Labor's anti-nuclear stance has nothing to do with economics, as they would like you to believe; it's all about ideology. And that should worry you.
Yes, the much-maligned Gencost report, produced by CSIRO, is a convenient tool that produces an economic rationale to support the policy. It provides cover to Climate Change Minister Chris Bowen to repeat over and over that "nuclear will not work in Australia," and a policy justification that is acceptable to the broader Labor base, which is worried about their cost of living.
But that's not the end of it.
Recently, the Labor government shot down a bid by Senator Canavan to remove a historical ban on nuclear generation in Australia. The reasons for refusing such a change were thoroughly outlined in a report, allowing us to understand in-depth each of the justifications considered by Labor to continue the ban. Indeed, this should highlight to the public how flimsy each of these reasons is. They simply do not stand up to scrutiny and hence expose the fact that this opposition to nuclear is simply down to ideology perpetuated by a certain faction of the Labor party. One that indeed a significant portion of the Base doesn't agree with, and the broader public should be concerned with.
One of the more interesting ways to critique the supposed opposition to nuclear is indeed to apply these very same objections to renewable energy and the situation in which Australia found itself prior to their large-scale adoption. So let's think back to a time when Australia was significantly behind the rest of the world (especially Europe) in terms of carbon and renewables (wind/solar) adoption.
So let's address each of the 4 points outlined in the recent Senate report.
At that time, were solar and wind even close to being cost-competitive as a means of generation? Certainly not. The only way mass adoption of solar and wind was made possible in this country, as it was around the world, was the massive government subsidies handed out to try and kick-start the industry, help it achieve economies of scale and technological advancement, and therefore, over time, bring down the cost of generation. Let's leave aside for a moment what has happened recently in these industries - the failure of the recent UK offshore wind auction to achieve even a single bid - and the warnings from major US operators that they may need to pull out of their existing projects because actually even with all this stimulus, the technology cannot produce the required financial returns.
Now, according to the rationale that Labor is trying to apply to nuclear, we shouldn't have supported the renewables industry. We should have outright banned it. But nothing could have been further from what actually occurred.
This article is not intended to delve into the complexity of modeling costs on a whole-of-network basis for the future. Suffice to say, the question of cost is certainly not clear-cut or decisively answered. And nor should a current assumption about a technology cost be used to justify a ban on the future deployment of technology. Economics may ultimately mean that a technology is not built or does not achieve market penetration, but generally shouldn't mean that it is not allowed to be built at all. This is the whole point of free markets, which are supposedly meant to underpin Western democracies.
Australia does not have the regulation, infrastructure or workforce to support a nuclear industry;
This statement is simply not correct. Australia would indeed need to develop its existing radioactive and nuclear-capable regulation, infrastructure, and workforce. This is, in fact, an opportunity, as opposed to a reason not to do something.
But let's again go back to the situation that presented itself for Australia with solar and renewables. Was there a perfectly ready set of regulation, infrastructure, and capable workforce? Absolutely not.
From a regulation perspective, the government needed to provide massive incentives, feed-in tariffs were introduced for rooftop solar, whole changes were needed to the grid to facilitate a two-way flow of electricity (i.e., allowing consumers to feed their excess back into the grid), new transmission lines built, hordes of new skilled workers for solar installation trained up. This created a broad new industry and a large employer, which has helped diversify our economy. However, according to the rationale Labor is trying to get you to believe with respect to nuclear, we should have done none of that and indeed just shut the entire industry down.
Nuclear power is dangerous to human health, the environment, is a threat to national security and has a history of disproportionately impacting First Nations peoples;
This is perhaps the argument where fear and historical emotion are rife.
Australia is not the only country with a dark history of atomic testing for military purposes on indigenous lands. Many first nations peoples around the world suffered during this period. This is a practice that we do not support.
It is, however, a period that is over. To equate the development of a civilian nuclear industry with military atomic testing is alarmism and logical desperation at its finest. And to say that the development of a nuclear industry would "further encroach on native title and prime agricultural land" again is arguably misleading at best. Due to its energy density, nuclear has a lower overall footprint (from physical plant footprint to the amount of mining needed) than any other energy source. Vastly less, for example, than the hundreds of square kilometers of solar panels that are proposed to be layered over vast indigenous lands or the thousands of kilometers of transmission lines that will blight the landscape.
Labor has also driven panic with respect to nuclear waste. Nuclear waste indeed captures the imagination of the public - being the subject of one too many Hollywood movies; the weapon of choice by the cartoonish villain leading to a potentially dystopian future.
The reality is far more benign. The volume is small. The standards and know-how are there. A good chunk of nuclear waste can indeed be reprocessed into new nuclear fuel. Perhaps the nuclear industry should stop talking about reprocessing and start talking about recycling, a term that every Green lobby group should be able to support.
And there is no social license for establishing a nuclear power industry in Australia.
In this point, it seems like the authors of the Senate paper have simply not done their homework.
Yes, popular opinion in this country many years ago was anti-nuclear. However, times and views change.
Recent polling on the topic of nuclear and nuclear-related industries are consistently positive. AUKUS nuclear submarines remain popular, the majority of the public want nuclear to be considered as part of the future generation mix, and the public want expanded uranium mining to help contribute to a global reduction in emissions while generating economic profits for Australia and high-paying jobs for Australians. Quite the opposite of the Senate report's suggestion; there is indeed a strong social license for us to take the next step.
What are we waiting for?