Nuclear energy: Nationals MPs welcome AWU support for domestic industry

Union to tell parliamentary committee it’s ‘ludicrous’ to export uranium but not benefit from the energy source at home

Nationals MPs have welcomed support from the Australian Workers’ Union for a domestic nuclear industry, as the union calls on progressives not to reject a “zero carbon compromise”.

A House of Representatives committee chaired by Barnaby Joyce will hear from the union during a roundtable discussion in Sydney on Friday, before MPs visit the Lucas Heights nuclear facility for a site visit.

The AWU national secretary, Dan Walton, said the union would tell the roundtable that it was “ludicrous” for Australia to be exporting uranium to the rest of the world while failing to capture the value of the emission-free energy source at home.

“Given around the world and particularly in Australia and particularly on the left of politics we are trying to drive down our emissions, it doesn’t make a great deal of sense to me that we wouldn’t be looking to our own backyard to find a solution,” Walton told Guardian Australia.

“Most of our energy crisis is due to partisan pigheadedness – on both sides, so those of us on the progressive side of politics can’t continue to reflexively reject zero-emission compromise options.”

He said that while he accepted that the Labor party had already expressed opposition to nuclear, there were people on both sides of politics who were stuck in old ideological debates over the issue.

“There are a number of people from both sides of politics who are holding on to views where clearly they should be reconsidered and discussed and debated in a factual scientific sense,” Walton said.

“I think the ALP has put their views forward and in fairness they are completely able to do so, but my interest is for the members of the AWU who right now are being crippled by soaring energy prices.”

The potential for Australia’s nuclear ban to be lifted has been revived since the May election after a group of Nationals lobbied for the issue to be revisited by a parliamentary inquiry.

Following a referral from the energy minister, Angus Taylor, in August, the environment and energy committee is conducting an inquiry into the “prerequisites for nuclear energy in Australia”.

At the same time, Joyce has tasked his lower house committee to also look at the issue through a series of roundtable events. Taylor has said that while there are no plans to drop the existing moratorium on nuclear energy, the government’s role was to plan for the decades ahead.

The resources minister, Matt Canavan, a senior Nationals senator from Queensland, said the AWU’s view was welcome as the debate over nuclear continued.

“I welcome the AWU’s contribution,” he told Guardian Australia. “It will, of course, need support from a broad range of organisations, including the Labor party, to progress nuclear power.

“There also remains the need to ensure that any source of power is competitive on price – the biggest priority we have is to get prices down to keep our manufacturing jobs in Australia.”

The Nationals MP for Hinkler, Keith Pitt, said that there could be no change to Australia’s current position on nuclear without bipartisan support.

“So I welcome the fact that the AWU has entered the debate with an open mind and I look forward to seeing their further contributions,” Pitt told Guardian Australia.

Support for a domestic nuclear industry also appears to be gathering pace within the Coalition, with two new government senators, South Australian Alex Antic and NT National Sam McMahon, both using their first speeches to parliament this week to back the technology.

Walton said that his workers would benefit from an Australian nuclear industry through jobs in exploration, mining, power generation, and storage, while the manufacturing sector would benefit from reliable baseload power to energy-intensive facilities like aluminium and steel production.

“Continuing to adopt a position of ideological extremism on nuclear technology is an economic own-goal we can’t afford to keep kicking,” Walton said.

The union’s support will likely buoy conservative supporters of nuclear who are hoping the twin inquiries into the issue will be sufficient to win a change to government policy.

Ziggy Switkowski, who headed a 2006 review of nuclear power for the Howard government, told the environment committee 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.

The Australian Nuclear Association, which advocates for nuclear science and technology, has said nuclear power could provide cheap, reliable, carbon-free energy in Australia, but would only be financially competitive with a carbon price.

In a group submission released this week environmental and civil society groups warned the government that nuclear power has “no role” in Australia, saying the issue was a distraction from “real movement on the pressing energy decisions and climate actions we need”.


Sarah Martin

The GuardianTramp

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