Australian news, and some related international items

Liberal National Party Queensland ‘s dead end pursuit of nuclear power for Australia

Stop flogging the dead horse of nuclear power, Terry Sweetman 6, 2018 
IN the eternal search for a headline, there are few things more predictable than political conventions.

They are places to air outlandish ideas that give the lower party ranks some illusion of influence and to float pet notions. They are also the place to flog dead horses. And there can be few horses more dead than the idea of nuclear power in Australia.

But undaunted by history, Ted O’Brien’s Fairfax branch of the Liberal National Party will urge the Federal Government to consider a nuclear power industry when it takes the floor at the LNP’s state convention beginning today.

Fortunately, the decisions of the convention are not binding on the Government and, I suspect, the suggestion will be allowed to die a natural death.

The problem for the proponents of nuclear power is that we’ve been down this track before and not all that long ago. In fact, we’ve been talking about nuclear power since 1952 when then South Australian premier Thomas Playford confidently proposed that one be built on the shores of Spencer Gulf. The next and probably most serious proposal was to build one on Commonwealth territory at Jervis Bay in 1969 but this idea went into meltdown when the locals got nervous and the unions got aggro.

Ted O’Brien’s Fairfax branch of the LNP will urge the Federal Government to consider nuclear power, despite the fact every party knows it could simply never happen.
And so it went on over the decades, with the idea intermittently erupting like a dyspeptic belch and then subsiding. It got almost serious in 2006 when Prime Minister John Howard was starting to accept at the very least the idea of containing emissions even if climate change was a bridge too far. He launched what he called a “full-blooded debate” and commissioned a report by former Telstra chief Ziggy Switkowski who reckoned we could have the first nuclear reactor in Australia (he meant power stations as we already have a reactor) in as soon as 10 years. The headline was that we could have 25 nuclear stations producing a third of Australia’s electricity by 2050.

What took the fizz out of the fission was just where these 25 reactors would be built.

Opposition Leader Kim Beazley and Kevin Rudd taunted Howard to name the sites but he refused to be drawn on specifics, leaving others to draw their own conclusions.

The four main criteria for the siting of nuclear power plants in Australian had generally been accepted as proximity to appropriate existing electricity infrastructure; proximity to major load centres (i.e. large centres of demand); proximity to transport infrastructure to facilitate the movement of nuclear fuel, waste and other relevant materials; and access to large quantities of water for cooling.

The Australia Institute took these criteria (plus a few others) and pinpointed 17 places that seemed to fit the bill. Seven of the prospective sites were in Queensland: Townsville, Mackay, Rockhampton, Gladstone, Bundaberg, Sunshine Coast and Bribie Island. (The Sunshine Coast sites are in the seat of Fairfax and Bribie is in Longman, where a crucial by-election is being fought and the LNP quite possibly could do without this distraction.)

The Australian Institute is routinely disparaged as “left leaning” but I saw nothing then or since to challenge its conclusions on prospective nuclear sites.

The earthquake and tsunami in the Miyagi prefecture in Japan sparked a nuclear disaster in 2011.
In 2006 the Institute reckoned about half of the population opposed nuclear energy and “two thirds say they could opposed a nuclear power plant in their local area’’. If the nuclear industry was still looking at the same backyards, it is reasonable to presume it would come up against the same public sentiment.

The other problem was that Switkowski concluded nuclear power was likely to be between 20 and 50 per cent more costly to produce than power from a new coal-fired plant.

Unless they have been major advances in nuclear technology in the past 12 years, that same formula would apply.

In 2006, Switkowski was able to breezily report: “Since Three Mile Island in 1979 and Chernobyl in 1986, the nuclear industry has developed new reactor designs which are safer and more efficient.’’ Then along came Japan’s Fukushima disaster.

These are the sorts of things the old folk seeing out their days in the sun on Bribie have plenty of time to think about.

If the motion is debated seriously this weekend, proponents may be able to produce much in the way of supportive technical and financial evidence, even warming up the Switkowski report. But that will count for nothing when it comes to the Not In My Backyard syndrome and politicians of all shades know it.


July 6, 2018 - Posted by | politics, Queensland

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