analysis

Peter Dutton says Australia is ready for nuclear energy but would you have it near your home?

Headshot of Sarah Blake
Sarah Blake
The Nightly
3 Min Read
Peter Dutton has promised to unveil which postcodes will be hit ahead of the election.
Peter Dutton has promised to unveil which postcodes will be hit ahead of the election. Credit: Olivia Desianti

Not so long ago it would have seemed inconceivable that Australians would be looking down the barrel of a Federal election being partially fought on the ins and outs of nuclear reactors in the ‘burbs.

But a cost of living crisis, new technology and a generational shift in attitudes has seen many Australian voters, attracted in particular by nuclear’s renewables credentials, embrace a notion that was considered electoral cyanide in previous years.

And Peter Dutton is counting on it, with the Opposition Leader telling Sunrise on Tuesday morning that the Coalition’s energy policy will feature a mix of large and small nuclear reactors across Australia.

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Of course, the Coalition is fully aware that any theoretical conversation about nuclear power quickly becomes real and potentially toxic when it’s being set up in your hometown.

Mr Dutton promised to unveil which postcodes will be hit ahead of the election, which is expected to occur within the year, but gave some hint on Sunrise, saying their establishment could be tied to existing infrastructure.

“We will be releasing detail shortly in relation to our plan, but… if there’s a retiring coal asset, so if there’s a coal fire generator that’s already got an existing distribution network, the wires and poles there to distribute the energy across the network to homes and businesses, that’s what we’re interested in,” he told Sunrise.

“There’s the ability to distribute through the existing network. That is smarter play.”

Mr Dutton will take his nuclear policy to shadow cabinet and the party room before May’s budget, according to The Australian.

Several recent opinion polls have shown growing support for a conversation about lifting Australia’s nuclear ban.

Resolve polling from October showed 53 per cent of voters supported a national vote on nuclear power, against just 17 per cent opposed, and while this support mainly came from Coalition voters (58 per cent), half of Labor voters and 42 per cent of Greens supporters also wanted a vote.

And two weeks ago Newspoll found a majority of voters and two-thirds of young voters supported replacing coal-fired power plants with small modular nuclear reactors.

The Coalition’s energy policy will feature a mix of large and small nuclear reactors across Australia.
The Coalition’s energy policy will feature a mix of large and small nuclear reactors across Australia. Credit: Ulf Wittrock/stock.adobe.com

The Federal Government has so far been dismissive of the Opposition’s nuclear ambitions, saying Australia’s renewable energy should come from wind, solar and green hydrogen, the cost of which is prohibitive and that scalable technology doesn’t exist yet.

“This is just an excuse for inaction on cheaper and cleaner energy,” Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said on Monday.

“It’s a distraction,” he said of the debate.

For Mr Dutton, countering Labor’s full-scale NIMBY-geared assault on its plans to roll-out nuclear infrastructure in a country where it’s currently banned will be his biggest challenge.

But the Opposition leader is quietly confident that the generation that was raised on The Simpsons — rather than memories of the disasters at Chernobyl or Three Mile Island — will jump onboard quicker than their elders.

“Nuclear has been spoken about back to Bob Hawke’s day,” he said on Sunrise.

“Bob Hawke was strongly in favour of nuclear as is John Howard and most analysts now look at what’s happening in other countries and the small modular reactors, for example, is a new technology, doesn’t resemble anything that you have seen in the past.

“It’s like comparing a motor vehicle you are driving off the showroom floor today in 2024 compared to something in 1954. The technology is unbelievable compared to what it was 50 or 70 years ago.”

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