15 August 2023

Topics: Energy prices, nuclear energy, CBAM, green tariff, carbon tax

Andrew Clennell: Well for more on this let’s bring in the shadow Climate Change and Energy Minister Ted O’Brien. Ted O’Brien. Thanks for joining us from the Sunshine Coast. You must be welcoming Gina Reinhart’s calls for a nuclear power industry?

Ted O’Brien: How did you guess Andrew? Look, there’s no doubt as more and more people learn about the potential of next generation, zero emissions nuclear energy they are embracing the possibility for Australia and certainly Mrs. Reinhart’s comments are welcomed, as are the comments of many other people across the country as they’re looking into the future. I mean, one of the great things I thought that Mrs. Reinhart made clear is she’s taking a long term view on this, what’s in the best interest for the country, how do we ensure that we remain a prosperous, strong nation with that prosperity shared including with regional Australia. And so I certainly do welcome her perspective.

Andrew Clennell: It’s been reported you will take to the next election a policy for a reduction in climate emissions fueled by nuclear power. Is that accurate?

Ted O’Brien: Well, we’ve made no secret of the fact we’re looking at it, Andrew and for good reason. If we were to go down the path of nuclear energy in Australia, we would be joining 32 other nations that currently have nuclear energy. Countries that we look to that have far greater stability in their electricity grid. Places that also have cheaper power. Ontario in Canada, they have around between 50 and 60% nuclear their power bills are about half or less of what Australians pay. France, in Europe, in our region, South Korea, there’s a reason why other countries are using substantial amounts of nuclear energy. It’s clean, zero emissions, and it also gets prices down and it keeps their grids stable. And as you look around the world people are saying well, should Australia be doing the same?

Andrew Clennell: Peter Dutton just said then he talked again about small modular reactors, when will that technology be available? When could it be available for Australia?

Ted O’Brien: So we are looking at the next generation of technologies and that includes small modular reactors. Small modular reactors already do exist, but mainly in the likes of Russia and China. The first commercial one was only confirmed a few weeks ago, so they’re now selling it. I’ve looked at the technology, especially in North America. There are a range of those reactors that will be coming online later in this decade in the 2020s, early 2030s. There’s an enormous amount of technologies at the moment, there is up to 50 Different SMR designs, as a lot of countries are saying not only do we want nuclear energy, but we want the next generation nuclear, which can not only provide everything that nuclear energy does today, but also has industry application, so that industries can decarbonize and that’s what other countries are doing because they want to keep prices down, emissions down, but ensure there’s stability in the grid.

Andrew Clennell: How much of a blow was the federal court decision in South Australia last week blocking the proposed nuclear waste dump near Kimber?

Ted O’Brien: I think it was a big blow. And I thought the government’s decision not to challenge that conclusion was a disgrace. In fact, I think it’s just politics, Andrew, I think it was the Labor party planning for its national conference. We all know that Albanese is is in big trouble when it comes to his rank and file, because he has backed in the coalition’s belief in AUKUS and AUKUS of course, includes the management of nuclear waste. Now, as he’s under that pressure, I believe that’s what’s driven Labor’s decision to drop pursuing Kimba in South Australia, for the low to medium waste that comes out of ANSTO. I mean, this is this is ridiculous. Think about this. We’ve got one reactor one nuclear reactor already in Australia. It provides diagnostic and treatment for people with cancer right across our country. Now through that process, there is nuclear waste that needs to be managed low and medium waste. It has to be stored somewhere ANSTO is under serious timeline pressure to have another location. This government has stripped ANSTO of any option. I think it’s a disgrace. I think it’s only for politics, or and unfortunately, it leaves that facility without any hope of a solution in the short to medium term.

Andrew Clennell: The move to nuclear energy for the Coalition. It’s not without political risk is it? Why.. do you concede it has political risk attached to it? In terms of attitudes towards nuclear power over the years in Australia?

Ted O’Brien: Look, the extent to which there is political risk in addressing nuclear energy Andrew, it pales in comparison to the economic risk that faces Australia if we keep going down the path that Labor has set. Right now, people feel it in their power bills. Businesses are on their knees, because labor has chosen a path to decarbonize this economy that will make us weaker and poorer as a nation. And so do we need to take on the hard conversations? Yes, we do. Because our country demands it. We cannot continue down Labor’s path. It is making us weaker and poorer as a nation, the Australian people know that, which is why we need an ‘all of the above’ approach to energy. This is going to be so difficult. We need to have every option on the table and that’s why we also need to be considering zero emissions nuclear energy.

Andrew Clennell: Okay, we’ve had this announcement by the Energy Minister Chris Bowen, that he might introduce a green tariff for imports of steel and cement from countries such as China, India and Vietnam to offset his safeguards trading mechanism. What do you make of this return to possible return to protectionism?

Ted O’Brien: Well, obviously, we’ll have to wait to see the detail, but instinctively, I think this is nothing more than labor mopping up the mess of introducing a carbon tax. Let’s not forget Andrew and you covered this as well as anybody else did. Labor went to the Australian people only months ago with a new carbon tax. They promised the Australian people that industry in Australia would be fine no problem whatsoever. Industry have since shown they are not fine. Look at Rio Gladstone aluminum refinery, they’ve had to write down the value of that asset to zero. So Australian businesses are now hurting. So, their carbon tax is creating pain. Their solution is now to introduce a tariff what happens with a tariff? Well, we know that ultimately, prices will be going up for all Australians on all the goods that this impacts so anyone who’s buying their aluminium, you know, window frames, anyone who’s going to be doing concrete slab at home. Anyone who’s going to be laying the bricks at home prices will go up because Labor’s solution here is taxes and now tariffs. That’s my instinctive reaction. But let’s wait to see the detail.

Andrew Clennell: Ted O’Brien thanks so much for your time, this afternoon.

Ted O’Brien: Thank you, Andrew. All the best.

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