SA could lead nation with nuclear fuel cycle

March 16, 2018

South Australia is crying out for a new industry to replace car manufacturing and give a once-great state some self-respect and influence again.

An opinion piece by Adam Creighton today in The Australian newspaper addresses the challenges and great opportunity facing Senator Cory Bernardi's home state.

South Australian is renowned for great wines, but it hasn’t been enough to wrench Adelaide out of the orbit of Melbourne and Sydney, which have progressively bought out its biggest companies, sucking away much of its managerial and professional class.

Becoming the state that powers the nation would be one way to restore self-esteem. The big disappointment in South Australia’s election campaign is that none of the major political parties has had the courage to declare South Australia a perfect site for Australia’s first electricity-generating nuclear reactor, one that could help power the eastern states.

The Australian Conservatives is  the only party advocating for South Australia to enter the nuclear cycle.

Whoever wins the state election tomorrow won’t make much difference to the state’s long-term fortunes. A look at the major parties’ electoral platforms reveals the same rats-and-mice populist 'policies' that animate most state elections: tinker with payroll tax base, a few tokenistic handouts et cetera.

There’s not much difference between Liberal and Labor on energy. The Weatherill government wants to subsidise a big­ battery, the Liberal opposition wants subsidised small ones, having announced a $100 million plan to help households buy them.

Any of the three publicity-attracting parties could have declared South Australia’s economic renaissance lay not in wind turbines and batteries, giant or small, but in the nuclear fuel cycle.

States have lost much of their financial clout to Canberra, but they do have freedom to zone, commission and subsidise.

South Australia could lobby the federal government to end the crazy law that makes Australia the only G20 country with a ban on nuclear energy, despite having among the largest uranium reserves in the world.

Removing the automatic bans on the nuclear fuel cycle is something Australian Conservatives’ founder and South Australian Senator Cory Bernardi has been pushing for years.

None of the three major parties have even mentioned the “n” word in their policy platforms. Yet it’s hardly political poison.

A 2017 survey of households conducted by the Australian National University — the Beliefs and Attitudes Towards Science Survey — showed more than 41 per cent of Australians were in favour of nuclear power plants to generate electricity. Only 25 per cent were “strongly opposed”, and less than half were “against”. 

A nuclear power station would cut long-term carbon emissions (some smarter Greens might even support it), bolster high-income STEM jobs, enhancing Australia’s national security and diversifying our energy supply.

SA Labor had the foresight to have a royal commission into nuclear power. Its 2016 report generated significant and necessary debate. The Royal Commission reported: “The commission did not find that nuclear power is ‘too expensive’ to be viable or that it is ‘yesterday’s technology’. Rather, it found that a nuclear power plant of currently available size at current costs of construction would not be viable in the South Australian market under current market rules,” it reported.

Nuclear energy isn’t being phased out. Nuclear power generation makes up a fifth of US electricity supply. China has 37 plans in operation and 20 under construction. About 40 new countries are showing strong interest in launching a nuclear power program for the first time, according to the World Nuclear Association.

Bangladesh has already poured concrete for its first nuclear reactor — with know-how supplied by Russia. Wouldn’t it have been nice if Australian engineers were being put to good use in that country of 170 million people? Of course, Britain is building nuclear reactors too.

It may come at a cost, but so do subsidies for renewable energy, which don’t show up on government budgets but are no less real. The cost of federal and state subsidies to renewable energy are very hard to quantify in dollars, but they are large. Large enough to have paid for construction of a nuclear power station by now, which would have solved many of our energy problems.

To build Australia’s first major nuclear reactor might even attract cut-price offers from firms eager for the knowledge. Nuclear energy is 100 per cent reliable and 100 per cent emission-free. This is why countries like France, a big chunk of whose electricity is powered by nuclear fission, has such low per capita emissions and can sanctimoniously host summits about reducing global emissions.

South Australia couldn’t become a nuclear hub overnight. It’s a long-term goal. But preparation for it would lift the state’s importance within the country.

To read Adam Creighton’s full article click here.

To see the Australian Conservatives fully-costed policy incorporating the nuclear fuel cycle click here.

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