Rural Australians push back on coalition’s nuclear plan

Stephanie Gardiner and William Ton |

The site of the NSW Liddell power station has been earmarked by the coalition for a nuclear plant
The site of the NSW Liddell power station has been earmarked by the coalition for a nuclear plant

The coalition is facing a battle with country Australians over its plan to build nuclear power plants in the regions, as many say they won’t accept the risk or wait a decade for change.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton has announced his long-awaited energy strategy, including proposed nuclear plants at coal power stations that have closed or are winding down.

Loy Yang Power Station in Victoria’s Gippsland region, Callide and Tarong in Queensland, Port Augusta in South Australia, Collie in Western Australia, and Mount Piper and Liddell in NSW have all been earmarked.

Loy Yang Power Station
Loy Yang Power Station in Victoria’s Gippsland region could host a nuclear site under the coalition. (Julian Smith/AAP PHOTOS)

The coalition’s energy statement said the locations had key advantages, including transmission lines, infrastructure and workers.

“That is, we can use the existing poles and wires, along with a local community which has a skilled workforce,” the statement released on Wednesday said.

Australian homes could be powered by nuclear energy by 2035 at the earliest, according to the proposal.

Gladstone, the closest major centre to Callide, is already transforming into a renewable energy hub, with several large-scale wind, solar and green hydrogen projects across the region.

“Our community is the industrial powerhouse of the nation, we’re getting on with the job of transitioning our economy from fossil fuels to renewable energy,” Gladstone Region councillor Kahn Goodluck said in a statement.

“We don’t need or want expensive, radioactive, nuclear energy here.

“Australia’s energy future isn’t radioactive.”

Image of plan for big battery at Liddell site
A big battery will be built by AGL on the site of the former NSW Liddell coal power station. (HANDOUT/AGL)

Locals are already grappling with emotional debate about the environmental impact of renewables, like the destruction of vegetation, Gladstone Conservation Council co-ordinator Anna Hitchcock said.

“We’re getting very frustrated in the regions, in that we’re being told we need to make sacrifices,” Ms Hitchcock told AAP.

“I don’t believe we should sacrifice the last of our intact eco-systems to keep the lights on in the city.”

Victoria’s Latrobe City Council said it recognised diverse energy sources were essential, but the community needed to be consulted on social, economic and environmental factors.

Wendy Farmer, president of Voices of the Valley community group, said there were already several renewable projects on the cards and locals would not accept the risk of a nuclear reactor.

“The coalition are just muddying the ground,” Ms Farmer told AAP.

“It is just not an option: we can’t wait that long … for energy and we need to get on with what we’re doing now.

“Why confuse the energy market?”

AGL plans to repurpose its Liddell site in the Hunter region into an industrial renewable energy hub, including a 500-megawatt battery.

Mount Piper Power station, which employs 250 workers in the Lithgow region, is due to close in 2040.

Lithgow mayor Maree Statham said many locals welcomed job security, but the town has long-standing anti-nuclear stance.

“If there’s a change, we’ll have to reassess that at some point no doubt,” Ms Statham said.