Australia’s Climate Change Minister Chris Bowen has been crystal clear on his views of nuclear energy. His latest label; uttered multiple times on the ABC programme QandA earlier this week (and reinforced or at least repeated on the same programme by Allegra Spender) is that nuclear is “a distraction.”
A distraction. Actually, according to Mr Bowen a “massive distraction.”
Referring to a technology that Climate Change experts at the United Nations consider as a critical component to achieving net zero, our Climate Minister (who incidentally has zero relevant technical qualifications to the portfolio) has a view that is diametrically opposite.
It is clear that the Labor Energy policy and its anti-nuclear stance is as a result of leftist ideology. What is also important, however, is to understand the broader implications of being so ideologically driven. What else is the country missing out on?
“Australia is 20 years behind the rest of the world” is an adage that unfortunately Australians are all too familiar hearing.
In the same QandA episode, Ms Spender noted that she is “generally an open mind kind of person”; but would only consider lifting the ban on nuclear once the costs are proven, once SMRs have been broadly rolled out and been successful globally, and once they are proven to be able to be developed quickly.
Put simply; Ms Spender wants Australia to continue to be 20 years behind the rest of the world. She wants us to be a consumer of other countries technology and innovation; and not develop our own.
Perhaps what Mr Bowen and Ms Spender do not comprehend is that the ban acts as a handbrake on all manner of activities and opportunities in Australia. Without the possibility of civilian application, R&D and education facilities will not prioritise the sector, and private investors - the worlds leading nuclear technology companies and associated financial investors, will not look to play here. This against an awkward backdrop of Australia being obligated to develop the industry in order to meet our AUKUS obligations.
In order to encourage innovation, a very simple place to start is to provide a market environment whereby firms can invest their efforts confident that there is a commercial market opportunity available as a reward. As a starting rule; don’t ban things for no discernible reason. Mr Bowen has a degree in economics; so this is a concept that he is surely familiar with. The excuse of being “a distraction” would arguably not be a reason that Mr Bowen’s undergraduate economics lecturer would accept as a reason to depart from standard free market principles.
What is more clearly a distraction and a waste of resources, is the substantial amount of time recently spent by the Government trying to bend and stretch its ideological conscience to meet its policy obligations. It has been previously reported that Senator Canavan unsuccessfully put forward a bill to remove the ongoing ban on nuclear in Australia. A simple request to amend or remove one section of the Act, a mere paragraph on a page, a possibility succinctly demonstrated by nuclear activist Wil Shackel on the programme
This resulted in a senate committee report of ~100 pages put together over many months, summarising a range of weak justifications; recommending the ban continue. At almost the same time, but to very little fanfare, Labor pushed through a law essentially removing the ban on nuclear reactors in this country but only for the purposes of nuclear propulsion. A complete waste of resources to achieve an outcome far more flawed than the original Canavan proposal.
If indeed Mr Bowen is worried about the limited capacity he clearly has to focus on things, all he has to do is lift the ban and other private investors and corporations can bring their many skills and experience to bear on the opportunity; potentially providing a solution that could be complementary too, not to the exclusion of and not at the expense of, his current thinking.
As is tradition with QandA, a viewer poll was conducted on the main topic of the debate, in this instance whether to remove the nuclear ban. Even from a traditional, left leaning ABC audience, ~60 percent of respondents were in favour of removing the ban.
Its time to read the room Mr Bowen, remove the ban and lets see what the market might deliver. It might just surprise you.