Alan Finkel shoots down nuclear energy option

Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

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.

Low emissions technology advisor Dr Alan Finkel has all but ruled out nuclear power in Australia

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.”

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  1. David Yates 2 years ago

    What Dr Finkel has said is; nuclear “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”. Then he goes on to say “it’s hard to see any nuclear in Australia in, say, less than 20 years” and by then Australia will have converted to solar and wind. That statement seems like an accurate assessment of the current situation but some of the features of nuclear power still make it worth considering. For examples; nuclear power is not at all weather or season dependent, uses less land (we are building solar farms on productive land), uses less raw materials, requires less new high voltage transmission lines, and of course generates even lower carbon emissions. A sensible policy would be to repeal the bans on nuclear power and prepare for its use if solar and wind ultimately proves inadequate.

  2. Bruce 2 years ago

    So where do we store the waste not only from our own nuclear plants but also from all the uranium we have sent overseas which will be coming back to the countries that exported it for waste stockpiling once it is depleted. Do we do what the USA does and dump it on the ocean in barrels, out of sight is out of mind. The long term ramifications of containment, cost, and viability of nuclear power is why way back in the 70’s we looked at not using it for future generation of electricity.It wasn’t good then, personally I never want to see it used here, ever.
    3 mile Island, Fukushima, Chernobyl, Broken Hill, Longreach. Privatised Nuclear is a disaster waiting to happen.

  3. Andrew McCredie 2 years ago

    My guess is that in twenty years time we will remain twenty years off having a serious nuclear power capacity. It must be around twenty years since Ziggy’s report first spelt this out and since that report no substantive action has been taken. Still it is a wonderful political point for opposition.

  4. Mary 2 years ago

    A working and practical nuclear capability is an essential part of Australia’s defence and retainment of expertise in this domain. It will open up longer term battery technology using safe nuclear options which will power all vehicles – Lithium and solar wont compete in all spaces and perhaps not for that long once their own environmental impact is better understood. As well as jobs nuclear industry means a capability to master understanding of next generation nuclear weapons and attacks and how to plan for them. It is a deterrence with no equal at this point in time.
    It must be assessed and considered – we certainly have the open space inland to support regional towns and as well make is as safe as other technologies.

    • Digital Koolaid 2 years ago

      Mary, it has been assessed, by Dr Finkel, and he found it a bad proposal. The article provides his reasons. I think they make sense and support him. We need nuclear weapons as much as we need Scott Morrison to make a comeback. Regards.

  5. David 2 years ago

    I’m going to bookmark this and set a reminder to revisit this article in 20 years to reiterate that he was and still is wrong.

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