Call for nuclear debate as NSW government arrives in Singleton

DEPUTY Premier John Barilaro renewed his calls for nuclear power to be “part of the debate” about the state’s future energy mix before a cabinet meeting in Singleton on Thursday.

As debates about the role of coal-fired electricity in Australia’s energy mix heat up, and plants like Liddell and Bayswater in the Hunter approach their use-by date, Mr Barilaro said nuclear “should always be on the table” as a replacement source of energy.

“Right now those power stations are run by those companies and they will make those long-term decisions [but] when it comes to baseload energy gas, coal and nuclear should always be on the table,” he said. 

“As a nation we’re going to export uranium, we’re going to possibly bring back waste, but yet we don’t want to use it for our own energy sources.”

Those comments come in the wake of the release of the Finkel Review into energy security released last week, which recommended governments implement a new Clean Energy Target which would provide incentives for new generators that produce electricity below an emissions baseline.

The Finkel Review modeled that baseline using 0.6 tonnes of carbon per megawatt hour, though Labor has signaled if it was elected it would lower the threshold to provide more incentive for renewable energy sources.

That idea has been criticised by people like the NSW government’s parliamentary secretary for the Hunter, Scot MacDonald, who says any lowering of the baseline would be too great a disadvantage to coal in relation to renewables, which, he says, would mean job losses in the Hunter.

But in Singleton on Thursday – an area that has one of the largest proportions of workers employed in coal mining in Australia – the Premier said the government’s priority was “keeping energy bills down” and energy security.

“There are some complex issues in there that we’ve got to digest but the two things I’ll say about energy is firstly securing our state’s energy and secondly keeping household bills down are my two priorities and I won’t adopt any policies that don’t support both of those things,” she said. 

The government held its “community cabinet” meeting in Singleton on Thursday, and Ms Berejiklian said it was important to “have a sense of what makes local communities tick”.

“Nothing compares to meeting people on the ground, a briefing paper doesn't cut it,” she said.

The government announced a $1 billion water security fund, and is expected to make further arts and transport announcements in the Hunter on Thursday.

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