States power up to shut down nuclear ambitions

Kat Wong |

The battle for nuclear power could play out in court as state leaders revolt against the federal opposition’s energy policy.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton on Wednesday vowed to build seven nuclear power plants in five states if the coalition win the federal election.

But three of those states have bans on nuclear power and Victoria Energy Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said she would take the issue to court if the Commonwealth tried to force her hand.

Energy Minister Lily D'Ambrosio.
Energy Minister Lily D’Ambrosio says Victoria will fight any nuclear moves. (James Ross/AAP PHOTOS)

“We have very clear laws in Victoria that date back to 1983; we will not change those,” she told reporters on Thursday.

“We will take every step necessary and if that includes legal steps, we’ll do that to stop Peter Dutton’s fantasy of dumping nuclear energy and nuclear waste in Victoria.”

The sites nominated for nuclear plants include Loy Yang Power Station in Victoria, Callide and Tarong in Queensland, Mount Piper at Lithgow in central west NSW and Liddell in NSW’s Hunter region.

Small, modular reactors would also be built at Northern Power Station in Port Augusta and at Muja Power Station, southeast of Perth.

But NSW Premier Chris Minns maintained he would not lift the state’s ban either.

NSW Premier Chris Minns.
Premier Chris Minns does not intend to lift the nuclear ban in NSW. (Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS)

“If any prospective Commonwealth government was to come in and say ‘we’re going to knock over local community concerns and pursue nuclear power in the face of objections from every level of government’, I think it’s bold and I think it’s pretty disrespectful,” he told reporters.

Leaders of both major parties in Queensland are also against nuclear, with Premier Steven Miles threatening to launch his own battle as well.

“We will use the fact that we own these sites and the transmission networks to stop the (federal opposition’s) plans to build nuclear reactors,” he told ABC.

But University of Sydney’s constitutional law expert Anne Twomey says there are ways the Commonwealth could get around the states’ objections.

“Co-operation is always helpful,” she told ABC radio.

“(But) even when states are ideologically opposed to things, the Commonwealth can frequently persuade them to be helpful because they know that, legally, they’re not going to win.”

In Victoria’s case, the federal opposition would likely lure them in with promises of money, Prof Twomey said.

Failing that, it could take the “nuclear option” and compulsorily acquire the land needed.

South Australia’s leader, Peter Malinauskas, said he was not worried about the safety of nuclear power, given nuclear-powered submarines would be built in his state.

But costs remain a source of concern.

“If nuclear power was going to make the energy bills of Australians cheaper, then I would support it, but we know it’s not,” Mr Malinauskas told Sky.

Even Tasmania’s Resources Minister Eric Abetz, a member of Australia’s only Liberal state government, said his state would remain a “renewable energy powerhouse”.

“Mr Dutton has put forward a proposal and that is for those on the mainland to consider,” he said.