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Nuclear energy - a game changer?

By Phil Sawyer - posted Friday, 23 July 2010

The Government has an urgent need for a credible climate and energy policy to take to the election. Prime Minister Julia Gillard's call for an eventual consensus on an Emissions Trading Scheme is not going to be enough to re-establish credibility with that slab of the electorate, who, rightly or wrongly, want action on climate change and energy. The polls show the Greens taking primary votes from Labor on the issue.

The government urgently needs a circuit breaker, so as to put this issue to bed before the election. But how to clear the decks in one dramatic announcement?

I believe there is an elegantly simple solution. Put simply, the PM should make spectacular use of the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target (MRET) to play the nuclear card!


The key policy decision, the game-changer for the campaign, from which the whole energy and climate strategy could then flow, involves a simple declaration that the MRET legislation will be changed to recognise nuclear energy as a carbon-free source of power! The measure is simple, unambiguous, and costless. But with big implications, and possibilities.

At a stroke this announcement would change the whole debate. If windmills and hot rocks can't compete with nuclear, so be it. But we certainly need to find out.

This policy change is not, in itself, an endorsement of nuclear energy.

No commitment to nuclear energy needs to be given, save that the market will determine the eventual outcome. But it will also signal that nuclear energy should be allowed to compete, on its own merits, with anything the renewable energy industry can come up with. This position should be easy to justify and defend.

The current MRET scheme, which is slated to achieve 20 per cent renewables by 2020, should also be extended to cover the years to 2050, rising to 30 per cent by 2030 and 40 per cent by 2040, etc, as part of the establishment of a broader long term national emissions mitigation strategy.

This, or some such, "reduced emissions trajectory", would then provide an internationally credible and practically achievable way of mitigating our future emissions, without resorting to an ETS, by virtue of a growing nuclear and renewable sector over the decades ahead. Simple. The bipartisan legislation is already there! It’s too good an opportunity to miss.


Everyone is aware that the cabinet and caucus already have a number of nuclear power advocates, who have hitherto been remarkably constrained. So does important parts of the union movement, who have not been so constrained.

The PM should take the initiative on this, while there is time before the election, because it presents a great opportunity to profit electorally, by means of clawing back a swag of green primary votes.

This is because many green voters believe nuclear should be in the energy mix, such is their heightened sense of urgency regarding the need for action. People like the doyen of alarmists, James Hansen, and the Gaia Guru, Lovelock, are very influential, and very pro-nuclear too. If the major parties present an alternative, these people will not vote for the anti nuclear greens. And they will move back to the ALP, rather than to the opposition. Many pro-nuclear people are also global warming sceptics. Their opposition to action on climate change would be expected to disappear if nuclear was on the table.

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About the Author

Phil Sawyer is a retired fisherman and abalone diver from Portland, Victoria. He is a former ALP candidate for Wannon (1990) and the producer/director of the TV documentary In Flinders Wake (which was primarily a critique of environmentalism, from a social democrats point of view). His home town is Port Lincoln, and he has a BSc from Adelaide University.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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