Dutton goes nuclear: How Liberals chose irrelevance as an energy policy

Opposition leaders have a tough job. Battling against irrelevance, Peter Dutton has to toss overboard all the thinking of the past decade and plot a path back to the centre of the debate.  In his very first major issue Dutton has chosen to do the opposite.

Jun 07, 2022, updated Jun 07, 2022
The Fukashima disaster is still at the front of peoples' minds

The Fukashima disaster is still at the front of peoples' minds

Now, Dutton is correct to say we should have an open debate about energy unencumbered by ideology, but nuclear energy is a topic for those who prefer not to deal with the reality here and now. 

Sure, it’s technically a clean energy and there are a lot of positives about it. One day there may even be fusion energy, or small, modular units that can power a city, but come on! Seriously?

I get it, Dutton was playing to an audience of middle-aged men who yell at clouds, but nuclear is an idea that wouldn’t survive the first round of scepticism, so let’s move on to something more rational like, I don’t know, fixing the grid so that it can deal with higher levels of renewables? Or maybe a long term plan on energy storage or adapting infrastructure to deal with hydrogen. 

Setting aside the serious logistical barriers to nuclear (location, cost, water, waste, time, market), we have just been through a decade of social upheaval and conflict over the development of one coal mine. How on earth could we possibly expect society to accept a nuclear power station?

Let’s quickly move on to the real issue here: the gross failure by any number of governments to deliver a cogent energy policy. 

This is what people should be angry about. We’ve wasted a decade.

Dutton’s lurch to nuclear just underlines how bereft of ideas our politicians are and how difficult it is for them to walk away from years of straitjacketed policy. 

Nuclear has become Dutton’s way of being part of a debate without having to accept renewables, despite what the public clearly showed at the election.

Dutton would be serving the nation in a far greater way if he promised not to come up with half baked ideas and seek a solution that was acceptable to the “sensible middle’’ that the Liberals seemed to have recently discovered. Conservative governments elsewhere have managed it. 

We’ve already had a decade of the culture wars that got us nowhere.

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There are solid reasons why it isn’t politically acceptable. 

To the older generation it is the nuclear politics of Maralinga, Mururoa Atoll, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukashima  and the Rainbow Warrior. 

To younger generations it is about viable alternatives.

No government really gets off the hook in the blame game about energy. 

NSW and Victoria have suffered from a decade of energy stagnation because they buckled at the first sight of conflict over coal seam gas; the Morrison government just gave up on the idea of the Nationals accepting anything close to a transitional energy policy and the Queensland Government is still one of the nation’s biggest CO2 emitters and won’t even talk about an energy policy until September.


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