This inquiry commenced on 6 August 2019, following a referral from the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction.
The inquiry took place against a backdrop of three notable contextual features of energy policy:
- Climate change: governments around the world have agreed to take action on reducing greenhouse gas emissions which has led to renewed interest in nuclear technology as a source of emissions-free baseload energy.
- New technologies: as countries' energy systems change due to a significant increase in intermittent low emissions technologies, interest in new and emerging firming technologies is growing, including new generation nuclear such as small modular reactors.
- Existing moratorium: despite a research nuclear reactor operating in New South Wales, a moratorium on nuclear energy is in place in Australia which prohibits the construction or operation of nuclear power plants.
This inquiry is focused on the future. Its terms of reference refer to ‘future governments’ and in practical terms, Australia would not be in a position to introduce nuclear energy for at least a decade. The inquiry has therefore not sought to examine the question of whether nuclear energy should be immediately introduced in Australia, but rather the conditions under which it may be introduced in the future. This has included consideration of the feasibility of nuclear energy in Australia in relation to economic, technological and capability factors; the suitability of nuclear energy in Australia in relation to environmental, safety and security factors, and the acceptability of nuclear power generation to the Australian people.
The Committee considered 309 submissions and undertook a program of public hearings across the country from which it drew three key conclusions:
- firstly, the Australian Government should further consider the prospect of nuclear technology as part of its future energy mix;
- secondly, the Australian Government should undertake a body of work to deepen the understanding of nuclear technology in the Australian context; and
- thirdly, the Australian Government should consider lifting the current moratorium on nuclear energy partially—that is, for new and emerging nuclear technologies only—and conditionally—that is, with approvals for nuclear facilities to require the prior informed consent of impacted local communities.
The report is published in three sections, with each section addressing one of the above-mentioned conclusions.
The report is supplemented by Appendix A, which provides background information and a summary of the evidence received by the Committee.