“If the Federal Government decided to promote the establishment of a nuclear energy industry in Australia, the siting of the power plants is likely to be one of the most politically contentious issues.”

So begins a report released in January by The Australia Institute which identifies Port Augusta as the “most logical” site for a nuclear power plant in south eastern Australia.

“A nuclear power plant at Port Augusta could provide electricity to surrounding mines and other industry. There is also a possibility it could be co-located with a desalinisation plant that would provide an additional source of freshwater for the Adelaide region,” Andrew Macintosh, Deputy Director of The Australia Institute, later claimed.

But Port Augustans won’t be alone. In December last year, the Switkowski report foreshadowed 12 to 25 nuclear reactors in operation by 2050. So who else’s backyard is suitable for a nuclear power plant? Siting Nuclear Power Plants in Australia identified the following locations: 

Queensland: Townsville; Mackay; Rockhampton; Gladstone; Bundaberg – near Yeppoon, Emu Park or Keppel Sands; Sunshine Coast – near Maroochydore, Coolum or Noosa; Bribie Island area.

New South Wales: Port Stephens – near Nelson Bay; Central Coast – near Tuggerah Lakes; Botany Bay; Port Kembla; Jervis Bay and Sussex Inlet.

ACT: Jervis Bay

Victoria: South Gippsland – near Yarram, Woodside, or Seaspray; Westernport – near Hastings, French Island, Koo Wee Rup, or Coronet Bay; Port Phillip – Newport, Avalon, Werribee; Portland.

South Australia: Coastal area near Mount Gambier and Millicent; Port Adelaide; Port Augusta and Port Pirie.

What is it about the geography and infrastructure of these sites that puts them on the short list? The primary criteria are:

  • Proximity to a major water source for cooling;
  • Proximity to appropriate existing electricity infrastructure;
  • Proximity to transport infrastructure to facilitate the movement of nuclear fuel, waste and other relevant materials; and
  • Proximity close to major electricity load centres.

The secondary criteria includes population density, with a preference for areas that are sparsely populated, which both minimises health risks and lowers community opposition. Geology, security, and ecology are also taken into account.

But according to Macintosh, there is one attribute that all of those sites mentioned above have in common – a strongly felt, ready-to-mobilise opposition to a nuclear power station. Macintosh claims sentiment is another key factor in deciding where nuclear reactors will reside.

Polling conducted by Newspoll in December 2006 put support for nuclear power at 35%. When the question was changed to “Do you support nuclear power in your area?” the figure dropped to around 25%. According to Macintosh, South Australians were least offended by the idea of a nuclear power station, but communities in Victoria, NSW and Queensland were vigorously opposed.

“[L]ocal opposition to siting decisions is likely to have a profound impact on the manner in which any future nuclear industry develops,” Macintosh wrote in January, suggesting that this debate might ultimately boil down to an old-fashioned stand-off – nukes versus NIMBYs.