Nuclear Energy

Last year I, along with Keith Pitt, the member for Hinkler and now the newly minted Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia, called for a conversation on nuclear energy. I didn't understand why Australia, a politically and geologically stable country, is the only G20 country to prohibit nuclear energy. I didn't understand why Australia, with the world's largest reserves of uranium, the resource used to power nuclear reactors for energy production, was happy to export uranium but not use it. The best way to have that conversation, Keith and I thought, was to establish a parliamentary inquiry into the prerequisites for nuclear energy in Australia.

After writing to the Prime Minister, and following a referral from the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy resolved to conduct an inquiry. As part of this inquiry, the committee received over 300 submissions and held hearings around the country—in Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney—taking evidence from a range of stakeholders. In December the committee, chaired by my Sunshine Coast colleague the member for Fairfax, Ted O'Brien, presented its report.

The committee made three recommendations: first, that the federal government consider the prospect of nuclear technology as part of its future energy mix; secondly, that the federal government undertake a body of work to progress the understanding of nuclear technology in the Australian context; and, thirdly, that the federal government consider lifting the current moratorium on nuclear energy partially—that is, for new and emerging nuclear technologies only and conditionally, subject to the results of a technology assessment and a commitment to community consent for approving nuclear facilities.

To me these recommendations make sense. We should consider the prospect of nuclear energy as part of our energy mix. We should take the necessary steps to understand the industry and the role it plays around the world. We should look at why reactors are expected to be connected in South Korea, Belarus, Russia, Finland, the United Arab Emirates, India, Slovakia and Argentina by 2022. We should look at why production is already progressing in Turkey, Abu Dhabi and Bangladesh, with a further 25 countries considering, planning or progressing programs. We should consider the incredible advances in nuclear technology, including reactors and fuels, to improve safety and reduce waste. We should look at why the standing UN panel on climate change says nuclear energy should be part of national plans to slash emissions. We should consider the financial implications or benefits a nuclear industry will have for Australia. Sadly, a bunch of politicians, mainly from Labor and the Greens—a bunch of specialists who know nothing about everything and, especially, know nothing about energy—want to run a scare campaign. They want you to believe there will be a nuclear reactor in your backyard, that seafood shops will be full of three-eyed fish and that you'll end up looking like ET with a three-day hangover. It is rubbish.

Australians are smarter than that. They are sick of being told no when the rest of the world is saying yes. They want lower electricity prices and more competition in the market. They want reliable power. They want to know that, when they turn that switch on, the light will come on, the kettle will boil, and they will be cool in summer and warm in winter.

They do want to reduce greenhouse emissions, and nuclear energy does that. It already provides around 10 per cent of the world's electricity demand with zero emissions. This committee's report should not be thrown on some shelf in some office in some wing of some building in Canberra or fed to some hungry shredder; it should be read, considered and actioned. I know this will be a long fight, but the best way for us to have reliable, cheap and environmentally friendly energy in Australia is with a mix of coal, gas, renewable and nuclear.