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Our nuclear future needs national support: Scarce

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South Australia will not be able to increase its role in the nuclear fuel cycle without bipartisan support both locally and federally, according to the former governor overseeing a royal commission into the industry’s prospects.

Kevin Scarce’s inquiry will this week begin a series of public forums, with electricity network operators and the Australian Energy Regulator’s market analyst set to front the commission in coming days.

Senior executives from Electranet and the Australian Energy Market Operator will give evidence next week, along with Craig Oakeshott, the national regulator’s Wholesale Markets Director, as Scarce tries to paint a picture of the state’s future power needs and likely costs.

But he insists: “Really nothing can happen until we have bipartisan support both at state and federal level.”

“Because these projects have such long gestation periods, if there’s not certainty there’s very little likelihood of us moving forward,” Scarce told InDaily ahead of the first hearing, to be held on Wednesday at the Science Exchange in the Royal Institution of Australia building in Adelaide.

And he says even with political consensus, it would be at least 10 years before any construction work began.

“The overseas experience says a decade, and that’s probably optimistic,” he said.

“Should we decide to go ahead, and should the (Weatherill) Government accept our recommendations, the first part is to engage the community in specific terms about what’s proposed to happen. That takes some time; it’s not going to happen overnight.”

Federal Labor has already baulked at the Weatherill Government’s nuclear inquiry, with Bill Shorten’s office re-stating the party’s “longstanding position (against) nuclear power based on the best available expert advice”.

The royal commission has awarded tenders to four firms – Ernst & Young, WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff, Jacobs Australia and Hatch – to model the business case for each of the inquiries terms of reference, which take in nuclear power generation, enrichment and waste management.

“We need to model the costs of developing the infrastructure, because we do have a great disparity of views (in submissions) from roughly the same technical evidence,” Scarce said.

“What we’re doing with the public sessions is using the information we’ve got in the submissions, using our own examination both overseas and here in Australia and drawing out the major issues of contention to help us write our final report.”

The electricity market analysts will be asked to detail both current needs and capabilities, as well as forecasting future trends.

“We’ve asked them a series of questions about the market: what will the market look like? What assets in the market will continue to operate, and what will need to be replaced?” Scarce said.

“We need to understand from them where demand is going in future and what’s happening with supply… We’ve got ageing coal power plants – when do they need to be replaced? What’s going to happen in the world when they get together in December in Paris (for the United Nations Climate Change Conference)? All of those issues are long-term issues that fit into questions of whether nuclear power is an option for us in future.”

Scarce says however he adjudicates, his inquiry is at most the first step in a long journey.

“I think a lot of people think this is the only engagement that’s going to happen – it’s not,” he said.

“It’s the start of the process.”

 

 

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