Ziggy Switkowski is unveiling the draft report of the Government’s Uranium and Nuclear Energy Taskforce at lunchtime in Canberra today – or telling us what the selective briefs from those in the know haven’t already provided.

We’re told that the report will find that modern nuclear reactors are safer than those associated with disasters at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island.

It supposedly suggests that Australia could have about 20 nuclear power stations supplying 30% of the nation’s electricity by the middle of the century, drastically cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

And it reportedly concludes nuclear energy could compete with coal-fired power because it’s expected some sort of polluter-pays scheme will be introduced for emissions.

That last part is particularly interesting. Finance Minister Nick Minchin and Al Gore rarely sing from the same sheet on matters nuclear, yet Minchin’s “It is simply, it is not commercially viable at the moment” sounds just like Gore’s “the real stopper is the economics of it” from his interview with SBS last week.

Last week Kevin Rudd defined Labor’s task at the next election. It is, simply, to show “Mr Howard has gone a step too far.”

It’s an interesting way to deal with the politics of prosperity – suggesting that the Government has got the basics right, but overstepped the mark.

It’s not without its risks. Labor would certainly say the Government has gone too far on industrial relations – yet too few voters seem to have been swayed by the well funded, well organised campaign against WorkChoices.

Nuclear energy is a different topic. Played properly, the ALP should be able to blame the Government for both a sin of commission – and omission.

Going nuclear energy is a radical step. It’s easy to argue that it’s a bridge too far. That’s the sin of commission.

But be able to go nuclear because it measures up economically with coal because of some system where polluters pay also involves a sin of omission – a failure of the Government to adequately tackle climate change.

The Government loses both ways. It loses because it’s failed to act. It loses because it’s now overcompensating.

That is, of course, assuming that Labor can make a credible case – let alone find someone to put it.

Peter Fray

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