Coalition commits to nuclear despite damning report

Andrew Brown and Marion Rae |

For the first time, the price of nuclear power plants has been considered in power generation costs.
For the first time, the price of nuclear power plants has been considered in power generation costs.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton has doubled down on plans to implement nuclear power in Australia, despite an independent report showing it would be significantly more expensive than renewables.

Updated economic modelling released on Wednesday found renewable energy, including costs associated with transmission and big batteries to support it, remains the cheapest new-build technology.

Prepared by the CSIRO and Australian Energy Market Operator, the latest edition of the benchmark GenCost report found the cost of building a large-scale nuclear power plant would be at least $8.5 billion.

It comes as the coalition vows to add nuclear power to the nation’s energy grid but without revealing the locations of possible sites.

A wind turbine
Renewable energy remains the lowest-cost, new-build technology. (Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS)

Mr Dutton remains adamant it belongs in the mix.

“If you look at the top 20 economies in the world, Australia is the only economy that hasn’t adopted nuclear power or signed up to it,” he told reporters in Perth.

“There are no issues around disposal because the government, under the AUKUS deal, has signed up to dispose of the waste.

“You won’t have, frankly, any industry left in this country, if they’re relying on solar and wind because it’s intermittent.”

The report found electricity generated from renewables would cost between $73 and $128 per megawatt hour.

It would cost $141 to $233 per megawatt hour for large-scale nuclear reactors and $230 to $382 per megawatt hour for small modular reactors.

It could take until 2040 at the earliest to build a single plant, as nuclear power has extra safety and security hurdles, no investors circling and laws banning it would need to be repealed, the report said.

Energy Minister Chris Bowen said the coalition backing nuclear plans was nothing more than a risky diversion, saying the report laid out evidence as to why it should be abandoned.

“If they needed any more evidence, then they have it today. They should drop this silly policy,” he said.

“I’m opposed to it in Australia because it’s risky for Australia’s energy reliability. It would mean keeping our coal-fired power stations in the grid for longer.”

Solar panels are seen at solar farm
Nuclear energy in Australia would be 50 per cent more expensive than wind or solar. (Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS)

GenCost also warned of a massive “first of a kind” premium when starting from scratch to build a reactor, which would likely double the cost of going nuclear.

Further, large-scale nuclear units are typically 1000 to 1400 megawatts, which means the wider network would have to build in a large reserve to cover any outages – at a time when there are no coal plants in operation.

But, in theory, so long as that reserve is built there would be no technical barriers for nuclear reactors in Australia, the report found.

CSIRO’s chief energy economist and GenCost lead author Paul Graham said the modelling provided a “logical, transparent and policy-neutral” method of costing nuclear’s potential deployment in Australia.

But the costs estimated in the report can only be achieved if Australia commits to a continuous nuclear building program, he warned.

Shadow treasurer Angus Taylor said nuclear power should not be subsidised and any industry in Australia should stand on its own.

But Greens leader Adam Bandt said talk of nuclear power was merely a distraction.

“It stops Labor and the Liberals talking about their shared desire to keep opening up more coal and gas mines,” he said.