The federal government’s advisor on low emissions technology Dr Alan Finkel has shot down the possibly of nuclear power playing a significant role in the nation’s energy transition, saying there is little need and “no social licence” for it in Australia.
It follows a push by the federal opposition to reignite debate on nuclear power generation despite Australia’s moratorium on nuclear energy, which prohibits the construction or operation of nuclear power plants.
“I know the surveys are showing that there is growing interest across Australia [in nuclear energy], but it’s nowhere near the level that would justify a government seriously considering it,” the former chief scientist said this week.
Delivering an Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering oration, Dr Finkel said the controversial technology is “superb” from an engineering and emissions perspective, but there is little need for it in Australia, where wind and solar energy are abundant.
It follows a push by the Coalition opposition for nuclear to support renewables in Australia’s energy mix.
The opposition is still reviewing its energy policy, but leader Peter Dutton has appointed Ted O’Brien as shadow energy minister partly because he chaired a committee inquiry in 2019 that called for long standing bans on nuclear energy to be lifted.
Earlier this month, Mr Dutton told the Minerals Council that Australia needs a “frank debate” about nuclear energy, and suggested it is a “wonderful opportunity to add value” to uranium resources.
But Dr Finkel, who led the national electricity market review, the national hydrogen strategy, and was on the panel that advised the federal government on the 2020 low admissions technology roadmap, says there is little need or time for nuclear power.
“The reality is it’s legislated against in Australian and there’s no social licence. It’s not obvious to me that will change in the next few years,” Dr Finkel said.
“And so realistically, by time you change the legislation, start investing, building the workforce, find the right nuclear technology, go through all the regulatory hurdles that will be required for both environmental considerations and social licence, it’s hard to see any nuclear in Australia in, say, less than 20 years.”
By that point Australia’s energy market will have been almost completely converted to solar and wind, with batteries, pumped hydro and a small amount of gas providing the required firming, Dr Finkel said.
Australia’s “privileged position” of abundant renewable sources also makes it difficult for nuclear to compete on a cost standpoint, he said, even though it will likely play a more significant role in other countries’ energy transitions.
Dr Finkel’s address to the learned academy warned of the scale of the decarbonisation required to reach net zero emissions by 2050. He described the removal of fossil fuels from the economy as “the biggest deliberate transformation in human civilization ever”.
“If we do it, if we achieve this grand transformation, I wouldn’t be surprised if future historians and anthropologists will look at this as being the shift from the industrial age to the electric age.”
Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.