No sooner had foreign affairs minister Julie Bishop announced that Australia should take a fresh look at nuclear power than Prime Minister Tony Abbott responded that nuclear power would only be supported if it was “economically feasible” and would not receive government subsidies.
Tony Abbott can rest easy in his position knowing this much to be true: thanks to an oversupply of incumbent, polluting electricity in the Australian market, nuclear energy is not economically feasible in Australia … but neither is any other new energy source without a policy to guide investment.
We do it for renewables …
Cut the large-scale renewable energy target, and wind development will halt on a dime.
Cut the small-scale renewable energy scheme, and feed-in tariffs and rooftop solar will fall off a cliff.
Remove carbon pricing (as Australia did in July this year), and serious investment in carbon-capture and storage technology becomes a fantasy.
There is no policy-free pathway to replacing Australia’s established and highly polluting coal- and gas-fired power stations.
Too much electricity
Abbott’s position is reinforced by the current level of over-supply in the National Electricity Market.
Thanks to the combination of an exodus of several large industrial customers in the industrial and manufacturing sector, influx of new wind and solar with the assistance of the Renewable Energy Target, and a greater emphasis on energy efficiency in households, we have seen in the last few years a waning demand for electricity while supply remains high.
So there is no market incentive for investment in new large generation such as nuclear power … or anything else for that matter. Even if there were, this would just be new clean generation on top of old dirty generation.
Whether one prefers the flavour of solar, wind, geothermal, wave or nuclear power, the fact is nothing much will change in the foundations of the Australian energy scene in the foreseeable future unless we demand change. We are not running out of cheap coal; we have to choose to DO something.
However, if we decide that we want to generate electricity without increasing carbon emissions, the story is completely different.