Dutton reveals seven sites for proposed nuclear power plants (2024)

Peter Dutton has announced he will go to the next election promising to build seven nuclear power stations.

Mr Dutton has promised the first sites can be operational between 2035 and 2037, several years earlier than the timeframe the CSIRO and other experts believe is feasible.

As had been previously flagged, the stations are all on retiring or retired coal sites.

The seven sites are:

  • Tarong in Queensland, north-west of Brisbane
  • Callide in Queensland, west of Gladstone
  • Liddell in NSW, in the Hunter Valley
  • Mount Piper in NSW, near Lithgow
  • Port Augusta in SA
  • Loy Yang in Victoria, in the Latrobe Valley
  • Muja in WA, near Collie

Five of the seven are in Coalition seats: Muja in Rick Wilson's seat of O'Connor, Loy Yang in Darren Chester's seat of Gippsland, Port Augusta in Rowan Ramsey's seat of Grey, Callide in Colin Boyce's seat of Flynn and Tarong in Nationals leader David Littleproud's seat of Maranoa.

Mount Piper is in the seat of Calare, held by independent Andrew Gee who was elected as a Nationals MP in 2022 but quit the party.

Liddell is in only site in a Labor seat, the seat of Hunter, held by Labor's Dan Repacholi.

In a press release, Mr Dutton and colleagues said the locations offered "important technical attributes needed for a zero-emissions nuclear plant, including cooling water capacity and transmission infrastructure, that is, we can use the existing poles and wires, along with a local community which has a skilled workforce".

The SA and WA sites are tapped as suitable for small modular reactors only, with the other five slated for either small reactors or larger-scale plants, depending on what is deemed to be "the best option".

Mr Dutton has indicated a 2035 start date if small modular reactors are chosen and 2037 if larger plants are chosen.

Government to own plants but price tag unknown

The Coalition is proposing that the government should fund the construction of the plants in partnership with "experienced nuclear companies" and then own the plants in a similar model to Snowy Hydro and the National Broadband Network.

But further funding details will not be announced today, including the total cost. Mr Dutton said "comprehensive site studies" would be needed before that price tag could be revealed.

The suggestion of government ownership and contribution to construction contradict the suggestion made by shadow treasurer Angus Taylor at the National Press Club last month that there would not need to be subsidies.

"The key for me as someone who... [doesn't] want to commit subsidies that aren't necessary, is to make sure it's commercially viable, and we believe it can be... If it's commercially viable, it's not going to be subsidies, it's as simple as that. That's how the commercial world works."

Also unclear is the exact time frame for all seven sites, beyond the promise that the first projects could be operational from 2035 to 2037.

That would have implications for the Coalition's emissions reductions plans. Last week, Mr Dutton also revealed the Coalition would campaign against the Labor government's legislated target to reduce emissions by 43 per cent by 2030, but would not outline a 2030 emissions reduction target of its own before the election.

In a press conference on Wednesday morning, Mr Dutton said the policy was the result of "an enormous amount of work … We want to utilise existing assets that we have got … Poles and wires that are used at the moment on the coal-fired power station sites can be utilised to distribute the energy generated from [nuclear reactors]."

Mr Littleproud praised what he called "a vision for regional Australia, one that is not covered in solar panels and wind turbines".

This morning, Treasurer Jim Chalmers told The Australian's energy conference the Coalition's nuclear plan is "the dumbest policy ever put forward by a major party" and sought to contrast the Coalition's plan, likely to require significant public funding, with Labor's plan to encourage private investment in renewables and gas.

Coalition energy spokesperson Ted O'Brien and Nationals leader Mr Littleproud will address that conference later today.

It is unclear whether the Coalition will provide financial incentives or compensation to communities near the proposed sites. The Coalition has promised to set up a "community partnership" in each proposed host community as a "focal point for community engagement".

As well as any local hurdles, the Coalition would also face federal and state hurdles to achieving its plan. Nuclear power is currently illegal in NSW, Queensland, Victoria and federally. All of those laws would need to be overturned, and a regulatory regime for safety and waste management introduced.

No major party leader in any of the relevant states has indicated support for Mr Dutton's nuclear plan. And the current makeup of the federal Senate is also unfavourable, given Labor and the Greens oppose nuclear power. The Coalition would be four short of a majority with the current Senate even if it secured the support of One Nation, the United Australia Party's Ralph Babet and Liberal-turned-independent David Van.

Debate to focus on the two unknowns: timing and cost

While the cost and the time frame are still unclear, they shape as the two focal points of an election energy debate.

The Coalition's claim is that nuclear policies will be simpler, and by implication cheaper, than generating the same power through renewables projects, because renewables would require more new transmission lines, more storage capacity and a larger geographical footprint.

By contrast, Mr Dutton has suggested nuclear stations on old coal sites could "plug in" to existing networks.

But the idea that it is cheaper is not the view of experts at CSIRO and the Australian Energy Market Operator, whose recent cost study placed large-scale nuclear as more expensive than renewables, and small modular reactors as dramatically more expensive.

That study factored in the construction costs, including transmission and storage, for each power source.

The other key question is that of timing. The Coalition has argued its 2035 time frame is important because Australia is "running out of power" thanks to the rapid approach of coal plant closures, and slower-than-expected rollout of renewables.

Eleven of Australia's 18 coal-fired power stations are due to retire by 2035, although state governments have recently intervened to extend the life of some plants over availability concerns.

But CSIRO and AEMO again have a different view on timing, suggesting large-scale nuclear could only be online by 2040 at the earliest.

Mr Chalmers today pointed to this analysis to characterise the Coalition policy as a "road to nowhere," arguing nuclear "takes longer [and] costs more" than any other power source.

Finally, there is also the question of whether today's nuclear announcement would amount to enough power to replace exiting coal, given the Coalition has framed this as an alternative to renewables projects.

The large-scale AP-1000 reactors mentioned by Mr Dutton today have a capacity of 1.1 gigawatts (GW), and he suggested small modular reactors would have a capacity of 0.47 GW.

If five large-scale reactors and two small reactors were to be built, that would be a total of 6.4 GW, which is less than a third of the 22.3 GW of coal currently in operation.

Want to know more about today's nuclear power announcement? Send us your questions and we'll try to answer them in our blog or as part of our coverage.


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Dutton reveals seven sites for proposed nuclear power plants (2024)
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