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No takers for a nuclear grand bargain

Summary:
A while ago, I made a submission to a Parliamentary inquiry into nuclear power and, in particular, the removal of the 1998 legislative ban on nuclear power. The inquiry was pretty obviously a stunt aimed at placating Barnaby Joyce and the nuclear lobby[1], but I decided to take it seriously and ask what would be needed to give nuclear power any chance, economically and in terms of social acceptance, in Australia. I proposed what’s been called a grand bargain , lifting the ban in return for a commitment to decarbonize electricity by 2040, and a carbon price increasing steadily over time to achieve that goal. The Committee has now reported, and, unsurprisingly no one is interested in the idea of a grand bargain. In fact, the idea wasn’t mentioned, not even to dismiss it. Nor, as

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A while ago, I made a submission to a Parliamentary inquiry into nuclear power and, in particular, the removal of the 1998 legislative ban on nuclear power. The inquiry was pretty obviously a stunt aimed at placating Barnaby Joyce and the nuclear lobby[1], but I decided to take it seriously and ask what would be needed to give nuclear power any chance, economically and in terms of social acceptance, in Australia.

I proposed what’s been called a grand bargain , lifting the ban in return for a commitment to decarbonize electricity by 2040, and a carbon price increasing steadily over time to achieve that goal.

The Committee has now reported, and, unsurprisingly no one is interested in the idea of a grand bargain. In fact, the idea wasn’t mentioned, not even to dismiss it. Nor, as far as I can tell did any of the pro-nuclear submissions say anything about

The government majority has advocated (with a fair bit of hedging) a partial lifting of the ban, but did not dare break the taboo on talking about carbon prices. Unsurprisingly in these circumstances, the dissenting reports (from Labor and Zali Steggall) pointed out the obvious errors in the majority report, made some modest suggestions about renewables, and left it at that.

This wasn’t a surprise. As I wrote at the time,

nothing remotely like this will happen. It’s rather more likely that Barnaby and the committee will discover a working technology for cold fusion, based on harnessing unicorns.

Still, I think it was worth making a good faith effort to test whether there is any serious thought behind nuclear advocacy in Australia, or whether it’s a combination of culture war and delusion. This process shows, pretty clear, that it’s the latter.

fn1: Right wing culture warriors make up the majority of nuclear fans. They support nuclear power because greens and lefties oppose it (if the left switched its position, as it did on market-based emissions policies back in the 1990s, the right would reverse themselves also.

A smaller, but more passionate group of supporters consists of people who’ve latched on to nuclear at some point when it seemed promising, and then ignored all the evidence of its failure to deliver on its promises. Since the case for nuclear depends on the assumption that renewables can’t do the job, these nuclear fans end up making the case that continued reliance on coal is desirable, or at least inevitable, until the far distant day when their preferred solution becomes available.

John Quiggin
He is an Australian economist, a Professor and an Australian Research Council Laureate Fellow at the University of Queensland, and a former member of the Board of the Climate Change Authority of the Australian Government.

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