Nuclear Energy

Jun 19, 2024 | National Issues

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There’s a lot of media speculation about how we meet Australia’s future energy needs as we transition away from fossil fuels.

Energy security is a matter of national security: every country needs to be able to keep the lights on, run the public transport network, hospitals and universities, and ensure businesses and farmers can still produce goods at a competitive price, which are needed in a modern society.

Personally, I have an open mind when it comes to the public debate regarding the potential for nuclear energy in Australia.

It is time for a calm and rational conversation with the Australian people based on facts, technology and environmental science, not media-driven hyperbole, fear campaigns and political science.

Frankly, it is juvenile and demeaning to listen to some Federal Labor MPs continually joking about the ‘The Simpsons’ cartoon in Parliamentary debates, as if it’s a reference point for a mature conversation on an issue of inter-generational significance.

My electorate of Gippsland has a proud heritage as an energy-producing region and there is a high level of ‘energy literacy’ in the community. I’m proud of the local workers who have kept the lights on and warmed, or cooled our homes for more than 100 years. Cheap energy has been a competitive advantage for our nation.

Local people tend to understand the complex energy trifecta of affordability, reliability and environmental sustainability in accordance with international efforts. There is no Australian solution to climate change given we produce less than 2% of total global emissions.

This energy literacy has come about because Gippsland has hosted large-scale energy producing facilities including brown coal and offshore oil and gas for decades, along with wind and solar farms in more recent times. We are also expecting to see an energy from waste project developed at the Maryvale Mill and we have been identified as a region which could host major offshore wind infrastructure.

Just as we are considering large-scale renewable projects with offshore wind farms, energy from waste at Maryvale, the coal to hydrogen project, and the potential recycling of coal-fired power stations with biofuels, we need to take a pragmatic approach to the nuclear debate.

For example, there needs to be full transparency on the claimed cost savings around re-using existing transmission lines because constructing new infrastructure to support industrial scale renewable projects remains a contested public issue in many regions. There also needs to be some factual and honest debate about the resources needed to construct wind turbines and solar panels, and their life expectancies. What do we do with them at the end of their cycle and what is the cost?

If there is bipartisan support for nuclear-powered submarines as part of the AUKUS agreement, we should be able to have a rational debate about the merits of nuclear technology to help meet our future energy needs in Australia.

There are dozens of advanced countries throughout the world which utilise nuclear energy and Australia remains the third largest exporter of uranium to help power those economies. That doesn’t mean we have to build nuclear power stations but if they are operating safely around the world, it makes sense to consider them as part of the broader mix of energy sources.

While it is premature to rule regions in or out as potential locations for a nuclear power station because more detailed investigation would be required, there would be very few suitable sites given the known parameters around access to existing transmission lines, proximity to water, and a location close to large end users.

But I would expect a detailed national process would need to be established, including a plan to overturn existing legislation, technical feasibility studies, an opportunity for potential host communities to express their views, and an extensive package of social and economic support measures.

Interestingly, it is South Australian Labor Premier Peter Malinauskas who has said the ideological divide in the nuclear debate ‘infuriates’ him.

He has also called for a balanced debate noting: “You have got the left opposing it because of some NIMBY argument or some sort of ideological historical argument, or some sort of unproven safety argument in a modern context. And then you’ve got the right saying we can prove all those lefties wrong, we’re going to get nuclear, and none of them can substantiate the economic argument for it.”

For me, as a matter of principle, you would need to be able to demonstrate to a potential host community, including the Latrobe Valley, that any safety concerns could be ameliorated and there were direct and enduring social and economic benefits to our community.

We are continuing to have the energy conversation with our community today because we recognise the Latrobe Valley has some strategic advantages due to the existing transmission infrastructure and a skilled local workforce. Ironically, that transmission infrastructure is also part of the reason why the offshore wind sector is keen on Gippsland!

But if we are going to host large-scale energy infrastructure in the future, whether it’s nuclear, renewables or biofuels, there has to be respect shown to local communities and measurable benefits for our region.

It’s not an easy issue and it does keep me awake at night because we need to get the balance right for future generations. I will do my best to listen to all the experts and put the needs of Gippsland and Latrobe Valley first… and endeavour to act in the national interest. I intend to participate in the debate in a constructive and respectful manner, at all times.

In summary, to deliver our nation’s future energy needs, I believe we should be taking advantage of a range of technologies to meet the challenge of supplying reliable and affordable power while fulfilling our international agreements to reduce emissions.

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