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Thursday, 30 November 2017
Page: 9329

Senator LEYONHJELM (New South Wales) (12:31): Two atoms are walking down the street. The first atom says he thinks he's lost an electron. The second atom asks, 'Are you positive?' All things nuclear don't need to be scary.

Nuclear power evokes the fear of the unknown, because nuclear science is so extraordinary and because we don't have nuclear power here in Australia. But nuclear power is an unremarkable feature of energy markets around the world. Nuclear power has grown from 3.3 per cent of global electricity generation 40 years ago to 10.6 per cent now. Nuclear power is relied on in countries like South Korea and Sweden. In France, 75 per cent of electricity generation is nuclear, and countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom and China are further expanding their nuclear power by developing small modular reactors which generate little waste.

Over 60 nuclear reactors are under construction right now, and China plans another 200 by 2050. There are 400 nuclear reactors in the world and, within 10 years, there will be over 500. The global growth in nuclear power is ongoing, despite the 2011 disaster in Japan, where an earthquake and tsunami killed 20,000 people and the resulting meltdown of an old and poorly sited nuclear power plant prompted significant upheaval but killed no-one. It goes against what hippies want to believe, but the nuclear power industry is significantly safer than any other large-scale, energy-related industries. Fossil-fuel power, hydro power and wind power are more deadly both in absolute terms and relative to the power they produce. That was the conclusion of the 2006 review commissioned by the Howard government, and it remains true today.

When I hear Luddites speaking about the dangers of nuclear power, I'm reminded of a joke. A guy walks up to a girl and says, 'Let's chat.' She says, 'What about?' He says, 'How about nuclear power?' She says, 'Let me ask a question first. A deer, a cow and a horse all eat the same stuff—grass—yet a deer excretes little pellets, a cow turns out a flat patty and a horse produces clumps of dried grass. Why do you think that is?' The guy thinks about it and says, 'Hmm. I have no idea.' To which the girl replies, 'Do you really feel qualified to discuss nuclear power when you don't know crap?'

Today we are debating a bill a version of which I was drafting but Senator Bernardi beat me to it. It is the Nuclear Fuel Cycle (Facilitation) Bill 2017. I heartily support the bill and I congratulate him for bringing it forward. The bill removes Commonwealth bans on nuclear power and on nuclear fuel processing, reprocessing and enrichment. These bans are found in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act and the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act. Removing these blanket bans still leaves nuclear power heavily regulated. Nuclear activities and installations would still need to satisfy the generic environmental approval requirements in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. They would also need to be licensed under the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act. Any nuclear activities in Australia would also continue to be subject to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation (Safeguards) Act, the Customs (Prohibited Exports) Regulations and the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations.

This bill, quite rightly, removes Commonwealth bans on nuclear fuels and power, but I think we can go further to show to the parliament, the government and the people that we can manage the nuclear fuel cycle in Australia. So I would seek to add to this bill by moving amendments at the committee stage. These amendments would establish a regulatory framework for nuclear fuels and power. They would allow the existing nuclear safety regulator, called ARPANSA, to issue licences to undertake nuclear activities, not just to the Commonwealth bodies that they currently issue licences to but more generally. They would require ARPANSA to make disallowable regulations regarding health, safety and environmental standards, and minimum disaster insurance requirements. My amendments would also remove Commonwealth interference in state and territory decisions on uranium mining and the transportation and storage of nuclear power. This involves amendment of the Environment Protection (Northern Territory Supreme Court) Act 1978, the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976, the Environment Protection (Alligator Rivers Region) Act 1978 and the National Radioactive Waste Management Act 2012. None of my amendments would trample on states' rights, so to get rid of the various bans on nuclear power that exist in state law, voters would need to vote at state elections for the Liberal Democrats, or, if they weren't quite such strong supporters of freedom, they could vote for the Australian Conservatives.

Let me finish as I started, with a cheesy joke, to remind us that all things nuclear don't need to be scary. A neutron walks into a bar. He orders a beer and asks the barman, 'How much do I owe you?' The barman replies, 'For you, no charge.' Nuclear power must have a future in Australia. If we are serious about reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, we have to embrace nuclear power. There is no other option. We cannot generate low-emissions electricity and keep the lights on and the costs down using wind power and solar power or hydro power. It cannot be done, and the countries that are trying to do it are failing. Only the countries that are investing in nuclear power are, at the same time, reducing their emissions and keeping the lights on. There is no other alternative. We must embrace nuclear power.