Blowing smoke: Why a climate change turncoat has set Coalition reeling

The appointment of ex-NSW Liberal treasurer Matt Kean as chair of the Climate Change Authority in the middle of a war of words on nuclear energy was not a political move, the environment minister says.

Jun 25, 2024, updated Jun 25, 2024
Opposition Leader Peter Dutton says those living near existing power stations would be amenable to nuclear plants, as well.. (file image)

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton says those living near existing power stations would be amenable to nuclear plants, as well.. (file image)

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese elevated Mr Kean, who had previously said nuclear was too expensive for his state and didn’t stack up economically, on Monday after a bruising week of debate.

Asked if the appointment was purely political given Mr Kean holds a different position on nuclear to the federal coalition, Tanya Plibersek pointed to his record on climate change.

“He has, throughout his political career, demonstrated a really strong commitment to doing something about climate change,” she told Nine’s Today program on Tuesday.

“That makes him pretty well qualified to run the Climate Change Authority.

“We’re expecting the Climate Change Authority to be a significant source of advice to the government about how we get to net zero by 2050. That’s something that Matt Kean has been working on for years.”

Last week, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton announced plans to build nuclear power plants in Australia if the coalition wins the next federal election, setting up a debate over the country’s energy future even as critics questioned the policy which lacked critical detail.

A coalition government would build seven nuclear power plants across five states, Mr Dutton promised, with the first two to be completed by 2035-37 and the rest in the 2040s.

But Tomas Kaberger, director of energy research at Sweden’s Chalmers University and a former head of the Swedish Energy Agency, which monitors the country’s nuclear and other power plants, says there is no certainty.

“If you are going to build anything in nuclear you have to learn about all the global failures,” Professor Kaberger told AAP in an interview from Sweden.

“This would include where nuclear reactors have been delayed, budgets have been overrun and the real costs have been two or three times those estimated.”

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More than one in ten nuclear projects have failed before completion, said Prof Kaberger, who has served on the board of Vattenfall, a Swedish power company that operates reactors.

He pointed to the V.C. Summer project in the United States which was abandoned after costs spiralled.

Prof Kaberger also noted the cost of solar and wind power generation has fallen sharply by 90 per cent in recent years, while the cost of nuclear power generation has come down only slightly.

As experts debate the costs and benefits of nuclear power, federal parliament descended into recriminations over the opposition’s plan on Monday.

The coalition chastised Labor for making fun of its nuclear policy, including on social media with memes such as a three-eyed Blinky Bill, saying it undermined Australia’s push to buy nuclear submarines from the US.

Mr Albanese told the opposition to lighten up, pointing out that when the then-Liberal government struck the initial AUKUS deal it promised it wouldn’t lead to a civilian nuclear industry.

“It will cost more, it will create investor uncertainty and it will squander the vast industrial opportunities that we have,” Mr Albanese told parliament, referring to the country’s wind and solar resources.

Detailed costings of the coalition’s plan will be released before the next federal election, which is due by May 2025, Nationals Leader David Littleproud has said.

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