Oh So Close: How Australia’s Nuclear Powered Future Almost Began In 1980

Guess which power source Victorians got lumbered with?


That Australia, one of the world’s largest uranium exporters, doesn’t rely on nuclear power astonishes those from the 30 countries where you’ll find nearly 450 nuclear reactors currently operating – including the French, Americans, Canadians, Japanese and Chinese. Another 15 countries are currently building 60 reactors among them. Nuclear power output accounts for over 11% of global electricity production. But not a lick of it in Australia.

Australia holds the world’s largest uranium reserves and, despite its shifting policy of limiting the number of mines and states that have banned them, is the world’s third-largest uranium exporter.

And in 1998, the Federal government enacted legislation that prohibits nuclear power generation in any form. The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act and the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act, specifically prohibit nuclear fuel fabrication, power, enrichment or reprocessing facilities.

But there was a time when Australia was run by leaders (not followers). One of them was Victoria’s long serving Liberal Premier, Henry Bolte.

Bolte was a visionary who saw that the key to his state’s prosperity was always and everywhere about reliable and affordable electricity.

In the 1960s, Bolte proposed a deepwater port for Hastings at Western Port, which also included plans for a nuclear power station on nearby French Island.

The Victorian Premier’s plan for nuclear power never got off the ground. But not for lack of trying.

A group of engineers were marshalled up and sent to the USA on a mission to learn something from the Americans about how Australia might profit from its own abundant uranium reserves. There was a sense of excitement and the thrill of the new amongst the delegation; which was shared by their engineering colleagues when they returned.

In their opposition to the French Island nuclear plant, the anti-nuke, anti-development, anti-everything squad were victorious. But, in the long run, Victorians were less so: their state has squandered billions on chaotically intermittent wind and solar; Victorians now enjoy a thoroughly unreliable, weather-dependent supply and suffer the country’s second highest retail power prices (right behind wind and solar obsessed South Australia).

Here’s a couple of pieces from the archives on just how close Australia was to having a nuclear powered future.

SEC Questioned on French Island Nuclear Power
Philip Island Sun
16 September 1980

At the September monthly meeting of the Western Port Catchment Coordinating Group, Dr Peter James, the Principal Planning Engineer, Projects, of the State Electricity Commission, addressed the group on the SEC’s future planning for major power developments.

In welcoming Dr James, the Groups chairman,Cr John Deizoppo, said that “recent reports in the local press have suggested that French Island may be a likely nuclear power site and as the Group has, as one of its tasks, to consider problems relating to French Island, members were anxious to learn of any plans the Commission may have.” (The SEC owns a site of approximately 260 ha on the south central coast of the island).

Dr James outlined the SEC’s current planning to meet future power requirements. He said that the existing generation facilities and those under construction (La Trobe Valley, Newport power station and other facilities) would meet Victoria’s power needs until the early 1990s.

He said that the Loy Yang project was expected to be fully operating about 1991.

With a leadtime of some 11 years for major power projects, the SEC was currently carrying out investigations to meet power needs after this date.

He said that in all probability the next major power project would be an open cut brown coal development in the Morwell area of similar generating capacity to Loy Yang (4-5000 megawatts).

Dr James said that the SEC was at present discussing its future plans for brown coal development with various Government agencies and municipalities.

It was anticipated that the SEC would present an Interim Report to the government late this year outlining its proposals for the next baseload development and seeking reference to a Parliamentary Public Works Committee Inquiry.

He further said that various consultants had also been engaged to investigate nuclear and imported black coal alternatives. Information was also being gathered on other forms of power generation such as solar, wind etc.

He said that it was essential that these other alternatives were investigated although no decisions had been made regarding alternatives to brown coal which were estimated at 95% of Victoria’s energy reserves.

Areas of brown coal in the La Trobe Valley provisionally reserved for SEC purposes were expected to last for some 50 to 100 years based on projected usage.

In regard to the investigations into nuclear power, Dr James said that some confusion had arisen concerning the SEC’s investigations.

A notional site in the Portland area had been chosen as a basis for economic studies, not because it was to be an ultimate site, but because it was generally representative of the Victorian coast.

In regard to French Island, Dr James indicated that the Island was not physically similar to Portland, but could be considered a theoretical site because of its isolation from major populated areas.

Dr James said that, in his view, if for any decision was taken by Governments to construct nuclear plants, some organisation such as a Federal Nuclear Regulatory Body would need to be established by Government and at the same time the general public assured that such a development could be constructed and operated without risk to the community at large.

With the existing planning and consultative processes, the leadtime for a nuclear plant was probably some 15-20 years.

In response to a question, Dr James replied that the SEC had a statutory responsibility to investigate all potential sources of power-nuclear was one source.

The SEC’s investigations did not represent any commitment to the establishment of nuclear power, however future generations may see the need for mixed power rather than reliance on one major source such as brown coal for electric power.

For example, should the conversion of brown coal to oil be a practicable and economic reality, then the community may wish that a major portion of the states brown coal reserves are used to produce fuel for transport.

The Coordinating Group will be seeking further information from the SEC concerning its baseload forecasting and planning.
Philip Island Sun

How Victoria’s N-power future became its past
The Age
28 February 2005

“Our N-power”, trumpeted The Age headline.

“Victoria might have a nuclear power station by about 1980 on French Island in Westernport Bay. There will certainly be one somewhere in the State sometime after 1980 and not too long after,” reporter Stephen Hall wrote on October 4, 1967.

Although it might seem strange today, when nuclear power causes such heated debates, in the late 1960s nuclear power was initially seen as a political winner by Victoria’s then Liberal premier, Sir Henry Bolte.

French Island is a mostly flat, scrubby spot, about 65 kilometres south-east of Melbourne, and in the 1960s was not used for much except as a jail for about 100 prisoners. Sir Henry’s vision was to transform the island into an industrial heartland, complete with an international airport, an aluminium smelter, factories, toxic waste plant, housing for 3000 people, and Australia’s first nuclear power station.

The State Electricity Commission was so keen on the idea that it even sent its chief engineer, Mr R.G. Chapman, on a five-week tour of nuclear plants around the US, Canada and Britain. And the SEC was already looking beyond French Island. “The nuclear power stations of the future will probably be on sheltered waters such as Westernport Bay, Port Phillip Bay and Corio Bay,” Hall reported.

Eventually, the Government-backed down to community protests and agreed to a thorough planning study, which found the area was unsuitable for industrial purposes.

Today, 70 per cent of French Island is a national park, and its small community of 90 people is outnumbered 16 to 1 by koalas.
The Age

Sir Henry Bolte (above) was Victoria’s longest-serving premier, in power from June 1955 to August 1972, 6288 days in office.

While in office he increased coal production and power generation in the Latrobe Valley; oversaw plans to build the West Gate Bridge and a new airport at Tullamarine; and pushed for the building of Monash University and La Trobe University. He was a fierce advocate for Victoria and state rights. And, over 50 years ago, was an advocate for the cleanest, safest, affordable and most reliable power source of all.

About stopthesethings

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


  1. Reblogged this on ajmarciniak.

  2. Son of a goat says:

    I’m sure the likes of Bolte and Playford are looking disgustedly down at Australia and suggesting to one another, “it might be time to give it back to the our indigenous brothers and sisters and apologize for ever taking it.”

    Fair dinkum the mess South Australia in particular has got itself in is beyond belief.

    AEMO having helped to perpetuate the disaster, last week stated that SA is at risk of a mass blackout as we have too many solar panels.

    Today AEMO have come out and said last summer the smoke from bush fires affected the performance of solar panels.

    Lo and behold wind farms due to excessive temperatures during the heat waves had “cut outs” between noon and dusk.
    I guess that means they down blades and headed down their local pub for a frothy when it got a bit hot.

    Of course the solution to all is a $650 million gas peaking plant, more batteries and a $1.5 billon inter-connector with NSW.

    Never mind what happens next when the coal generators close in NSW, never mind having spent $10’s billions on turbines and solar panels they will probably all need replacing in 20-25 years.

    These pricks have blown billions on a ponzi scheme.

    Its about time someone pointed the bone at the perpetrators!

  3. Reblogged this on uwerolandgross.

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