The nuclear proposal was contained in a discussion paper, released on 21 May, that is part of the ruling Liberal-National party coalition government's policy to detail how it will meet its target of reducing GHG emissions by 26-28% by 2030 from 2005 levels, as well as the broader Paris aim of the globe achieving net-zero emissions.
The discussion paper said emerging nuclear technologies – for example, small modular reactors – have potential but require R&D and identified deployment pathways. “Engineering, cost and environmental challenges, alongside social acceptability of nuclear power in Australia, will be key determinants of any future deployment,” the paper said.
The paper examined more than 140 technologies including hydrogen, renewables, biofuels and carbon capture and storage.
It said while solar and wind were the cheapest forms of generation, reliability was still an issue and gas would play an important part in "balancing" renewable energy sources.
In December 2019 a parliamentary committee said the Australian government should consider a partial lifting of an existing moratorium on nuclear energy to allow the deployment of new and emerging technologies including Generation III+ and Generation IV reactors.
Successive Labor and coalition governments have maintained a bipartisan moratorium on the construction and operation of nuclear power plants in Australia.
However, at the request of energy minister Angus Taylor the parliament’s House Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy began in August 2019 an inquiry into the nuclear fuel cycle and Australia’s potential future use of nuclear energy.
In its final report the committee said the government should consider the prospect of nuclear technology as part of Australia’s future energy mix.
Companies including Russia’s Rosatom and NuScale of the US told the inquiry that Generation IV small modular reactor technology could be a perfect fit for Australia because they provide the reliable, load-following power needed to address the intermittency of renewables.
“Nuclear energy should be on the table for consideration as part of our future energy mix,” committee chairman Ted O'Brien said. “Australia should say a definite ‘No’ to old nuclear technologies but a conditional ‘Yes’ to new and emerging technologies such as small modular reactors. And most importantly, the Australian people should be at the centre of any approval process.
“If we’re serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions, we can’t simply ignore this zero-emissions baseload technology. But we also need to be humble enough to learn lessons from other countries who have gone down this path. It’s as much about getting the technology right as it is about maintaining a social licence based on trust and transparency.”