Australian news, and some related international items

Trevor St Baker and the latest push for nuclear energy

Trevor St Baker and the latest push for nuclear energy, Independent Australia,  By David Paull | 2 October 2021
  Quickly following the Morrison Government’s new ill-defined arrangements to obtain nuclear technology from its UK and U.S. (AUKUS) alliance partners, we have seen a new push from nuclear advocates for a domestic nuclear power industry.

Senator Matt Canavan, the Australian Workers Union (AWU) and pieces appearing in the Murdoch media have been leading the charge. There was also a puzzling link made by Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce on ABC’s Insiders.

It wasn’t too long ago when Energy Minister Angus Taylor’s inquiry into a new domestic nuclear energy sector was held. Submissions by the nuclear industry and their lobbyists were widely condemned as containing shiploads of misinformation regarding the cost of nuclear versus renewables and the greenwashing of the carbon footprint. The Committee, however, recommended a partial lifting of the standing nuclear energy ban for ‘new and emerging technologies’.

The leading “new and emerging technology” is a reference to small modular reactors (SMRs), designed specifically to provide baseload power to the grid via a network of nuclear generators. As it turns out, Taylor has been leaking information to a far-right media outlet on the need to develop this sector in Australia with the co-operation of expertise from the UK, even with the assistance of our nuclear agency ANSTO.And here emerges a key player in this debate in Australia — the managing director of the company set up to develop this industry, Trevor St Baker.

With respect to his acknowledged need to de-carbonise our economy, Mr St Baker is on the record for claiming that “to reduce CO2 we must go nuclear” and that a rush to renewables would be a disaster for the power network. He claims that “intermittent” renewables are only projected to supply little more “than 25% annually any time soon” and that “electricity supply grids need synchronous generation supply for at least 40% of electricity demand at any time”.

Inherent in this way of thinking is that a dispatchable renewable power system backed by batteries cannot meet a base-load (24 hour) demand, a common theme expressed by other nuclear and fossil fuel lobbyists but an argument nonetheless increasingly on shaky ground. Nonetheless, the nuclear lobbying effort is attempting for all its might to gain momentum.

St Baker, depending on how you look at it, is a very clever businessman, one of the richest in Australia or one who is extremely “well connected”. His position on energy seems to many to be incongruous, attacking banks for withdrawing support for new fossil fuel ventures on the one hand yet investing substantially in renewable projects such as EV recharging stations through his Energy Innovation Fund……….

The Australian Nuclear Association (ANA) is our leading nuclear lobby group whose views on the need for a domestic nuclear industry mirror those views articulated by St Baker, including the view that SMR reactors are more or less “ready to roll”. Their latest media maintains that a poll has been conducted showing that ‘Australians support for considering nuclear energy reaches 70%’. However, the polls mentioned were conducted by the Liberal Party-affiliated Menzies Research Centre, so it’s hardly an independent poll given the Government’s past position on the issue and given the Centre’s position that ‘nuclear is beautiful’.

Like the international fossil fuel lobbying network, there are national and international bodies operating in tandem in the nuclear sector. The ANA is an affiliate of the World Nuclear Association (WNA) who it seems is conducting a vamped-up PR campaign to open new markets for nuclear power. Central to this is an emphasis on small modular reactor technology, announcing the first such reactors in Russia in December 2019 and now is most concerned by issues with licensing and design of SMRs. Other themes include the suitability of such technology for rapid changes in energy systems in response to climate issues.

Of course, this is what St Baker is banking on, literally with his considerable investment in the SMR technology.  It is clear that the ruling political party in Australia would dearly love to get behind the nuclear transition as quickly as possible. The only real stumbling block is Labor’s opposition to the concept, public opinion and our adherence to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.,15578

October 4, 2021 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, business, politics

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