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Thursday, 30 November 2017
Page: 9326

Senator MOORE (Queensland) (12:14): Senator Bernardi, unsurprisingly, has put on the agenda this issue around nuclear energy. In his contribution to this debate on the Nuclear Fuel Cycle (Facilitation) Bill 2017, he seemed to indicate that this was something that came as a huge surprise to everyone who's involved in the debate on energy in this country. I find this hard to understand, because, as we know, the issues of nuclear power and nuclear energy have been part of discussion in this space for a very long time. Indeed, there has been a wide range of debates through the community, through the scientific community and through the economic community about the advantages, disadvantages, costs and processes of a whole range of energy sources, including nuclear energy. It's as though Senator Bernardi and Senator Macdonald believe that there's been a box with a closed lid and this shall not be talked about, which is just not true.

Over the years, issues around nuclear energy have come before this place and they have been part of the wider community discussion. Through that process, a number of investigations have taken place, and, as our shadow minister, Mark Butler, has said, the simple fact is that nuclear power in Australia simply doesn't add up. The arguments do not add up now and they didn't add up in the past. Sometime in the future they may, but at this time they just don't add up. The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, which is well skilled and well knowledgeable in this space, noted: 'It's difficult to envisage traditional nuclear power plants being established on the NEM given the current grid structure.'

We meet regularly here with CSIRO and we have the Friends of CSIRO group and on a number of occasions people have come here to talk about a range of energy options for our country, which is a significant discussion and one we need to have. CSIRO have noted the challenges to nuclear power in Australia, and they have been on the public record for many years. Senator Bernardi would be well aware of these, but I'm going to run through them again, because I think it's more important in this debate to talk about what's on the record about nuclear power, rather than to talk about how preferences operate in the Queensland state election. Interesting as that is, I could not see the absolute relevance to this debate.

In the CSIRO publications out there on the public record, the issues surrounding challenges to nuclear power in Australia include the legislative and regulatory framework development, including for protection, operational safety, waste storage and decommissioning. I'll go back to some of those later, but they are areas of concern that would need to be considered when debating further implementation or consideration of nuclear energy in our nation. Another area is education, science and technical skills development in this area. Amidst a range of university and developmental areas of research across Australia—a very competitive field, as you know—there has not been a focus on nuclear energy. I'm led to believe that there are no universities in Australia offering courses in nuclear engineering and that there's little nuclear engineering experience in our nation. Again, that is not to say that there should be an absolute denial; it's a statement on the reality of the knowledge base in our country at the moment.

Another concern raised by CSIRO is the commercial and economic framework to support significant up-front capital costs and eventual planned decommissioning. There has been considerable debate over the years about the various costs of different forms of energy in our nation and, consistently, the costings that have come forward about introducing a nuclear energy process in Australia have led to very significant calculations of the costs that would be involved. These costs need to be taken into account when you're looking at the various forms of energy options that we have. The expense of getting a new industry started, the expense of the technology needed and the expense of the actual infrastructure needed are very important elements for consideration. Currently, the indications we have and the data that's available to us indicate that the significant up-front capital costs are a major concern for anyone who is looking at this discussion around nuclear energy. Also, we have seen overseas—and, naturally, a lot of our experience is from overseas—that the cost of plant decommissioning has been found to be extremely expensive. Where countries have had to decommission nuclear power stations, nuclear power plants, it has caused a great deal of concern in terms of how much it costs to make them safe and also in terms of being able to continue operating in the area after they have gone through the process of closing them down.

Another major issue, if a decision were made to build a nuclear energy facility at a particular point, would be how long would it take for it to be operating on the ground, providing the kind of energy that we, as a nation, require? The CSIRO calculations say that it's a 10- to 15-year interval from the commencement to the start-up of a reactor. I know that Senator Bernardi gave other figures. I understand that it would be part of a discussion in this area, but the data that we have before us on the current knowledge that's out there from the CSIRO says that the time frame from commencement to completion and to operation is a 10- to 15-year process, and that, of course, is a very long-term plan, if we're looking at a transition to another form of energy.

There is also the issue of reactor locations. When we talk about nuclear reactors and nuclear waste facilities, a massive community discussion occurs when proposals are put up for these types of facilities. If Senator Bernardi—and I'm not trying to be too direct towards Senator Bernardi, but he has brought forward this bill—and other people as proponents of this form of energy want us to talk about it then they need to consider and clearly identify when putting forward a proposal to transition to any form of nuclear power where they would locate the infrastructure that is necessary to make such power operational. Our personal experience in Australia has been that when these things are brought out into the open—when finally, after discussions that often take place in secret, I'll say, and when finally decisions are made public as to where a nuclear reactor or a nuclear waste facility could be located—there does seem to be a reaction from the community that is not positive.

Certainly, I'm interested that Senator Bernardi has brought forward this issue, as he is a senator for South Australia. I remember the amount of community reaction it caused when a proposal was made several years ago for nuclear waste facilities to be located in the South Australian geography. The local community was not supportive of that. Then there were further discussions about possible locations in the Northern Territory. Again, the Northern Territory government and the Northern Territory communities that were involved in those discussions were very unhappy with their community areas being identified as possible locations. So, when you're looking at issues that need to be considered when you're going in this nuclear direction, you have to look at where you would actually place the infrastructure, where there would be support for that infrastructure and—from overseas experience—where it would be physically safe to have the infrastructure of the type that you would need. I do not have all the knowledge, but I have read papers about the kind of geography that is necessary for such a plant to be placed in, including access to water and access to other forms of technologies.

This leads to a very sensitive issue, which is water use. CSIRO has done a lot of work generally on the issue of water use in our community. They've used that knowledge in the discussion on what would be necessary for nuclear plants or nuclear operations. The indications that they have—and this is available on their website—is that nuclear plants use more cooling water than coal and gas plants. In terms of the sensitivities in our community and also the necessities of our climate and our access to water in Australia, that is a really important issue. Where would you be able to ensure that there were appropriate water sources, that would be safe and that would provide the support that would be necessary for the implementation of nuclear energy? The last point that they discuss at length—and this is after many, many years of community engagement—is the political and social acceptance of nuclear power, and that is not agreed and it is not clear in our community. In fact, there continues to be a wide range of opinion about the acceptance of nuclear power and that form of energy in our country.

Even if you were to overcome the community, legal and political barriers to nuclear energy, it's clear that due to the skills and other technical barriers it would take very many years, over a decade—and that's the optimistic option—for Australia to be ready to begin construction of a nuclear power plant. That also does not take into account, as I said, the real need existing in our nation, and I am very much aware of strong community opposition to nuclear power. It is important that we engage on those issues and—rather than dismissing them quite sarcastically as, I believe, Senator Macdonald did in his previous contribution—understand that there is community knowledge, understanding and frustration around the issues that are important. I know that there are other things happening in this place and I seek leave to continue my remarks later on this issue.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Gallacher ): Is leave granted?

Senator Leyonhjelm: Leave is not granted.

Senator MOORE: There does not seem to be acceptance that we end this debate.

Senator Abetz: We want to hear your pearls of wisdom!

Senator MOORE: I know, Senator Abetz, that you yearn to hear what I have to say!

As I was saying, that remains a major issue within the community in terms of any acceptance of a change to the current position that we have in the country around nuclear power. Senator Macdonald did allude to the 'issue' or 'incident'—I should have written it down—of Fukushima. His dismissal of the significant issues around what happened at Fukushima was, I think, indicative of the lack of genuine understanding of the concerns in the community around this issue. Certainly over a long period of time one of the clear issues that has been raised within the community about anything around the further development of nuclear energy in our country has been a concern around a guarantee for safety and that there not be the kind of environmental, social and serious damage that occurred as a result of a series of nuclear incidents over many years. The most recent of those was in Fukushima, but the Chernobyl situation, of which we've just passed a significant anniversary, caused immense damage all across northern Europe and into the Arctic. In parts of Europe and the UK—I know that the UK are probably not referring to themselves as part of Europe any longer—there is still monitoring being done of ongoing issues around environmental damage in that area as a result of an incident that happened well over 20 years ago.

We've had Chernobyl identified and national and international reviews of what occurred at Three Mile Island and the significant safety issues that occurred. When something goes wrong in a nuclear energy facility, the resultant impact is much more serious than we see when things go wrong with other forms of power in the power industry. Certainly no-one can ever offer a guarantee. It doesn't matter what form of energy we're talking about, there's a possibility that there can be problems and that dangerous and destructive things can occur. However, our international experience at this point in time is that the resultant impact of a disaster, if something goes wrong with nuclear power, is significantly greater than what has occurred with other forms of energy problems. That has a major impact for the community and also for security in our nation. If anyone heard the number of submissions that Senator Ludlam made on the issue of post-Fukushima Japan from his many visits there and his interactions with community, parliamentarians and scientists, they would understand that the lessons to be learned by what happened in Fukushima must continue to be part of the ongoing debate on this issue.

I know that Senator Bernardi alluded to the very significant issue of nuclear waste that continues to bedevil our community even with the nuclear processes that we have, particularly in the medical field, already in Australia. Coming to an effective, agreed process for how we should operate the increasing amount of waste has proven to be a major obstacle already in our society. I'm not sure whether Senator Bernardi has been involved in any of the discussions around this issue, but I have. I know there are other speakers, so I'll end my contribution there.