Superficial coverage of Dutton’s nuclear policy does Australia a disservice

Jun 17, 2024
Nuclear power station cooling tower low poly. 3d render ecology pollution save planet environment concept triangle polygonal. Radioactive nuclear reactor electricity vector illustration art

Noel Turnbull correctly writes that media coverage of the federal opposition’s nuclear power proposal is superficial. There is a very wide range of as yet unanswered issues.

First, who will build and operate the proposed nuclear power stations.

Many years ago, when the Commonwealth proposed establishment of a nuclear power station, it settled on Jervis Bay because the ‘territories’ power in the Commonwealth Constitution gave the Commonwealth plenary power. The proposal was well advanced, and a large concrete platform was built, before the proposal was eventually abandoned because it proved to be uneconomic.

The opposition apparently contemplates location of nuclear power stations on the sites of disused coal fired power stations. Does the opposition believe the Commonwealth has constitutional power to establish and operate nuclear power stations in the States?

The States would of course have the constitutional power to establish nuclear power stations. Remember State electricity authorities used to be publicly owned before they were privatised. But has any of the States indicated any enthusiasm for establishing and operating nuclear power stations?

If the opposition doesn’t envisage either Commonwealth or State government involvement, do they envisage private enterprise.

There are many capable private operators around the world but I haven’t seen any evidence of private corporations clamouring for the right to build nuclear power stations in Australia. Could it be that the private sector understands that privately owned nuclear power stations in Australia would not be competitive, that is, they would not return a profit.

There remain a range of wider regulatory issues, who would be responsible for planning, oversight and safety. How would liability and insurance be handled. Would the opposition envisage that Australia should become a party to the Vienna Convention on Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage. What about safeguards. Would the opposition accept oversight by the International Atomic Energy Agency?

It is not clear that the opposition has addressed any of these issues.

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