Rodney Stevens, Clarence Valley Independent
As power prices are predicted to skyrocket by up to 50 per cent, a raft of alternative energy sources are being explored to satisfy our endless electricity consumption, including nuclear fusion, which the Nationals are open to exploring.
As a motion calling on the NSW government and the Federal government to commit to and encourage research, development, and commercialisation of the nuclear fusion process with a long-term objective of transitioning to nuclear fusion electricity generation was endorsed by the Nationals at their 2022 NSW conference, the CV Independent asked the candidates for the seat of Clarence their thoughts on the controversial topic.
Greens candidate Dr Greg Clancy said the use of nuclear fusion to generate electricity is a very long way off being practical and could even be described as ‘pie in the sky’.
“Nuclear fusion certainly doesn’t have the radioactive waste issue that nuclear fission does, but it will not be the answer to our electricity generation needs,” he said.
“The experts are still saying we’re 30 years away from building a working fusion power plant. They’ve been saying that since 1960.
“However, current nuclear power technologies are all based on nuclear fission, not fusion.”
Dr Clancy said nuclear power didn’t stack up economically compared to renewables.
“Nuclear power of any sort is not economically viable when compared to the rapidly evolving technology of renewable energy sources,” he said.
“The long lead time of constructing a nuclear power plant means that the challenges of renewable energy will be addressed well before a single nuclear plant could be built.”
Dr Clancy said he would strongly oppose a nuclear electricity generation facility being built in the Clarence Valley.
“I would strongly oppose a nuclear power plant in the Clarence electorate as it would be placing an unnecessary threat to the health of local residents and the environment and would generate radioactive waste,” he said.
“I don’t believe that nuclear energy has the support of the majority of Australian residents and therefore doesn’t have a social licence to proceed.
“The Greens are opposed to current nuclear power technologies due to their inherent problems with the mining and refining of uranium, and the production of radioactive waste material that will require safe storage for hundreds of years. “
As she only just launched her campaign as a Community Independent, Ms Novak said she was yet to determine her stance on commercialising nuclear fusion with the long-term objective of transitioning to nuclear fusion electricity generation as she hadn’t discussed the issue with the community.
The negatives outweigh the positives, Ms Novak said, when it comes to nuclear fusion being used to generate electricity.
“From a personal perspective I believe the cons outweigh the pros,” she said.
“Everything is OK until there is human error.
“Disposal of the waste and operational failure are the two biggest concerns for me.”
Ms Novak said she would support a discussion about a nuclear electricity generation facility being built in the Clarence Valley, but wouldn’t commit to support building such a facility.
Nationals Candidate Richie Williamson said using nuclear fusion to generate electricity was one of several methods that should be investigated.
“Australia has an abundance of natural resources and in view of our impending energy cost blowout it is fundamental to investigate every energy source available and that includes nuclear power,” he said.
“Quite frankly I don’t know much about it.
“We need to have a mature debate about nuclear power to determine whether there have been advances in the technology making it safe and whether it is cheap.
“If it doesn’t stack up then clearly, we can discard it.”
Mr Williamson said at the moment the topic of nuclear electricity generation had become a political football and we don’t have the detail to make a determination whether it’s suitable for us in Australia or not.
“The NSW government is focused on working to bring down the cost of household power bills, by creating additional supply of coal and gas, as we manage the move towards an increasing reliance on renewables,” he said.
“I am unaware of any plans for nuclear power in Australia or NSW and that would require legislative changes at the Commonwealth level.”
Labor candidate Dr Leon Ankersmit said developments in nuclear fusion meant commercialisation may be getting closer, but investment in the technology mustn’t come at the cost of renewable energy.
“There is certainly opportunity for the Australian Government to consider partnering with the private sector to advance research in this field as is already happening at the Department of Nuclear Physics and Accelerator Applications at ANU,” he said.
“However, it is crucial that investment in fusion is not at the cost of other forms of renewable energy and the transition away from fossil fuels.
“We can afford to expand adoption of current renewable energy technology like solar, wind, and pumped hydro while also developing next-generation solutions for electricity production.”
A clean source of energy generation was a positive of nuclear fusion, Dr Ankersmit said, while the expense in refining the processes and technology and the time that takes are negative aspects.
“Nuclear energy is currently the most expensive form of energy generation and Australia has geological and geographic advantages that provide more affordable options for renewable energy generation,” he said.
Dr Ankersmit said if future technology is proven safe and effective, he may be open to considering a nuclear electricity generation facility in the Clarence Valley.
“Any proposal would need to satisfy environmental, economic, safety, and social concerns,” he said.
“Currently and imminently available technology such as Small Modular Reactors do not satisfy these concerns and are not supported.
“Future generation technologies may be vastly different from this and would need to be considered on their own merit.”
This article appeared in the Clarence Valley Independent, 14 December 2022.