Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (16:05:42):
I must say, it has been a very energetic day in here, so it is always nice to talk about energy. I rise to speak on Mr Limbrick’s motion that requires the Environment and Planning Committee to inquire into the potential benefits of removing prohibitions from the Nuclear Activities (Prohibitions) Act 1983.
I have had many conversations with Mr Limbrick and Mr Quilty about this on the back terrace. We have talked about nuclear energy over wine—and they have been interesting conversations—but I cannot say, by any means, that they have convinced me. The benefits of wine on the terrace I am completely convinced of, but the benefits of nuclear energy in the 21st century and in 2019 I am not convinced.
However, I enjoy the conversations about it, and I enjoy the conversations around the academics of it, the policies of it and the science of it. In reading a little bit more about this, and Mr Limbrick and Mr Quilty certainly have piqued my interest, I feel like the nuclear power ship—well, we never made one; we only made submarines—that sailed away some years ago.
Now, if Australia is going to have nuclear as part of its energy mix, I feel that it needed to have addressed that probably in the 1960s or in the 1970s. The community support is not there for it. There is a lot of conversation out there, and I think people are opening up and saying, ‘All right, our energy needs are changing, our energy technology is changing’.
When talking about the notions of base load, of being able to support our growing population, I honestly have not noticed in the conversations the gasp that you normally used to get when you mentioned nuclear power. The more I read about it, the more I was surprised that the Liberal Democratic Party was supporting it. Look, let the markets decide, and I think that is the thing—the market has decided. It is not commercially viable.
In fact I was reading a report from Germany. The think tank DIW investigated every single nuclear power plant that had been built since 1951, and they said not a single one of them had not been heavily subsidised by government. So if we do not want subsidised energy—and I am not certain that that is what my good colleagues here do want—then nuclear is not a viable option.
They looked and found that the average nuclear power plant would have an actual value of minus—that is minus—nearly A$7 billion. I am hoping that we will hear from Dr Kieu today because he may know more than me—in fact I know he knows more than me—but in looking at this, much of the commentary and many of the articles that I read about this were saying that nuclear power was never, ever invented or developed to be a commercial electricity supply. It was never designed for that.
It was always designed as something to be used for military purposes. Basically they were saying that it is not economical. And then, at the end of 2018, so just last year, the CSIRO brought out their energy report, and they found that in Australian terms nuclear energy was one of the most expensive forms of energy there is. It concluded that nuclear was at least five times the cost of wind and solar and three times the cost of wind and solar plus storage, so in their mind not really a credible alternative.
Even Ziggy Switkowski felt that if we wanted to do nuclear we needed to have done it quite some time ago. I accept that we have seen changes in the technology of nuclear and we have seen the evolvement and the development of much smaller plants that will run in quite a different way. Of course none of those have actually been built yet anywhere.
However, even Dr Switkowski, who led the nuclear power review in 2006, said that we would need 25 reactors to supply one-third of the nation’s electricity supply by 2050—25 reactors. Even if—and I do not think I am allowed to by the standing orders—we did a show of hands on who would like a nuclear generator near their place, I do not know that we would get 25 hands up here.
Even just recently Dr Switkowski was being interviewed about this, and I would have to say that he is an expert on nuclear and it is his background. He said that smaller reactors are still being developed and that the US, China, Russia and India are considering them.
They can be stored underground and they can be cooled by gas rather than water. But to have to go through the negotiation of finding a community that will take it and to then go through what would probably be two or three electoral cycles, I am not convinced that the road ahead for nuclear is anything but impossible without bipartisan support, and I am not sure that we have got that yet.
However, I agree with some of Mr Limbrick’s and Mr Quilty’s position—the Liberal Democrats’ position—around uranium exploration, and a lot of that is also restricted by this prohibition. I note that the federal government has launched a nuclear energy parliamentary inquiry now.
But at the end of my thought process on this and my considerations on this, I do not believe that nuclear energy will be the way forward for Australia and will be the way forward in the rapidly changing technologies that we have on energy storage and on a whole range of renewable energies.
However, I am willing to have the conversation. I am willing to see where this falls out. I do think that there is interest in the community. I do not think it is large, and I think there is interest in the community ‘as long as it’s not near me’. I am not sure that the technology for smaller plants is available.
I would say that actually when I went and spoke to the Minerals Council of Australia about this—and I did speak to a number of organisations—they feel it is just around the corner. I am not necessarily convinced it is just around the corner. But as I say, I am willing to support this motion on the grounds that I think we should have this conversation.
Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Environment and Planing Committee reference 14/8/19