Climate denier Dutton’s nuclear ‘plan’ a dangerous dead end

June 26, 2024
Up the garden path
Up the garden path. Cartoon by Alan Moir, used with permission,

Opposition leader and climate denier Peter Dutton’s June 19 announcement of seven locations across the country for nuclear power reactors has to be taken seriously.

Labor MPs — while loudly dismissing, even ridiculing, the idea — are compromised because they support “some” nuclear power (on submarines), “some” uranium mining and “some” bending of the international nuclear non-proliferation rules.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said nuclear power “does not make sense” economically.

Labor treasurer Jim Chalmers described Dutton’s plan as possibly the “dumbest policy ever put forward by a major party”.

Energy minister Chris Bowen said it is a “risky scam”.

It is easy to criticise Dutton’s nuclear plan on cost grounds and “lack of detail”.

Nuclear power does cost more, as CSIRO modelling demonstrates.

But there are more important objections including: the toxic waste product (for which there is no safe solution for tens of thousands of years); and the time needed to build new nuclear power stations.

Even in countries with nuclear energy experience, building a new one takes at least 15–20 years – far too long for reducing carbon pollution in time.

Establishing a nuclear industry from scratch in Australia would take too long to guarantee energy supply as ageing coal plants come offline over the next 10 to 20 years.

There are also legal, political and regulatory obstacles to nuclear power.

The Smart Energy Council found that spending $600 billion might lead to nuclear energy supplying just 3.7% of Australia’s energy mix by 2050.

By contrast, the Albanese government’s plan for 82% renewables by 2030 with almost 100% by 2050 is $116 billion.

But the cost of the transition is not the main concern in a climate emergency.

The transition to renewable energy was always going to cost a lot of money initially (the original Beyond Zero Emissions plan in 2010 projected $370 billion over ten years). However, it should be public money going to public renewable energy suppliers, not subsidies to private corporations as Labor plans.

Pro-nuclear ideologues are pointing to Lowy Institute polling that shows there has been a significant rise in support for nuclear power.

Six in 10 people (61%) say they “somewhat” or “strongly” support nuclear power to generate electricity. A significant minority (37%) said they “somewhat” or “strongly” oppose it.

This is a shift from 2011 when 62% said they were against nuclear.

Polling from the Resolve Political Monitor found support for nuclear is still closer to 41% and that a clear majority strongly prefers renewable energy.

Nevertheless, four out of 10 shows a shift in support for an energy technology that is inherently unsafe (on long time frames) and has a well-documented toxic waste disposal problem which Dutton is either glibly ignoring or telling outright lies about.

Since Labor, despite being elected on a strong climate vote, has failed to seriously tackle the climate crisis, people who have little understanding of nuclear may just be looking for quick fixes.

Temperature records are broken every single month and the consequences of extreme weather events are clear for all to see. Yet, since May 2022, Labor has approved five new coal mines (not counting extensions) and eight new gas mines.

Labor’s failure to even come close to proposing a genuine transition to renewables helps make Dutton’s nuclear plan look more plausible.

Dutton’s nuclear push is already receiving sympathetic coverage in the establishment media.

His plan involves helping the fossil fuel corporations make as much profit as possible, delaying the urgent transition.

He also knows that Labor is wedged on nuclear power, because of its embrace of the AUKUS nuclear submarines, all of which will have small nuclear reactors.

This is holding Labor back from making the main arguments against nuclear power: that it is unsafe and has a toxic waste disposal problem that will affect many generations to come.

Therefore, defeating Dutton’s dangerous nuclear fantasy, which is fundamentally about delaying the inevitable transition away from fossil fuels, also requires challenging Labor.

Alongside exposing Dutton’s flawed policy, we need to continue to push for a meaningful climate action plan, with safeguards for workers, that completely breaks with the fossil fuel industry.

We also need to break the genocidal alliance with the United States military, including the pro-nuclear AUKUS pact.

[Alex Bainbridge is a member of the Socialist Alliance National Executive.]

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