Abbott’s comments came after foreign minister Julie Bishop said nuclear should be on the table as an option for reducing Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.
In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald ahead of this week’s United Nations climate change conference in Lima, Peru, Bishop was asked how the nation plans to meet its carbon reduction targets. She said: “It’s an obvious conclusion that if you want to bring down your greenhouse gas emissions dramatically you have to embrace a form of low- or zero-emissions energy and that’s nuclear, the only known 24/7 baseload power supply with zero emissions.”
She cautioned that, without a zero-emissions source of baseload power, Australia’s ability to meet its climate goals would hinge on its 2020 renewable energy targets, which are currently under review as the government attempts to gain support to roll them back. Renewables sector players say policy uncertainty has discouraged investors, with investment reportedly falling by 70 per cent since 2013.
Abbott said nuclear power has “never really been an option for Australia up ‘til now, because we don’t have the energy shortages that other countries do. We’ve got abundant coal, we’ve got abundant gas, hundreds of years of reserves of coal, hundreds of years of reserves of gas”.
“Nuclear energy is a very important part of the energy mix of many countries” such as Japan and France, he continued, adding that if “someone wants to put a proposal for nuclear energy generation here in Australia, fine, but don’t expect a government subsidy. If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen because it’s economically feasible, not because the government runs around offering a subsidy”.
In 2006 the government commissioned an assessment of nuclear power’s potential, but according to Bishop the discussion “didn’t go anywhere” and “never got off the ground”. The review found that nuclear was “a practical option for part of Australia’s electricity production” given the nation’s substantial uranium reserves and geological stability. Nuclear physicist Ziggy Switkowski, head of the nation’s nuclear task force, said at the time that Australia could have its first reactors online within 10 years.