AUSTRALIANS should be talking about nuclear energy, says federal MP Anne Webster, who will push for a national forum on the topic.
The Member for Mallee says she will also look at bringing nuclear experts to the region to discuss the controversial energy source with local people, and she says that no electorate, including her own, should rule out the possibility of being home to nuclear facilities.
Dr Webster, who is now in Opposition following last month’s federal election — but has been promoted within the Coalition to be its assistant shadow minister for regional development — used her weekly column in Sunraysia Daily last weekend to say that “if we are serious about a greener future, we need to talk about nuclear energy”.
“It is my view that nuclear energy ought to be explored as an option for safe, clean and sustainable baseload energy for our nation,” Dr Webster wrote.
“If we are to charge to net zero emissions by 2050, nuclear power ought to be considered as a part of a technology-solution approach.”
Asked later by Sunraysia Daily whether she would accept a nuclear reactor or waste facility in her own electorate, Dr Webster said she thought Mallee would be an unlikely site, but she was not prepared to rule out the possibility.
“Mallee is full of renewables. We have 11 wind farms, we have 44 solar farms and we’ve got way more in the planning mix right now,” she said.
“If it means, however, that we have cleaner, greener and ultimately reliable baseload power with no emissions and the risks are addressed, then it seems to me that any electorate would consider it.”
Dr Webster said she was especially interested in so-called small modular reactors, or SMRs, which have become central to the nuclear debate in recent times, despite being in their technological infancy.
According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, there are about 70 designs for SMRs being developed around the world, but none has yet come to fruition.
Rolls-Royce is arguably leading the field and the British Government has been supportive of its plans to bolster the UK power grid with such reactors. Rolls-Royce says one of it SMRs would occupy a space equivalent to two soccer fields and would power about one million homes.
Dr Webster said discussions about using zero-emission nuclear energy to combat climate change would “not be a short conversation” but that “we have to begin down that track”.
She said work towards building SMRs was clearly well advanced and that they should not be discounted as energy sources.
Australia has a longstanding ban on the use of nuclear energy, but the new leader of Dr Webster’s Nationals party, David Littleproud, believes SMR technologies should be explored. The Nationals also pressed a nuclear agenda within the Coalition in the last term of its government, although it was not strongly embraced by their Liberal Party partners.
“There are some us who believe this should have been on the table prior to the election as a legitimate issue that needed to at least be addressed,” Dr Webster said.
She said she would approach the Opposition’s spokesperson on climate change and energy, Ted O’Brien, to ask about the possibility of establishing a national nuclear-energy discussion forum, but she would also be happy to host local discussions in Mallee.
“I’m really keen to do that. I think it would be helpful to people to listen to the experts,” she said.
“We need to be able to take the emotion out of it and be practical about it.”