Legislative Council: Tuesday, February 07, 2023


Nuclear Energy

In reply to the Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI (Leader of the Opposition) ().3 November 2022).

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector): The Minister for Energy and Mining has advised:

1. On 7 February 2022 The Advertiser reported that the UComms poll conducted by the SA Forestry Products Association indicated that the Hon. Geoff Brock MP was heading towards a decisive loss against the former Deputy Premier, Dan van Holst Pellekaan, in the electorate of Stuart.

In fact, the poll had Mr van Holst Pellekaan ahead 60 per cent to Labor's 40 per cent on a two-party preferred support.

Given the final outcome, I advise the member not to pay too much credence to opinion polls.

South Australia has been involved in mining radioactive ores since the 1800s and today is the only jurisdiction in Australia which mines and exports uranium. Therefore, it is understandable that an industry operating safely in the nuclear cycle over many decades in this state will deliver a positive opinion poll.

However, it is conjecture whether, as the member asserts, that this makes clear that the majority of South Australians support the serious consideration of nuclear power.

2. No.

3. The Weatherill government established the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission in March 2015 and it reported to the Governor in May 2016. The commission received more than 250 submissions, held public sessions, heard from 132 witnesses from Australia and around the world, commissioned detailed assessments over 37 sitting days and undertook fact-finding missions. The commission concluded long lead times meant it would be impossible to develop an industry before 2030.

Further, it concluded 'it would not be commercially viable to develop a nuclear power plant in South Australia beyond 2030 under current market rules'. For Australia more broadly, the commission said that beyond 2030 'nuclear power might play a useful role' if the nation has only made modest reductions in emissions and is required to eliminate carbon emissions from electricity generation by 2050. The then opposition did not offer bipartisan to the commission's findings. The state government remains agnostic about nuclear energy.

The member may be interested in the views of Dr Ziggy Switkowski, who led the 2006 Uranium Mining, Processing and Nuclear Energy Review established by then prime minister John Howard. The Switkowski review fund that nuclear power was 'a practical option for part of Australia's electricity production'.

However, the Howard government did not make legislative reforms to advance nuclear energy. Neither did the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government which spent nearly a decade without a coherent energy policy. In 2019, Dr Switkowski gave evidence to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy Inquiry into the Prerequisites for Nuclear Energy in Australia. He said one of the key questions about the issue was whether the opportunity to deploy nuclear reactors in Australia had passed because of the effect on public opinion of the Fukushima disaster and the competitive development of wind, solar and storage. He said nuclear costs were high, political risks substantial, the time lag was long at a minimum 15 years and that to his knowledge 'No coherent business case to finance an Australian nuclear industry has ever been presented'. Dr Switkowski said there 'should' be an opportunity for small modular reactors but their attributes would remain unknown until the late 2020s.