Upper Hunter MP Michael Johnsen wants to talk about nuclear power

UPPER Hunter MP Michael Johnsen has supported community debate on a nuclear power station in NSW after Nationals leader John Barilaro in May told a party conference that nuclear power had to be considered because “we have an energy crisis”.

Mr Johnsen called for community comment on his Facebook page about a nuclear future for NSW, saying Australia was “blessed with huge uranium deposits” and “energy prices are, for some, a real concern”.

He did not respond to Newcastle Herald questions about whether he had a site in mind, or what the party’s short term plans were given a nuclear power plant would take more than two decades to establish, and the lack of a federal energy regulatory policy remained the most pressing issue.

His call comes as AGL Macquarie chief executive Andy Vesey said solar and wind energy were the “most economic option” to replace coal-fired power when Liddell closes in 2022, and the state’s biggest electricity user, Tomago Aluminium, confirmed it had been lobbying politicians for a high intensity, low emission coal-fired power station. 

Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon shot down the nuclear proposal as “a dumb idea”, and said what was needed was “policy certainty to put an end to the generation investment drought”.

“No one would be more pleased than me if new high intensity, low emission coal-fired generators were to be built in the Hunter but it’s not going to happen. The energy companies have made it clear they have no interest. They are expensive, take a long time to build and they demand a financial return on investment over a 40-year period,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.

No one would be more pleased than me if new high intensity, low emission coal-fired generators were to be built in the Hunter but it’s not going to happen.

Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon

He said the Federal Government needed to adopt all recommendations of the Finkel review into Australia’s energy future, including setting a clean energy target.

“I’ve long argued the Hunter is perfectly placed to remain the powerhouse of NSW,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.

“We have a significant head start in the renewables sector. We have the skilled workforce. We have the land and the transmission lines. We can have easy access to gas supplies. We just need government to lead.”

Mr Fitzgibbon said introducing nuclear into the debate “will only confuse and defer the policy settlement”.

Upper Hunter Shooters, Fishers and Farmers candidate John Preston also said the lack of legislative certainty was the key issue and the Nationals’ nuclear power proposal was “embarrassing”.

“If someone started on a nuclear power station tomorrow we would not be able to turn on a nuclear powered light for 25 years. The NSW Government should be leading on this while the Federal Government won’t make a decision,” Mr Preston said.

He supported a new generation coal-fired power station in the Hunter, and said if AGL did not want to build one, “they’re not the only player on the energy market”.