Morrison ministers lay groundwork for nuclear energy election plan
The option of taking a proposal for nuclear power in Australia to the next election has been considered in cabinet-level discussions as pressure grows within the Morrison government to prepare for a nuclear energy industry.
The top-level political and policy discussions including Liberal and Nationals ministers involved the argument that the moratorium on nuclear energy could be lifted in the decades ahead to cut greenhouse gas emissions and replace reliance on fossil fuels.
Politically, the option of the Coalition adopting a policy of future nuclear energy was considered too dangerous without bipartisan support from the ALP.
Before attending the G7 summit in Cornwall, Scott Morrison publicly said nuclear power was not an option in Australia unless there was bipartisan support for lifting the moratorium.
The cabinet-level discussions were not part of a formal cabinet submission but traversed the politics and strategy of taking advantage of a shift in public opinion about the role of nuclear energy in reducing carbon emissions.
The conclusion was that politically the issue was too easily used for scare campaigns — as has been the case in the past — and there was still substantial public opposition in Australia to nuclear power.
Australia is already part of the world nuclear cycle through uranium exports, and the Morrison government has included considering the latest modular nuclear reactor technology as part of its “energy road map” to create affordable, reliable energy and cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Last year, Energy Minister Angus Taylor flagged the exploration of nuclear technology as a long-term prospect for reducing carbon emissions.
The energy road map concentrated on the most recent modular reactor technology, which is overtaking the power stations of the past 70 years – the so-called Generation I, II and III reactors.
There is now a strong push among ministers and backbenchers to promote nuclear energy as a greenhouse gas reduction measure and reduce Australia’s reliance on coal- and gas-fired power stations.
In December 2019, Coalition MPs on a parliamentary committee tasked to look at the future of nuclear power said “Australia should be strategic in its consideration of nuclear energy”.
“This requires us to think about the next 50 years rather than the next five, and also how we might enter the nuclear energy industry by learning from other countries while building our own sovereign capability,” the report said.
The report also recommended that the Australian government “consider the prospect of its future energy mix” by adopting a strategic approach to nuclear energy.
But it warned of the difficulty of achieving nuclear energy without public support and political bipartisanship.
It said Australia needed to recognise the capabilities of nuclear energy to supply affordable and reliable energy “while fulfilling international reduction obligations”.
The latest commodity outlook of the Minerals Council of Australia said uranium export revenue for Australia in 2019-20 was $688m and there was 290TWh of “zero-emissions electricity generated by Australia’s uranium exports”.
The MCA estimated that nuclear reactors in 31 countries saved 2.2 billion tonnes of global carbon emissions in 2020.
It also estimated that Australia’s exported uranium could generate “109 per cent” of Australia’s domestic electricity.