Who prepared Dutton’s report on nuclear power?

Jun 13, 2024
Radiation symbol on yellow background, view from above. 3d illustration

The Canberra Press Gallery is not a homogenous group although its members do seem to suffer from a fair amount of groupthink; preference for gotchas and speculation about what might happen next in politics; and heavy dependence on leaks and drops for copy.

One part of it – the Murdoch part – subsumes this into propaganda and sneering opinion pieces.

All this makes intelligent analysis of policy difficult – as illustrated by the recent coverage of the Dutton Opposition commitment to nuclear power – which is mainly superficial and focussed on the politics of it all. The Albanese Government has not been helpful by saying that they will campaign every day until the election on nuclear policy – a vow unlikely to be kept given the short attention span of the media and party staffers.

Yet just as the best staffers plan answers (usually zingers rather than substance) to media questions about policies and recent political developments it is useful to consider the sort of questions the media might ask – if someone is smart enough to brief them first – after Dutton announces his plans.

The first ones are pretty obvious. Why is the report you commissioned more credible than the CSIRO report’s conclusion that nuclear is more expensive than renewables? Who prepared your report and what are their credentials on nuclear power? Do they have any conflicts of interests.

Then they can get more detailed.

What are the current time frames around the world for building nuclear reactors? Are you aware that the average is about 14 years? How can you be certain, given Australia’s record of infrastructure cost overruns, that they will be built by the announced date and on budget when even at the earliest it would be the late 20240s before one is operational?

Who will you get to build it and what is their track record? Have you analysed the construction record of nuclear power stations around the world and the cost overruns they have experienced?

Where will Australia get the staff and nuclear fuel required to build and commission the plants?

Are you aware that there is currently a worldwide shortage of people who can operate and maintain the existing plants operating around the world? How will you recruit sufficient skilled and experienced staff to operate them given this global shortage?

You have continued to refer to small modular reactors – Can you refer us to one which is in operation or planned?

Are you aware that SMRs and proposed micro sized reactors are so inefficient that they would need HALEU (high-assay low enriched uranium) fuel to power the new stations?

As this would require that, unlike traditional nuclear power stations which require only 3% to 5% enrichment, these new stations would require enrichment of 19.75%, would this mean that a single reactor might contain enough HALUE to make a nuclear weapon?

You have said you will build them on the sites of former coal powered stations? What will be the cost of demolishing the stations and remediating any environmental problems on the sites? How many such sites exist and how many others will become available in time for nuclear construction to meet your timetables?

As you have dumped current emissions targets what will the climate impacts if there are delays in bringing the nuclear power stations online?

What is the impact on meeting carbon targets if support for renewables is diluted in the time lag required for nuclear power?

How do you plan to override States which have legalised nuclear bans?

What are your plans for disposal of nuclear waste?

Now staffers are more likely to be spending their time on factional manoeuvring; writing zingers; thinking about how they can get pre-selection or which lobbying firm might offer them a well-paid gig than other matters.

But Opposition staffers might find it useful to start coming up with convincing answers to questions such as this. And Government staffers should be thinking of how they can be used to demolish Dutton’s case.

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