Dutton’s nuclear plan could cost up to $600 billion

The Smart Energy Council has conducted detailed analysis revealing that it will cost between $116 billion and $600 billion to build the seven nuclear reactors proposed by Australian Liberal Party leader Peter Dutton. 

Last week, Dutton said the party’s plan to build nuclear power plants would start rolling out in 2035, subject to the party winning the next election. 

The plan involves building reactors on the sites of end-of-life-coal-fired power stations. These sites include Gippsland in Victoria, Gladstone in Queensland, Port Augusta in South Australia, Collie in Western Australia, and the Hunter Valley in New South Wales. 

The Smart Energy Council used data from the CSIRO’s latest GenCost report and the Australian Energy Market Operator’s (AEMO) integrated system plan, which forecast the cost of all seven reactors at a minimum of $116 billion. 

This is the same cost as delivering 82% renewables by 2030 and an almost 100% renewable energy mix by 2050, including the cost of building all of the enabling transmission infrastructure. 

CEO John Grimes says Dutton’s proposal would deliver 3.7% of the energy required at the same cost as the federal government’s comprehensive strategy. 

“In reality, current cost overruns happening right now in the UK could mean a $600 billion bill to Australian taxpayers, whilst delivering a small proportion of the energy that is actually required,” he says. 

“Australians concerned about cost of living today are in for a very rude shock if Peter Dutton’s plans are realised.

“The Smart Energy Council calls on the federal opposition to immediately release their analysis of the costings and generation capacity from the seven proposed nuclear reactor sites. They need to explain how their forecasts contradict the experts at the CSIRO and AEMO. It is extraordinary that the details are being hidden from the Australian public.”

Based on the US and UK’s existing nuclear industries, the Smart Energy Council says large nuclear reactors are unlikely to be built by 2040, and that there are no so-called “small, modular nuclear reactors” outside of Russia and China. 

In the UK, the Hinkley C nuclear reactor, which was announced in 2016, was scheduled to be completed by 2025 at a cost of $34 billion. 

The Smart Energy Council says the first of the reactors has been delayed until 2031 with an estimated cost of $87 billion. The project’s proponents do not have a completion date for the second reactor. 

Weld Australia CEO Geoff Crittenden noted that if it’s been a task for the UK, which has a well-established nuclear industry, Australia — which has no nuclear industry — is likely to find it a challenge.

Crittendon adds there is a critical shortage of skilled welders needed for the proposed nuclear power plant program.

Should the program go ahead, Weld Australia says the additional workload — alongside existing defence, shipbuilding, mining, renewable and infrastructure projects — would likely see that shortage expand from 70,000 workers to 100,000 workers.

Crittenden says there were 67,000 welders identified in the latest census report, however, fewer than 5,000 hold welding expertise required for nuclear power plants, submarines, and other critical infrastructure. 

“Of those 5,000 welders, approximately one third are nearing retirement, further compounding the issue,” he says.

“Australia’s energy transition is already struggling and adding the monumental task of building nuclear power plants without a sufficient skilled workforce is impractical.”

Write to Aaliyah Rogan at Mining.com.au   

Images: Unsplash/MickTruyts
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Written By Aaliyah Rogan
Relocated from the East Coast in New Zealand to Queensland Australia, Aaliyah is a fervent journalist who has a passion for storytelling. When Aaliyah isn’t writing stories, she is either spending time with friends and family or down at the beach.