The Prime Minister’s initial response to the nuclear energy review has bought back fond memories of the 2004 election campaign.

Speaking to reporters before flying back to Australia from Vietnam, John Howard said he could envisage a time when coal and nuclear power would co-exist.

“At the moment nuclear power is dearer than dirty coal, if I can put it that way, but as time goes by and clean coal technology, even in the most optimistic of circumstances, adds somewhat to the cost of using coal then nuclear power comes very much into the equation,” he said.

He refused to speculate on how many nuclear plants could be built or where they would be sited. But he did have plenty to say about coal.

“If we go on using the fossil fuels that we have and we don’t do anything to reduce the greenhouse gas emission impact of them, coal remains the cheapest source,” he said.

“But if we’re worried about climate change then we have to bring about some reduction in the greenhouse emitting properties of coal, and once you start doing that you add to the cost of its use and that brings nuclear into the equation.”

Indeed, the PM assured the coal industry that nuclear power would not sound its death knell – but he warned it would face a dim future under a Labor government.

“I think the Australian coal industry has a guaranteed place in the future of the Australian economy,” he said.

“My approach will protect the coal industry, the approach of others will undermine it because they see the coal industry as the cause of the problem, I see the coal industry as part of the solution, as I see nuclear power, as I see renewables.”

Remember those images from the closing days of the 2004 campaign, with the PM being cheered by Tassie timber workers?

He’s obviously hoping for a similar reception from the members of the mining division of the CFMEU during next year’s poll. Keep a close eye out for a photo-op on the hustings in the Hunter.

Peter Fray

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