Coalition’s nuclear powerplay a “cynical distraction”

by Matthew Ryan
Leader of the Opposition Peter Dutton delivers his keynote speech during the Australian Financial Review Business Summit, in Sydney, Tuesday, March 12, 2024
AAP Image/Bianca De Marchi


Rather than backing cheap and abundant renewable energy, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton has gone all in on nuclear.

But with no established industry or workforce and mammoth upfront costs, the economics of nuclear energy just don’t stack up, according to Dr Matthew Ryan, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Australia Institute’s Climate and Energy program.

“It’s pretty wild that the party that likes to pride themselves as ‘responsible economic managers’ are getting in behind the single most expensive energy technology that we have available to us,” said Ryan.

“At the same time, the costs for renewables are going through the floor. They’ve been going down consistently over time and there’s no reason to expect that’s going to change.

“The idea that you would do this as a cost-of-living measure, as a way to bring down energy prices, makes absolutely no sense to me.”

As to why the Coalition would back nuclear energy under these circumstances, Ryan argues the plan is “an old-fashion, cynical distraction” — and one that’s welcomed by the fossil fuel industry.

“I think that it works really well for the Liberal Party, for their coalition, to overcome internal tensions — the fact that they don’t have any serious climate or energy policy.

At a critical time in the fight against global heating, Ryan said the emissions generated from coal and gas in the time it takes to develop a nuclear industry from scratch would be dreadful for Australia’s carbon budget.

“The thing that really gets me about this is that we’re on the clock. Climate change is happening now, carbon budgets are being decimated now,” he said.

Carbon emissions are cumulative, and the latest research shows that the “budget” of carbon to stay below 1.5 degrees is rapidly disappearing, Ryan said.

“The idea that you get to net zero in 2050 by emitting all the way to 2049 and then suddenly turning off all the fossil fuels — it doesn’t work that way.”

But it’s not just the Coalition who aren’t serious about bringing down emissions, according to Ryan.

“We should also point out the fact that this is brilliant for the Labor Party.

“You and I are spending all of this time talking about whether nuclear is a good idea or not — at the same time…the Labor government is passing legislation through the parliament in order to make it easier to get approvals for offshore gas developments.”

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