Jobs First: Australian Workers Unite to Slam Unreliable Wind & Solar and Push for Reliable & Affordable Nuclear Power
Workers unions have worked out that the key to reversing soaring unemployment is reliable and affordable power. One of Australia’s most powerful, the CFMEU has slammed chaotic wind and solar as too costly and unreliable to power anything – except virtue signalling egos. Instead, it’s Victorian Mining and Energy Division has laid down an altogether sensible demand: Australia has to ditch its infantile ban on nuclear power plants and catch up with the rest of the nuclear powered world.
That Australia, one of the world’s largest uranium exporters, doesn’t rely on nuclear power astonishes those from the 30 countries where you’ll find nearly 450 nuclear reactors currently operating – including the French, Americans, Canadians, Japanese and Chinese. Another 15 countries are currently building 60 reactors among them. Nuclear power output accounts for over 11% of global electricity production. But not a lick of it in Australia.
Australia holds the world’s largest uranium reserves and, despite its shifting policy of limiting the number of mines and states that have banned them, is the world’s third-largest uranium exporter.
And in 1998, the Federal government enacted legislation that prohibits nuclear power generation in any form. The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act and the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act, specifically prohibit nuclear fuel fabrication, power, enrichment or reprocessing facilities.
In the face of a threat to its long-term membership, the CFMEU wants to ensure that this country ends its ludicrous obsession with sunshine and breezes and starts plugging into a nuclear powered future.
Nuclear Power through the Lens of an Australian Trade Union
Public Policy Paper 2/2020
- The CFMMEU Mining & Energy Division of Victoria (the Union) supports Victoria’s transition to low-carbon power generation sources. It urges that energy decisions be made with system reliability, economic viability, and Victorians’ jobs in mind.
- The Union is concerned by the approach of using only non-dispatchable renewable energy sources, supplemented by hydro and battery storage, for Victoria’s energy transition. It believes that this will lead to major blackouts, unaffordable electricity and the future economic shutdown of Victoria’s industry, resulting in massive job losses and a decline in citizen wealth.
- Coal plant workers and their communities demand a ‘Just Transition’ of their industry, a transition where their livelihoods are not unwittingly destroyed by the rush to reduce emissions.
- Nuclear power is a proven choice of a dispatchable and economically viable, zero greenhouse gas emission power generation technology, that is available today. The nuclear prohibition in Victoria should be lifted to allow sufficient time to replace existing generation with nuclear reactors.
- The guarantee of a Just Transition should also provide the essential social licence to satisfy any concerns in local communities about the safe operation of the nuclear industry.
The State of Victoria has committed to a very challenging target of achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050. This goal mandates a move away from our traditional coal- and gas-fired electricity generation. Replacement by renewables, in the form of wind and solar generation, is problematic in that they are non-dispatchable and too variable and unpredictable to guarantee the essential electricity supplies that are needed for Victorians. Hydro-electric power resources, despite being the “Rolls Royce” of renewable choices, are also quite limited because of our flat and dry continent.
While technical solutions can mitigate some detriments of renewables, these solutions, including energy storage, tend to be very complex and add extreme costs to the power grid, while still not completely overcoming the no wind – no sun scenario. Despite this reality, decisions are being made by the Australian Electricity Market Operator (AEMO) and State governments that appear to support a very costly and disastrous future transition to wind, solar, hydroelectric, battery and pumped hydro storage. Presumably these decisions are being influenced by academics, green activists, and so-called electricity policy ‘experts’ all of whom not only appear biased but also lack the real world practical knowledge of the power grid.
The Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union, Mining & Energy Division of Victoria (CFMMEU M&E Vic) is very concerned about the renewables-only approach because we believe that it will lead to major blackouts, unaffordable electricity and the future economic shutdown of Victoria’s industry; resulting in massive job losses and citizen wealth decline. A disastrous transition of the Victoria’s electricity grid can be avoided, but only if Victoria transitions to a mix of dispatchable power supplemented by renewables rather than relying on renewables alone.
Nuclear power is a proven dispatchable and economically viable, zero greenhouse gas emission power generation technology that is used around the world in about 30 countries. Another possible zero greenhouse gas emissions technology option is High Efficiency Low Emission (HELE) coal fired power stations, fitted with 100% Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). This technology is currently in commercial use overseas and would become more viable if a major Brown Coal to Hydrogen industry were to establish itself in the Latrobe Valley, adjacent to Australia’s best carbon sink in Bass Strait. CCS would also help to increase Victoria’s oil and gas production further benefiting Victoria’s economy. HELE Coal with CCS is the CFMMEU M&E Vic’s preferred option; however, given the Victorian Parliament’s 2020 Inquiry into Nuclear Prohibition in Victoria, this paper focuses solely on the nuclear alternative.
Most of the world’s advanced and competitive economies employ substantial amounts of nuclear power for their dispatchable electricity needs, i.e. France, United Kingdom, USA, Germany, Russia, Japan and China. Most of these countries are also transitioning towards zero greenhouse gas emissions by supplementing their nuclear power plants with renewables to replace their fossil fuel generators.
There are currently 449 operable nuclear reactors (394 GW) in the world that are used to generate electricity, with another 58 reactors (63 GW) under construction and 154 (157 GW) reactors planned. Australia’s National Electricity Market (NEM) is only about 20 GW in capacity and all of Australia’s coal and gas power stations could be replaced by as few as 20 nuclear reactors. Despite this, nuclear power to date has largely been overlooked in Australia, presumably because of the prohibition on nuclear power under the Nuclear Activities (Prohibitions) Act 1983.
A ‘Just Transition’ of coal fired power station workers and their communities towards a modern nuclear industry is realistically achievable, whereas CFMMEU M&E Vic believes a ‘Just Transition’ to renewables is not. More importantly, a ‘Just Transition’ to nuclear power could provide the essential social licence for this proven technology to overcome lingering public concerns surrounding its safe operation in local communities. The SA Royal Commission found that nuclear power is safe and should not be discounted, especially if we are to decarbonize the electricity sector in an economic manner. Australia’s dry, geologically stable, and unpopulated interior has also conveniently been identified as a world class nuclear waste storage location, with an opportunity to generate an estimated $100 billion of net income for Australia through storage of the world’s nuclear waste.
Australia certainly has the skilled people and stable government to run a first class nuclear power industry; all that is needed is the green light. Bearing in mind that a 10 year lead time will be required to build replacements for our existing aging coal fired power stations, then that green light needs to be given sooner rather than later if Victoria is to avoid a major shortfall of dispatchable electricity generation, bringing uncontrolled electricity price rises and customer blackouts.
Nuclear power is acknowledged around the world as an essential technology towards meeting net zero greenhouse emissions, is cost effective and reliable, and modern designs are safe. Therefore, CFMMEU M&E Vic believes it would be sheer madness not to include nuclear power in Victoria’s energy mix, especially if we are to remain a globally competitive economy and have increased future capacity to electrify transport and grow industry and employment.
Energy Policy Institute (PDF of full Public Policy Paper)