‘Not competitive’: Coalition slammed over nuclear as data reveals eye-watering cost

Source: Sky News Australia

The Coalition’s nuclear power dreams are being slammed by experts after new modelling showed it would be at least 50 per cent costlier than renewable alternatives and could take decades to build.

Independent estimates published on Wednesday by the CSIRO found building Australia’s first large nuclear reactor would cost at least $8.6 billion, and would take upwards of 15 years.

Billions of dollars in cost blowouts are also possible – even likely – as the nation would pay a “first of its kind” premium building a plant in an economy without a traditional nuclear power industry.

Nuclear far costlier than renewables

Climate Councillor Nicki Hutley said the modelling exposes the federal opposition’s support for nuclear power as economically “impossible” and a “red herring” in the Australian climate debate.

Liberal leader Peter Dutton has backed nuclear as a cheap low-emissions power option as Australia moves away from fossil fuels, but the Coalition has yet to release a detailed policy.

“We have absolutely no infrastructure for nuclear power in this country,” Hutley explained.

“It’s not competitive with solar or wind, even with firming. If the economics doesn’t stack up, why on earth would you even consider going down that path?”

The GenCost report was designed as a “technology-neutral” assessment of power generation costs and in 2024 has for the first time run the ruler over what nuclear might cost taxpayers.

It’s estimated electricity from a large-scale nuclear reactor would cost between $141 and $233 per megawatt hour (MWh), while a small-scale reactor costs between $238 and $382 per MWh.

Renewables, meanwhile, were costed at between $73 and $128 per MWh, even when firmed.

Source: GenCost (click to enlarge).

Nuclear would take too long

The report also warned that a nuclear reactor couldn’t be up and running until at least 2040 and that the cost of building one could even double without an established nuclear power industry.

Curtin University energy expert Liam Wagner said the modelling showed going down a nuclear path is financially irresponsible.

“I would say the costs for nuclear small modular reactors (SMRs) are optimistic,” he warned.

“Nuclear energy in Australia will be unlikely to compete with renewables and storage for 20 to 30 years and we don’t have that much time to transition to net-zero carbon electricity.”

Hutley said the Coalition’s decision to back nuclear power risks jeopardising the urgent need to pursue huge investments in renewables and the transmission system needed to enable it.

“The opposition is trying to find something to differentiate themselves on, but for a party that prides themselves on economic rationalism, this is the opposite of that,” Hutley explained.

“It makes no sense. If you’re going to die in a ditch, do it on something that makes economic sense.”

Energy Minister Chris Bowen was quick to seize on the independent CSIRO modelling on Wednesday to criticise the Coalition’s energy policy.

“The CSIRO points out that nuclear will [have a] very long lead time to build,” he said on ABC radio.

“Nuclear is slow and expensive and risky.”

Opposition energy spokesperson Ted O’Brien’s office was contacted for comment, but didn’t respond.

Simon Birmingham, the opposition’s foreign affairs spokesperson, said the opposition would “consider” the report’s findings.

“We want to make sure that we present a comprehensive policy that doesn’t just look at one part of the energy sector, namely generation, but also includes all of the things that go into prices,” Birmingham said on ABC radio.

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