Labor will pressure the government over its “flirtation” with nuclear energy by releasing parliamentary library research that shows almost 150 sites across the country have been proposed for reactors or dumps in the past 50 years.
Calling on the prime minister, Scott Morrison, to either rule out nuclear or reveal where reactors would be located, Labor’s shadow energy minister, Mark Butler, said the government should instead direct its efforts to developing a “coherent energy policy”.
“Instead of indulging the policy fantasies of his restive backbench, Mr Morrison should reject the nuclear option or be upfront with Australians about exactly where he wants to build nuclear reactors,” Butler said. “Mr Morrison should forget nuclear energy and focus instead on practical ways of dealing with his government’s energy crisis.”
The list of locations that have been considered for nuclear activities includes about 40 locations for possible nuclear dump sites and almost 100 that have been examined as possible sites for nuclear reactors.
Labor MPs are expected to follow up the release of the information with localised campaigns highlighting the potential threat of nuclear facilities in the listed locations.
The parliamentary library research notes that some of the sites are highly speculative and have never been subject to a formal proposal, while others have been withdrawn or formally excluded as potential locations.
But Butler said that almost all of the proposed reactor sites since 1968 were near residential communities, noting that some locations – such as Townsville – had been proposed twice.
A study by the progressive thinktank Australia Institute in 2007 identified Townsville as one of 17 suitable sites for nuclear power plants across the country, based on key criteria such as electricity infrastructure, demand, transport, and water access.
Labor’s anti-nuclear push comes as parliament’s standing committee on environment and energy prepares to conduct an inquiry into the “prerequisites for nuclear energy in Australia” with a report due later this year.
The committee was set up by the energy minister, Angus Taylor, after several conservative MPs publicly agitated for the inquiry.
The chair of the committee, Liberal MP Ted O’Brien, said the inquiry would determine if nuclear energy was “feasible, suitable and palatable”.
In the committee’s first public hearing in Sydney last week, Ziggy Switkowski, who headed a 2006 review of nuclear power for the Howard government, said that the technology had no chance of being introduced unless Australia had a coherent energy policy.
He also said that it would take about a decade before it was clear whether small nuclear reactors were suitable for Australia, and about 15 years to bring a plant online if a decision was made to build one.
In the public submissions so far published on the inquiry website, opinion was split, with safety concerns and economic viability the main concern.
Economist John Quiggin, who is seen as a leading leftwing voice on the subject, has used his submission to back nuclear power, but agrees with a peak lobby group that it would only be financially competitive with a carbon price.
In his submission, Quiggin nominated a carbon price of $25/tonne to be introduced immediately and then increased at a “real rate of 5% per year” until it reached $50/tonne in 2035.
Quiggin also recommended the government adopt the recommendations of the climate change authority for a 40% to 60% reduction in emissions by 2030, before committing to a complete decarbonisation of the Australian economy by 2050, in order to make any potential nuclear projects viable.