A former state governor has called for a royal commission into nuclear energy, saying a net zero target cannot be reached by 2050 without the controversial fuel.
Former state governor Kevin Scarce is urging a national royal commission into nuclear energy, declaring a net zero emission target cannot be reached by 2050 without Australia embracing the controversial fuel.
The former South Australian governor was the state’s Royal Commissioner into the nuclear fuel cycle and in 2016 recommended it be considered as a “future low-carbon energy source to contribute to national emissions reduction targets”.
In an exclusive interview with Sky News, Mr Scarce challenged Australia to be unafraid of examining nuclear power technology to determine whether it meets the nation’s future energy needs.
He argued a royal commission would remove politics from the necessary community debate, saying the 2050 emissions target should be the catalyst for examining whether to end legal barriers to nuclear generation.
“We have to make our mind up how we get to zero emissions by 2050. To me, nuclear should be one of those technologies that we consider for that,” Mr Scarce said.
“There’s no reason why a low-carbon emission technology, such as nuclear, shouldn’t be part of the mix for the future.
“Whether it works for Australia, I can’t say because we have not done that work, but I can say that it should be one of the technologies that we use as we plan to develop the energy that we need for 2050 and beyond.”
Based on his SA nuclear royal commission, Mr Scarce said it was “an enormous stretch” to believe net zero could be achieved by 2050 without nuclear energy, because there was “simply no way to accurately and cost-effectively store the energy that you produce during the day that you might need during the evenings”.
“I can’t see how we can make it without nuclear energy. There are a lot of nations in the world that don’t have the abundance of renewable resources as we do. But, even for us, that’s a big stretch if we decide that we need zero emissions by 2050 – how do you plan the (electricity) network to be able to deliver that cost-effectively with low-carbon emissions and high reliability?” Mr Scarce said.
He argued nuclear energy was safe and, as the state royal commission found, Australia had the perfect climatic and geological conditions for disposing of waste.
Small modular reactors, although not yet licensed to operate commercially in the Western world, were lower cost than large-scale generation and might yet in the future overcome the economic barrier.
A former Defence Materiel Organisation maritime systems head and DMO acting undersecretary, Mr Scarce said he did not believe Australia’s adoption of nuclear-powered submarines under the AUKUS agreement necessarily would result in a civil nuclear industry.
Asked if future Australian nuclear-powered submarines moored in capital city ports would make the public more practical about nuclear energy, Mr Scarce predicted this would – but not until 2035 to 2040.
“If we’re going to solve our climate issue, we need to have a lot of action underway by then,” he said.
A retired navy rear admiral, Mr Scarce was SA governor from 2007 to 2014. The South Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission, spearheaded by Mr Scarce, delivered a final report in May, 2016, with recommendations including removing the existing legal prohibitions on nuclear power generation.
It also recommended the development of a low-carbon, technology-neutral energy policy and the monitoring of developments in new nuclear reactor designs for future consideration.
“Nuclear power generation would not be commercially viable in SA under current market rules, but should be considered as a future low-carbon energy source to contribute to national emissions reduction targets,” the royal commission found.
Originally published as Australia needs a royal commission into nuclear power, argues former SA governor Kevin Scarce