The Liberals will consider pushing to end Australia’s ban on nuclear power, believing it could boost energy security and reduce power prices.
Leader Peter Dutton has launched a review into whether the party should back nuclear power at the 2025 federal election.
Despite being emissions free, nuclear power has been banned in Australia since 1998 under Commonwealth laws.
Opposition Leader Peter Dutton addresses Coalition Members and Senators during a Coalition party room meeting on Tuesday
In Government the Liberal-National Coalition said bi-partisan support from both sides of politics was needed to reverse the ban.
While the Coalition now discusses backing nuclear, Labor remains opposed, insisting that solar, wind and hydro-electric power are cheaper and faster forms of low emissions energy.
Announcing his internal policy review on Tuesday, Mr Dutton said nuclear power could provide the ‘reliable, emissions-free, base-load electricity Australia needs’.
It comes after energy prices soared due to rising demand for coal and gas prompted by the early onset of winter and Russia’s war on Ukraine.
‘Sixty per cent of the capacity of our coal-fired generators is expected to leave the market by 2030,’ he said in a statement.
‘This will leave Australian households and businesses vulnerable to a re-run of the chaos we are now seeing under Labor.
Pictured: A nuclear power plant in Neckarwestheim, southern Germany
‘If we are serious about reducing emissions, while at the same time maintaining a strong economy and protecting our traditional industries, all technologies need to be on the table.
‘The Coalition will show Australians that we are prepared to undertake this honest and informed debate, which has alluded our country for too long.’
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has pledged to reduce Australia’s emissions by 43 per cent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels.
Labor also wants to increase the share of renewables in Australia’s National Electricity Market to 82 per cent, up from about a third today.
How do nuclear power plants work?
1. Producing electricity from nuclear energy requires splitting atoms to release the energy.
2. Nuclear reactors fuelled by uranium pellets produce atom-splitting nuclear fission.
3. As they split, atoms release particles which cause other atoms to split, causing a chain reaction.
4. The chain reaction creates heat that warms a cooling agent such as water or liquid metal.
5. Steam is produced that powers turbines which feed energy to generators that produce electricity.
But Mr Albanese wants to achieve these aims by expanding solar, wind and hydro power without needing nuclear.
Key National Party figures such as former leader Barnaby Joyce and leader David Littleproud have been vocal about the benefits of nuclear power.
Last year Mr Joyce described the nation as ‘living in a cave’ when it comes to the nuclear issue and has called for a repeal of laws blocking its introduction.
‘I believe we should have nuclear power… and if people want zero emissions – well, this, this is it,’ he said.
‘I mean, you have your wind, you can have your solar, but if you want baseline, deliverable, 24/7 zero-emission power, then nuclear does it.’
But opponents, including Labor and the Greens, say nuclear power takes too long to build and is too expensive, with a large plant costing $40billion.
They also brand it dangerous and bad for the environment as it produces waste that must be buried.
Nuclear power has a PR problem following incidents at reactors such as Three-Mile Island (1979), Chernobyl (1986) and Fukushima (2011).
But in 31 countries around the world, more than 450 nuclear power plants are connected to the grid.
France counts on nuclear power for 75 percent of its electricity, and earns three billion Euros a year as a net exporter to other European nations because of its low cost of generation.
The French made the decision to embrace nuclear technology way back in the 1970s, after the OPEC oil crisis.
The US, Russia, China, the UK and Canada all include nuclear power in their energy mix, some of their reactors powered by uranium from Australia.
Australia is home to a third of the world’s uranium, producing about 10 per cent of the world’s exports worth over $730million a year.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese (right on Tuesday) has pledged to reduce Australia’s emissions by 43 per cent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels
Options more suitable for Australia’s smaller population may lie in new-generation Small Modular Reactors (SMRs), or by following the example of the larger one-gigawatt plant with four reactors built by Korean company KEPCO at Barakah in the United Arab Emirates.
SMRs generating up to 300 megawatts of power are cheaper and quicker to build, helping nuclear compete with more economical renewables such as solar and wind.
They can also be built underground and cooled with air rather than water, enhancing safety in their operation.
SMRs also ‘load follow’, meaning the reactor adjusts output based on demand.
But the technology remains under development, with its use of new materials, innovative safety features and advanced construction techniques yet to be approved by most international regulators.
Peter Dutton’s full statement on nuclear energy
Today, I initiated a formal internal process to examine the potential for advanced and next-generation nuclear technologies to contribute to Australia’s energy security and reduce power prices.
This review will be led by Mr Ted O’Brien MP, Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy, who will report to the Coalition policy committee, chaired by Senator the Hon Marise Payne, and the Coalition party room.
It is high time that Australia had an honest and informed debate on the benefits and costs of nuclear energy.
The current energy crisis has shown the importance of getting more dispatchable power into the grid. The average wholesale electricity price in the second quarter this year was three times higher than the same time a year ago – a situation described by the Australian Energy Market Operator as ‘unprecedented’.
While renewables will play an important growing role in Australia’s energy mix, they need to be balanced by sufficient investment in dispatchable generation. That is why the Coalition, when in office, supported projects like the Hunter Power Project.
Sixty percent of the capacity of our coal-fired generators is expected to leave the market by 2030. This will leave Australian households and businesses vulnerable to a re-run of the chaos we are now seeing under Labor.
If we are serious about reducing emissions, while at the same time maintaining a strong economy and protecting our traditional industries, all technologies need to be on the table.
Nuclear energy is a mature, proven technology. It can provide the reliable, emissions-free, base-load electricity Australia needs. Estimates show that it would cost the world USD $1.6 trillion more to meet the Paris targets without nuclear energy.
Australia is already a nuclear nation. The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation has operated a nuclear research reactor at Lucas Heights for over 60 years. A national conversation about potential of nuclear energy is the logical next step.
Many of Australia’s international partners, including France, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Sweden and the United States of America, have adopted nuclear energy technologies.
The UK Government, for example, has outlined plans to triple the size of its nuclear generation by 2050, providing 25 percent of its projected energy demand.
The Coalition will show Australians that we are prepared to undertake this honest and informed debate, which has alluded our country for too long.
THE CASE FOR AND AGAINST NUCLEAR POWER
* Clean energy: Relative to coal and natural gas, nuclear is a zero-to-low emissions energy source that could more rapidly reduce our reliance on carbon, improving our emissions outlook in relation to the 2050 Paris Agreement target
* Cheap, reliable power: As coal becomes uneconomic and older coal-fired power stations are decommissioned, Australia’s need for cheaper, reliable power grows. Nuclear power could complement renewable sources such as wind and solar, while avoiding any variability in supply associated with those technologies (the ‘when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine’ argument)
* Long lifespan: Some plants are forecast to last 100 years, offsetting high initial construction costs. By contrast, replacement of renewables such as solar panels and wind turbines needs to occur every 10-20 years.
* Advances in tech: New generation reactors such as Small Modular Reactors are designed to be smaller, safer, more efficient and quicker to construct.
* Expense: Many inquiries into the possibility of nuclear power in Australia have concluded that the business case is not made out. The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) has previously estimated the cost of nuclear energy creation at an exorbitant $16,000 per kilowatt.
* Time lag: Most experts agree that even if Australia agreed to develop nuclear power, our first reactor would be another decade away from concept to construction and commissioning.
* Waste: New technology may see nuclear waste stored before it is reprocessed into new forms of fuel. Until that time, burying it within a geological deposit remains the most likely option for an Australian facility. Waste from Sydney’s Lucas Heights reactor, a facility producing medical isotopes, is currently transported to France and then returned as a by-product which is stored in cement canisters at the facility.
* Accidents: Incidents at nuclear power plants such as Chernobyl in 1986 and Fukushima in 2011 remain bad ads for nuclear energy, but as Barry Brook, an Australian environmental scientist who supports the development of nuclear power in Australia points out, ‘It’s not possible to design [a nuclear power plat] that’s risk-free… but that’s true of any sort of energy source or indeed, any large infrastructure we require.’