Don't be shy
We at the Politically Homeless Institute warned against inserting Josh Frydenberg into key national debates. Quarantining him at The Australian was a smart move but insufficient. In this piece he's going on about nuclear power.
our Prime Minister ... needs to take the lead and initiate a comprehensive discussion about nuclear power, which happens to be the only carbon-neutral baseload energy source.
The debate on nuclear energy doesn't have to be initiated by a Prime Minister. For proponents of nuclear energy it would be best if such a debate weren't so PM-dependent, given their record of not opposing nuclear power but quietly letting it die. For example, John Howard commissioned the Switkowski Report and was happy to let the issue die; Josh Frydenberg, then a senior adviser to that government, didn't exactly die in a ditch for the Switkowski Report and is failing in an attempt to look like an Ideas Man in pursuit of one of the most stale ideas in Australian politics.
The proponents of nuclear power have not been muzzled or ignored, but they have been unconvincing:
- Nuclear power would require a greater government subsidy than those paid to all other renewable energy sources put together.
- It would deny investment in other clean energy sources, effectively having government pick a winner in a fascinating race.
- Nuclear power would be much more expensive than the NBN: would it be snarky to point out that no cost-benefit analysis has been done for nuclear power?
None of these questions are addressed in Frydenberg's piece, let alone answered. He starts off weakly:
So, why is it time for Australia to have the nuclear debate? And why is it, in the words of former prime minister Bob Hawke, "intellectually unsustainable to rule it out as a possibility"?
Hawke says the same thing about the republic, changing the flag and reconciliation with Aborigines, Josh: are you going to go all the way with RJLH on those issues, too? Did you note that Hawke was Prime Minister for over seven years, and that no more nuclear reactors were built during his time than under Howard?
As a leading source of uranium, Australia has a competitive advantage;
Australia is a leading source of coal, yet power generators still play global prices for it.
as a clean form of energy, nuclear power is better for the environment;
By the time Australia's first nuclear power station generates its first power, decades will have passed (Switkowski's 2020 prediction is optimistic and vague), and will have drawn resources away from less expensive and practical solutions that can better help the environment.
and as the only advanced economy not embracing it as the answer, it is time we caught up.
No economy regards nuclear power as "the answer". Other advanced economies regard nuclear power as one element of their power needs.
The facts are compelling.
Such a pity that you use so few of them, Josh.
Australia is in a curious moral, economic and environmental position where we are prepared to export uranium, but not use it.
Australia is one of the world's largest exporters of camels and goat meat. I bought some goat meat once - more often than most Australians - and have never bought even one camel. This does not make for any sort of "curious position", it's basic economics that we trade away some things in order to gain others.
Today, 31 countries host 440 nuclear reactors, providing two-thirds of the world's people with electricity.
It's a dead-set lie that two-thirds of the world's people consume electricity generated by nuclear power. It's like claiming that Josh Frydenberg was a Director of Deutsche Bank, it is a falsehood and any cause championed by a falsehood is discredited.
The European Union generates more than 30 per cent of its energy from nuclear power. The US figure is 20 per cent and rising.
Neither of their economies are what they were, Josh. Paying too much for electricity could be part of it.
Only in Australia does entrenched ideological opposition prevail.
There are Australians who have entrenched ideological positions for and against nuclear power. Most of us, however, are unmoved by either side. If a small number of proponents think their main problem is a small number of opponents, they can think again: their major problem is apathy and suspicion brought about by a lack of candour from proponents who can't and won't talk about costs and risks. Frydenberg's piece displays all these tricks, as I'm in the process of pointing out, and thus fails to advance the debate.
It is a message the International Energy Agency's executive director Nobuo Tanaka recently carried to Canberra: "If you don't use nuclear, totally renewable energy is very, very expensive, and also it is fragile in terms of its productivity."
Fine, you can build us a nuclear power station then, we don't have the money.
Seriously, let's get down to brass tacks: would there be a nuclear power station in what is now Australia's third-biggest city? Where exactly within SEQ would you put it? What would happen if there was a "rain event" like 2011 or 1974? What would happen to a nuclear reactor in a "fire event" like Victoria 2009? Can you promise that a nuclear future won't feature fire and rain on that scale?
The pre-eminent voice in the Australian debate, Ziggy Switkowski, chairman of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, believes Australia can have its first reactor operating by 2020 and 50 in place by 2050, providing 90 per cent of the nation's energy needs.
Such a move would propel us a long way towards meeting our emissions targets by 2050.
Developments in reactor technology are also occurring so fast that the construction phase is likely to shrink from 60 to 30 months in coming years.
New generation reactors will also be considerably smaller, built underground, and with the potential to be gas cooled, so they would not need to be located close to large sources of water.
None of those projections have any credibility at all. The next ten years is the crucial period for carbon emissions, and the rest is sheer fantasy. Australians are a practical people and will not build underground reactors on spec - leave that to Bond villains, Josh.
Incidentally, Australian companies like Worley Parsons are involved in the construction of new reactors as in Egypt, where they are gaining an international reputation for their project management expertise.
Well, three cheers for Worley Parsons. It will take more than that to build a nuclear energy industry here: with almost full employment and a dearth of training facilities, where are the skilled workers and managers necessary to operate such an industry to come from? How much will it cost?
Today's reactors are also significantly safer than their predecessors. The explosions at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island were decades ago and since then there have been thousands of reactor hours without incident.
Blithe nonsense like that gives no confidence that the lessons from those terrible accidents have been learned. European economists have attempted to quantify the economic damage arising from Chernobyl - hunt down this work Josh and crunch it into your cost-benefit analysis.
A comprehensive and informed debate about a nuclear power industry for Australia is long overdue.
It sure is, but it's a shame that Josh won't contribute to it with piffle like this.
Old lines, long discredited, can't be made new by rehashing them or doing the pot-kettle routine on ideological blinkers. Be honest about costs and risks. Be specific: I've suggested that a nuclear power station be built in SA (specifically Woomera or Whyalla) to showcase the uranium resources of that state and to provide employment for workers in that state's fading industries.
Josh can't advance a debate by pretending his opponents are any more shy or blinkered than those of his political forebears - Menzies, Howard amongst them. It would be a real pity for Josh to be regarded as a thinker and a potential minister on the basis of this.