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Mining and Energy Union

Workers in NSW coal-fired power stations need job pathways much sooner than the 20-year timeline required to build nuclear power plants.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton’s proposal to build nuclear power plants on the sites of current and former coal-fired power stations comes with the suggestion that existing workforces could simply transition from coal to nuclear. But the timing doesn’t stack up; and the focus on nuclear is a distraction from getting on with building the new industries our workers and communities need in the next five years.

Two of Dutton’s seven proposed nuclear sites are in NSW. One is AGL’s Liddell site at Muswellbrook which ceased operating last year. AGL has commenced work to convert the site into a low carbon industrial hub with solar panel manufacturing, which would be backed by Federal Government investment through the Solar Sunshot program.

The other proposed nuclear site is Energy Australia’s Mt Piper Power station at Lithgow. Mt Piper is NSW’s youngest power station and although its current announced closure date is 2040, we have consistently seen closure timelines for power stations brought forward. 

Mr Dutton says that two of the seven nuclear plants proposed nationally could be delivered by 2037. This timeline is highly unlikely, given the raft of obstacles noted by experts and commentators. These include lack of support by site owners, state and federal nuclear bans and international experience on the length of time it takes to build nuclear power stations. On top of that, the Coalition have not told us which two would be built first. Neither of them may be in NSW at all, leaving the state hanging until the 2040s and beyond.

The need to begin securing job pathways for NSW coal power workers is urgent. Even with the two-year extension recently secured, the Eraring power station at Lake Macquarie is due to close in 2027. Bayswater power station – the sister site to Liddell – is scheduled to close in 2033. Vales Point at Lake Macquarie will also close in 2033.

This means we can’t wait until the 2040s to get new industries up and running.

If nuclear ever did become part of our energy mix in future, our union would go about organising the workforce and ensuring good pay and safe conditions.

I just don’t believe it will happen. If we could turn back the clock 15 years, there may have been a time when it made sense to pursue a long-term nuclear energy strategy. But now, trusted sources like the CSIRO say that nuclear is the most expensive form of energy and it takes too long to build. It says a lot to me that there are no investors putting their hands up wanting to invest in nuclear.

Mostly, I’m sick and tired of our members in coal fired power stations being used as political footballs to fight elections, rather than have politicians work together to come up with genuine solutions for energy security, jobs and the wellbeing of our communities.

Peter Dutton was part of a Coalition government that oversaw the closure of a succession of coal-fired power stations without lifting a finger to help those workers or support their communities. They pretended to workers staring down the barrel of closures that energy transition wasn’t happening. Now, they are pretending they can simply move into nuclear jobs, when nothing about their plan stacks up.

Workers at Eraring and Vales Point and Bayswater and Mt Piper deserve to be reassured that there’s a jobs plan for them and their communities. The imminent passage of the Net Zero Economy Authority through Federal Parliament will be an important step. We will have a federal body tasked specifically with supporting power station workers into new jobs and driving investment and economic diversification in energy communities. We can’t wait until the 2040s, this work must start now.

Robin Williams

District President MEU Northern Mining and NSW Energy

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