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Britain’s top union boss Gary Smith says Australia should embrace nuclear energy for the good of the climate

Latika M Bourke
The Nightly
New survey finds 41% support nuclear and 37% oppose it.

One of Britain’s leading union bosses has urged his sister party in Australia to embrace nuclear energy, saying it is good for the climate and national security.

In an exclusive interview with The Nightly, GMB Union’s Gary Smith said unions were fighting hard for even more government investment in nuclear energy because it was good for global security, climate change and decent homegrown jobs.

“It’s a national security issue, it’s good for jobs, it’s good for national security, good for national security independence,” he said, speaking in the Brexit-voting Red Wall seat of Newcastle-under-Lyme that Labour won back from the Conservatives in last week’s general election.

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Asked if Australian Labor should reconsider its ban on nuclear, Mr Smith said if you were going to have a steady supply of electricity, you had to either do that by producing coal, gas or nuclear.

“If you want a clean, base-mode electricity nuclear is the way to go, absolutely,” he said.

“If you want clean, safe energy that’s low carbon, the only way to produce as base-load electricity is nuclear.”

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and his Government have rubbished nuclear energy, arguing it is too expensive.

There are 32 countries that use nuclear energy including Australia’s AUKUS allies, the United States and the United Kingdom – both of which are also governed by left-wing leaders.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton has said if the Coalition was elected, he would override state bans on nuclear energy and has proposed seven sites for nuclear reactors around Australia subject to community consent.

Mr Smith said the transition to renewables had so far only supported jobs in China and Asia.

“Working class communities have been left abandoned as we produce the renewables infrastructure in China, Indonesia – anywhere but the UK – and they burn coal to produce it and then they cart it over in diesel-burning barges,” he said.

“This is madness.”

Prime Minister Keir Starmer said he wants to use Labour’s historic win to make the UK an energy superpower to lower bills for consumers.

One of his Government’s first actions has been to raise the ban imposed on offshore wind farms that was imposed by the former Conservative government.

In its manifesto, Labour has committed to extending the lifetime of existing plants, ensuring the construction of a long-delayed new major reactor called Hinkley Point C as well as a new one called Sizewell C.

Further, its manifesto backs small modular reactors, which have been dismissed by the Albanese Government, as “important role in helping the UK achieve energy security and clean power while securing thousands of good, skilled jobs.”

SMRs as they are commonly called are still in the development stage.

British company Rolls-Royce’s design would be roughly one-tenth the size of an existing reactor or around two soccer pitches.

Rolls-Royce claims it would produce the same amount of power generated by 150 onshore wind turbines, enough to supply one million homes.

Mr Smith said his union had fought hard to commit to new nuclear reactors included in the manifesto.

Neil Coyle, a Labour MP, said nuclear was a no-brainer given AUKUS, whereby Australia was obtaining nuclear-propelled submarines.

“AUKUS also shows how we can work together as allies and partners on nuclear more widely,” he said.

“The UK has shown that nuclear energy is safe and delivers green UK jobs and crucial to hitting our carbon targets,” he said.

“We are now more clearly finally saying ‘more nuclear in the future’ and Australia could benefit from growing its own zero-emissions sovereign energy sector.”

Rolls-Royce’s SMR division has previously urged Australia to consider nuclear saying the technology in a small modular reactor was the same as that required to propel the attack submarines Australia wants to acquire.

Rolls-Royce SMR has received both private and government funding to accelerate the design of its mini-reactors with the goal of producing the first one by 2030.

Already it has received interest from Sweden and Poland.

Australia’s Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation has said that SMRs were still in their infancy and were a “relatively untested concept.”

“Any estimate about cost or time to construct, whether optimistic or pessimistic, should be considered with a high degree of uncertainty,” ANSTO said in April.

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