Politics Analysis

Peter Dutton’s recycled nuclear contamination

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(Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons)

 

Nuclear power is one hell of a way to boil water.
~ Albert Einstein

MANY AUSTRALIANS are accustomed to the Coalition’s deliberate lies and obfuscation on most issues, which is why they are no longer in power, at least for now.

The lengths to which the “friendly” media’s ongoing Right-wing public relations campaign is prepared to go in support of such obvious nonsensical blathering is, however, alarming.

In recent days, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton has been running free all over the countryside spruiking nuclear energy. Who cares?  We hear you say. Well, apparently, every mainstream media platform, since they are not only publicising his outright lies, but in many cases, promoting them as credible policy.

Despite the current political state of play in Australia, in which the Labor Party has been elected federally and in every mainland state and territory, plus his “popularity” continuing to dwindle towards complete extinction, Peter Dutton appears mired to the outdated policies of generations past.

After yet another election loss, this time in the Dunkley by-election, Dutton has sprung up on every media platform, keeping the climate denial fires burning and rambling about nuclear as if it were a new idea, rather than the stale, worn-out dance with annihilation that it actually is.

According to Pete, nuclear is: 

"...The only credible pathway we have to our international commitments to net zero by 2050.”

And proving yet again that facts never stood in the way of a good PR campaign, the Fourth Estate say: Facts be damned! We already had to (mostly) give up on climate denial so let’s give nuclear a good old-fashioned, vested-interests-funded, radioactive show of support!

This week, the usual suspects flooded our screens, radio waves and Google searches with headlines such as:

‘Nuclear will help Australia reduce emissions by 2050’Sky News

 

'Shadow Energy Minister Ted O’Brien floats 10-year timeframe to get nuclear up and running in Australia’  ~ The West Australian

And the winner of the Most Creative Bullshit Headline award, once again, goes to that much-awarded Murdoch rag...

‘There’s no rational reason for maintaining the nuclear ban’  ~ The Australian

We may currently have a Labor Government, which has canned nuclear energy, but the media barons’ collective power to keep greenhouse gases spewing, corporate donors' pockets overflowing and public minds contaminated should not be underestimated.

And so in answer to the Coalition and its nuclear-friendly media disciples, here are a few, by no means exhaustive, rational reasons to maintain Australia's nuclear ban, keep nuclear energy firmly out of the energy mix and out of everyone's backyard.

LIE #1: IT'S CHEAP

Even in the U.S., which boasts the biggest nuclear energy sector in the world, nuclear power costs have escalated. As recently as mid-2021, despite huge government subsidies, the target price for nuclear power increased by 53 per cent, to almost twice the price of utility-scale solar PV systems with battery storage.

Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen has estimated that the Coalition's nuclear plan will carry a price tag of $387 billion – 20 times more than Labor's current renewables investment fund – and would not be delivered before 2040.

Nuclear energy, then, does not appear to be cost-effective.

LIE #2: IT'S QUICK

We (thankfully) don’t have nuclear reactors in Australia and thus there is no established nuclear reactor industry in place.

Nonetheless, back in 2023, Dutton first claimed:

"New nuclear technologies can be plugged into existing grids and work immediately."

In their more recent ramblings, Dutton, his current Shadow Energy Minister Ted O’Brien and the unnamed “experts” to whom they refer claim Australia can have large nuclear reactors – magically – ready to go within ten years.

In the U.S., which boasts the largest nuclear industry in the world, it currently takes 19 years to achieve this.

Ted O’Brien’s United Arab Emirates (UAE) example is also an outright lie. According to Ted, the UAE produced a nuclear reactor from go to whoa in “ten years”. In reality, however, even with the UAE being an autocracy with a command economy, where communities are not permitted to object to reactors in their backyards, it actually took 13 years.

But what’s three extra years and a few more glow-in-the-dark communities between climate-denying friends?

Nuclear energy does not appear to be fast, either.

LIE #3: IT'S CLEAN AND GREEN

Even before we get to the radioactive leaks part of why nuclear power isn’t “clean”, there is the small matter of the Coalition's stated need to maintain coal-fired power stations until all these nuclear reactors magically emerge, which even in Dutton’s plan, requires at least ten more years, but which based on the U.S. experience, we know will take more like 20.

This is, of course, at the heart of the Coalition's nuclear push. This is the reason the Coalition gets energetic (pardon the pun) about most things. Nuclear energy generation takes a long time to develop at great cost, which would prohibit further investment in renewables and necessitate the extension of coal-fired power stations, currently set to be phased out by 2040.

According to its own Nuclear Regulatory Commission, in 2017, out of 61 operating – and self-regulating – nuclear power plant sites in the United States, 43 have had leaks or spills involving groundwater contamination above the EPA's safe drinking water threshold. 

So, nuclear energy does not appear to be "clean" or "green" or, as we indicate below, safe.

LIE #4: IT'S SAFE

There is still no answer to nuclear waste disposal or the toxic bi-products of nuclear storage. There is no safe way of "recycling" it.

There is still no answer to the “management” of radioactive leaks. 

Nuclear waste, depending on its elemental composition, takes between 290 to a few hundred billion years to decompose. High-level nuclear waste consisting of spent fuel from nuclear reactors – of the type Peter Dutton and co would like to build – accounts for most radioactive waste and needs to be safely stored for up to a million years

And then there are unplanned natural disasters, such as Fukushima.

As Dave Sweeney recently explained on IA, despite its established technical sophistication and even after 13 years, the best Japan can do with Fukushima's ongoing radioactive waste is 'pump and dump'  it into our oceans. 

LIE #5: THE LIGHTS WILL GO OUT

According to self-styled nuclear energy mastermind Ted O'Brien, if we "prematurely" shut down coal-fired energy generators and implement nuclear reactors right now, "the lights will go out".

Unsurprisingly, there is no factual basis for this claim. However, the lights may well go out if we do as his party is suggesting since natural disasters affecting nuclear reactors on a scale like Fukushima cannot be anticipated or prevented. Then there's the "slight" problem of global warming, which, if we continue to accelerate by burning fossil fuels, will, indeed, result in all the lights going out.

To sum up – rationally – we repeat, nuclear power isn’t safe, it’s not cost-effective and it certainly ain’t green, unless you count glowing in the dark.

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You can follow managing editor Michelle Pini on Twitter @vmp9. Follow Independent Australia on Twitter/X @independentaus and Facebook HERE.

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