Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy launches inquiry into prerequisites for nuclear energy generation in Australia

DISCUSSED: Vales Point power station, at Mannering Park, is among three local sites considered possible candidates for any new nuclear generators in NSW. But will Australians be open to the idea? Picture: Richard Gosling
DISCUSSED: Vales Point power station, at Mannering Park, is among three local sites considered possible candidates for any new nuclear generators in NSW. But will Australians be open to the idea? Picture: Richard Gosling

A federal parliamentary inquiry has begun into the prerequisites for nuclear energy generation in Australia, with Eraring, Vales Point and Munmorah again likely to be in the discussion.

The House of Representatives Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy has opened the inquiry, and submissions from the public are invited.

Chair of the Committee, Queensland MP Ted O'Brien, said a fresh look at nuclear energy was timely, given that new technologies in the field were "leading to cleaner, safer and more efficient" energy production.

"Nuclear energy has evolved since it was last seriously considered in Australia," Mr O'Brien said.

"This inquiry will provide the opportunity to establish whether nuclear energy would be feasible and suitable for Australia in the future, taking into account both expert opinions and community views."

Proponents of nuclear energy for electricity generation talk positively about its relatively low cost, low emissions, and stable base-load energy provision.

The start-up costs for new nuclear power stations are high, but a 2006 report into nuclear energy by the Australian government found nuclear plants "could be sited near current coal fired plants to use existing transmission networks", as well as make use of reliable supplies of cooling water.

That's where Eraring, Vales Point and the former Munmorah power station are inevitable mentioned as potential sites for any nuclear power stations.

But Labor's Member for Shortland, Pat Conroy, said nuclear power was among the most expensive forms of electricity generation.

In a recent op-ed piece for the Newcastle Herald, Mr Conroy wrote:

"Nuclear power is the fool's gold of energy policy. On the surface, beautiful, but when tested it proves to be a mirage."

Mr Conroy said even if Australia could build a nuclear power industry "from close to scratch, and even if we could persuade a community to accept a station in their neighbourhood", it would increase electricity prices.

"The Australian Energy Market Operator has found that the cheapest new energy for Australia is renewable energy backed up by pumped hydro storage and gas."

The parliamentary committee, meanwhile, will consider a range of matters including waste management, health and safety, environmental impacts, energy affordability and reliability, economic feasibility and workforce capability, security implications, community engagement and national consensus.

To make a submission to the committee inquiry by the September 16 deadline, visit aph.gov.au/nuclearpower.

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