Senator BERNARDI: It gives me great pleasure to stand here today to correct what I consider to be an egregious wrong. It was an act of economic vandalism, and many would argue—I’m not one of them—if you accept the anthropogenic climate change arguments, an act of environmental self-harm perpetuated on the Australian people, with the principal architects being the Australian Greens, of course. What’s more, when you consider a zero-emissions scenario that a nuclear industry, particularly a nuclear power industry, would bring to this country, this wrong is the second own goal that the Greens have kicked in the environmental space.
They pretend that the environment is their thing, but it’s not. It’s actually economic vandalism. That’s their thing. They kicked their own environmental goal when they refused to endorse Mr Rudd’s emissions trading scheme. But the most telling argument is that 19 years ago they dogmatically insisted that there be a prohibition on even the investigation, on even entertaining the thought, if I can put it like that, of nuclear power in this country. That has compromised our ability to achieve some of their other goals in limiting carbon dioxide. More importantly, it has put Australia behind the rest of the world when it comes to reliable, sustainable, power generation to fuel economic growth and sustain prosperity. Instead, it has foisted upon us this utopian ideal that wind and solar power is going to be able to generate our power needs in this country.
I ask you if you love the Greens’ ideology and you think that climate change can be mitigated through diminishing carbon dioxide, to just imagine for a moment how the landscape in Australia would be different if we were allowed to have nuclear power. We would have zero emissions power in this country. We would have reliable, constant and affordable power in this country, instead of intermittent, unreliable, expensive power, driven by the ideology that has prevented us from pursuing a nuclear industry. So we’re burdened with this, and I think it’s time that this parliament remove the prohibition on even entertaining the thought of a nuclear industry for Australia. I say that not because repealing these two modest prohibitions is going to deliver a nuclear outcome—nothing could be further from the truth. But surely nuclear power in this country should be able to be assessed on its potential environmental impacts, on its potential economic impacts and on its potential to deliver reliable baseload power for Australia. Regrettably, other parties have been complicit in this. I think it’s time for us to revisit it after 19 years.
I look at my own state of South Australia. It was the late state MLC Norm Foster who, by crossing the floor to enable the development of the Roxby Downs mine, effectively repealed a ban on uranium mining in South Australia. Aren’t we fortunate for that, because many thousands of jobs have been created and many hundreds of millions of dollars worth of economic activity has been generated, and all thanks to the strength of one individual doing that. It’s very disappointing, of course, that federal Labor hasn’t followed suit, but I do want to acknowledge the contribution of the Premier of South Australia, Jay Weatherill, who was at least prepared to investigate a nuclear industry for South Australia. He knew then, as he does now, that, in order to allow that to progress, he needed bipartisan support. Originally that was forthcoming, but then, of course, those with hearts the size of peas decided that it was a bit politically contentious and pulled support from it, which resulted in the Premier of South Australia having to walk away as well. What is proposed in this bill would mean that there would be no federal prohibition on a nuclear industry in this country. It would still have to go through environmental approvals. It would still have to be approved by the respective ministers. It would still need, from a political sense, community support or engagement. But we need to be able to have that conversation.
For the uninitiated, I’m a supporter of what I call the nuclear fuel cycle. It is a multistep process. It involves the exploration, mining and milling of uranium. It enables further processing such as the enrichment and fuel fabrication of uranium. It allows electricity generation via a nuclear power plant. It provides for the option of reprocessing a mixed-oxide fuel fabrication to create even more electricity. Ultimately, we will have to confront the great elephant in the room, which is the management, storage and disposal of spent fuel in repositories, just as we have had to confront the requirements for medical nuclear waste—low- to medium-level nuclear waste—that needs to be stored. But, rather than looking at this as something that we want to shunt under the stairs and hide away in the cellar, we should be embracing it and looking at the potential economic opportunities that would open up as a result of it, and I’ll come to this a bit later on.
This nuclear fuel cycle doesn’t even mention the associated research, the development, and the education and skills training that come with a fully functioning nuclear fuel cycle. Let me begin by touching on the mining aspect for a moment. It’s been estimated that the mass of minerals required per terawatt hour for the generation of electricity is something along these lines: if you want a solar photovoltaic cell, it requires about 16,000 tonnes of minerals, effectively, to generate a terawatt hour; if you want hydro, it’s about 14,000 tonnes; if you want wind, it’s about 10,000 tonnes; geothermal is about 5,000 tonnes—and nuclear? Nuclear requires less than 1,000 tonnes, or mass of mineral tonnage, per terawatt hour. So, even those who are in the anti-mining space, even those who are saying they don’t want the Adani mine for whatever reasons, even those who are hopping up and down about digging things up, have to acknowledge that if they don’t like mining then mining a thousand tonnes of material to generate a terawatt-hour of electricity is better than 16,000 tonnes, which is what is required if you want to go down the solar path.
Importantly, speaking as a South Australian senator, South Australia has a world-leading abundance of uranium. It would last, for our power generation, almost in perpetuity, if necessary. As I said, a thousand tonnes of minerals would generate a terawatt hour. In essence, if I can put it visually, uranium the size of a sack of potatoes could fuel our energy needs for a year. That’s extraordinary—a sack of potatoes! You’d be familiar with that, of course, Acting Deputy President Williams. Uranium the size of a sack of potatoes could fuel our energy needs for a year. That is extraordinary. When you think that South Australia is effectively the world’s superpower on uranium resources, with 25 per cent of the world’s economically viable uranium resources, this is a potential bonanza for the state of South Australia. Let’s compare that with some of the other leading uranium sources in the world. Kazakhstan has about 12 per cent—so South Australia alone has twice what Kazakhstan does—Russia has about nine per cent and Canada has about eight per cent. That puts in perspective just how massive this economic opportunity, this resource opportunity, is for the state of South Australia.
And let’s not forget history. What fuelled the Industrial Revolution and pioneered so much was the abundance of easily available coal in the United Kingdom and its proximity to the surface, where it could be mined and used for industry. Yet here we have, abundant in one of our states which is most economically challenged, one of the cleanest, greenest, largest sources of fuel that is environmentally friendly because it requires less movement of tonnage of resources to generate the electricity requirements that we have, and we’re not even allowed to entertain the thought, because of some federal legislation.
I’m reflecting on this, and there are many in this chamber who lament the economic state of South Australia. I do; I think it could be better and I think it needs to be better. But there are others who are unkind and refer to it as a mendicant state or refer to us as a drain on the economic nation. I disagree with that; I think we contribute an enormous amount, and that’s very important. But imagine the contribution South Australia could make to the national economy if we opened up that 25 per cent of the world’s useable or mineable uranium resources, invested in a nuclear fuel industry in this country and embraced the nuclear cycle. We are blessed with a geologically stable continent—South Australia very much so. We have large expanses of land which would be suitable for it. It would prove to be an economic bonanza for our country, and we shouldn’t close our minds to it.
I made a point earlier about the Premier of South Australia, Mr Weatherill, who did launch a royal commission to investigate the potential of the nuclear fuel cycle in South Australia. It was established in May 2015. It had over 250 submissions and it reported a year later. The critical finding was that South Australia could safely increase its participation in nuclear industries and was capable of managing the attendant risks. The report and the publicity surrounding it centred on the immediate economic opportunities, which promised to potentially generate $100 billion in excess of expenditure over the life of its operation. If the accumulating profits went into a state wealth fund, for example, and annually reinvested half the interest generated, a $445 billion fund could be generated over the next 70 years. That potentially would secure South Australia’s economic prosperity for centuries to come if it were well managed.
The difficulty is that the Premier of South Australia walked away because the opposition leader, Mr Marshall, chickened out and ran away from it. This is a perfect illustration of the major parties not being prepared to tackle issues such as this because they have some potential for political ramifications. Rather than do what’s in the national interest or the economic interest, sometimes they choose to do what’s in their political interest. It’s disappointing, but I commend the South Australian government for at least being brave enough to have the discussion and open it up. We now need to have that discussion and open it up by amending federal legislation.
The Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission report said that installed nuclear capacity is actually going to grow from 380 gigawatts to 450 by 2030. So it’s going up by 70 gigawatts internationally. To put that into context, the Australian National Energy Market’s generation capacity has never been higher than 48 gigawatts. So, in effect, the increase in nuclear generation globally will be Australia’s national generation capacity plus 50 per cent, and Australia is denying itself this opportunity. It’s the equivalent of nine Australian energy grids in global nuclear capacity being functional by 2030. We’ll be building windmills and tipping in $60 billion worth of subsidies in wind and solar to have a fraction of the results that will be being delivered around the rest of the world. Until 2030 is about how long it would take to get a nuclear fuel cycle up and running in Australia. But, I hasten to add, the evidence from China, India, South Korea, Japan, Russia, Argentina, Iran, Pakistan and Romania shows that it would take about 9½ years to get a nuclear power plant up and running. It could be done within six years, but let’s just err on the side of caution and say that, if we got on with it next year, we could almost certainly have operational power plants by the middle of the next decade.
As can be inferred from the list of the countries that I just mentioned, Australia would not be a global pariah in exploring nuclear power. In fact, we would be embracing what the rest of the world is embracing. There are 447 nuclear reactors currently operating, in 30 countries worldwide. A further 511 of them are under construction, planned or proposed. Not one of the future total 958 nuclear power stations worldwide will be based in Australia. Doesn’t that say a lot about the myopic vision of the future we have for our country, unless we support this legislation? Eleven per cent of the world’s energy is sourced from nuclear—three times more than solar, wind or geothermal. Indeed, of the countries with the highest electricity consumption, the top 11 all use nuclear energy. Australia sits at 19th, possibly because we don’t have reliable electricity or possibly because our manufacturing industry is deserting us because our electricity is too expensive. If you want prosperity, you need reliable, efficient and inexpensive baseload power. That is the challenge. Nuclear delivers that, and we’re closing our mind to it. Look at France, for example. A large-scale nuclear energy user, it has power prices that are about 17 per cent lower than the EU average.
The royal commission stated, ‘It would be wise to facilitate a technology neutral policy for Australia’s future electricity generation mix.’ I agree. To make a range of technologies available, action is required now. In the case of nuclear power, these actions include amending existing legislation; setting key policies to send relevant signals for private sector investment; developing electricity market infrastructure; and developing a new regulatory framework that addresses key principles of nonproliferation, safety and security in the use of nuclear energy. If such preparatory steps are deferred, nuclear power would continue to be precluded as an option, meaning that it would always be an option on the horizon.
We can’t afford to put it out onto the horizon. We often hear senators in here talk about jobs—about creating jobs, saving jobs. ‘Jobs, jobs, jobs,’ is the mantra. But, if you compare us with Canada, for example, which has nuclear energy, we have 3,000 uranium and nuclear-related jobs in this country; Canada has 60,000 jobs—60,000 jobs in the very industry that could sustain Australia’s energy and generate enormous prosperity for this country. Our industry has a value of approximately $600 million. Canada has a value of Can$5 billion. So this bill is about helping Australia and about helping my home state of South Australia to develop a nuclear fuel cycle, to get about signalling to the world that we are a ‘yes’ nation, not just on social issues but on economic issues. Let’s be a ‘yes’ vote to economic opportunities for our children—and our grandchildren too. Let’s say yes to lowering emissions, if that’s your thing. Let’s say yes to repealing archaic, narrow-minded bans, if that’s your thing. Let’s say yes to affordable, reliable energy. Let’s say yes to Australia becoming to uranium and nuclear what Saudi Arabia has been to oil: a mineral supply that is the envy of the rest of the world. Let’s say yes to investment in new technologies, yes to leading-edge research and improvements on the technology and yes to limitless energy so that we can have high-energy manufacturing and extractive industries to develop lifetime and multigenerational prosperity.
I encourage the Senate to see this as being a yes—to say, ‘Yes, this is a can-do nation, not a nimby nation, not a nation that says, “We’ll sell you the resources that we have so you can value-add,” and cannibalise Australia’s future prosperity.’ Let’s say, ‘Yes, we can do it here.’ We are being left behind due to crazy, illogical ideology that emanated from this place 19 years ago. We need to fix it. That’s why I say there is a better way. We can start that better way by supporting this legislation, repealing the ban on nuclear energy and repealing the ban on a nuclear fuel cycle in this country that promises to deliver so much and make South Australia, and our nation, an energy superpower. Australia deserves nothing less.
Chamber Senate on 30/11/2017 Item BILLS – Nuclear Fuel Cycle (Facilitation) Bill 2017 – Second Reading Speaker: Bernardi, Sen Cory