House of Assembly: Wednesday, April 10, 2024


Nuclear Energy

The Hon. D.J. SPEIRS (Black—Leader of the Opposition) (14:12): My question is again to the Premier. Does the Premier stand by his comments on 5 December 2022 relating to nuclear energy? With your leave, sir, and that of the house, I will explain.

Leave granted.

The Hon. D.J. SPEIRS: On 5 December 2022, the Australian Financial Review reported that the Premier has said that, and I quote:

…the ideological opposition that exists in some quarters to nuclear power is ill-founded.

The Hon. P.B. MALINAUSKAS (Croydon—Premier) (14:13): I absolutely stand by my remarks in regards to the nuclear industry. I have been on the record, indeed long before I was fortunate enough to become a member of the state parliament, that I believe the nuclear energy sector that is for civil purposes is absolutely central to being able to achieve decarbonisation globally. That has always been my view, and remains so today. In fact, I hope that we see in appropriate countries, where all the necessary safeguards are in place, nuclear power on occasion expand its operations because that of course generates demand for uranium, which we mine here in South Australia.

There has recently been a significant spike in the uranium price which is actually quite important to the economics of the work that we are doing with BHP to be able to realise greater operations at Olympic Dam, particularly because we want to see more copper being mined in South Australia and being beneficiated in South Australia, which is particularly important to global decarbonisation as well.

Of course—and this is where some people struggle with a degree of nuance—my support for a global civil nuclear energy industry does not translate to my support for South Australia having nuclear power, and not because I have an opposition to nuclear power. In fact I reject those who have an opposition to nuclear power on the basis of some sort of ideology. Nuclear power is safe and, where it is done properly, it is clean and it results in zero carbon emissions. But what we also have to be conscious of, particularly here in Australia, is what the economics of nuclear power looks like versus other parts of the world. Of course, it is fundamentally different and that is particularly true in our state.

Nuclear power for civil purposes in almost every context has a huge capital investment that is required to see its construction. The most recent examples in both the UK and also most recently in Georgia have seen nuclear power stations constructed that have blown out in costs. In fact, I think the Georgia power station resulted in an over $US30 billion investment for a power station not particularly large in size. Now, where nuclear power is sustainable is where there are very high volumes of industrial demand 24/7 to sustain the capital or to pay down the capital costs associated with nuclear power.

Here in South Australia we have a very different energy market and our demand profile is fundamentally different, particularly considering that we have a penetration of renewable energy in South Australia that now equates to over 70 per cent of our market. It would simply not be sustainable in the context of the current prices to build a nuclear power station for the economics to stack up in South Australia.

Now, other proponents who want to seek to ignore the capital cost will say, 'How about SMRs?' SMRs, of course, are an evolving technology but not a technology that is being deployed anywhere in the world for civil, commercial power uses, and if there is an example to the contrary, then I am more than happy for those to point it out. But we will not support a form of power in South Australia that will make power prices more expensive in our context.