Hidden $387bn cost of Dutton’s nuclear plan

Question Time
Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen says new analysis shows the Coalition’s plan to transition coal-fired power stations to nuclear would cost Australians $387bn. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

Replacing Australia’s retiring coal-fired power stations with the Coalition’s suggested nuclear energy model would cost taxpayers up to $387bn, new modelling suggests.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton, backed particularly by junior Coalition partners the Nationals, has previously suggested that Australia could “convert or repurpose coal-fired plants and use the transmission connections which already exist on those sites”.

Mr Dutton has also said nuclear is the “lowest cost form” of low carbon electricity, but has not explicitly outlined how much such a transition would cost.

New analysis done by the energy department shows the projected cost, which assumes replacing all of the output from closing coal-fired plants with small modular reactors, would be costly.

Energy and Climate Change Minister Chris Bowen said Mr Dutton and the opposition “need to explain why” Australians would be slugged with a $387bn burden for their nuclear energy plan that “flies in the face of economics and reason”.

Question Time
Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen has slammed the Coalition’s plan for nuclear transitioning. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

But the Greens have called on the government to stop the distraction and explain to Australians why they are forging ahead with new coal and gas projects when the country is in the grips of a “climate crisis”.

“Australia is forecast to have its worst summer since the Black Summer, and yet Labor is approving more coal and gas. Peter Dutton’s nuclear push is a distraction from Labor’s continual approval of new coal and gas projects,” party leader Adam Bandt said.

“We should not allow ourselves to be distracted by Peter Dutton’s push for nuclear when Labor keeps opening new coal and gas projects in the middle of a climate crisis.”

A minimum of 71 small modular reactors – providing 300MW each – would be needed if the policy were to fully replace the 21.3GW output of the country’s retiring coal fleet.

Each reactor’s estimated capital cost is $18,167/kW in 2030 compared with large-scale solar at $1058/kW and onshore wind at $1989/kW.

When broken down, the modelling suggests each individual taxpayer would be burdened with a “whopping $25,000 cost impost” for such a transition.

Peter Dutton suggested transitioning retiring coal fired power stations to nuclear power plants earlier this year. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

“The opposition want to trump the benefits of non-commercial SMR technology, without owning up to the cost and how they intend to pay for it,” Mr Bowen said.

“After nine years of energy policy chaos, rather than finally embracing a clean, cheap, safe and secure renewable future, all the Coalition can promise is a multi-billion dollar nuclear flavoured energy policy.”

In total, the $387bn plan costs about 20 times what the Albanese government’s Rewiring the Nation fund is projected to cost.

The government says that fund will help achieve 82 per cent renewable energy by 2030, by unlocking over 26GW of new renewable generation capacity, and over 30GW of transmission capacity.

When Mr Dutton made his pitch for a nuclear transition in July, he suggested the Liddell Power Station could be a possible site for a small nuclear reactor.

At the time, he said he saw nuclear “not as a competitor to renewables, but as a competition”.

He said he wanted an Australia where “we can decarbonise, and, at the same time, deliver cheaper, more reliable, and lower emission electricity”.

Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce supports nuclear energy. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

On Monday morning, Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce sought to undermine the department’s costings, saying the government had also released costing showing Australians would have a $275 reduction in their power bills which “didn’t happen”.

“Universities have said to get to a zero emissions target it is $7 to 9 trillion – that’s 20 times more than what Mr Bowen has put forward in the nuclear costing, spare me,” Mr Joyce told Channel 7.

“Mr Bowen is right and 32 countries are wrong? It’s ridiculous.”

His panelmate, Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek said nuclear was “the most expensive form of energy there is”.

“More than 70 reactors … we would have to find places for in Australia. Where are they going to go? Is Barnaby going to have them in his electorate? Where are they going to go,” she said.

“Nobody wants a nuclear reactor in their backyard.”