Dutton nukes election chance?

Environmental activist doctors have come out swinging, after a pledge by the Federal Coalition to build a network of nuclear power stations, including one near Collie in WA.

In what could be a severely career-limiting move, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton has committed to casting off renewables in favour of building a new network of nuclear power stations. 

He has promised the first sites can be operational between 2035 and 2037 — years earlier than the timeframe the CSIRO and other experts believe is feasible — with the stations earmarked for retiring or retired coal sites around the country, including: 

  • Tarong in Queensland, north-west of Brisbane 
  • Callide in Queensland, west of Gladstone 
  • Liddell in NSW, in the Hunter Valley 
  • Mount Piper in NSW, near Lithgow 
  • Port Augusta in SA 
  • Loy Yang in Victoria, in the Latrobe Valley 
  • Muja in WA, near Collie 

Doctors for the Environment Australia was swift to issue a position statement arguing that nuclear power ‘has no place in Australia’s energy transition.’ 

DEA spokesperson Dr Kate Wylie said that as a doctor, she would be extremely concerned about the significant risk to Australians’ health if the plan to build nuclear power stations was to go ahead.  

“We also know that climate change is the biggest threat to health, and we need to drastically cut climate pollution this decade to avoid increasingly unmanageable health and security impacts,” Dr Wylie said. 

“We don’t support nuclear energy as a means of decarbonisation in Australia because it is unnecessary and uneconomical and cannot decarbonise the energy sector fast enough to avert catastrophic climate change.” 

“DEA does not support nuclear energy as a means of decarbonising Australia’s stationary energy generation and mitigating climate change.” 

WA Energy Minister Reece Whitby also threw cold water on the plan, telling ABC Radio that it made no economic or practical sense for Collie. 

“In Western Australia and Australia, more than anywhere else on the planet, renewables are the option that are most affordable and make sense. It is getting cheaper all the time,” he said. 

“In Australia we have no legislative or regulatory framework. We have no workforce. We have no experience. It is going to take years and years and years, and billions of dollars of taxpayer subsidies to support this. 

“You’ve got more chance of seeing a unicorn trotting down St Georges Terrace than you have of nuclear power being a feasible and reliable option for our energy system.” 

Dr Asma Aziz, a lecturer and course coordinator in power engineering in the School of Engineering at Edith Cowan University, said other major drawbacks of the plan included safety concerns, prohibitive costs, and long-term radioactive waste storage.  

“Australia needs diverse generation and storage but also requires proper assessments before making any decisions. Japan, Germany, Belgium, Spain, and Switzerland are phasing out nuclear power due to these issues,” she said. 

“In the US, ageing reactors are being retired early due to high costs, and France’s reactor is significantly delayed and over-budget.  

“Small modular reactors are not yet viable, with recent cost estimates at $20,100 per kW compared to $700-$1,700 for solar and wind. And while nuclear energy’s carbon footprint is comparable to wind and less than solar, but it faces high capital costs, long build times, substantial operating expenses, and integration difficulties, making it impractical for addressing the climate crisis. 

“Integrating nuclear power plants into the grid involves complex regulatory and engineering challenges due to their constant ‘baseload’ supply, which requires other plants to be ‘load following.’”