Australian Energy Minister’s Rejection of Nuclear Power Wins Prize For Dumbest Policy Move Ever

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Apart from wrecking Australia’s reliable and affordable power supplies, there is no Plan A for energy. And there clearly isn’t a Plan B.

The Minister in charge of the current fiasco is Chris Bowen. A man who fails to exhibit any sign of intellect, let alone any indication of insight or wisdom. His maniacal mission to make the delivery of electricity so haphazard and costly starts with wind and solar generation target of 82%. No country in the world has ever got close; once wind and solar account for more than 30% of power delivered to a grid, grid reliability suffers and power prices skyrocket.

Opposition Leader, Peter Dutton recently rattled Bowen when he announced full-blown support for nuclear power. Bowen, exhibiting all the qualities for which he is renowned, called it “a dumb idea for Australia”, and proving, once and for all, that for as long as the Green/Labor Alliance are in charge of this Country, the chances of restoring reliable and affordable power are nil.

Michael de Percy explains how Australia’s energy future is being done-in by characters dimmer than a five-watt globe.

Where’s our energy Plan B, Chris Bowen?
Michael de Percy
Spectator Australia
15 May 2023

Minister for Climate Change and Energy, Chris Bowen, has released a video calling Opposition Leader Peter Dutton’s plan for nuclear energy ‘a dumb idea for Australia’. Mr Bowen’s statement is at odds with the people and also at odds with his Prime Minister’s promises – it’s hardly the stuff of ‘the government I lead will respect every one of you every day’ and ‘together we can end the climate wars’.

If nuclear is not on the table, and Australia is to achieve a target of 82 per cent renewables energy generation by 2030, then what ideas are not ‘dumb’?

At his speech at The Sydney Institute earlier this year, I asked Mr Bowen for his Plan B if his plan fails and the lights go out. He replied, ‘My Plan B is for that not to happen.’ His only plan is to rely on more transmission, batteries, pumped hydro, and green hydrogen. But he didn’t accept ‘the premise’ of the lights going out and stated that nuclear ‘won’t be happening here, not while we’re in office’.

When asked for an example of countries with high levels of renewables generation that did not have high electricity prices, Mr Bowen said he did not ‘accept the premise of the question’ and referred to the CSIRO’s report on the cost of nuclear.

Clearly, the premise is that Mr Bowen has no Plan B.

It is a scary prospect given the importance of electricity for every aspect of our existence. The demand for electricity is set to grow exponentially with the electrification of the transport and property sectors. And the ability of the infrastructure including the overbuilt grid necessary for solar and wind power to keep up with the demand for electricity is not something we should leave to ideologues.

Further, some have questioned the validity of the CSIRO’s data, and the most recent GenCost report uses figures from over four years ago to discount the efficacy of rapidly developing small modular reactor (SMR) technology. It seems it is fine to rely upon future technologies to reduce the cost of wind and solar, but somehow a proven technology won’t be able to reduce the cost.

According to the CSIRO’s Chief Energy Economist, nuclear energy is not viable in Australia amid a ‘lack of robust real-world data around small modular reactors (SMRs) due to low global use’.

It is also suggested that nuclear energy policy is likely to be ‘dominated by opinion and conflicting social values rather than a discussion on the underlying assumptions’ and that it cannot be deployed within the ‘timeframe required’.

If we look to other countries, many are rapidly returning to nuclear energy to achieve emissions targets and to reduce prices. Other OECD countries including Finland and Canada have longstanding nuclear energy generation, while KoreaSwedenFrance, and Japan (and soon, Italy) have reversed their policies to phase out nuclear energy given the rising cost of and intermittent generation of wind and solar energy.

Even Germany, after phasing out its nuclear power generators, has had to revert to coal and gas to fill the gap. Despite reaching some 46 per cent renewables energy generation, Germany is unlikely to reach its renewables generation target by 2030.

In the meantime, Germany’s electricity prices have been among the highest in the OECD.

Such ‘underlying assumptions’ leading to Germany’s renewables energy policy failure are not addressed in the CSIRO’s report.

One problem with underlying assumptions is the capital costs based on calculation of the effective lifespan of electricity generation assets.

Switzerland’s Beznau nuclear power plant began operating in 1969 and is still operational some 54 years later.

One Australian wind farm began operations in 2009. Late last year, the turbines sat idle for about six weeks, and in early January 2023 one of the blades caught on fire. The local Rural Fire Service could do nothing more than watch it burn and stop the fire spreading until it self-extinguished. The expected lifespan of wind farms is 20 years, but maintenance costs increase as equipment ages, especially if one of the blades catches fire in its fourteenth year of operation. [Note to Michael: the economic lifespan of wind turbines is 12-15 years, at best. In the US, thousands of turbines have been replaced after as little as 12 years in service.]

The expected lifespan of renewable energy plants versus nuclear plants was also called into question by Dr David Collins at an Australian Nuclear Association presentation last year.

Finally, a paper from the Energy Policy Institute of Australia provides an interesting critique of the CSIRO’s 2022 comparison of renewables (based on 2030 assumptions about renewables and older prices for SMRs).

The video tweeted by Mr Bowen has already attracted fact-checking context from Twitter.

And the Albanese government has been cautioned by respected scientist and former head of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, Dr Adi Paterson, that our current energy policy is being locked into a ‘flawed approach’.

Debate is an important part of any policy, and the contest of ideas is a cornerstone of liberal democratic practice. And being able to discuss the evidence for and against a particular approach requires much more than clever videos communicated via Twitter.

But we must also be cautious of dressing up policy-based evidence as evidence-based policy, for that would be a really dumb idea.
Spectator Australia

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