Nuclear power exits Australia’s energy debate, enters culture wars

An update by Jim Green, June 13th

What do these politicians and ex-politicians have in common: Clive PalmerTony AbbottCory BernardiBarnaby JoyceMark LathamJim MolanCraig KellyEric Abetz, and David Leyonhjelm?

Yes, they’re all men, and all so far to the right of the political spectrum that right-wing ideologues think they are right-wing ideologues.

And they all support nuclear power. To the far-right, pro-nuclear luminaries listed above we could add the right-wing of the right-wing National Party (pretty much all of them), the Minerals Council of Australia (who lobby furiously for clean nuclear and clean coal), the Business Council of Australia, media shock-jocks Alan Jones and Peta Credlin (and others), the Murdoch media (especially The Australian newspaper), the Citizens Electoral Council, and the Institute of Public Affairs and its front group the Australian Environment Foundation.

It’s no surprise that the far-right supports nuclear power (if only because the ‘green left’ opposes it). But in Australia, support for nuclear power is increasingly marginalised to the far-right. Indeed support for nuclear power has become a sign of tribal loyalty: you support nuclear power (and coal) or you’re a cultural Marxist, and you oppose renewables and climate change action or you’re a cultural Marxist.

Support for nuclear power in Australia has ebbed in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster, catastrophic costs overruns on reactor projects, and the falling costs of renewables. Dr Ziggy Switkowski used to be nuclear power’s head cheerleader in Australia and he led the Howard government’s review of nuclear power in 2006. But he said last year that “the window for gigawatt-scale nuclear has closed” and that nuclear power is no longer cheaper than renewables with costs rapidly shifting in favour of renewables.

Peter Farley, a fellow of the Australian Institution of Engineers, wrote in RenewEconomy earlier this year: “As for nuclear the 2,200 MW Plant Vogtle [in the US] is costing US$25 billion plus financing costs, insurance and long term waste storage. … For the full cost of US$30 billion, we could build 7,000 MW of wind, 7,000 MW of tracking solar, 10,000 MW of rooftop solar, 5,000MW of pumped hydro and 5,000 MW of batteries. … That is why nuclear is irrelevant in Australia. It has nothing to do with greenies, it’s just about cost and reliability.”

In January, the Climate Council comprising Australia’s leading climate scientists and other policy experts issued a policy statement concluding that nuclear power plants “are not appropriate for Australia – and probably never will be”. The statement continued: “Nuclear power stations are highly controversial, can’t be built under existing law in any Australian state or territory, are a more expensive source of power than renewable energy, and present significant challenges in terms of the storage and transport of nuclear waste, and use of water”.

See the FoE Australia website for the full article