Ted O'Brien during Question Time
The opposition's energy spokesman Ted O'Brien was questioned over his stance on nuclear power. Image by Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS
  • nuclear power

Nuclear ‘fantasy’ comes under scrutiny in parliament

June 24, 2024

The federal opposition’s plans to build multiple nuclear reactors across Australia have come under fire in parliament as the fallout from last week’s announcement spread to Question Time.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton has pledged to build seven nuclear power plants across five states should he win the next election.

He has been criticised for not revealing the cost of the plan, which has been rejected by the leaders of the state’s affected, while doubts have been raised over the opposition’s timeline for the first reactor to be built.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese
 Labor leaders including Prime Minister Anthony Albanese took aim at the opposition’s plan. Image by Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS 

As politicians returned to Canberra for the first time since the nuclear announcement, Labor leaders were quick to attack the opposition’s plan when they got a chance in parliament.

Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek said the economics of the proposal would not stack up.

“What we have before us is a choice between a renewable energy transition that’s already underway or a nuclear fantasy that may never happen,” she told parliament on Monday.

“The Leader of the Opposition’s plan, if you could call it that, is a recipe for delay and it’s a recipe for higher bills.”

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese took aim at the cost of nuclear and ruled out lifting a federal moratorium on nuclear energy.

“At a time when the rest of us are working to get power bills down, (Peter Dutton has) picked the one option guaranteed to force prices up,” he said.

Peter Dutton during Question Time
 Opposition Leader Peter Dutton came under fire for not revealing the cost of the nuclear proposal. Image by Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS 

Every affected state leader has condemned the proposal, with NSW and Victorian premiers Chris Minns and Jacinta Allan vowing to block nuclear power plants.

That stance has also been echoed on the coalition side by Queensland’s opposition leader David Crisafulli.

Mr Dutton noted commonwealth laws override state laws, meaning their opposition would not stop a federal coalition government.

Asked how much the coalition’s proposal would cost, Nationals leader David Littleproud said they would announce that “very soon” but would not reveal a figure.

Queensland Opposition Leader David Crisafulli
 David Crisafulli says nuclear power would not be part of Queensland’s future with him as premier. Image by Darren England/AAP PHOTOS 

Independent senator Jacqui Lambie said she would love to see nuclear energy, but the coalition “couldn’t get their s*** together” on energy policy when in power for almost a decade.

In a 2019 inquiry report into nuclear energy tabled under the previous Liberal government, committee chair and Queensland MP Ted O’Brien wrote “the will of the people should be honoured” and “nuclear power plants or waste facilities should not be imposed upon local communities that are opposed”.

Mr O’Brien, now the face of the coalition’s nuclear push as opposition energy spokesman, tried to dodge the question of what had changed from then to now, before saying “what I wrote in the report then is consistent with this term of government”.

Though he said he did not think locals would reject the proposal, a survey from the Australia Institute shows 65 per cent of Australians are not prepared to pay any more to have nuclear power in the nation’s energy mix, regardless of their voting intentions.

A file photo from the Opal nuclear research reactor at Lucas Heights
 Surveys suggest Australians have mixed feelings about harnessing nuclear energy. Image by Tracey Nearmy/AAP PHOTOS 

A News Corp Australia survey of more than 920 people found about 60 per cent of participants agreed nuclear power “has a place” in Australia’s energy mix.

In a separate question in the Resolve Political Monitor, conducted for The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald, 43 per cent preferred a Labor plan for renewables supported by gas for the next 10 to 20 years while 33 per cent opted for a coalition plan for nuclear power and some gas to support renewables.

The Smart Energy Council – a body set up to promote renewable energy – said a breakdown of figures from the CSIRO and the Australian Energy Market Operator indicated that it could cost up to $600 billion to build seven nuclear plants, which it said would deliver just 3.7 per cent of Australia’s energy mix in 2050.