The Coalition has been criticised after reports revealed it is considering a “coal-to-nuclear transition” as part of its 2025 energy policy.
The strategy aims to secure long-term baseload power, reduce emissions, and lower electricity prices, with plans to tap into Australia’s abundant uranium reserves.
Australian regions the party believes are vulnerable to the shift from coal to renewables, including the Hunter Valley and Queensland, have reportedly been floated as potential candidates for the development of small modular reactors.
Opposition energy and climate change spokesman Ted O’Brien emphasises that local community input is crucial and that a “social license” should be obtained before any major infrastructure project is undertaken.
The Coalition says it is drawing lessons from Labor’s past experiences in pushing through renewable energy initiatives without sufficient local support.
“A social licence should be a prerequisite for any major infrastructure that impacts people’s way of life. It’s one of the reasons why we’re speaking so openly about these matters now, even before we’ve settled a policy,” Mr O’Brien told The Australian.
Opposition leader Peter Dutton is pushing for nuclear energy and gas to be central to the government’s future energy strategy, which is expected to be finalised before the next federal election.
Former Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, reportedly also considered backing nuclear energy before the 2022 election, but concerns about electoral backlash and political opposition led to him dropping the idea.
Despite some scepticism within the Liberal Party about the economics and public sentiment towards nuclear energy, recent polling suggests a shift in public perception due to rising energy costs and concerns about grid stability.
The Coalition argues nuclear energy could replace coal power plants, reduce emissions, and capitalise on existing infrastructure.
However, Labor party representatives say the Coalition’s plan is riddled with holes. A spokesperson for Climate Change minister Chris Bowen said the Coalition had previously voiced support for a nuclear Australia but is yet to provide rock solid details to the public.
“They’re yet to come up with a plan with where the reactors can go and how much they will cost,” the spokesperson told news.com.au.
“Even if we started today, having nuclear power ready within 10 years is being generous. They’re very much against renewables, where we are backing it. Labor has implemented the $20b rewiring the nation policy, which has produced an actual change for the future.
“There are credible reports that nuclear is the most expensive source of energy in the world, so they really need to show people the plan.”
The spokesperson noted the Coalition has long had a stance against Labor’s renewable energy plan, which aims to provide Australia with 82 per cent of its energy by 2030.
Last year, renewables accounted for roughly 36 per cent of Australia’s energy, with coal generation falling from 59.1 per cent in 2021 to 54.6 per cent in 2022.
Mr Bowen told reporters at this year’s G20 energy ministers meeting in Goa, India that nuclear power had never been a part of Australia’s plan, despite other countries benefiting from it.
“I’m not here to tell other countries what to do. Nuclear plays a role in various countries’ mix, but in Australia, it never has,” Mr Bowen said.
“Wherever you look, there’s issues from our point of view with nuclear energy,”
Bowen said Australia needs more investments in order to reach its net-zero goals, calling for more industry figureheads to get behind the clean energy scheme.
“Sector by sector plans are important for Australia because each sector is so different,” he said.
“I’ve been struck by the level of support and engagement from Australian businesses — big and small, and from international investors.”
However, nuclear advocacy groups have challenged Mr Bowen on his stance, claiming the Labor government has not addressed the problem of energy prices for the average Aussie in their long term strategy.
“Chris Bowen demonstrated recently his opposition to effective action on climate change and providing Australia with a secure low cost energy future,” founder of Nuclear for Climate Australia Rob Parker said.
“The people of Australia are wising up to his anti-nuclear nonsense. They are getting hit with ever increasing power bills courtesy of an energy transition that’s out of control.
“Neither AEMO nor the CSIRO have done the right thing by the Australian people by properly considering the system wide benefits of including nuclear energy in an optimum mix for the nation.”