Start Me Up: Australian MPs Push For Nuclear Powered Future

That the world’s third largest uranium exporter has never had a nuclear power plant (and banned them) astonishes all and sundry.

Australia also holds the world’s largest uranium reserves.

And yet, in 1998 its Federal government passed amendments to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act and enacted the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act, specifically prohibiting nuclear fuel fabrication, power, enrichment or reprocessing facilities.

Uranium extracted from BHP’s Olympic Dam mine in South Australia is clearly good enough for the French, South Koreans, Americans, Canadians, Japanese and Chinese, being just a few of the 30 countries where you will find nearly 450 nuclear reactors currently operating – their combined output accounts for over 11% of global electricity production – with another 15 countries currently building 60 reactors among them.

One argument is that, even if Australia started now, it will take a decade before it could bring its first nuclear power generation plant online.

Which reminds STT of the old Chinese proverb about the best time to plant a tree being 20 years ago and that the second best time is now.

And in the middle of a self-inflicted energy crisis, now is where we are at; with a growing band of MPs, including Liberal Senator James McGrath and Queensland National Keith Pitt, demanding that Australia push the button on its nuclear powered future ASAP.

Australia ‘needs to make a start’ on nuclear energy
Sky News
Peta Credlin, Keith Pitt, James McGrath
1 July 2019

Discussion around nuclear energy has been growing as Australia faces high power prices and the nation looks for economically viable climate change and emissions reductions solutions.

Speaking with Sky News host Peta Credlin, Liberal Senator James McGrath says Australians want the government to have the debate about nuclear energy, insisting an open discussion and a Senate inquiry could ‘get people over the line’.

Liberal MP Keith Pitt says the country needs to look at ‘every possible opportunity for reliable baseload power’, including nuclear energy.

While it will take time to build the ‘cohort, technology and support services’, Mr Pitt says the ‘reality is, we have to make a start’.

‘If it’s economically viable if it’s environmentally viable and we have the support of the Australian people, then clearly it’s an option we need to investigate’, says Mr Pitt.

 

Transcript

Peta Credlin: There’s increasing evidence and support within Australia that our future could be nuclear, with other renewable technologies really not stacking up to provide the bulk of our economic needs. Of course, many, me included, want to see next generation coal and gas technologies used, as well. Return to common sense, if you like, after the madness of the last few years and a recognition that we should use our resources here to keep powering up our industries and keeping household prices down, just as willingly as we ship them overseas for others to use. Queensland National’s MP, Keith Pitt, and his Senate colleague, James McGrath, are behind a renewed federal push on nuclear energy, and they join me now, here in Canberra. Great to have you on the show, gentlemen.

Keith Pitt: Glad to be with you.

Peta Credlin: Now Keith, no issues with James’ experience as a political expert, but you are the one who is the engineering expert. Electrical engineering by trade, before you came into this place. Why are you now so determined? You spoke out on the issue of energy in the last term of parliament. You are now really obviously internally focused to get this thing moving inside the Coalition. Why?

Keith Pitt: Well, I think I’ve been consistent since I arrived in 2013, Peta. I spoke against the RET because in my view, it would put up power prices, it would make the electricity network less reliable, it would be paid for by the poorest people, and I think that’s actually exactly what’s happened. So regardless of whether you support baseload through HELE coal or whether it’s gas, I think we need to look at every single opportunity, and nuclear certainly presents one. I think the technology’s moved on. I think with small modular reactors, the potential for thorium, there are all sorts of opportunities for us to generate energy from a nuclear reactor. I think it’s time for us to have a look at it, and I think the mob are with us. I really think there’s strong support out there. It’s been raised with me any number of times now over a number of years.

Peta Credlin: The point I made before about your political sense, James, is really true. I mean, you’ve years in campaigning before you even came into parliament. Have you seen a shift in mood from Australians that they are willing to at least have the debate?

James McGrath: They want to have the debate. They want us to talk about it at an adult level. And it’s interesting, I agree with Keith, I’ve been going around Queensland and people been coming up to me since Keith first raised this issue, and I’m supporting you on this. They want us, and they’re so happy that people are out there pushing the issue of nuclear energy as a possible energy source for Australia. They want us to do it. We’ve got to take them on the journey with us and we’ve got to have that conversation. That’s why Keith and I think there should be a Senate inquiry in terms of look at the economics of it, look at what can happen with nuclear energy. I think we can get people over the line with it.

Peta Credlin: And your intention would be to take this inquiry right around the country so people could attend meetings, they could speak their mind?

James McGrath: I think that will be up to the committee itself to decide that if it gets up in the Senate, but yes, you’d want to go out there and you’d want it to be a long inquiry and make sure that people fully understand the ramifications and the benefits of nuclear energy.

Peta Credlin: In a way, it makes me smile when people say, “Oh, but it’ll take us 10 to 15 years to do a nuclear industry. It takes too long to get it up and running,” but of course, we’ve waited 10 years for an NBN, and we’ll wait 30 plus years for submarines. It’s a bit like that Irish joke, “If you want to get to Dublin, I wouldn’t start from here.” Well, you’ve got to start some time, don’t you, if you want to build a nuclear industry? Can we do it? Do we have the number of people required with physics backgrounds and nuclear backgrounds, or do we have to really train up that cohort of people to run an industry?

Keith Pitt: Short answer is, of course, we can. I mean, this is the greatest nation in the world, it really is. Our people are just as smart as everyone else. Yes, it’ll take some time to build the cohort, to build the technology, to build the support services, the institution of engineers and advisors. That could well be up to 20 years, but the reality is, we have to make a start. I think James makes a very good point. We need to bring people with us.

I think the younger generation, in particular, are very well informed. They grab their phone, they can look up anything they want at any time of the day or night. They’re incredibly supportive because, in their view, there’s nothing more important than doing something about climate change. Everyone’s been banging around looking for a solution for many, many years now. Well, here’s one. So if it’s economically viable, if it’s environmentally viable, if we have the support of the Australian people, well, then clearly it is an option that we need to investigate.

Peta Credlin: I think most Australians will have been touched by cancer with someone that they love at some time in their lives. A lot of cancer treatments involve nuclear medicine. We have a real issue, don’t we, in this country, about where we store the waste from nuclear medicine?

Keith Pitt: We do. My good wife is actually a radiographer, so that’s something I hear about regularly. We’ve got an issue with nuclear waste now. It has to be addressed. We need to find a storage facility for waste from nuclear medicine in particular. Let’s just be common sense about this. We need it in Australia, we need it sooner rather than later, and we have to get a solution. Whilst that can run concurrently, it can also be a solution to what we are looking at in terms of the Senate select committee about whether we use nuclear energy or not. So I think the nuclear waste argument is a bit of a-

Peta Credlin: You mean put it inside the terms of reference so that there is a discussion not just about nuclear energy, but also the corollary, I guess, of nuclear waste?

Keith Pitt: Of course. We need to look at all stages of the cycle, including what it may well cost, depending on which type of technology, what you do with the waste. Once again, that also depends on the technology. Whether you look for thorium reactors or SMRs, there’s a whole range of things out there now which give you different outcomes in terms of the end of the cycle. But the bottom line is, we have an issue with waste now that needs to be fixed.

Peta Credlin: What do we do about waste now?

Keith Pitt: At the moment, my understanding is it’s actually stored in little locations all around the country, which are almost at bursting point.

Peta Credlin: And that’s risky in itself.

Keith Pitt: It is. That’s the reason there was a Royal Commission in South Australia to look at a nuclear waste facility there. In my understanding, there’s proposals in WA, as well, which could potentially be utilised, but once again, this needs to run concurrently with whatever inquiry we may or may not get up. I think to use it as an argument against the inquiry, I just think that’s nonsense.

Peta Credlin: James McGrath, this isn’t an exercise in trying to embarrass the government into doing something. You’re trying to deal with questions legitimately out there with everyday voters. You say we’ve got to do something about energy and nuclear is baseload. We ship our uranium overseas. Why on earth can’t we at least have a conversation about having a nuclear power industry for this country? A lot of the experts are now coming forward to say we should have nuclear on the table. Are you wedded to what sort of inquiry it would be if the prime minister said, “Well, I like a little bit of this or I like a little bit of that or I’d prefer it done a different way?

James McGrath: No, Keith and I aren’t wedded to what type of inquiry it would be. We’d prefer it to be a parliamentary inquiry. We would prefer it to go around the country, prefer it to be a serious inquiry to get evidence from and take submissions from the experts. So we’re quite open to that. In our letter to the prime minister that we sent last week, we actually say that in the letter. We’re open to questions about the mechanism and the timing.

Peta Credlin: Just on this issue of HELE power, a lot of talk, a lot of people on your side of politics who want to see next generation coal-fired power in this country. I have to say a lot of reports are now coming out to say around the world that renewables are not going to fill this gap as people thought they would. Are we going to see a HELE station in Australia anytime soon?

James McGrath: I would hope so. Australians are a pretty sensible mob. They look at the fact we’ve got all this coal and we’re digging it up and we’re sending it overseas. They look we’ve got all this gas and we’re sending it overseas. They know we’ve got a third of the world’s uranium that goes overseas. Why can’t we have a discussion about nuclear power, but in terms of other energy sources? Because there is this cult of the windmill, the cult of the solar panel, and people think that it’s free. It’s not. They think it’s clean. It’s not necessarily clean in terms of some of the waste that comes out of that also. I can’t answer that question and that’s a very sad thing for me to admit. I want us to. The people I speak to want us to.

Peta Credlin: Keith, there’s one issue that I’m stopped in the street about and this is about coal-fired power, having a next generation sort of generator in Australia and built to order, like 1,100 of them or so are being built around the world. James’s point is spot on there. When I was overseas and I met with Adani, Mr. Adani, the chairman, said, “If we don’t burn your clean coal, we’ll burn dirty coal from somewhere else like Indonesia, and they’ll get the money, not you in Australia, and the environment overall will be harmed.” Why aren’t we burning our good coal here? Why aren’t we doing something more about utilising domestic gas? Do you think we’re going to resolve these issues in this parliament?

Keith Pitt: I think it’s the fundamental constitutional question because ultimately, the states are responsible. We can’t build anything in this country without the state’s approval. But to the point you made to James, there’s a location already, it’s called Vales Point. Trevor St. Baker is ready to build a HELE coal power plant right now, and I think people should get out of the way and let him get on with that because in my view, Victoria will have some very challenging circumstances coming this summer to maintain supply.

We already have HELE coal plants in Queensland, certainly, Kogan Creek, one of the most recently built is a HELE plant. And when we talk about HELE plants, they’re a high-pressure boiler, so they’re low emissions, they’re high efficiency, and the best thing you can do with any coal-fired power station is run them at 100% capacity. You actually get more megawatts for less emissions if they’re flat out, and yet we find that we’ve got so many things going in with intermittent wind and solar that are putting them out of business. That’s the reality.

Peta Credlin: All right. I had a good look at the program today. I have to say, you gentlemen are having a bit of a light week. You’ll be sworn in tomorrow. The 46th parliament will start, Keith Pitt, but Wednesday is taken up with observations for Bob Hawke. The same in the Senate. Just quickly, do we think we’re going to get this motion up this week or will it be next time in parliament sits?

James McGrath: I think the priority this week might be getting the tax cuts through.

Peta Credlin: I think that’s right, yeah.

James McGrath: Let’s get the tax cuts through first. Look, I’m going to lodge the motion on Wednesday to be dealt with on Thursday, but it’s subject to what happens in terms of the seating schedule on Thursday, because there might be an hours motion there, to use a bit of technicalese.

Peta Credlin: Okay. Well, I’ll keep an eye on it for everyone at home. James McGrath, thank you for your time.

James McGrath: Thank you.

Peta Credlin: Keith Pitt-

Keith Pitt: Happy to be with you.
Sky News

Keith Pitts himself against stone age RE zealots.

About stopthesethings

We are a group of citizens concerned about the rapid spread of industrial wind power generation installations across Australia.

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