Interview with Chris Kenny, Sky News
18 February 2021
Subject: Nuclear energy, coal mining, clean energy finance, radioactive waste facility.
CHRIS KENNY: Let's go nuclear - that's the message from a bunch of Coalition MPs. Let's bring in the Resources Minister Keith Pitt, who was talking a big game on nuclear energy before he was appointed to Cabinet as the Resources Minister. Good to talk to you Keith. Have they got a good point, should we be doing more to at least allow the option of nuclear energy in this country?
KEITH PITT: Hey Chris. Great to be with you, great to be with your viewers. They've got the same point that's always been there. I mean, this is something for which there's currently a moratorium in Australia that's been maintained, but it is the Coalition Government which has a watching brief on small modular reactors through the technology roadmap. But once again, for this to move forward, we need bipartisan support. But why shouldn't we be having a conversation with the Australian people?
CHRIS KENNY: Yeah, it just seems to make so much sense, especially on the green left side of the debate. They want to get emissions free energy and they want to spend billions of dollars of doing it. I would have thought the only real argument against nuclear is the cost. We're spending so much on other adjustments to our energy mix, then nuclear in many respects is the silver bullet. It's emissions free electricity that's baseload and is there when you want it forever.
KEITH PITT: All the reasons we've got a watching brief on it now, I mean, small modular reactors are working their way forward. We know they're well advanced in the United States. But, Chris, you know how this works. We've got each way Albo that's become no way Albo. He's no way for coal, he's no way for oil, he's no way for gas. He's certainly no way for nuclear. They're not even willing to have a conversation. So, you know, with Facebook unfriending Australia today, they're probably a bit more limited in terms of the scare campaign. But we always expect to see one from the opposition.
CHRIS KENNY: When we talk about nuclear though, should we broaden the discussion away from just nuclear energy? Obviously, we have a substantial nuclear industry already in terms of exporting uranium, some of the richest uranium deposits in the world. But should we be talking about a nuclear energy industry domestically that can also support nuclear submarines, which would resolve a real defence and strategic weakness at the moment?
KEITH PITT: Well, look, as you've pointed out, we have very substantial uranium resources in Australia, which we export to countries under particular agreements. But Chris, you know, I was a member of a backbench committee that did another enquiry into potential nuclear industries. And what that established very clearly is there's certainly not enough technical capacity in Australia for any of those things that we're discussing now. We have one nuclear reactor at Lucas Heights, which produces pretty much all of Australia's nuclear medicine, keeping Australians as safe as possible, treating cancers, potentially curing them from cancer, identifying cancers. And right now, at this moment, we can't get the opposition to even agree to a site for a low level radioactive waste facility at Kimba in South Australia after 40 years. Now, those discussions continue to be ongoing, but this is the realities of life.
CHRIS KENNY: You depress me. You depress me about how difficult it is because we need to build up that expertise for all sorts of reasons in the future. Just while we're on energy, though, as well. I want to ask your thoughts about your West Australian liberal colleagues suggesting they can shut down coal fired power in Western Australia within four years, by 2025. What sort of a shakeup, what sort of difficulties will that create for the Western Australian energy reliability?
KEITH PITT: Oh, look, I've already said publicly that Matt Kean in New South Wales, his plan is a fantasy. WA hasn't succeeded. They're not an island. They certainly not a fantasy island. But this proposal is crazy. I mean, why would you throw away assets which are not at the end of their life that provide a significant level in terms of security, reliability and affordability for your electricity network? It's just not something I agree with, whether it's on the East Coast or the West Coast.
CHRIS KENNY: Yeah, well, we'll see. They're taking it to the election. And just finally on that, Barnaby Joyce wanting to use some of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to fund coal energy. That's not going to fly, is it?
KEITH PITT: Oh, you know the challenges of this place, Chris, this is about the art of the achievable. Whatever happens, we have to get it through the Senate. I think that it'd be difficult to get support for that proposal. But there are other ways for the Commonwealth to potentially support Healy Coal and upgrades to coal. In fact, there was an announcement from Angus Taylor just a few months ago for Vales Point where we were going to provide some support to decrease the level of emissions at Vales Point with agreement of the owner. You know, that was a substantial project for which we would get a good environmental outcome. That's now gone off the back of Matt Kean's announcement for New South Wales. So, there's all sorts of opportunities right across the sector. And if you've got a Millmerran up in Queensland, a coal power plant at Millmerran, where they're looking to put in a trial plant for CCS, they've already done some bores out in the Surat Basin. That looks really promising.
CHRIS KENNY: Thanks for joining us, Keith. I appreciate it.
KEITH PITT: Great to be with you.