The politics of nuclear energy are rattling Government MPs in two ways. They fear that the PM hasn’t gone far enough on climate change. They’re also afraid he’s gone too far on nukes. The ANE/Ron Walker story couldn’t have broken at a worse time.

Shadow treasurer Wayne Swan greeted the Switkowski report with the comment that the economics of nuclear power just didn’t add up. “Even if Australia were to implement the report’s recommendations, it would come too late to be of any practical use in the battle to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the next 10 to 15 years,” he said.

The real Treasurer has sounded very similar this week. “What I’ve said over a consistent period of time is that as of today, nuclear power is more expensive than the power we’re currently using,” said Peter Costello. “And, that being the case, why would you set up generation of more expensive power? But I do believe, over time, the economics could change. And if you’re looking at 10 or 15 years in that kind of framework, maybe it would become commercial. But I don’t think it will be commercial in 10 or 15 months.”

And the Finance Minister Nick Minchin famously said last year, “well, at the moment nuclear power would cost at least 50% more than coal-fired electricity”.

So, the two blokes who hold the Government purse strings have major concerns over the economics of nuclear energy. What do they think of the politics? The Treasurer dropped some hints about that in a doorstop yesterday:

JOURNALIST: Mr Costello, when Mr Walker told you about his intentions to set up a nuclear company, did you express any views to him about the merits of him proceeding down that path?

TREASURER: I think I said, ‘good luck.’

JOURNALIST: Are you surprised that you can remember your conversation and the Prime Minister can but the Industry Minister either can’t remember or actually didn’t have one? Are you surprised that he didn’t know about it?

TREASURER: Well you would have to ask him as to…

JOURNALIST: 11 times.

TREASURER: …who he spoke to but you know, Ron Walker is quite a memorable chap and I generally remember speaking to him, he is one of those people in life I have to look up to actually, when I talk to him.

He wriggled around the Swan issue, too.

Crikey is reliably uninformed that other ministerial offices are even less impressed by the way the ANE story has unfolded – let alone the PM’s performance over the issue.

Peter Garrett got the business of the House of Representatives off to a lively start this morning when he attempted to move a motion forcing the Government to reveal its nuclear plans and giving “all members with an opportunity to come into the house and declare their opposition to the location of a nuclear power plant in their electorate”.

He got gagged, off course – but a state Labor backbencher is offering a killer line on the matter today. “John Howard’s climate change ‘solution’ is a 50% rise in the price of electricity,” SA MP Tom Kenyon writes in The Australian. Twelve months ago, Kenyon took a seat off the Libs – exactly the sort of seat Kevin Rudd needs to win to become PM.

Peter Fray

Get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for $12.

Without subscribers, Crikey can’t do what it does. Fortunately, our support base is growing.

Every day, Crikey aims to bring new and challenging insights into politics, business, national affairs, media and society. We lift up the rocks that other news media largely ignore. Without your support, more of those rocks – and the secrets beneath them — will remain lodged in the dirt.

Join today and get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for just $12.

 

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW