Editorial: Sensible nuclear debate demands political courage

Editorial
The Nightly
3 Min Read
As we inch towards our 2050 net zero target Australians are willing to be convinced of the merits of nuclear.
As we inch towards our 2050 net zero target Australians are willing to be convinced of the merits of nuclear. Credit: Ulf Wittrock/Supplied

What do Australians want from their leaders: consensus or conviction?

Peter Dutton believes it’s the latter.

Speaking at Seven West Media’s Leadership Matters event on Wednesday morning, the Opposition Leader said Australians were “crying out for strong leadership”.

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“A leader of conviction, who doesn’t try to walk both sides of the street. A leader who has a calm and composed temperament, especially in a crisis and an ability to deal with the inevitability of unexpected events,” he said.

In other words, they want leaders who will lead, who make it clear where they stand but also possess the courage to make decisions that might not always be popular.

Mr Dutton’s comments come as he prepares to unveil the Coalition’s nuclear policy, which will form a key plank of its election platform. That would require overturning the ban on nuclear power which has been in place since 1998.

It is, as Mr Dutton acknowledged, a vexed issue.

To the generations who remember the 1986 Chernobyl disaster and the Three Mile Island reactor meltdown in the US, nuclear remains a scary word. The 2011 Fukushima disaster brought the issue to the minds of a new generation.

And there are issues with cost. In its most recent GenCost report, the CSIRO estimates power generated by small modular reactors would cost $509 per megawatt hour, decreasing to $282 in 2030. That’s in comparison to $112 for wind and solar power, dropping to $82 in 2030.

But forecasts about cost shouldn’t be a barrier to lifting the nuclear ban. Let the market sort it out. If there is truly no way to make nuclear a cost-effective source of power, then the market won’t engage.

As we inch towards our 2050 net zero target Australians are willing to be convinced of the merits of nuclear. But first, they will need to be assured of the technology’s safety and suitability.

There are experts who believe we can make it work. Other nations, including Canada and the US, are including nuclear technology in their energy mixes.

And the ideologically-motivated opposition to nuclear power, born out of the anti-nuclear movement of the 1970s is waning.

Newspoll last month found 55 per cent of those surveyed were in favour of using small modular reactors as a replacement technology for coal-fired power.

And it was environmentally conscious millennials and generation Zs who were most likely to support nuclear-generated power, with 65 per cent of 18-34-year-olds saying they’d back the idea.

As we inch towards our 2050 net zero target Australians are willing to be convinced of the merits of nuclear. But first, they will need to be assured of the technology’s safety and suitability. Mr Dutton said it was a conversation we shouldn’t shy away from.

“I believe the public wants leaders in our country, particularly as prime minister, who can make tough decisions that may not be popular,” he said.

“As John Howard demonstrated… if you stand up and argue your values, what you believe and why you believe it is in our country’s best interest, you can bring the public with you.”

Conviction, to help bring about consensus.

Responsibility for the Editorial comment is taken by Editor-in-Chief Anthony De Ceglie.

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