Tue. Jun 18th, 2024

The ‘first-of-its-kind’ premium that could add billions to Peter Dutton’s nuclear power plan

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell Jun7,2024
Key Points
  • A new CSIRO report has found that renewable energy sources are much cheaper than nuclear in Australia.
  • The report found electricity from nuclear power could be at least 50 per cent more expensive than solar and wind.
  • The findings come as Peter Dutton and the federal Opposition continue to promote nuclear power plants.
A new report from the CSIRO has found it could cost as much as $17 billion and take more than 15 years to build a single nuclear power plant in Australia — and electricity from nuclear power could be at least 50 per cent more expensive than solar and wind.
The annual GenCost report, which compares nuclear power with other energy sources for the first time, undermines to Australians.
“It’s the first time we looked at nuclear, so we were really interested ourselves to see how the numbers would fall out,” Paul Graham, lead author on the GenCost report, told SBS News.
“Obviously we’ve got the capability to convert that cost into the cost of electricity, and we were very interested to find out how that would stand relative to other technologies.”

What the CSIRO researchers found is that nuclear is “a higher-cost technology than the ones we’re currently focused on as a country, which is solar and wind types of technologies”.

Breaking down the costs

Even when allowing for the extra costs of integrating solar and wind into the grid, a combination of solar and wind power remained the cheapest source of electricity, according to the GenCost report.

Depending on how much renewable energy was already in the system, electricity from a combination of solar and wind cost between $73 and $128 per megawatt hour (MWh). Large-scale nuclear reactors, by comparison, could cost between $141 and $233/MWh, while small modular reactors could cost between $230 and $382/MWh.

A bar graph showing the comparative cost per megawatt hour of solar and wind compared to nuclear

Credit: SBS News

Researchers also found that a theoretical 1,000-megawatt nuclear plant, if built in Australia today, would cost at least $8.6 billion — but only if the government commits to a continuous building program, and “only after an initial higher cost unit is constructed”.

Given the country has never built a large reactor before, the report added, those costs could double due to what authors called a “first-of-a-kind” premium. That could mean the reactor ends up costing about $17 billion.

The report’s cost projections were based on South Korea’s successful nuclear program, using the comparative costs of building coal plants in each country as a guide.

What the Opposition says about nuclear power

The GenCost report comes as Australia’s federal Coalition promotes nuclear power plants as a way of reducing the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels and decarbonising by 2050.
Opposition leader Peter Dutton has previously suggested that, if elected at next year’s federal election, his government would construct seven large-scale nuclear reactors across Australia, using the sites of retiring coal plants.
On Tuesday, Dutton claimed nuclear energy is “cheaper, it’s more reliable, it’s zero emissions”.

“That’s why if you look at the top 20 economies in the world, Australia is the only one, at the moment, that hasn’t got nuclear power or hasn’t signed up to it,” he said.

A man wearing a suit and glasses against a black background

The CSIRO report’s findings clash with Peter Dutton’s claims that nuclear energy is “cheaper” and “more reliable”. Source: AAP / Bianca De Marchi

Opposition Treasury spokesperson Angus Taylor doubled down on this commitment on Wednesday, speaking at the National Press Club after the GenCost report was released.

“We have been very clear on this. We see nuclear as part of the future of our energy system in Australia, it’s because we’re going to lose our baseload (the minimum amount of power needed to be supplied to the electricity grid at any one time),” Taylor said, suggesting that the country should be “securing long-term, cheap, clean power by opening the door to nuclear energy”.

Taylor further noted that while gas would play a role “in the meantime … longer-term nuclear, we think, will play an important role in that baseload power”.

The Opposition is yet to reveal any details of its nuclear policy, though — and the new GenCost report contradicts its claims of nuclear being a more affordable energy alternative.

Moreover, while Australia’s international climate change commitments require it to cut emissions by 43 per cent by 2030, the GenCost report found that a nuclear plant could not be operational before 2040 at the earliest.

The reliability of the figures

Dutton previously sought to discredit the reliability of the GenCost report’s comparative cost estimates. Following the release of CSIRO’s earlier draft findings of the GenCost report in March, Dutton claimed it failed to properly account for costs relating to renewables.
In response to the criticism, CSIRO chief executive Douglas Hilton said he would “staunchly defend our scientists and our organisation against unfounded criticism”.

“The GenCost report is updated each year and provides the very best estimates for the cost of future new-build electricity generation in Australia,” Hilton said in a statement.

“[It] can be trusted by all our elected representatives, irrespective of whether they are advocating for electricity generation by renewables, coal, gas or nuclear energy,” he added.
Energy Minister Chris Bowen said the CSIRO report proved the Coalition’s nuclear power plan would be too slow and too expensive, especially compared to renewables.

“Peter Dutton’s half-baked plan would see Australians foot massive bills to build risky reactors that have been shown by experts to be the most expensive form of energy, and too slow to keep the lights on,” he said on Wednesday.

Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

Related Post

One thought on “The ‘first-of-its-kind’ premium that could add billions to Peter Dutton’s nuclear power plan”
  1. In my opinion, the findings of the CSIRO report clearly show that investing in renewable energy sources such as solar and wind is the more cost-effective and sustainable choice for Australia. The idea of building expensive nuclear power plants seems unnecessary and outdated in comparison.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *