Chapter 3 - Opposition to the bill

Chapter 3Opposition to the bill

3.1The committee received evidence opposing the bill’s proposal to remove the nuclear prohibitions from the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act 1998 (ARPANS Act) and Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) in Australia. Some of the key arguments included:

renewable technology is cheaper and available now;

Australia does not have the regulation, infrastructure or workforce to support a nuclear industry;

nuclear power is dangerous to human health, the environment, is a threat to national security and has a history of disproportionately impacting First Nations peoples; and

there is no social license for establishing a nuclear power industry in Australia.

Renewable technology is cheaper and available now

3.2The committee received evidence that renewable technology is cheaper than nuclear energy and is available for deployment now, noting that nuclear proponents are often advocating for technology that is not yet commercially available. Other submitters argued that Australia does not have the regulatory environment, infrastructure or workforce to support a nuclear industry, and that Australia can achieve a clean, secure, reliable and affordable energy system with firmed renewables.

Cost comparison

3.3A number of submitters and witnesses compared the costs of nuclear technology and establishing a nuclear industry in Australia with the cost of renewables to demonstrate that renewables are a cheaper option in the Australian context.

3.4Dr Jim Green, National Nuclear Campaigner at Friends of the Earth Australia, claimed that some of the evidence provided to the committee on the cost of nuclear was from ‘the distant past’. He also argues that ‘some of it is providing wildly optimistic estimates about future nuclear costs and some of the evidence is looking at countries such as China, which are irrelevant to the Australian situation… we are being sold pipedreams’.[1] Dr Green stated:

You haven't heard about the catastrophic costs and the catastrophic cost blowouts with all reactor projects in the United States, the UK, France and elsewhere. In those three countries that I've just mentioned, every single reactor costs A$25 billion to A$30 billion. In the US, if we compare early cost estimates with current estimates, there's a 12-fold increase. In the UK there's an eightfold increase. In France there's a sixfold increase. That brings me to the golden rule of nuclear economics, which is that you can add a zero to industry estimates, or you can add a zero to the estimates from nuclear enthusiasts, and your figures will be more accurate than theirs.[2]

3.5Dr Green highlighted that there are no operating small modular reactors (SMRs) in the United States, nor are there any under construction:

You heard from Dr John Peatfield this morning that NuScale estimates a cost of $4,200 per kilowatt. In fact, the latest cost estimate from NuScale itself is $30,000 per kilowatt, so costs are escalating dramatically. You can track the NuScale project to the last millennium, and yet they haven't even broken ground on their first nuclear reactor. So these SMRs are not cheap, viable or existent, and the economic claims that are made about them are risible.[3]

3.6Environment House, a non-profit sustainability organisation, supported this view, noting that nuclear power ‘is the one energy source with a negative learning curve ‒ it has become more expensive over time’.[4]

3.7Dr Green stated that ‘about a decade ago…nuclear became more expensive than solar and wind, and that cost differential has increased dramatically since then’.[5] During the committee’s public hearing, Dr Green referred to an article he wrote reporting on the escalating costs of nuclear projects globally.[6] The article described the decline in nuclear energy projects across the globe:

The fleet of mostly young reactors 30 years ago is now a fleet of mostly ageing reactors. Due to the ageing of the reactor fleet, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) anticipates the closure of 10 reactors (10 GW) per year from 2018 to 2050.

Over the past decade, from 2013‒22, there were on average 6.5 reactor construction starts annually. That’s a recipe for slow decline.[7]

3.8On the other hand, Dr Green described the growth of renewable projects globally:

Renewable expansion of about 320 GW last year was 76 times greater than nuclear growth of 4.2 GW.

The same pattern was evident in 2021: nuclear capacity fell by 0.4 GW while renewable capacity growth amounted to 314 GW including 257 GW of nonhydro renewables.

Renewables, including hydro, accounted for 29.1 percent of worldwide electricity generation in 2022 according to the Electricity Market Report 2023 by the International Energy Agency – more than three times nuclear’s share of 9.4 percent.

Nuclear has been overtaken by non-hydro renewables and has fallen below 10 percent for the first time in decades.

The growth of renewables is being turbocharged as countries seek to strengthen energy security, the [International Energy Agency] IEA said in December when releasing its Renewables 2022 report.[8]

3.9Additionally, Dr Green outlined the projections for renewable energy, referencing a 2023 International Energy Agency (IEA) Electricity Market Report:

The IEA projects that in 2025, renewable electricity generation will account for 34.6 percent of total global generation and renewables will have overtaken coal and gas.

The IEA projects that in 2027, renewable electricity generation will have grown to 38 percent of total global generation with declining shares from 2022–27 for all other sources: coal, gas, nuclear and oil.

Wind and solar PV are projected to more than double to account for almost 20 percent of global power generation in 2027.

The IEA projects that China will install almost half of new global renewable power capacity from 2022‒2027, with growth accelerating despite the phaseout of wind and solar PV subsidies...

The IEA projects that China, the US and India will all double their renewable generating capacity from 2022‒27, accounting for two-thirds of global growth.[9]

3.10The Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water (DCCEEW) noted that whilst ‘nuclear power has been found to be a reasonably cost-competitive basis on which to provide firmed electricity generation, typically baseload generation, into the grid’ in other countries, this was not the case in Australia:

[I]n Australia’s context, largely because of the abundance of low-cost renewable energy and related renewable options for firming the grid, that by the time nuclear technology would be feasible in the Australian energy market context, we would be in a situation where it would be very difficult for those technologies to compete.[10]

3.11The DCCEEW noted that:

[The Australian Energy Market Operator’s (AEMO)] 2022 Integrated System Plan estimates that by 2030, renewable energy will provide 83 per cent of generation capacity in the National Electricity Market.[11]

3.12Friends of the Earth Adelaide, an environmental and social justice community campaign organisation, argued that passing the bill would:

…mislead the public into thinking that nuclear energy might be a realistic alternative for Australia. Viewed objectively, both the historical record and the current status of nuclear power demonstrate that nuclear energy is neither reliable, cost effective, nor fit for purpose in the Australian context. If there is any argument for the use of nuclear power, it only applies to countries which already have nuclear power plants and which need to make a decision about whether or not to continue operating existing plants. In that case, given that the upfront cost of existing plants has already been sunk, there may be an argument for continuing their operation while shifting to a 100% renewables-based zero emissions energy system. However, constructing new plants just diverts investment from cleaner and more costeffective alternatives.[12]

3.13In its submission, DCCEEW outlined the latest data comparing the cost of nuclear energy and renewable energy in Australia:

In their GenCost 2021-22 report, the CSIRO and AEMO estimate in 2030 the deployment of nuclear power from small modular reactors (SMRs) in Australia could cost between $136 and $326 per megawatt hour (MWh). The report suggests there is no prospect of SMRs being deployed in Australia before 2030. Other recent modelling by bodies such as the University of Queensland (2021) estimate the levelised cost for nuclear power at $60 to $102/MWh from the 2030s. These differences in estimates are due to variations in data, modelling methodologies and assumptions.

By comparison, the estimated costs in the GenCost 2021-22 report for integrated renewables are between $53 and $82/MWh in 2030, depending on the level of renewables penetration and including the costs of additional investment in transmission and storage to manage the variable output of renewable energy generators. The 2022-23 edition of GenCost is currently being prepared. The consultation draft suggests costs for SMRs in 2030 remain above the cost of integrated renewables.[13]

3.14The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) provided evidence at the committee’s public hearing and made clear its role ‘is to provide independent, trusted and transparent advice’ without advocating for a particular policy position. When asked about the CSIRO’s use of 2018 nuclear energy data in the 2021-22 GenCost report rather than more recent data , Mr Paul Graham, Chief Economist in Energy at the CSIRO, explained:

There hasn't been anything as comprehensive as the [data in the 2018] Canadian SMR road map study. So that's what we continue to rely on… all we've had since that Canadian road map study have been a number of statements from vendors about projects which could be built at a certain cost, but they haven't actually built them. Those statements, in our view, aren't really an improvement in the quality of the Canadian road map study… None of those groups have released any detailed costing for their commercial projects that have advanced the information available.[14]

3.15The Independent Peaceful Australian Network (IPAN), a national umbrella organisation with an interest in peace and security, provided data from Lazard Asset Investment’s 2021 Levelized Cost of Energy, Levelized Cost of Storage, and Levelized Cost of Hydrogen Report which showed similar figures to those reported in the 2021-22 GenCost report. The levelized costs of electricity in this report showed $196–305/MWh for nuclear, $39–75/MWh for wind (onshore), and $42–61/MWh for solar PV (utility scale).[15]

3.16As outlined in Chapter 2, on 20 July 2023, the 2022-23 GenCost report was released with the following updated estimates for the levelized cost of electricity generation technologies in 2030:

for nuclear (SMR): an increase in cost from $136 to $326/MWh (in the 21-22 report) to $198 to $349/MWh; and

for integrated renewables: an increase in cost from $53 to $82/MWh (in the 21-22 report) to $65 to $100/MWh.[16]

Next generation nuclear technology not yet commercially available

3.17Some submitters and witnesses highlighted that next generation nuclear technology, such as SMRs, are not commercially available and remain unproven technology.

3.18For example, Mr Dave Sweeney, Nuclear Policy Analyst at the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), asserted that ‘none of the proponents of nuclear energy are suggesting that we build the reactors that actually exist in the world today’. He stated that this was ‘an exercise in the possible rather than the practical’ and that SMRs and other next generation nuclear technologies have not been commercially deployed nor are they generating power in the real world.[17]

3.19A joint submission was provided to the committee from prominent Australian environmental groups, including Friends of the Earth Australia, Australian Conservation Foundation, Greenpeace Australia Pacific, Wilderness Society, Conservation Council of WA, Conservation SA, Nature Conservation Council (NSW), Environment Victoria, Queensland Conservation Council, Environment Centre NT and Environs Kimberley. The joint submission asserted that:

SMRs do not have any meaningful existence. Some small reactors exist but currently there is no such SMR mass manufacturing capacity, and no company, consortium, utility or national government is seriously considering betting billions building an SMR mass manufacturing capacity. The only two operating SMRs ‒ one each in Russia and China ‒ could only loosely be described as SMRs (lacking serial factory construction of reactor components or ‘modules’). Both were long delayed and subject to large cost increases.[18]

3.20A submission from Ms Grusha Leeman argued that ‘we are still waiting for long ago promised new technologies’, where ‘hypothetical new nuclear power technologies have been promised to be the next big thing for the last forty years, but in spite of massive public subsidies, that prospect has never panned out’.[19]

3.21IPAN reflected on the point that SMRs remain presently an unproven technology and submitted that the US Academy of Science stated in 2018 that ‘several hundred billion dollars of direct and indirect subsidies would be needed to support [SMR] development and deployment over the next several decades’.[20] IPAN also noted that the UN special adviser on Climate at COP 26 remarked in relation to SMRs that it would be ‘reckless and irresponsible’ to rely on future promised technology solutions.[21]

3.22Referencing the South Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission’s final report in 2016, the joint submission from environmental groups outlined a range of hurdles and uncertainties impacting the viability of SMRs:

SMRs have a relatively small electrical output, yet some costs including staffing may not decrease in proportion to the decreased output;

SMRs have lower thermal efficiency than large reactors, which generally translates to higher fuel consumption and spent fuel volumes over the life of a reactor;…

It is claimed that much of the SMR plant can be fabricated in a factory environment and transported to site for construction. However, it would be expensive to set up this facility and it would require multiple customers to commit to purchasing SMR plants to justify the investment;

Reduced safety exclusion zones for small reactors have yet to be confirmed by regulators;

Timescales and costs associated with the licensing process are still to be established;

SMR designers need to raise the necessary funds to complete the development before a commercial trial of the developing designs can take place; and

Customers who are willing to take on first-of-a-kind technology risks must be secured.[22]

3.23The joint submission concluded that:

Wishful thinking is no substitute for real world evidence and action, or for effective climate action.

Renewable energy exists in the real world and this is the crucial decade when real climate action is urgently needed to make the required transition to a low carbon future.[23]

Lacking the regulation, infrastructure and workforce to support a nuclear industry

3.24Some submitters argued that, without an existing nuclear power sector, Australia lacks the appropriate regulation, infrastructure and workforce to support the development of a nuclear energy industry, noting that it would take at least a decade to establish. Submitters indicated that these constraints were major hurdles to the introduction of nuclear energy in Australia for the foreseeable future.

3.25The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) advised the committee that if the decision were taken today to lift the prohibition on nuclear energy for civilian use:

…you would be lucky to have anything in operation for potentially 15 years. By the time you establish the framework and then go through construction and build programs, 15 years would be about the minimum time frame if that decision had been taken today to pursue or change that energy policy decision… It's really just the capacity and ability. First is having the appropriate framework in place, so you would have to adjust the framework to begin with. It can take anywhere from three to five years to do a significant review of regulations in Australia. But then, once you have that framework in place, you are still probably looking at 10 years minimum for development, I would think…10 to 15 years on current standards.[24]

3.26In its submission, the Medical Association for Prevention of War Australia (MAPW) provided a quote from the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) guide to Establishing the Safety Infrastructure of a Nuclear Power Program which outlined the following timeframe:

A considerable period of time is needed to acquire the necessary competences and to foster a strong safety culture before constructing and operating a nuclear power plant… Establishing a sustainable safety infrastructure is a long process, and it has been internationally acknowledged that a period of 10–15 years under optimum conditions is generally necessary between the consideration of nuclear power as part of the national energy strategy and the commencement of operation of the first nuclear power plant.[25]

3.27MAPW argued that the key words from the IAEA are 10–15 years under optimum conditions:

Those conditions would include very strong political and community support, which is lacking in Australia. At present there is no political consensus around nuclear power and opinion polls repeatedly suggest the electorate is likely to be resistant in the short to medium term at the very least. Therefore a timeframe of two decades is probably more likely if Australia were to proceed with nuclear power.[26]

3.28Whilst supportive of the bill, the Australian Workers’ Union (AWU) acknowledged ‘significant workforce capability development would be required in relevant operational, technical and professional occupations’ to establish an Australian nuclear energy sector even if the prohibition on nuclear power was repealed.[27]

3.29The joint submission from environmental groups described nuclear power as ‘a slow response to a pressing problem’, noting that nuclear power stations cannot be built under existing law in any Australian state or territory.[28] It stated:

Nuclear reactors are slow to build and license. Globally, reactors routinely take ten years or more to construct and time over-runs are common. Construction and commercialisation of nuclear reactors in Australia would be further delayed by the lack of nuclear engineers, a specialised workforce, and a licensing, regulatory and insurance framework.[29]

3.30Furthermore, the joint submission added that it would also take an estimated 6.5 years to repay the energy and carbon debts from the construction of a nuclear power plant:

Thus, nuclear power could only begin to contribute to reducing greenhouse emissions around 2050 even in the unlikely event that legal prohibitions were repealed in the near future.[30]

3.31Ms Grusha Leeman agreed that nuclear energy is too slow and stabilising the climate is an emergency:

Given the urgency of climate change, we need effective solutions now. It takes only a few years to set up a major wind or solar project, whilst nuclear power is slow. Setting up new plants takes about a decade, but some time blowouts have been extraordinary.[31]

3.32Dr Gillian Hirth, Chief Executive Officer of ARPANSA, stated that it is important to make clear that ‘repealing section 10 of the ARPANS Act won't necessarily remove barriers to introducing a domestic nuclear power industry in Australia’. Dr Hirth provided some examples where Australia’s regulatory regime would need significant updating to ensure a civil nuclear industry was appropriately regulated if the prohibitions were lifted:

This is in relation to jurisdictional issues… If there is a privately owned and proposed to be operated nuclear power plant in Australia, it would not, at the moment, fall under ARPANSA's regulatory jurisdiction. Therefore, it would not be subject to the licensing requirements under the ARPANS Act that we require of our licence holders. ARPANSA regulates Commonwealth entities and Commonwealth users of radiation and nuclear technologies, so there are many barriers that would require review of the ARPANS Act in addition to the prohibitions.

One of the other things is that you have nine radiation safety regulators in Australia at the moment, and none of those have the competencies for regulation of nuclear installation. Again, depending on where you are proposing an SMR, that would be an issue that would need resolution in the future. For Australia to expand its role in the nuclear power industry, it is essential that an appropriate and rigorous national regulatory framework is established, if that was ever to be considered in the future. It's certainly a recommendation from the International Atomic Energy Agency that for nuclear regulation you should aim to have, in civilian circumstances, a single national regulator.[32]

3.33Top End Peace Alliance (TEPA), a non-profit advocacy group based in the Northern Territory, agreed that removing the prohibitions on civil nuclear power would ‘require significant reforms across a range of existing legislation that is not designed to deal with nuclear power’. TEPA stated that this ‘would require a massive increase in government resources as well as recruiting an appropriately skilled and capable workforce’.[33] On the other hand, ‘wind, solar and tidal energy has far less legislative implications or requirements for emergency preparedness and radiation safety’.[34]

3.34TEPA outlined various barriers identified by ARPANSA that would need to be addressed to establish a regulatory system to deal with nuclear energy generation in Australia, including:

a review of the legal framework for radiation and nuclear safety across all the jurisdictions;

a single piece of national overriding legislation;

a national properly resourced government agency that deals with radiation and nuclear safety;

to recruit a workforce with the necessary capabilities;

to establish a long-term education and training program

changes [to] the National Radioactive Waste Management Act;

to address the high level of public concern over transporting far more radioactive material across Country;

a review of emergency preparedness and response frameworks—to strengthen and resource them while providing clear and defined roles in emergency response between the different jurisdictions and ARPANSA; and

a review of relevant international conventions and Australia’s obligations to be endorsed into domestic legislation.[35]

3.35Beyond these, TEPA added that Australia would also need to:

secure sites for nuclear facilities;

provide safe transport of nuclear materials;

adequately manage and store nuclear waste;

safely decommission reactors;

consult fairly, openly and accountably with communities;

arrange massive insurance agreements;

assess weapons’ proliferation risks and perceptions;

provide occupational health and safety;

allocate water;

connect infrastructure to the grid;

ensure jurisdictional arrangements between the Commonwealth and states/territories; and


A secure, reliable, affordable and clean energy system with firmed renewables

3.36A number of submitters argued that Australia could achieve a secure, reliable, affordable and clean energy system without the use of nuclear power. Additionally, some submitters purported that the pursuit of nuclear power would actually be detrimental to Australia’s efforts to lower emissions and secure jobs for communities transitioning away from fossil fuel industries.

3.37The joint submission from environmental groups argued:

If Australia’s energy future was solely a choice between coal and nuclear then a nuclear debate would be needed. But it is not. Our nation has extensive renewable energy options and resources and Australians have shown clear support for increased use of renewable and genuinely clean energy sources…

Australia can do better than fuel higher carbon emissions and unnecessary radioactive risk. We need to embrace the fastest growing global energy sector and become a driver of clean energy thinking and technology and a world leader in renewable energy technology.

We can grow the jobs of the future here today. This will provide a just transition for energy sector workers, their families and communities and the certainty to ensure vibrant regional economies and secure sustainable and skilled jobs into the future.[37]

3.38The Electrical Trades Union of Australia (ETU) agreed, stating:

The reality is that Australia is in a very lucky place. We simply do not need nuclear power. There is no inherent intractable policy problem in Australia for which the only possible answer is nuclear. When it comes to energy generation there are safer, cheaper, faster and cleaner options that can deliver the outcomes we need and deliver them now.[38]

3.39According to the ACF’s Nuclear Policy Analyst, Mr Dave Sweeney, one of the main concerns of lifting the prohibition on nuclear energy in Australia is the ‘distraction factor’ which would result in the diversion of:

…attention, resources, political resources, political capital and public finance away from superpowering and fast-tracking renewables, which are proven, are popular, are on a million roofs and growing and is the fastest growing energy sector in Australia and the world. Our concern is that, instead of talking up these promises, [nuclear] proponents here are conflating. They say base load, reliable, proven, and yet none of that applies to novel nuclear technology. It's not there. It's not proven. It's not base load. It's not delivering. It's not in commercial application. It's not in deployment. We're concerned about wasting time.[39]

3.40A number of other groups agreed that pursuing nuclear would be an unnecessary distraction.[40] For example the ETU added:

The political energy, investment and time required to deploy nuclear would deliver a significantly faster and better transition for workers and their communities if it was instead applied to a proper transition to renewables.[41]

3.41Mr Trevor Gauld, National Policy Officer at the ETU, discussed what would happen to Australia’s electricity network if renewables development was halted in favour of developing nuclear energy:

You'd need to slow down the renewable buildout, principally because otherwise the nuclear is not going have a load to serve. Then, for it to be cost competitive, the government would need to subsidise every kilowatt that came out of the nuclear facility in the vicinity of 80 per cent to not push up people's power prices…

We've got a whole fleet [of coal and gas] that is retiring, partly for economic reasons because they're not economically viable and they can't compete with cheaper renewables and partly because the changing dynamic of the grid and the two-way power flow means that they can't operate the way they used to... It's advancing the end of its mechanical life as it attempts to deal with the new load profile that it's experiencing. As we know, there are multiple power generation units which are slated for closure in the next five years. If we slow down or pause on the deployment of known generation sources that we know can fill the gap then we are not going to have sufficient generation in this country to manage the load, which fundamentally means blackouts.[42]

3.42Friends of the Earth Adelaide argued that there are realistic alternatives to establishing a secure energy system in Australia without nuclear energy. It provided the following quote from the Australian Energy Market Operator’s (AEMO) Renewable Integration Study: Stage 1 report from April 2020:

If the recommended actions are taken to address the regional and [National Energy Market]-wide challenges identified, the NEM could be operated securely with up to 75% instantaneous penetration of wind and solar… Beyond 2025, AEMO has not identified any insurmountable reasons why the NEM cannot operate securely at even higher levels of instantaneous wind and solar penetration, especially with ongoing technological advancement worldwide.[43]

3.43Dr Green described the options for an energy system based on renewables that could deal with the question of baseload power which is often used as a criticism of renewables:

…solar, wind, and hydro are the main options. It is possible that geothermal might make a modest or small supply. Bioenergy, biogas, as long as it is equitable and sustainable, could play a role. Then we have all the different storage technologies. We've got interconnectors, which are important to improve energy security. Last but not least…energy efficiency is where you can get big greenhouse emissions reductions...[44]

3.44Friends of the Earth Adelaide described the myth of baseload power as ‘an outdated notion promulgated by nuclear and fossil fuel apologists in order to mislead policy makers and the general public’. It explained, quoting from a 2017 Climate Council of Australia report Powering a 21st Century Economy: Secure, clean, affordable electricity:

“Baseload” power refers to large, inflexible coal and nuclear plants which generate power continuously at full output. Such baseload power stations cannot easily or quickly adjust their power output up or down when needed.

On the other hand, demand for electricity has always been variable with changing electricity needs throughout the day, week and year.

Ageing coal fired power plants are unreliable and inflexible.

Increasingly, power grids around the world are moving away from inflexible, baseload power to modern, flexible systems which are able to respond quickly to both changes in demand and in generation. As the amount of low cost, wind and solar generation increases in the grid, the need for baseload power decreases. For example, in California, which reached 36% renewable power in 2016, the need for baseload resources like coal and nuclear is waning, and the need for system flexibility is increasing.[45]

3.45The ETU agreed that the issue of baseload power is exaggerated, stating:

Multiple organisations have now published extensive information on the challenges faced by the national electricity grid and base load is not one of them. Indeed, the concept of base load is an economic, not technical issue and much of Australia’s electricity network was historically designed to attach large volumes of inefficient load to the network to allow fossil fuel generators to run continuously at high outputs to achieve maximum plant efficiency.

The current levels of renewable deployment have already rendered the concept of base load power redundant in some parts of the network as identified in the August 2019 National Energy Emissions Audit released by The Australia Institute.

The already planned for deployment of additional renewable energy is likely to render the need for so called base load obsolete well before a nuclear plant could be constructed.

Australia needs a flexible, responsive energy system with appropriate levels of intermittent generation sources firmed through hydro, pumped hydro and battery storage solutions. Nuclear is not that solution.[46]

3.46The ETU highlighted that Australia ‘has extensive opportunities for both intermittent energy resources and for firming capacity through battery, hydro and pumped hydro deployment’:

A recent study by the Australian National University (ANU) included the completion of an audit of 22,000 potential sites across Australia for pumped hydro energy storage, which can be used to support a secure and cheap national electricity grid with 100 per cent renewable energy.

The report found that a tiny fraction of the sites for pumped hydro storage was needed – about 450 GWh of storage – to support a 100 per cent renewable electricity system with all of these locations in regional Australia delivering infrastructure, investment and jobs in locations most impacted by the energy transition.[47]

3.47Conversely, the joint submission from environmental groups explained that nuclear reactors are ‘highly centralised and inflexible generators of electricity’, which ‘lack capacity to respond to changes in demand and usage, are slow to deploy and not well suited to modern energy grids or markets’.[48]

3.48Mr Gauld agreed, stating:

We're moving to a two-directional or multidirectional power flow network which will have a very different load profile than what has happened in the past. Nuclear reactors will not be able to ramp to accommodate that. We've already got states dealing with a thing that they call the duck curve, which is high peaks in the morning followed by negative demand during the day. You can't turn a nuclear reactor off for the six hours in the middle of the day. Where will they get their load to be able to operate safely?[49]

Job security

3.49On the issue of job security, Mr Gauld acknowledged the problem for workers in communities where coal-fired power stations had shut down, noting that ‘there have been no regional economic diversification strategies put together for those regions’.[50] Mr Gauld outlined potential opportunities for communities such as those in the Hunter region where the Liddle Power Station recently closed:

…the bigger opportunity will be whether or not Australia decides to start building things again and whether or not we decide to enhance the resources that we extract out of the earth in country. Those manufacturing and refining opportunities are where new and more jobs can be created in centralised locations, close to those strong connection points in the grid so that the power can flow and we don't need to build new transmission for it. Offshore wind off the Hunter, for example, is close to a strong connection point in the grid and close to where coal-fired power stations are closing down. Offshore wind is a jobs-rich environment. It's not quite one-for-one but it's close... The size and scale of those farms is in the order of eight jobs per megawatt…[and they’re o]ngoing jobs in operations and maintenance.[51]

3.50Mr Gauld also compared job opportunities in renewables compared with projections for jobs in nuclear:

…our analysis says that [nuclear] won't deliver one-for-one jobs. The average figure for a two-gigawatt nuclear station is something like 3½ thousand at the construction peak—those communities don't have 3½ construction workers sitting around so they'll fly a lot of them in—whereas Australia's small-scale renewable energy scheme construction workforce sits at just under double that… The large-scale renewable energy construction sector is more than double the small-scale. Both of those sectors are growing right now, so they don't have to wait for regulatory changes et cetera.

Once operating, a nuclear plant of the same size employs approximately 400 direct jobs but barely a quarter of them are blue-collar jobs, with the other three-quarters engaged principally in administration, regulatory compliance, energy, marketing, sales, science and emergency personnel, with the majority of those jobs normally offsite away from the nuclear facility itself. They're often in the nearest capital city or sometimes even offshored. In comparison, operations and maintenance sector renewables currently employs about 6½ thousand direct jobs across the country. As more renewables deploy, that number will grow.

We acknowledge that nuclear power generation could create jobs, but so too can the renewable energy sector. The difference is renewables are already doing it and have the capacity to do more of it much faster and now.[52]

Dangers of nuclear energy reactors and radiation

3.51Submitters and witnesses outlined a number of concerns regarding the safety of nuclear energy, including potential harm to human health, damage to the environment, risks for national security, and the impact on First Nations peoples.

Human health and safety

3.52The committee received evidence which outlined the health and safety risks of uranium mining and the potential establishment of nuclear power plants in Australia. For example, IPAN submitted that a major reason to continue with the current prohibition on nuclear power is that ‘radiation is dangerous to people and the environment and that it is critical to reduce human exposure to it’.[53]

3.53At the committee’s hearing, Ms Mia Pepper, Nuclear Free Campaigner at the Conservation Council of Western Australia, described the impact of uranium mining on workers:

Uranium mining has occurred in Australia since the 1950s in South Australia in the Northern Territory, and what we have witnessed is the absolute failure to mine safely. At each and every one of those uranium mines, there have been leaks, spills and accidents. There have been workers exposed to radiation. None of these mines have been rehabilitated to a standard that we would call acceptable in Australia. I think this committee could look to the very real risks and issues that we're now seeing at the Ranger Uranium Mine, which is being closed in the Northern Territory at a cost of $2.2 billion. The standard that they are trying to achieve has never occurred anywhere in the world. So the costs of uranium mining on water resources, on communities and on impact to workers are very real and experienced today across Australia, in the Northern Territory at Ranger and Rum Jungle, in South Australia at Olympic Dam and in many mines before that.

In Western Australia we have closed the door to uranium mines—there are no operating uranium mines here—but, where there have been trial mines, there have been leaks and spills and there have been unacceptable standards around leaving exposed tailings for the community.[54]

3.54The ETU also noted the safety concerns highlighted by the Ranger uranium mine, stating it was ‘marred by a culture of underreporting, secrecy and safety incidents’.[55] Additionally, the ETU discussed its concerns about the safety of nuclear power plants by reflecting on Australia’s Lucas Heights facility in New South Wales:

Even in the most controlled and regulated environments of the Lucas Heights facility in New South Wales, as recently as June 2019 workers were exposed to radiation above the statutory limits.

An independent review of the Lucas Heights facility in October 2018 found it failed modern nuclear safety standards and should be replaced.

Australia has not even been able to manage a small 10MW nuclear medicine facility, what hope does it have of safely regulating the construction and operation of a Nuclear Power Station…

Australia’s emergency services personnel are neither trained nor equipped to deal with this kind of potential emergency. Nor have they been asked if they would be prepared to put themselves in harms way to this extreme level of risk should an incident occur.[56]

3.55A number of submitters referred to high-profile nuclear incidents such as Chernobyl and Fukushima to highlight the risks that nuclear power plants can pose.[57] For example, the joint submission from environmental groups outlined the death toll from these two disasters:

Claims that the Chernobyl death toll was <100 have no basis in scientific evidence. UN reports in 2005/06 estimated up to 4,000 eventual deaths among the higher-exposed Chernobyl populations (emergency workers from 1986−1987, evacuees and residents of the most contaminated areas) and an additional 5,000 deaths among populations exposed to lower doses in Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine. The estimated death toll rises further when populations beyond those three countries are included. For example, a study by Cardis et al. published in the International Journal of Cancer estimates 16,000 deaths.

Likewise, claims that exposure to ionising radiation from the Fukushima disaster will not result in cancer deaths have no basis in scientific evidence. The World Health Organization states that for people in the most contaminated areas in Fukushima Prefecture, the estimated increased risk for all solid cancers will be around 4% in females exposed as infants; a 6% increased risk of breast cancer for females exposed as infants; a 7% increased risk of leukemia for males exposed as infants; and for thyroid cancer among females exposed as infants, an increased risk of up to 70% (from a 0.75% lifetime risk up to 1.25%).[58]

3.56IPAN added that the impacts of the Fukushima nuclear disaster are ongoing:

…with impacts on health, employment, the environment and family connection and livelihoods, as well as negatively impacting on sleep and alcohol and other drug use. The world simply cannot afford another Fukushima, and Australia must do everything it can to avoid a similar situation.[59]

3.57Ms Monica Leggett, who has a PhD in surface physics and worked as a research officer at Berkeley Nuclear Research Laboratories, raised the risks to local communities located near nuclear power plants:

The presence of a nuclear power station in an area would alter the risk profile of the area for those in the vicinity and pose an additional psychological stress on residents. In addition to bush fire and flood preparedness plans, residents would need to have nuclear accident preparedness plans. These are not necessarily compatible. Local authorities would need response plans for minor and major nuclear accidents.

If the power plant site is in a country area, which is likely, then there is an additional problem. Country areas, in [Western Australia] for example, rely on a large volunteer component in fire and ambulance services. Will volunteers wish to serve in an area which includes a Nuclear Power Station? How will they be protected? How will they be trained?[60]

3.58Furthermore, Ms Leggett added that:

Accidents release radioactive isotopes into the environment. These can expose plants and animals to external radiation. If ingested, then they can be absorbed into body tissue and irradiate the body from inside.[61]

3.59The MAPW pointed to research linking childhood leukemia and proximity to nuclear power plants:

Apparent excesses of leukaemia occurring in children living near nuclear power plants have caused concern and controversy over decades. The most prominent initial example was a perceived excess of leukaemia and lymphoma cases around the Sellafield nuclear plant in England in the 1980s. An investigation recommended by a government commissioned committee found that the risks for leukaemia and lymphoma were higher in children born within 5 km of Sellafield. In 2007, a meta-analysis supported by the US Department of Energy examined all of the reliable data available worldwide, confirming a statistically significant increase in leukaemia for children living near nuclear power plants.

Further confirmation of this link came from a large national German study, which examined leukaemia among children living near any of Germany’s 16 operating nuclear plants over a 25-year period. It showed that the risk of leukaemia more than doubled for children living within 5 km of a nuclear plant, with elevated risk extending beyond 50 km from a plant.[62]

Damage to the environment

3.60A number of submitters raised concerns about a range of environmental risks that stem from nuclear energy throughout its lifecycle. On this point, Mr Sweeney stated, ‘the nuclear protections [and] prohibitions have served Australia well, and they should be retained’.[63]

3.61Ms Leggett noted that the ‘environmental case for nuclear power appears to be based on its low carbon dioxide emissions while operating without incident’, and whilst correct, it is an incomplete picture. Ms Leggett outlined that the lifecycle of a nuclear power plant creates emissions at a number of other stages, including:

Site preparation;


Water supply;

Storage of spent fuel rods;

Decommissioning including the treatment of the highly radioactive pressure vessel and shielding (while the reactor is operating, the fuel vessel and shielding are constantly under neutron bombardment from the core, hence becoming highly radioactive); and

Long term storage and monitoring of radioactive waste.[64]

3.62Quoting a 2019 Climate Council report, the MAPW added that the nuclear fuel chain generates significant carbon emissions where the ‘greenhouse gas pollution associated with nuclear power could be similar to a gas power station’.[65]

Uranium mining

3.63Concerns regarding the impact of uranium mining on the environment were raised by some submitters, including by IPAN, which explained:

In 2003 a Senate Inquiry into Uranium Mining found that there was "a pattern of under-performance and noncompliance" in the uranium mining industry and it recommended that there be urgent changes "in order to protect the environment and its inhabitants from serious or irreversible damage". The Senate Inquiry concluded "that short-term considerations have been given greater weight than the potential for permanent damage to the environment”.

Parallels have been drawn between nuclear energy and asbestos. There is no debate about the fact that uranium is an effective form of energy by heating water, turning a turbine and producing electricity—but it comes “at a high economic, social, public health and environmental cost”.

Associate Professor Gavin Mudd (Department of Environmental Engineering at RMIT University) has made the observation that “Uranium mining is different to other types of mining. Australia’s uranium mining sector has been dominated by license breaches, accidents, spills and a persistent failure to rehabilitate as promised”.[66]

3.64A submission from Mr Dan Monceaux stated that the ‘history of nuclear industrial development has shown that contamination and waste have historically been afterthoughts’. Mr Monceaux highlighted examples from both the United States and Australia:

A quick look at the USA’s list of Superfund contaminated sites shows what nuclear industrial practise leaves in its wake. Among its listed properties around the USA are hundreds of abandoned uranium mines, some uranium mining and milling sites, some sites managed by the Department of Energy as part of the USA’s nuclear weapons research and development program (including some that date back to the Manhattan Project), a nuclear waste repository called Maxey Flats where plutonium was stored that leaked, and even legacy sites left by luminous clock dial painters which used radioactive paint…

The most obvious local example is the Ranger uranium mine in Australia, where the remediation cost is likely to fall between 1.4 and 2.2 billion Australian dollars. The project ran for roughly forty years in the Australian tropics, but not without environmental problems, including periodic concerns about the contamination of nearby waterways.[67]

3.65Additionally, Mr Gauld described an ‘unfair advantage’ that uranium mining has had compared to other resource extraction in Australia, stating:

All other resource extraction in this country is subject to things like decommissioning bonds to make sure that any damage that might be caused during the resource extraction can be funded and remediated. We know that Rum Jungle and Ranger uranium mine pose massive legacy problems that are going to cost millions and millions of dollars to rectify. At the moment, we've got no solution for Rum Jungle other than a taxpayer bailout, and our solution for Ranger is hoping for corporate good faith. The oil and gas sector has decommissioning levies contemplated in that legislation. Even the new Offshore Electricity Infrastructure Act for renewables has decommissioning levies contemplated in it. Why shouldn't it be the same for the uranium mining sector?[68]

3.66TEPA noted that ‘uranium mining and processing is highly dangerous and pollutive’ and recommended that there should be ‘an inquiry into the human and environmental impacts of uranium mining’.[69]

Water resources

3.67The committee received evidence that nuclear power requires vast water resources which would make the prospect of a nuclear industry in Australia untenable.

3.68Dr Green described nuclear power as ‘extraordinarily thirsty’, stating that:

A single nuclear power reactor consumes between 35 million and 65 million litres of water per day. For people who want to turn Latrobe Valley from coal to nuclear, one of the many problems with that is that there's already water stress in those regions because of the coal plants. That water stress will be worsened, perhaps irrevocably, if they were to transition to nuclear power.[70]

3.69The ETU acknowledged that Australia ‘is a dry nation where water is an important resource and supply is often uncertain’ and nuclear power ‘is a thirsty industry that consumes large volumes of water, from uranium mining and processing through to reactor cooling’.[71] It stated:

Many reviews into the viability of a nuclear power generation industry in Australia have concluded that the water volumes required would need to be derived from sea water with the resultant effect of nuclear generators needing to be constructed close to Australia’s coastline and therefore, likely to be constructed in more densely populated areas.

Further, the desalination plants required to service them are huge consumers of electricity in themselves meaning that a large portion of the power generated would simply be used to satisfy the demands of generating the power, a highly inefficient process.

Desalination plants also have their own inherent risks with pollutants increasing the seawater temperature, salinity, water current and turbidity. These pollutants also harm the marine environment, causing fish to migrate while artificially enhancing the presence of algae, nematodes and tiny molluscs potentially decimating recreational fishing stocks and impacting Australia’s aquaculture and commercial fishing operations.

There is also the problem that on a warming planet, cool water can sometimes be a tricky thing to get hold of – as Europe discovered when it sweltered under 40-plus temperatures and the river water used to cool reactors in France and Germany was too warm to use.[72]

3.70Similarly, Ms Leeman submitted that the ‘the Australian climate is simply not conducive for safe nuclear power’ due to the water requirements:

Nuclear power plants are vulnerable to water stress, the warming of rivers, and rising temperatures, which weaken the cooling of power plants and equipment. Nuclear reactors in an increasing number of countries are being shut down during heatwaves, or see their activity drastically slowed. Overheating can present a major safety risk. We can’t be spraying water on the walls of our nuclear power plants to cool the insides during a heatwave when we are also deep into a drought. As the lakes and rivers that typically supply cooling water become hotter thanks to climate change — and as droughts dry up some water bodies — nuclear power plants aren’t viable. We cannot thermally pollute our seas either. Hotter seas kill the plankton, the seagrasses and the mangroves. Sea Level rise and higher intensity storms mean situating vulnerable nuclear power plants on the coast is becoming less attractive.

We need power that is stable to function during heatwaves.[73]

3.71The MAPW agreed that ‘water is our most precious resource’ and ‘it must not be jeopardised further by technology that has additional risks for our particular geography and climate’ given that Australia is a hot, dry continent, prone to heatwaves and drought.[74]

Nuclear waste

3.72A number of submitters and witnesses highlighted the persisting problem of how to manage hazardous nuclear waste. Mr Sweeney described radioactive waste as ‘the achilles heel of the [nuclear] industry’ which has a significant intergenerational impact.[75]

3.73IPAN outlined the intergenerational impact of nuclear waste, whereby:

Three years of electricity in a reactor leaves a legacy of 100,000 years of waste – a massive inter-generational burden, which represents a “Poor risk to return ratio” and damage to the environment for hundreds of thousands of years.[76]

3.74Similarly, Ms Leeman submitted that the ‘storage and disposal of nuclear waste pose a serious risk’ as the waste ‘is highly radioactive and very difficult to dispose of safely’:

It can take up to 100,000 years for it to become safer… Already there are hundreds of radioactive waste sites in other countries that must be maintained and funded for at least 200,000 years. The more nuclear waste that accumulates, the greater the risk of radioactive leaks, which can damage water supply, crops, animals, and humans.[77]

3.75Some submitters pointed out that, globally, there are no long-term solutions for managing high-level nuclear waste.[78] Dr Green stated that ‘not one country in the world has an operating high-level nuclear waste repository—not one’:

There is one country—namely the United States—which has a deep underground repository for intermediate-level waste. Within the first few years of the operation of that repository, safety standards slipped dramatically, regulatory standards slipped dramatically, and that resulted in a chemical explosion in a nuclear waste barrel which cost several billion dollars to remediate, and the repository was closed for three years. So, we've got one example of a deep geological repository and we've already had an explosion. It's totally unacceptable.[79]

3.76In its submission, Marrickville Peace Group outlined that as at 2012:

…about 290,000 tonnes of high level waste (in the form of spent nuclear fuel) have been produced in power reactors over the decades, of which about 90,000 tonnes have been reprocessed. Power reactors are producing an additional 12,000 to 14,000 tonnes of spent fuel annually.[80]

3.77The IAEA provided updated information as at 2016, stating that approximately 390,000 tonnes of spent fuel has been generated from nuclear electricity production, with about two-thirds in storage while the other third has been reprocessed.[81]

3.78The joint submission from environmental groups outlined the cost of high-level nuclear waste management:

Estimated construction costs for high-level nuclear waste repositories are in the tens of billions of dollars and cost estimates have increased dramatically. For example, the construction cost estimate in France was €25 billion (A$38.9billion) as of 2016, well above the 2005 estimate of €13.5‒16.5 billion (A$21.0‒25.7 billion).

The UK provides another example of dramatic escalations of cost estimates. Estimates of the clean-up costs for a range of civil and military UK nuclear sites including Sellafield have jumped from a 2005 estimate of £56 billion (A$98 billion) to over £100 billion (A$175 billion).

Operation of waste repositories adds many billions more to the costs. The US government estimates that to build a high-level nuclear waste repository and operate it for 150 years would cost US$96.2 billion (in 2007 dollars) (A$138 billion), a 67% increase on the 2001 estimate.

The South Australian Nuclear Fuel Royal Commission estimated a similar figure: A$145 billion over 120 years for construction, operation and decommissioning of a high-level nuclear waste repository.[82]

3.79Furthermore, Ms Leeman submitted:

Nowhere in Australia is a nuclear waste dump wanted and it is unconscionable to inflict such a burden on unborn future generations along with our climate legacy.[83]

3.80IPAN agreed that there is ‘extreme reluctance on the part of communities earmarked as a site or potential site for nuclear waste’ and noted concerns of racism in the selection of sites for nuclear waste dumps.[84]

3.81The MAPW described the difficulties that the Australian Government has faced ‘for over two decades (and continues to face) in finding a location for our relatively small amount of long lived intermediate level waste (ILW)’, whereby:

current proposals are deeply flawed, contested and well below international best practice;

the process has divided communities and created enormous distress; and

the misinformation provided by the government has been highly problematic.[85]

3.82In relation to the claims that SMRs are advantageous with respect to nuclear waste, the joint submission from environmental groups argued that these claims have ‘no logical or evidentiary basis’:

The South Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission said in its Final Report that “SMRs have lower thermal efficiency than large reactors, which generally translates to higher fuel consumption and spent fuel volumes over the life of a reactor.”…

[A Princeton University researcher noted] "a smaller reactor, at least the water-cooled reactors that are most likely to be built earliest, will produce more, not less, nuclear waste per unit of electricity they generate because of lower efficiencies."

A 2016 European Commission document states:

"At the current stage of development it cannot be assessed whether the decommissioning and waste management costs of SMRs will significantly differ from those of larger reactors. Due to the loss of economies of scale, the decommissioning and waste management unit costs of SMR will probably be higher than those of a large reactor (some analyses state that between two and three times higher)."[86]

3.83The ETU concluded that nuclear power ‘cannot be considered a clean source of energy given its intractable legacy of nuclear waste’. Furthermore, ‘radioactive waste management is costly, complex, contested and unresolved, globally and in the current Australian context.[87]

3.84Environment House agreed that introducing nuclear power into Australia would create unnecessary risks associated with high-level nuclear waste management and ‘the potential for catastrophic accidents, with profound intergenerational implications for Australians’.[88]

National security

3.85Some submitters were concerned about the risks that a future nuclear industry would create for Australia’s national security. The joint submission from environmental groups outlined a number of security risks associated with civil nuclear programs, including:

military strikes by nation-states on nuclear sites (primarily to prevent their use in weapons programs);

attacks on or theft from nuclear facilities (or transport vehicles) by individuals or sub-national groups;

nuclear theft and smuggling; and

sabotage / insider threats (e.g. the sabotage incident at Sellafield [Britain] in 2000).[89]

3.86The MAPW warned there ‘are clear historical links between the nuclear industry and nuclear weapons proliferation’:

Civil nuclear power generation goes a long way to providing a nuclear weapons capability. Proposals for Australia to acquire nuclear power – when we have other cheaper and less risky energy options – have the serious potential to raise questions elsewhere as to our motives, which may in turn fuel nuclear weapons proliferation.[90]

3.87The MAPW explained that ‘all nuclear armed states have used facilities and/or fuel that were ostensibly for peaceful purposes for their weapons programs’:

Nuclear power generally uses enriched uranium as the fuel. Any uranium enrichment plant can be used to produce not only reactor-grade uranium but also weapons-grade uranium (highly enriched uranium, HEU). Plutonium, also used as nuclear weapons fuel, is produced in reactors and can be chemically extracted from the spent fuel (via reprocessing). Thus the production of nuclear power provides two possible routes to nuclear weapons.[91]

3.88Similarly, IPAN submitted that:

The development of nuclear energy could be seen as a slippery slope to the eventual development of nuclear-powered weapons and even nuclear weapons themselves…

The current ban on nuclear energy in Australia provides a very important safeguard to avoid any chance of the eventual development of nuclearpowered weapons and even nuclear weapons themselves. We must continue this ban.[92]

3.89TEPA agreed that there are ‘dangerous links between the civilian nuclear fuel cycle and weapons proliferation, and the safeguards system remains limited and underfunded’. Additionally, there is the ‘risk of reactors becoming military targets (as has been the case with research reactors in the Middle East on multiple occasions) remains a serious concern’.[93]

3.90The ETU also raised concerns about the impact of allowing nuclear power in Australia on both domestic and international security, stating:

Nuclear power plants have been described as pre-deployed terrorist targets and pose a major security threat. This in turn would likely see an increase in policing and security operations and costs and a commensurate impact on civil liberties and public access to information.

Other nations in our region may view Australian nuclear aspirations with suspicion and concern given that many aspects of the technology and knowledge base are the same as those required for nuclear weapons…

Security measures adopted by other nations with nuclear power generation incorporate utilisation of significant military resources, a further cost and domestic consideration which is not currently factored into Australian electricity prices or energy plans.[94]

3.91Ms Leggett agreed that ‘the presence of enriched uranium in the country broadens the range of possible terrorism threats’ and added that the ‘extra security then becomes an added expense for the taxpayer’.[95]

3.92Dr Green noted the risks to a country of having nuclear power plants, reflecting on the ongoing war in the Ukraine:

…there is an ongoing risk of a nuclear catastrophe in Ukraine. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has released a report noting that several of Ukraine’s five nuclear power plants and other facilities have come under direct shelling over the past year.

The IAEA report states: “Every single one of the IAEA’s crucial seven indispensable pillars for ensuring nuclear safety and security in an armed conflict has been compromised, including the physical integrity of nuclear facilities; the operation of safety and security systems; the working conditions of staff; supply chains, communication channels, radiation monitoring and emergency arrangements; and the crucial off-site power supply.”

Loss of off-site power, and thus reliance on diesel generators to power reactor cooling, dramatically increases the risk of nuclear fuel meltdown and significantly increases the risk of a nuclear disaster.[96]

3.93Quoting the Australian Conservation Council, IPAN described the current conflict in Ukraine as ‘the weaponization of nuclear facilities and the threat of an uncontrolled radiation release’, even if the Russian army does not use its nuclear weapons.[97]

3.94Friends of the Earth Adelaide noted that lessons of the war in Ukraine are that ‘nuclear power plants are extremely vulnerable to attack by an aggressor’ and ‘they act as pre-placed nuclear weapons for any enemy with the capacity to accurately target them or their support infrastructure’.[98]

Impact on First Nations peoples

3.95Some submitters raised concerns about the impact of establishing a civilian nuclear industry in Australia on First Nations peoples. IPAN submitted that ‘First Nations peoples and their lands are especially impacted by the nuclear industry, both historically (since the UK nuclear bomb tests of the 1950s in outback South Australia) and presently’.[99]

3.96The joint submission from environmental groups asserted that the ‘pursuit of a nuclear power industry would almost certainly worsen patterns of disempowerment and dispossession that Australia's First Nations communities have and continue to experience from uranium, nuclear and radioactive waste projects’.[100]

3.97TEPA described numerous historical nuclear bomb tests conducted on Indigenous country:

There were three nuclear bomb tests carried out by Britain in the Monte Bello Islands off the coast of north West Australia – one in 1952 and two in 1956. The last plutonium bomb was 60 kilotons. It showered radioactive rain as far as the Queensland coast.

At Emu Fields—250 ks from Wallatinna and slightly further from Coober Pedy—after the first nuclear bomb test in 1953, brought ‘Black Mist’ fallout and radiation sickness to communities along the track – due to high and unpredictable wind conditions. The existence of people was ignored because the firing criteria for the bomb test was favourable.

Seven nuclear weapons’ tests were carried out at Maralinga by the British military in 1956-57 as well as several ‘minor trials’ that left extensive radioactive fallout and crater damage. Indigenous peoples were moved from their traditional land and many others were ignored and were caught up in the fallout.[101]

3.98The ETU also reflected on the history of the nuclear industry in Australia and its impact on First Nations peoples, stating:

The nuclear industry has a history of adverse impacts on Aboriginal communities, lands and waters. This began in the 1950s with British atomic testing and continues today with uranium mining and proposed nuclear waste dumps.

These problems would be magnified if Australia ever advanced domestic nuclear power.

Historically these adverse impacts have been somewhat quarantined to more remote and regional parts of Australia, out of site and out of mind to the general population. Even then they remain unpopular.

The creation of a nuclear power industry in Australia would be likely to further encroach on native title as well as prime agricultural land.[102]

3.99IPAN described a current example:

…the Napandee site (near Kimba on the Eyre Peninsula) proposed by the Federal Government as a national radioactive waste facility is a contested site. In late 2021, Traditional Owners the Barngarla people voiced their concerns about being excluded from discussions (and the voting process) with local landholders and townspeople and about the choice of site for a nuclear waste facility which they felt “amounted to systemic racism”.

…a current Federal Court challenge [is] underway, by Barngarla Native Title holders, in relation to whether the former government’s selection of the site was valid.[103]

3.100On 18 July 2023, the Federal Court ruled in favour of the Traditional Owners, setting aside the Commonwealth’s decision to build a low and intermediate level radioactive waste facility near Kimba in South Australia. Justice Natalie Charlesworth made the decision in favour of the Barngarla people on the grounds there was apprehended bias in the decisionmaking process in selecting the site due to ‘pre-judgement’.[104]

Lack of a social license for nuclear power in Australia

3.101A number of submitters outlined the long-term and ongoing public support for the prohibition on nuclear energy in Australia.[105]

3.102The ETU, for example, described its long-term opposition to nuclear in Australia:

The official policy of the ETU dates back to the 1950s, resulting from the shared experiences of ETU members who were returned service personnel returning from Japan following World War II. In the 60 years since, our union has regularly revisited this policy to learn more about the nuclear fuel cycle, changes and advances to technologies, the interaction of the industry and its outcomes for the environment, for health, for safety and for First Nations people and matters such as its technical interaction with the network. The most recent culmination of these considerations was in around July 2019 and again in April 2022 when rank-and-file members of our union met and invited scientists, environment groups, nuclear industry representatives and political party representatives from all the major parties to present to those conferences. Following those presentations, open debate was facilitated by the membership, and, on each occasion, unanimous conclusion to retain our policy of opposition to nuclear energy was retained.[106]

3.103The ETU submitted that the ‘Australian people neither need, nor want a nuclear future’, stating that there is ‘neither a mandate, nor broad political support or consensus to change those laws’ which prohibit the construction of nuclear power stations.[107]

3.104Similarly, the joint submission from environmental groups described the nuclear sector as ‘highly contested’ and not having broad political, stakeholder or community support. It referred to a 2015 Ipsos poll which found that 78–87% of Australians supported solar power, 72% wind power, 26% nuclear power and 23% coal power.[108]

3.105Environment House agreed that ‘nuclear is unwanted by the general public’, noting that there is ‘long standing popular opposition to nuclear power in Australia’ because of issues such as the unsolved problem of nuclear waste and the links to nuclear weapons.[109]

3.106Mr Sweeney discussed polling results on proposals to consider nuclear energy in Australia, stating ‘when this debate moves from a conversation or a philosophical or hypothetical point into a postcode—when it moves into 'Would you be comfortable to live near one of these facilities'—the support drops away enormously’:

We've seen it in an essential [poll] in 2019 which showed 50-to-50 support, pro and anti nuclear, but it dropped to well under 30 of 'I'd be prepared to live anywhere near a facility.' Once this moves from a discussion into a proposal, we see the reality of social licence hit… My experience has been, when it falls out as a proposal with a nuclear lens or angle, people do not want to be close to it or near to it, and that really does elevate concern and polarise opinion.[110]

3.107The joint submission agreed and highlighted polling results indicating opposition to locally-built nuclear power plants:

2019: 28% "would be comfortable living close to a nuclear power plant", 60% would not.

2019: 19% would agree to a nuclear power plant being built in their area, 58% would be opposed and a further 23% would be "anxious" (so 81% would be opposed or anxious).

2011: 12% of Australians would support a nuclear plant being built in their local area, 73% would oppose it. (Morgan poll)

2006: 10% Australians would strongly support a nuclear plant being built in their local area, 55% would strongly oppose it. (Newspoll)[111]

3.108On the other hand, the joint submission highlighted opinion polls showing that renewables are far more popular:

A 2019 survey of 1,960 Australians aged 18 years and older found that only 22% included nuclear power in their top three preferences, behind solar 76%, wind 58%, hydro 39% and power storage 29%. Further, 59% of respondents put nuclear power in their bottom three preferences…

2015: When given the option of eight energy sources, 84% included solar in their top three, 69% included wind, 21% included gas and only 13% included nuclear.

2013: Expanding the use of renewable energy sources (71%) was the most popular option to tackle climate change, followed by energy-efficient technologies (58%) and behavioural change (54%), with nuclear power (17.4%) a distant fourth.[112]

3.109TEPA noted that the prohibition in the EPBC Act is consistent with other prohibitions in the ARPANS Act, as well as similar prohibitions in state legislation in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland. Furthermore, legislation in Western Australia and South Australia also prohibits nuclear storage facilities. TEPA argued that these legislative prohibitions ‘demonstrate the broad community concern over and rejection of nuclear power and nuclear waste storage in Australia’.[113]

3.110The joint submission from environmental groups added:

The introduction of nuclear power would require bipartisan support at the federal level ‒ and bipartisan support in the relevant state/territory ‒ over a period of five or more election cycles.

This essential pre-condition does not exist and there is no reasonable expectation that this political landscape will change.[114]

3.111The next chapter sets out the committee’s views and recommendation.


[1]Dr Jim Green, National Nuclear Campaigner, Friends of the Earth Australia, Committee Hansard, 15 May 2023, pp. 31 and 35.

[2]Dr Green, National Nuclear Campaigner, Friends of the Earth Australia, Committee Hansard, 15 May 2023, p. 31.

[3]Dr Green, National Nuclear Campaigner, Friends of the Earth Australia, Committee Hansard, 15 May 2023, p. 36.

[4]Environment House, Submission 12, p. 1.

[5]Dr Green, National Nuclear Campaigner, Friends of the Earth Australia, Committee Hansard, 15 May 2023, p. 36.

[6]Dr Green, National Nuclear Campaigner, Friends of the Earth Australia, Committee Hansard, 15 May 2023, p. 31.

[7]Dr Green, ‘Nuclear is flatlining’, Ecologist, 1 March 2023 (accessed 6 July 2023).

[8]Dr Green, ‘Nuclear is flatlining’, Ecologist, 1 March 2023 (accessed 6 July 2023).

[9]Dr Green, ‘Nuclear is flatlining’, Ecologist, 1 March 2023 (accessed 6 July 2023).

[10]Mr Simon Duggan, Deputy Secretary, Energy Group, Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water (DCCEEW), Committee Hansard, 15 May 2023, p. 61.

[11]DCCEEW Submission 36, p. 2.

[12]Friends of the Earth Adelaide, Submission 9, p. 1.

[13]DCCEEW, Submission 36, p. 2.

[14]Mr Paul Graham, Chief Economist, Energy, CSIRO, Committee Hansard, 15 May 2023, pp. 45–46.

[15]Independent Peaceful Australian Network (IPAN), Submission 17, p. 8.

[16]Paul Graham, Jenny Hayward, James Foster and Lisa Havas, GenCost 2022-23: Final report, CSIRO, July 2023, p. 73. Note: the GenCost 2022-23 report was made public after the committee had gathered its evidence. Submitters and witnesses referenced the GenCost 2021-22 report.

[17]Mr Dave Sweeney, Nuclear Policy Analyst, Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), Committee Hansard, 15 May 2023, p. 31.

[18]Friends of the Earth Australia, Australian Conservation Foundation, Greenpeace Australia Pacific, Wilderness Society, Conservation Council of WA, Conservation SA, Nature Conservation Council (NSW), Environment Victoria, Queensland Conservation Council, Environment Centre NT and Environs Kimberley (Friends of the Earth Australia, et. al.), Submission 14, p. 7.

[19]Ms Grusha Leeman, Submission 136, p. 2.

[20]IPAN, Submission 17, p. 8.

[21]IPAN, Submission 17, p. 8.

[22]Friends of the Earth Australia, et. al., Submission 14, p. 32.

[23]Friends of the Earth Australia, et. al., Submission 14, p. 9.

[24]Dr Gillian Hirth, Chief Executive Officer, ARPANSA, Committee Hansard, 15 May 2023, p. 54.

[25]Medical Association for Prevention of War Australia (MAPW), Submission 28, pp. 7–8.

[26]MAPW, Submission 28, p. 8.

[27]Australian Workers’ Union (AWU), Submission 25, p. 3.

[28]Friends of the Earth Australia, et. al., Submission 14, pp. 3 & 7.

[29]Friends of the Earth Australia, et. al., Submission 14, p. 5.

[30]Friends of the Earth Australia, et. al., Submission 14, p. 8.

[31]Ms Grusha Leeman, Submission 136, p. 1.

[32]Dr Hirth, Chief Executive Officer, ARPANSA, Committee Hansard, 15 May 2023, p. 53.

[33]Top End Peace Alliance (TEPA) Submission 32, p. 5.

[34]TEPA, Submission 32, p. 6.

[35]TEPA, Submission 32, p. 5.

[36]TEPA, Submission 32, p. 6.

[37]Friends of the Earth Australia, et. al., Submission 14, p. 6.

[38]Mr Trevor Gauld, National Policy Officer, Electrical Trades Union of Australia (ETU), Committee Hansard, 15 May 2023,p. 38.

[39]Mr Dave Sweeney, Nuclear Policy Analyst, ACF, Committee Hansard, 15May 2023, p. 34.

[40]See, for example: ETU, Submission 3, p. 5; Friends of the Earth Adelaide, Submission 9, p. 1.

[41]ETU, Submission 3, p. 5.

[42]Mr Gauld, National Policy Officer, ETU, Committee Hansard, 15 May 2023,p. 43.

[43]Friends of the Earth Adelaide, Submission 9, p. 3.

[44]Dr Green, National Nuclear Campaigner, Friends of the Earth Australia, Committee Hansard, 15 May 2023, p. 32.

[45]Friends of the Earth Adelaide, Submission 9, p. 4, citations omitted.

[46]ETU, Submission 3, p. 9.

[47]ETU, Submission 3, p. 11.

[48]Friends of the Earth Australia, et. al., Submission 14, p. 5.

[49]Mr Gauld, National Policy Officer, ETU, Committee Hansard, 15 May 2023,p. 38.

[50]Mr Gauld, National Policy Officer, ETU, Committee Hansard, 15 May 2023,p. 41.

[51]Mr Gauld, National Policy Officer, ETU, Committee Hansard, 15 May 2023,p. 42.

[52]Mr Gauld, National Policy Officer, ETU, Committee Hansard, 15 May 2023,pp. 42–43.

[53]IPAN, Submission 17, p. 5.

[54]Ms Mia Pepper, Nuclear Free Campaigner, Conservation Council of Western Australia, Committee Hansard, 15 May 2023, p. 33.

[55]ETU, Submission 3, p. 10.

[56]ETU, Submission 3, p. 10.

[57]See, for example, IPAN, Submission 17, p. 5; TEPA, Submission 31, pp. 3–4; Ms Karyn Green and Mr Peter McLaren, Submission 106, p. 3; Ms Monica Leggett, Submission 134, p. 2; Name withheld, Submission 135, p. 2; Mr Dan Monceaux, Submission 146, p. 3.

[58]Friends of the Earth Australia, et. al., Submission 14, p. 76.

[59]IPAN, Submission 17, p. 5.

[60]Ms Monica Leggett, Submission 134, p. 1.

[61]Ms Monica Leggett, Submission 134, p. 2.

[62]MAPW, Submission 28, pp 10–11.

[63]Mr Sweeney, Nuclear Policy Analyst, ACF, Committee Hansard, 15 May 2023, p. 31.

[64]Ms Monica Leggett, Submission 134, p. 2. See, also Marrickville Peace Group, Submission 21, p. 5.

[65]MAPW, Submission 28, p. 7.

[66]IPAN, Submission 17, p. 6, citations omitted.

[67]Mr Dan Monceaux, Submission 146, p. 2.

[68]Mr Gauld, National Policy Officer, ETU, Committee Hansard, 15 May 2023,p. 40.

[69]TEPA, Submission 32, p. 6.

[70]Dr Green, National Nuclear Campaigner, Friends of the Earth Australia, Committee Hansard, 15 May 2023, p. 37.

[71]ETU, Submission 3, p. 6.

[72]ETU, Submission 3, p. 7.

[73]Ms Grusha Leeman, Submission 136, p. 1.

[74]MAPW, Submission 28, p. 11.

[75]Mr Sweeney, Nuclear Policy Analyst, ACF, Committee Hansard, 15 May 2023, p. 34.

[76]IPAN, Submission 17, p. 10.

[77]Ms Grusha Leeman, Submission 136, pp. 2–3.

[78]See, for example: Environment House, Submission 12, p. 1; IPAN, Submission 17, p. 9; Ms Grusha Leeman, Submission 136, pp. 2–3.

[79]Dr Green, National Nuclear Campaigner, Friends of the Earth Australia, Committee Hansard, 15 May 2023, p. 35.

[80]Marrickville Peace Group, Submission 21, p. 4.

[81]Nicole Watson, ‘New IAEA Report Presents Global Overview of Radioactive Waste and Spent Fuel Management’, IAEA, 21 January 2022 (accessed 18 July 2023).

[82]Friends of the Earth Australia, et. al., Submission 14, p. 76.

[83]Ms Grusha Leeman, Submission 136, pp. 2–3.

[84]IPAN, Submission 17, p. 9.

[85]MAPW, Submission 28, p. 7.

[86]Friends of the Earth Australia, et. al., Submission 14, p. 63.

[87]ETU, Submission 3, p. 5.

[88]Environment House, Submission 12, p. 1.

[89]Friends of the Earth Australia, et. al., Submission 14, p. 80.

[90]MAPW, Submission 28, p. 4.

[91]MAPW, Submission 28, pp. 3–4.

[92]IPAN, Submission 17, pp. 6–7.

[93]TEPA, Submission 32, p. 2.

[94]ETU, Submission 3, pp. 8–9.

[95]Ms Monica Leggett, Submission 134, p. 2.

[96]Dr Green, ‘Nuclear is flatlining’, Ecologist, 1 March 2023 (accessed 6 July 2023).

[97]IPAN, Submission 17, p. 6.

[98]Friends of the Earth Adelaide, Submission 9, p. 4.

[99]IPAN, Submission 17, p. 11. See, also: Ms Karyn Green and Mr Peter McLaren, Submission 106, p. 3.

[100]Friends of the Earth Australia, et. al., Submission 14, p. 7.

[101]TEPA, Submission 32, p. 2.

[102]ETU, Submission 3, pp. 10–11.

[103]IPAN, Submission 17, p. 11, citations omitted.

[105]See, for example: IPAN, Submission 17, p. 7; Marrickville Peace Group, Submission 21, p. 1.

[106]Mr Gauld, National Policy Officer, ETU, Committee Hansard, 15 May 2023, p. 38.

[107]ETU, Submission 3, pp. 1 & 10.

[108]Friends of the Earth Australia, et. al., Submission 14, p. 5.

[109]Environment House, Submission 12, p. 1.

[110]Mr Sweeney, Nuclear Policy Analyst, ACF, Committee Hansard, 15 May 2023, p. 34.

[111]Friends of the Earth Australia, et. al., Submission 14, p. 78.

[112]Friends of the Earth Australia, et. al., Submission 14, p. 78.

[113]TEPA, Submission 32, pp. 4–5.

[114]Friends of the Earth Australia, et. al., Submission 14, p. 77.