Put nuclear in the energy mix, Coalition MPs tell PM

One in 10 Turnbull government MPs say nuclear power should be on the table as federal and state governments grapple with Australia's future energy needs.

The 11 Coalition MPs - Andrew Broad, James Paterson, Tony Pasin, Tim Wilson, Chris Back, Craig Kelly, Eric Abetz, Andrew Hastie, Warren Entsch, Bridget McKenzie and Rowan Ramsey - are from both the Liberal and National parties and come from the moderate and conservative wings of the government.

The MPs, from all across the country, publicly confirmed their support for nuclear power to Fairfax Media on Wednesday, arguing Australia has the world's largest deposits of uranium, is geologically stable, and that nuclear power is a reliable source of base-load power that offers low emissions too.

The call to consider nuclear power came as Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and senior ministers met the chief executives of major gas companies including Santos, Origin, ExxonMobil and Shell to discuss shortfalls in gas supplies projected to hit the eastern and southern states in the coming years.

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Turnbull said the producers had provided a guarantee gas would be available to meet peak demand periods in the National Electricity Market, such as during heatwaves, and had agreed to make more gas available to the domestic market "as soon as possible".

Producers will also revise their domestic gas production forecasts, allowing the energy market operator to produce an updated supply outlook.

Two exporters - Australia Pacific LNG and QGC LNG - also committed to becoming net domestic gas contributors while a third, Santos' GLNG, has "taken the matter on notice".

Mr Turnbull also indicated a reservation policy was still an option on the table, warning producers the government had "considerable power" to control exports.

"We are a massive gas exporter. It is utterly untenable - unacceptable - for us to be in a position where domestic gas consumers - whether it's generators, whether it's businesses and industry, or whether it's families - cannot have access to affordable gas," the Prime Minister said.

The talks came amid escalating debate over energy security and a day after South Australia announced a "go it alone" energy policy that includes plans for a new $360 million gas-fired power plant.

Malcolm Roberts, the chief executive of APPEA, the oil and gas industry peak body, said the meeting had been "very positive" and that the industry was "committed to ensuring no shortage of gas, to ensure no shortage in peaks". He restated the sector's opposition to a gas reservation policy.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews took a swipe at Mr Turnbull, calling on him to "admit that the national energy market is failing households and businesses across the country, especially in Victoria. If he can bring himself to acknowledge that, we can then have a mature discussion about our energy future".

A nuclear power plant would take an estimated 15 to 20 years to build and would cost several billions of dollars. It would also be expensive, relative to coal and gas-fired power, though a carbon price or emissions intensity scheme for electricity sector could make it more competitive.

Nuclear would not, therefore, offer a solution to short-term gas shortages but - the MPs said - in the medium term it should be considered. However, partisan politics in the form of opposition from Labor and the Greens could get in the way.

Mr Broad, a Victorian National who chairs Parliament's energy committee, said he was in two minds about nuclear power but it should at least be part of the current discussion.

"There's a double standard going on, where we don't have nuclear power here but we're happy to sell uranium," he said.

Mr Kelly, a NSW Liberal MP who has the 20 megawatt Lucas Heights research reactor in his seat, said nuclear "has to be in the mix. If we are fair dinkum and say we need to cut CO2 emissions, we have to look at nuclear. The problem is the approval process would take a decade and it would have to be bipartisan".

Mr Entsch, a Queensland Liberal, said: "Given the technology now available and given the geological stability of our country and the abundance of uranium, it may well be a very practical interim arrangement for base-load power."

Senator Abetz, a Tasmanian Liberal, said: "I would have thought if you want low-emission, base-load energy this is something to look at very seriously".

Mr Ramsey, a South Australian Liberal MP, said: "We should be talking about it, I support it, but I'm not sure if it could happen. The technology is sound. In a sane world we would consider this but I think Labor would shoot us down, they would be opportunistic."

Both Mr Turnbull and deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop have both previously backed nuclear power.

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The story Put nuclear in the energy mix, Coalition MPs tell PM first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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