Behind every dramatic interpretation of a nuclear disaster or depiction of incompetence in nuclear energy and uranium mining is a litany of real-life incidents that has created an enduring global movement against nuclear power. There have been more than 200 recorded nuclear accidents and events worldwide and with nuclear power plants vulnerable to threats exacerbated by climate change, similar incidents are a very real possibility. Climate-related shutdowns have been reported in France, Germany, California and Texas, leading the now-retired nuclear engineer David Lochbaum to state: “You need to solve global warming for nuclear plants to survive.”
Ahead of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, more than 300 organizations from 40 countries signed a joint declaration against nuclear power. Among them were 49 separate bodies from Australia, including unions, faith groups, environment and conservation bodies, Indigenous groups and health sector organizations representing millions of Australians.
Nuclear has consistently proven deeply unpopular, ruinously expensive and too slow to implement to provide a serious solution to energy and decarbonisation needs.
By the time the legislation has passed, facilities have been built and workforces trained, 30 to 40 years will have passed along with the window of opportunity to prevent irreversible climate damage. Professor John Quiggin, an Australian laureate fellow in economics at the University of Queensland, has said the idea of producing nuclear power in Australia before 2040 is absurd.
The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency told a 2019 Senate inquiry into nuclear power that “Australia could not take much less than 15 years from the time a decision is taken to move in this direction; it is not unlikely that it would take longer.”
Even if it were possible to implement nuclear faster, the costs involved in delivering the energy into Australian homes and businesses would be utterly impractical, given the alternatives. In 2016, the South Australian Royal Commission into the Nuclear Fuel Cycle found “it would not be commercially viable to develop a nuclear power plant in South Australia beyond 2030.” In 2019, the Senate inquiry acknowledged “Over the past decade, levelised cost estimates for utility-scale solar dropped by 88 per cent, wind by 69 per cent, while nuclear increased by 23 per cent.”
Only this week, the new federal Minister for Energy Chris Bowen told the media that nuclear power is “the most expensive form of energy” – especially so given the current cost of living crisis.
Furthermore, every review into nuclear over the past two decades has acknowledged there is no bipartisan support for nuclear and strong public opposition. Doctor Ziggy Switkowski made this clear in his comments from him to the 2019 Senate inquiry, saying “there is no social license at this time.”