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Australia’s nuclear ban under fire as support for clean energy source grows

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By Colin Hay - 
australia nuclear ban under fire support clean energy source grows

Australia’s controversial ban on nuclear power plants is looming as a major area of debate in the upcoming 2025 federal election.

Federal energy minister Chris Bowen has fuelled the nuclear discussion with a fiery attack on calls to lift the nation’s current nuclear power ban.

At the same time, a new poll is reported to have found that the nation’s citizens are showing growing support for the use of the potential clean energy source.

“A fantasy wrapped in delusion accompanied by a pipe dream,” Minister Bowen declared on a national TV news program, declaring nuclear is not the right solution to meet the nation’s climate targets.

This is in complete contrast to the view of the federal opposition, which has declared nuclear has to be part of the nation’s energy equation going forward if Australia is to meet its CO2 reduction commitments.

New poll favours nuclear consideration

Minister Bowen’s stance also appears to fly in the face of the opinions of many Australians.

A new Sky News poll has found that four out of five Australians favour ending the moratorium on the use of nuclear power.

Asked whether “Australia should rethink its moratorium (ban) on nuclear power to give it more flexibility to choose in the future”, 49% were reportedly in favour. Just 18% were opposed, with 33% unsure.

According to Sky News, 33% of those asked if they supported the use of nuclear power in Australia said yes, 24% opposed it and 29% “did not have a strong view and [were] open to the government investigating its use”.

The remaining 13% were undecided.

Opposition party making nuclear a strong policy issue

Federal opposition leader Peter Dutton and the party’s energy spokesperson Ted O’Brien have been highly outspoken on their belief that nuclear power is critical to Australia’s zero emissions future.

Mr Dutton has described nuclear power as the “most credible” pathway to reduce emissions and highlighted the potential to replace coal-fired power stations with nuclear-fuelled options.

Mr O’Brien recently returned from the UK, where he met with nuclear energy specialists and visited power plants to gain a first-hand look at how nuclear power can help Australia meet its zero-emissions targets.

He also expressed the opposition’s belief that Australians are starting to understand the reason why the rest of the world is adopting nuclear energy.

He noted that citizens in the UK and another 31 countries that have nuclear energy believe it is the safest form of energy generation the world has ever seen, while providing base load zero-emissions energy.

“In Australia, I think the dial is moving. I think Australians are realising there’s a reason why the rest of the world adopts nuclear energy,” the shadow energy minister declared.

Next-generation technology

According to the opposition, next-generation nuclear energy technology needs to be considered as part of a balanced mix in Australia.

“It is not in and of itself the only solution. I mean, at the end of the day, if we’re fair dinkum in Australia about trying to reach net-zero, we will not get there unless we have zero-emissions nuclear energy. That’s the lesson I’ve [learned] from travelling and talking to many people in other countries,” Mr O’Brien said recently.

“Our closest allies, our closest trading partners, the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] of the United Nations, they all say the pathways to net-zero must include zero-emissions nuclear energy. And therefore my view is, in Australia, we must have this discussion.”

International bodies agree

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has long been a supporter of the clean energy opportunities nuclear power provides.

It says nuclear energy, with around 413 gigawatts of capacity operating in 32 countries, contributes to both goals by avoiding 1.5 gigatonnes of global emissions and 180 billion cubic metres of global gas demand a year.

The IEA says nuclear power accounts for about 10% of electricity generation globally, rising to almost 20% in advanced economies.

It has historically been one of the largest global contributors of carbon-free electricity and while it faces challenges in some countries, it has significant potential to contribute to power sector decarbonisation.

The agency also notes that nuclear power plants contribute to electricity security in multiple ways by keeping power grids stable and complementing decarbonisation strategies since, to a certain extent, they can adjust their output to accompany shifts in demand and supply.

As the share of variable renewables like wind and solar photovoltaics rises, it says the need for such services will increase.

Floating nuclear power option

Meanwhile, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has highlighted the potential of floating nuclear power plants (FNPPs).

The agency says interest is growing in installing small modular reactors on floating barges or platforms to provide clean electricity and heat for remote coastal locations, to decarbonise offshore oil and gas or mining activities, or even to provide grid scale electricity production, unlocking cost reductions through serial production in shipyards.

At a recent IAEA symposium on FNPPs in Vienna, legal experts, nuclear and maritime regulators and industry leaders discussed the benefits and challenges of FNPPs and exactly what role they could play in the fight against climate change and the transition to Net Zero.

According to IAEA director general Rafael Mariano Grossi, many countries are giving active consideration to FNPPs.

He pointed out that nuclear energy has already been in use for about 60 years in naval ships and the propulsion of icebreakers.

Mr Grossi told the gathering that FNPPs can be built in a factory, assembled in a shipyard and transported to a site – all of which may help to speed up construction and keep costs down. He said Canada, China, Denmark, South Korea, Russia and the USA are each working on marine small modular reactor designs.

Some are in advanced development and Russia even has one FNPP, the Akademik Lomonosov, in commercial operation in the far east of the country. The Akademik Lomonosov FNPP has been in operation, producing electricity and district heating, since 2020.

It has replaced the shut down Bilibino nuclear facility and the aging Chaunsk coal power plant.