Federal Politics

License article

After Fukushima, neither side sees a nuclear future

FUKUSHIMA's tsunami aftermath has quashed consideration of nuclear power in Australia, with the government's energy white paper arguing there is no compelling economic case and insufficient community acceptance. The Coalition will not contest the conclusion when the long-awaited white paper is released on Thursday, setting policy directions for the next two decades.

The bipartisan reluctance to debate nuclear power comes despite the fact that some senior Labor and Coalition figures privately support the idea.

The Resources Minister, Martin Ferguson, has said it should remain ''a live debate''. The Foreign Affairs Minister, Bob Carr, said before he re-entered politics: ''I support nuclear power because I take global warming so very seriously. [It] should certainly play a role in Australia's future mix of energy sources.''

The deputy Liberal leader, Julie Bishop, has said it should be considered ''in the mix'' and Senator Barnaby Joyce has said: ''If we are fair-dinkum about reducing carbon emissions … then uranium is where it's going to be.''

But Labor and the Coalition are formally opposed to domestic use of nuclear power, and the Fukushima tsunami aftermath has reinforced that political judgment. The Greens are opposed to nuclear power and uranium mining.

Labor argues nuclear power is not economically necessary in Australia, since the carbon tax and the renewable energy target are already shifting power generation to renewables.


The Coalition leader, Tony Abbott, once said he believed nuclear power was the only realistic way for Australia to cut emissions, but at the last election he argued the time was not right because Australia still had abundant reserves of coal and gas. The Coalition had ''no policy to promote nuclear power''.

In fact, neither major party has advocated nuclear power since John Howard went to the 2007 election with an in-principle stance in favour and was attacked with a Labor television advertising campaign asking in which marginal seat the nuclear reactors would be built.

A review of nuclear energy for Mr Howard was conducted by Dr Ziggy Switkowski, who still believes Australia will eventually turn to nuclear power. ''Fukushima has certainly delayed a serious debate about nuclear power by quite a few years, but we are basing our hopes for low-emission baseload power on geothermal and carbon capture and storage, neither of which has proven viable, so I think we will have to have the debate eventually,'' he said.

Dr Switkowski said Fukushima appeared to have polarised public opinion about nuclear power.

The draft energy white paper said because of the time needed for plant approval and developing regulations and rules, there would be at least 10 to 15 years between a decision to go ahead with nuclear power and its development.

The paper will also discuss energy market reform, which the government will pursue at next month's meeting with premiers to prevent a repeat of recent steep rises in electricity prices due to ''over-investment'' in electricity networks.