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Will the Coalition's nuclear policy achieve Net Zero targets?

Coalition proposes a significant shift in Australia's existing energy policy with implications on our net zero targets unclear.

Proposed AP1000 type reactor at the Vogtle nuclear power plant. (Photo: Georgia Power)

The Coalition has today announced its vision for Australia's energy future, announcing plans to construct nuclear plants on the sites of existing coal power plants, including;


  • Tarong in Queensland, north-west of Brisbane

  • Callide in Queensland, near Gladstone

  • Liddell in NSW, in the Hunter Valley

  • Mount Piper in NSW, near Lithgow

  • Port Augusta in SA

  • Loy Yang in Victoria, in the Latrobe Valley

  • Muja in WA, near Collie


From a close read of the media release, it is not clear whether the Coalition is proposing just two reactors, or seven reactors, or multiple reactors at two sites, or at seven sites.


Is this achievable?


Dutton has been clear the plants will be built on the sites of exiting coal power stations. The Commonwealth doesn’t own any coal power stations and many former coal power stations are now (or will soon be) hosting large battery or solar farms. It’s unclear how or whether a Coalition government could secure the sites for the construction of nuclear plants, or whether they will also include areas adjacent to these sites. 


Existing coal plant sites or regions are technically ideal for building new nuclear plants as they already have existing transmission and access to water for cooling. The Coalition would also have to navigate the overturning of federal and state bans on nuclear energy before construction could begin on the nuclear elements of these projects. This could be tricky as Labor and the Greens remain opposed to nuclear energy despite it being a proven source of clean, reliable energy. 


The Coalition says its plan is to have the first two reactors online between 2035-37; our assessment is this is a highly optimistic timeline —a more realistic timeframe is likely 2040-45. The timeline is dependent on political will (which likely requires bipartisanship at federal and state levels), social licence and heavily on the design chosen, and supply chain and workforce capacity. 


Dutton during the Coalition’s announcement this morning suggested the Coalition would rely on the Westinghouse AP1000 which is the same reactor built at Vogtle in the US. Both China and the US had difficult AP1000 builds as they were first-of-a-kind (FOAK) projects that were started before the design was completed. Australia would benefit from the knowledge gained from those builds — experts we’ve spoken to say that a realistic build time is between 6–9 years from first pour of the nuclear-grade concrete, likely giving a project timeline of roughly 10–15 years for the first reactor using this design. 


Cost and emissions uncertain in the interim


Mr. Dutton said during today’s announcement that they will rely on fossil gas as coal plants are phased out; it’s unclear what their policy is on continuing renewable energy deployment but the National Party leader David Littleproud has called for a cap on renewable energy development. 


Solutions for Climate Change analysis suggests that the Coalition's plan could generate up to an additional 2.3 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions and a ten-fold increase in gas power generation between now and 2050 when compared to the Australian Energy Market Operator’s Integrated System Plan ‘Step Change Scenario’. (Solutions for Climate’s analysis was based on a very aggressive buildout of nuclear power.)


As the unprecedented dominance of solar and wind generation in the  ‘Step Change’ scenario is not guaranteed to eventuate, the lower emissions generated by this scenario are not guaranteed.


WePlanet Australia believes that Australia should continue to strategically deploy renewable energy while nuclear plants are being progressed. 




Announcement leaves 2050 Net Zero target uncertain


It’s uncertain from today’s announcement if the amount of nuclear capacity proposed is enough to replace existing coal generation, let alone meet additional demand growth as we electrify the rest of our economy.


The ABC reports -

“The large-scale AP-1000 reactors mentioned by Mr Dutton today have a capacity of 1.1 gigawatts (GW), and he suggested small modular reactors would have a capacity of 0.47 GW.

If five large-scale reactors and two small reactors were to be built, that would be a total of 6.4 GW, which is less than a third of the 22.3 GW of coal currently in operation. If coupled with a moratorium on large-scale renewables, and given a projected near doubling of demand by 2050, the only alternative is a large increase in gas power generation and life-extension of existing coal power stations


The press release on Dutton’s website says -

“A Federal Coalition Government will initially develop two establishment projects using either small modular reactors or modern larger plants such as the AP1000 or APR1400. They will start producing electricity by 2035 (with small modular reactors) or 2037 (if modern larger plants are found to be the best option).”

If the real commitment is only two projects then this would fall significantly short of the generation required to replace coal and gas. The Coalition will need to clarify the exact capacity it plans to build and what its future energy mix will be in 2050 to meet the Net Zero target which they say they are still committed to achieving.


2035 is a very aggressive timeline for small modular reactors, given that the full project timeline is likely to be only 2–3 years shorter than a large reactor, and it’s likely that no commercial SMRs will have been delivered before the end of this decade.


Nuclear energy could play a role in Australia’s clean energy transition


WePlanet Australia welcomes the proposed inclusion of clean, reliable nuclear energy in Australia’s future energy mix. Life Cycle analysis shows that nuclear has the lowest environmental impacts due to its low land use and low mining requirements. The long lifespan of nuclear plants (60+ years) means that these would be valued assets in our long term efforts to stabilising our climate.


We call for environmental organisations and members of parliament to consider the use of nuclear energy on its merits rather than jumping to disinformation scare campaigns about this source of clean energy. 


At the same time, we call on the Coalition to acknowledge that Australia cannot decarbonise rapidly without significant and ongoing investment in large-scale renewable energy projects.


Questions still remain of the Coalition


Simon Holmes à Court put forward the following questions that the Coalition should answer if they wish for their policy to be seen as credible.



There are still many details that remain to be answered by the Coalition about its nuclear policy. We believe the public deserves transparent and accurate answers to these questions.


Media inquiries:

Tyrone D'Lisle

+61 433 631 693


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