or heated-gas reactors heating the water—can be very efficient with water. The Chinese are building reactors in their arid interior which won't require that large amount of recycling of water. The water can be produced, if you do need to use technology where you have water cooling—that's very easy. Nuclear power plants can be a net producer of water. If they do want to go by the coast, they can act as a desalination plant, as well as using the desalinated water for the cooling towers.

I commend this report to the House and to members who haven't read it, because they will see that a lot of the historical attitudes towards nuclear energy are really not accurate. It is a safe technology. It can be used to re-industrialise our country with a reliable base-load system that will deliver energy for years. A modern nuclear power plant can last for 80 or 90 years. They have done so in India: they've got the world record for the longest continuous production of energy from a nuclear power plant.

5:27 pm

Photo of Josh BurnsJosh Burns (Macnamara, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's good news for the people of Lyne that their member in this place is very happy to have a nuclear reactor in their electorate, and I look forward to him running community consultations with his community about where a nuclear reactor might go! This was a good inquiry. I want to thank the other committee members, including the member for Lyne and Acting Deputy Speaker Gillespie as well as, of course, the chair, the member for Fairfax, and the member for Fremantle, the deputy chair, as well as the member for Warringah and others. I want to thank the staff of the committee and everyone who made a submission to the inquiry.

It is true that in this country we have energy challenges. It is absolutely true that our energy market and our energy future are uncertain. We don't have a national energy policy. We don't have any indication or any clear ambition from the government about what they want the energy market to look like, or how they want energy to be generated in Australia. But on absolutely no indicators—on not one indicator—is nuclear energy the answer. Let's start with the economics. Nuclear energy is very, very expensive—and I note the previous contribution from the member for Lyne, who said that nuclear energy has become safer, and it has—because all of the different safety features that need to be built into nuclear reactors are very, very expensive. The estimation for a nuclear reactor in Australia would be somewhere between $10 billion and $15 billion. That is for one. Imagine the renewable energy generation that you could supplement with $10 billion to $15 billion. No-one is saying that nuclear energy financially stacks up without government subsidies—huge government subsidies. The only example in the world, currently, where there are nuclear reactors being built for under $10 billion or $15 billion is in the UAE right now, being built by a South Korean firm. But there are massive cost blow-outs, there are massive delays, just like there are all around the world. The economics of this do not stack up.

The other thing is the time line. Nuclear reactors are very expensive. There are a lot of safety features that are required to manage the uranium levels. They take a long time to build. Ten to 15 years is the minimum time for us to be able to have a nuclear reactor in Australia, starting right now—and that is not using the technology that the recommendations by the government allowed: the old, large-scale generation III reactors that are currently in existence. And we are able to model best practice. But make no mistake: we would have to import scientists. We would have to import the intelligence and the capabilities in order to manage these nuclear reactors. We don't have that in Australia. We do have very capable scientists at ANSTO, but we don't have the capability to manage a large-scale nuclear reactor in Australia, and ANSTO in Lucas Heights were the ones who advised us of that—that we would need to significantly upgrade our nuclear capabilities in this country if we were to have a large-scale nuclear reactor.

All of the pro-nuclear submissions that came in to the inquiry started with one thing—that nuclear is a way of decarbonising the economy. And it is. It would be. It has significantly less carbon, as part of its process for energy generation, than coal, obviously, and fossil fuels. And it is comparable to renewable energy. But, for 10 to 15 years and $10 billion to $15 billion, it's not really giving you much bang for your buck, if your aim is to decarbonise the economy. I think that, if the government is serious about decarbonising the economy, it should say so. It should set ambitious decarbonising targets; it should set ambitious climate targets—which it hasn't done.

The government also should be setting energy policy that would outline how the energy market would look by the time that a nuclear reactor would be built. If we are saying that it's going to take 15 years to build a nuclear reactor in Australia, what is our energy market going to look like in 15 years time? It's going to be very different from how it is today. There is a range of new energy technology coming on. The Prime Minister likes to boast about the amount of renewables coming into this country and the amount of renewable generation. Our energy grid is changing. It is changing in Queensland very dramatically, for example. There is solar and small-scale energy generation happening in people's homes. Yet the government wants us to commit to a technology that wouldn't come on for 15 years, in the very best case, in an energy market that is uncertain and of which we don't yet know what the energy composition is going to be. We don't know what our energy grid is going to look like in 15 years, and yet the government wants us to commit to technology that will be a significant disruptor and exceptionally expensive in that time. It doesn't make sense.

The other point to make is around small modular reactors, SMRs, which many members of the committee have liked to fantasise about on a number of occasions. I don't know how to make it any clearer: small modular reactors do not exist yet. They may; at some stage, small modular reactors might be operating. There might be a factory somewhere in the United States pumping out little nuclear reactors that we can then purchase. But at this stage they don't exist. The only major small modular reactor type operating right now outside of China and Russia on a commercial basis is being built by NuScale, which has just extended its finishing time line for its small modular reactor—or its small reactor, because it's not modular yet—from 2026 to 2027. It has blown out. It is expensive. And it is not yet ready. So the government wants us to make energy investment decisions based on technology that doesn't exist right now. The other thing to consider as part of that is that ANSTO, when we went there, gave the clearest advice they could, which was that Australia shouldn't be the first to buy new technology. Small modular reactors may end up being a significant technology disruptor and a significant economic disruptor in the nuclear industry. They may, and I have an open mind about that. But they don't exist right now. There is nowhere in the world that anyone can turn to and say, 'There's a factory there; you can order 15 of them, you're going to reduce the cost because you're buying 15 of them, and we're going to pop them in 15 locations around the country.' That doesn't exist right now.

Perhaps, when small modular reactors are a thing, we can reassess this conversation. Perhaps, after we've seen these small modular reactors built by a company like NuScale and completed in 2027, being managed, being assessed via best practice standards, that would be the time—the responsible time, the smart time and the economic time—for Australia to assess this technology. Perhaps the early 2030s would be the time for Australia to assess when small modular reactors might be a viable alternative for Australia. Until that time, it is completely fanciful, it is living in fantasy land and it is economically irresponsible to be making decisions about expensive, potentially dangerous technologies that don't have best practice standards and that simply don't exist.

To sum up, we had a very collaborative inquiry. It was done in good spirits, and all of the members approached it in good faith. I did move, in the meeting—which is outlined in the minutes—that all of the government's recommendations be scrapped because I think the government have the chronology completely wrong and they have made some significant assumptions, as I have outlined in this contribution today.

Debate adjourned.

Federation Chamber adjourned at 17:37