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Interview on RN Breakfast

24 October 2016

Interviewer: 
Fran Kelly

Subject: Fusion power; Australia’s involvement in ITER project; Adani; gun laws

E&OE

FRAN KELLY:       

Nuclear fusion powers the sun, its advocates say it could also power the earth. Just explain to us if you can, what it is, nuclear fusion?

GREG HUNT:         

So basically fusion is where you bring two atoms together to make one atom. In this case it's hydrogen atoms which create a helium atom.

In process it releases enormous amounts of energy. That energy is then used to create electricity, and it does that through a conventional steam generator.

So it heats water, creates steam, which drives a turbine, which creates electricity. It's something which has been dreamt of for decades and decades, but right now in Europe, as you say, the biggest physics experiment in the world is underway.

They're building a fusion reactor, or a fusion device, and Australia is now part of that project. It was something which we were not part of.

There are seven partners, the US and Europe, India and Russia, and then China, Japan and Korea. And now Australia has joined them through an agreement which doesn't involve any funding.

What they want is our incredible expertise in what's called plasma and imaging.

FRAN KELLY:       

Can you tell us a bit more about that? Because as you say, participation in this normally comes with a hefty price tag, around about $346m.

We're being let in for free for a particular expertise. What is that expertise that we have at ANSTO?

GREG HUNT:         

So ANSTO is our nuclear science technology organisation. And what it's incredibly good at amongst many things, is imaging.

It's able to look inside, and to provide real time information as to nuclear processes that are underway.

If you think of it as in a sense the x-ray inside the machine, and analysis of that. So we've developed enormous skills in this space.

We go back in the fusion space to Mark Oliphant, one of Australia's great researchers. He worked with Ernest Rutherford in Cambridge in the 1930s.

And so Australia has historically been very, very strong. And our skill's so strong that we've now been able to strike an agreement to save the country over $340m.

And to give us access to the technology, and this enormous international experiment which ultimately gives the world a real chance at having fusion clean energy without the radioactive levels associated traditionally with nuclear.

This is one of the hugely important technologies of the coming century.

FRAN KELLY:       

That's if it works. I mean it's been described as the quote, science of wishful thinking because Mark Oliphant, who you mentioned there, first discovered this back in 1933. It's been pretty much stuck in the gate since then.

GREG HUNT:         

Well I've got to say that in my briefings with ANSTO, and the extraordinary head of ANSTO, Dr Adrian Paterson, the view is that it is increasingly likely that this will be successful.

There are no guarantees, but it is a 20 billion Euro, or over $28b Australian project. We've been let in for free, as the only party that isn't contributing enormous sums of money.

So that's a real testimony to Australian science, and the quality of our research is something that we're able to be part of and it's something that, in my view, we should be part of.

Both for the experimental information, but also for the potential for enormous volumes of electricity, without either emissions or any significant waste.

FRAN KELLY:       

Those who question the viability of it, also question the price tag. As you say it's enormous, 20 billion Euros. And that could keep rising I suppose.

Some say that money would be much better spent researching and developing renewable sources like wind and solar, because energy sources we know that would work. Imagine what they could get for 20 billion Euros.

GREG HUNT:         

Well this is a decision of the partners themselves. They've committed because they believe that A) there are enormous benefits the research, but B) that the potential in terms of the electricity, emissions free, minimal waste, and very, very low level.

Those are enormous benefits that will help power the world in the second half of the century. Now we are still having to contribute the funds because of our expertise.

So we're in a very fortunate position that we don't have the expenditure, we do get access to the science, and it also helps keep our science right at the cutting edge of global standards.

So for Australia, it's one of these extraordinary wins all around.

FRAN KELLY:       

You're listening to RN Breakfast, it's twelve past eight. Our guest is Greg Hunt, he's the Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science.

Minister can I ask you about the Adani Coal Mine?

Because I know for many years you've looked very closely at this and it's now been revealed that a philanthropic group in the US, the Sandler Foundation, is helping fund the environmental group, The Sunrise Project, which is involved in fighting the mine.

Your colleague, Matt Canavan, Resources Minister, says quote, “people who are living in luxury on Sunset Boulevard should not be telling people half-way around the world what to do with their land.”

Now I guess you could ask the question, why not? People can spend their money how they like and climate change is a global issue.

GREG HUNT:         

Well everybody will have their views on these things...

FRAN KELLY:

What's your view?

GREG HUNT:         

This is of course a Queensland Government project. The Australian Government simply administers one small component which is the Federal laws. Probably the two main things here are...

FRAN KELLY:

Do you share your colleague Matt Canavan's concerns about this, or irritation about this?

GREG HUNT:         

The two main things are that somebody who's involved needs to be transparent. So I would hope that all donation laws have been complied with, and all transparency has been provided.

Secondly, it's for individual countries such as India, which are working to bring people out of poverty, to make their own decisions to do that within the Paris Agreement.

And to have reliable energy. As we've seen in South Australia, it's very important as we make these transitions to have reliable energy, because Manufacturing Australia has said they're concerned that they have reliable, investable energy, so as they can keep and create jobs in South Australia.

FRAN KELLY:

That's not going to come from Adani though.

GREG HUNT:         

Well I think the point is in terms of any environment what regulators and what authorities are looking for is access to electricity.

We have that in Australia and other people don't, which is a source of grinding poverty. And B) access to reliable and stable electricity so as they can invest in manufacturing.

And that's something which has obviously been considered in South Australia right now. So that reliability is a very important thing that every jurisdiction is seeking.

FRAN KELLY:       

Minister can I just ask you finally, the gun issue bought tensions between Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott to a head last week, very publicly in the Parliament.

One of your unnamed colleagues is quoted this morning in the newspaper saying quote, they are going to have to come to some arrangement.

There's a need for both of them to show some generosity towards the other. Surely it is in the Government's best interest for the pair to sort out the difference.

And do you agree, it would be better if Malcolm Turnbull brought Tony Abbott back into the Cabinet?

GREG HUNT:         

Look I won't speculate on Cabinet. That's entirely a matter for the Prime Minister. I have enormous respect for both Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott.

In terms of this issue of the Adler repeating rifle, the point is actually very clear. It wasn't banned under Labor. It was banned by Tony Abbott...

FRAN KELLY:       

I'm not talking about the rifle, I'm talking about the political tensions.

GREG HUNT:

By Malcolm Turnbull. And I think, let's go back to the original source. Labor left it perfectly free for people to import this gun into Australia...

FRAN KELLY:

Minister what about the tensions between Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott?

GREG HUNT:

Tony Abbott banned it, and Malcolm Turnbull made it permanent.

So that's my response. We're always looking to have the most stable environment, but the heart of this, is the fact that we banned it, both Prime Ministers, one made it a temporary ban, one made it a permanent ban.

We banned it. Labor left it free to be imported.

And I think at the end of the discussions of last week, Labor still hasn't explained why they let this gun in, and why they wouldn't put in place and won't support our push for a mandatory sentencing regime for gun smugglers.

FRAN KELLY:       

Greg Hunt, thank you very much for joining us.

GREG HUNT:         

Thanks Fran, cheers.