March 06, 2024

SCOTT LEVI, PRESENTER: Opposition leader, Peter Dutton was yesterday spruiking the Coalition's decision to push ahead with a nuclear power policy, saying it's the only credible pathway to net zero. Many locals will be asking questions of their local members and one of those MPs, the Member for Shortland, Pat Conroy joins us this morning. Good morning, Mr. Conroy. Thanks for coming on this hot button topic. Or is it a hot button topic? I don't know. It doesn't seem to have gathered much momentum in the media today.

PAT CONROY, MEMBER FOR SHORTLAND: Well, it's not an issue that people in my community pull me up about, but it's clearly the only policy that Peter Dutton wants to talk about. So I'm very happy to talk about it because it would be a disaster for the Central Coast if this was ever actually implemented. 

LEVI: We have three power stations – Eraring, Vales Point, and Colongra. A couple of them are already being, you know, they should have been mothballed, but they’ve kept them going to keep the lights on. Why wouldn’t this be a good area?

CONROY: Well, it is the logical area, and that's where Mr. Dutton should be honest with people. Independent studies have identified old coal fired power station sites as the places you would put nuclear if you were going to build them. So Lake Munmorah, around Colongra, Vales Point, and Eraring would be places that nuclear power stations would go if you put them in place.

Why we shouldn't do it is the power would be five times as expensive as renewable energy made completely reliable with more transmission and pumped hydro and batteries and gas. So, people's power bills would go up, and quite frankly, it's off in the never-never. It's decades away even if you went ahead with it, which means for decades we'd have more greenhouse gases going into the atmosphere and we wouldn't achieve net zero emissions. So it's a recipe for higher power prices, a recipe for not achieving our climate goals, and it's a recipe for major social unrest, because I'm yet to meet anyone who's sticking their hand up saying ‘I want a nuclear power station next to my home’.

LEVI: Mr. Dutton says it would save on having to build new transmission infrastructure for renewables. Thoughts on that? What about Liddell, for example? It's already sitting there, ripe for the plucking to become nuclear.

CONROY: But even when you include the cost of new transmission - which you do need for renewable energy - nuclear is still five times as expensive. And don't take my word for it. Take the word of the independent scientists at the CSIRO, the country's leading scientists, who've done study after study which have found that nuclear is five times more expensive than the money you'd spend on new renewable energy that's clean and green, the transmission that you need with it, and the pumped hydro or the batteries that you need to make it reliable. So, it's a recipe for massive increases in power prices. And again, I don't see anyone stopping me in the street saying ‘I want a nuclear power station next to where my kids go to school’, for example.

LEVI: ABC Central Coast, it's 07:18. We're speaking with the Member for Shortland, Pat Conroy, who, of course, has lots of coal miners and lots of people in this industry in his electorate. Are we doing enough to give them somewhere to go once the coal mines close and the power stations close? You know, should they be in plans? Whether it's nuclear or whether it's clean green, the battery banks, the wind farms, the solar farms - are there enough jobs to transition people in underground mining? I know there are a lot of attrition there with the longwall automation techniques and whatnot. I mean, what are your thoughts about that? A power station that's nuclear might be a place where they could find a job? 

CONROY: Well, I'd make a couple of points, Scott. One, there's two different workforces. I've got both power station workers in my community and I've got coal miners, and I'm proud of both of those groups. They've done so much to keep the lights on and power our homes and industry for decades. It's true that the power stations are reaching the end of their natural life and we need to make sure there's jobs available for those workers, but we will keep mining coal and exporting coal to the rest of the world as long as there's demand in places like Japan and India and South Korea for our products. So coal miners have got a long future exporting to the rest of the world which is where the majority of our coal goes.

For our power station workers, you're absolutely right. We need to make sure that there are jobs to go to, and we've got plans. We've already established the $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund that will help bring manufacturing back to our country. As the Minister for Defence Industry, I've announced a lot of projects that will drive more defence industry jobs - 25,000 more defence industry jobs announced in the last couple of years, and our area will benefit from some of those. And other forms of power - we're building the biggest battery in the southern hemisphere at Lake Memorial. So obviously there's jobs involved in building that and then running that. And offshore wind - there's a huge opportunity for us to supply a lot of the steel that goes into the offshore wind floating platforms from the Central Coast and Hunter region as well.

So we do need good jobs, we need good plans and we've allocated resources to do that. Nuclear is decades off if it's ever going to happen. And if it did happen, there's very little jobs in it. It's all automated and so it'll be quite similar to, for example, the new high-tech gas fired power stations, where it's a few people in a control room rather than the hundreds of people that are involved in a coal fired power station built in the 70s or 80s. 

LEVI: Mr. Conroy, thanks so much for joining us on the program. 

CONROY: Have a great morning, Scott.