Make nuclear power free, Barnaby Joyce says
Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce says free nuclear power could be offered to residents living close to a reactor to help build support for the controversial technology, as an analysis pinpoints which Australian towns are best placed to host a nuclear plant.
But the pro-nuclear push by Coalition backbenchers may be losing momentum after one colleague dismissed it as a “distraction” and a senior minister said the government had “no desire to go down that path”.
Federal and state laws prohibit the development of a domestic nuclear power industry. However, federal MPs Keith Pitt and James McGrath are pushing for a parliamentary inquiry into the technology’s feasibility in Australia and the NSW Nationals last month passed a motion supporting nuclear energy.
A leading lobby group for the technology, the Australian Nuclear Association, has identified dozens of potential sites for nuclear reactors – those with stable geology and proximity to the existing grid, transport and water. The locations include those in Mr Joyce’s New England electorate in northern NSW and Liberal Ken O’Dowd’s Queensland seat of Flynn. Both MPs have backed a nuclear inquiry.
Mr Joyce said nuclear technology had come a long way in the past few decades and rejected claims that even if Australia’s nuclear ban was overturned, communities would refuse to host reactors over safety and environmental concerns.
“You just have to come up with the right policy settings and they will accept it … People will think with their wallets,” he said.
Mr Joyce floated a potential policy whereby “if you can see the reactor [from your house], your power is for free. If you are within 50 kilometres of a reactor, you get power for half price.” Discounts would scale down to 25 per cent for those living 75 kilometres from a nuclear facility.
Such a policy would trigger a rush of proposals for “hills in the middle of towns that people want a reactor on”, Mr Joyce said.
In NSW, the association also identified sites in Energy Minister Angus Taylor’s seat of Hume and Environment Minister Sussan Ley’s seat of Farrer. Proposed Victorian sites include those in the seats of Wannon and Gippsland, held by ministers Dan Tehan and Darren Chester.
Wide Bay MP Llew O’Brien, whose Queensland electorate is also on the list, said he was “not enthusiastic” about the prospect of a parliamentary probe into nuclear power.
“We need to focus on bringing down power prices and bringing more supply into the market … which can be done a lot quicker than legalising nuclear energy and then building the infrastructure needed,” he said.
“It seems to be a distraction from the very real issues at hand.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said during the election campaign that his party had “no plans” to change its nuclear power stance and Mr Taylor told this publication on Sunday “the business case has got to stack up”.
A government minister told the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age that “there’s no desire to go down this path” in the broader Coalition.
“Financially it doesn’t stack up and … there’s also the not-in-my-backyard issue, which is a very difficult one,” the minister said.
Labor’s climate change and energy spokesman Mark Butler said Mr Morrison had allowed Mr Taylor and backbenchers to “pursue their nuclear power fantasy” as power prices rose.
Consultancy SMR Nuclear Technology promotes the benefits of small, modular nuclear reactors. Technical director Tony Irwin said about ten community groups and others had expressed interest to his firm in hosting such a reactor, should the ban in Australia be lifted.