OPINION: A Powerful Argument

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In 2010, renewable energy accounted for just 10 per cent of Australia’s electricity. Today it accounts for around 40 per cent. As the amount of renewable energy has quadrupled its share, Australian electricity prices have more than doubled.

Yet we are constantly told that renewable energy is the “cheapest form of energy”. If renewables are the cheapest form of power, how come the more we install of it, the higher our power prices go?

The truth is that wind and solar electricity are not cheap. The claim that they are cheaper is based almost exclusively from a flawed and discredited CSIRO study known as the GenCost study.

Over the past month it has been revealed that the CSIRO does not include all of the transmission and storage costs associated with the rollout of renewable energy. As the CSIRO has admitted to The Australian newspaper that “All existing generation, storage and transmission capacity up to 2030 is treated as sunk costs since they are not relevant to new-build costs in that year.”

This is like building a house but forgetting to build the roads that would connect it up to the town.

Moreover, the CSIRO study does not estimate the costs of existing nuclear technologies even though the Federal Government has been using the GenCost report to claim that nuclear is more expensive than renewable energy. In particular, the CSIRO makes no estimate of the cost of a traditional light water nuclear reactor. The only nuclear estimates that the CSIRO provide is for small modular reactors which are not yet commercially available.

Finland just turned on the first light water nuclear reactor in Europe in 15 years. Two months later electricity prices in Finland plunged by 75 per cent.

The International Energy Agency does actually calculate the cost of existing nuclear energy. Its conclusion is that “electricity from the long-term operation of nuclear power plants constitutes the least cost option for low-carbon generation.”

Whether you believe the work of the IEA or the (incomplete) analysis of the CSIRO, there is clearly a legitimate debate about whether nuclear energy can out compete renewables. Yet, we do not even let this debate occur in Australia because we are one of the few countries in the world to ban nuclear energy.

Last month, myself and 8 other Coalition Senators completed a report into the Inquiry on a Bill that would remove Australia’s ban on nuclear energy.

There is no longer a safety case to keep nuclear energy banned in Australia.

We are now acquiring nuclear submarines which will mean we have to manage the radioactive waste and other safety issues associated with nuclear reactors. The reactors in the submarines are technically the same as those that would be onshore.

It makes sense for us to develop a domestic nuclear energy industry to support our submarines. We would only be the 7th country in the world to acquire nuclear submarines. All of the other 6 countries have large domestic nuclear energy industries that help them develop the skill base to support nuclear submarines.

Australia’s ban on nuclear was put in place almost by accident. It was a simple amendment in the Senate that was subject to less than 10 minutes of Parliamentary debate.

The ban made no sense then but makes even less sense now as our electricity prices spiral out of control and the future of our manufacturing industry is threatened. We need all options on the table before it is too late.

Hon Matt Canavan

Senator for QLD

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