Home Cairns News AUKwardUS: Peter Dutton’s Albo nuclear wedge may cost us hundreds of billions

AUKwardUS: Peter Dutton’s Albo nuclear wedge may cost us hundreds of billions

AUKwardUS: Peter Dutton’s Albo nuclear wedge may cost us hundreds of billions

Peter Dutton’s proposal for Australia to adopt nuclear power is a dumb idea, but it’s good politics. Anthony Albanese’s AUKUS hand-cuffs neutralise his response. As Parliament gears up for another sitting week Rex Patrick reports on a nasty political wedge.

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On 15 September 2021, then Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese was given a private briefing by the Morrison Government on Scott Morrison’s plans to announce, the following day, a joint program with the United States and United Kingdom to acquire nuclear powered submarines.

Albanese, eager to be Australia’s 31st Prime Minister and running a small target political strategy, agreed to give Morrison’s program his unequivocal support. It may have been politically astute but it is clearly now an irresponsible thing to have agreed to –  albeit as many would say understandable, as he was only given 24 hours to consider the matter.

There was no analysis of costs, no Defence capability mix analysis, no risk analysis, and apart from rushed conversations with Richard Marles and Penny Wong, no consultation with his colleagues. Labor’s parliamentary caucus was kept in the dark.  

But Albanese’s decision was not about what was good for Australia, it was about what was good for votes. It was all about politics and he wasn’t going to have any debate or dissent. Disagreement would have put a big “weak on national security’ target on his back. He didn’t need that. Politics first and nothing else.

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Things got worse after Antony Albanese became Prime Minister. Just over a year ago he stood alongside US President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at what Paul Keating referred to as the San Diego Kabuki show.

Defence had spent $139.2 million in taxpayers’ dollars over the proceeding 18 months studying the AUKUS concept. On 14 March 2023 Albanese signed up to a deal that has committed $368B of public money, undermined strategic independence and sovereignty, cancelled other much needed Defence capability, given an initial $10B investment commitment to the UK and US submarine industrial base without a guaranteed return, and effectively postponed a submarine build in Australia for the next decade and a half.

In the last few months, we’ve seen a bill introduced into the Parliament by the Labor Government that legalises the acceptance of nuclear waste from the UK and US, and provides the Government with the power to nominate any place in Australia as a nuclear waste site, with no requirement to consult with local communities or other interested groups.

It is stupid – all driven by Albanese’s initial politically fearful calculation and his ongoing belief that he must remained politically tied to the AUKUS periscope.  

Radioactive politics

One of the consequences of Albanese’s embarkation on the AUKUS submarine pathway is that it’s snookered him against criticising Peter Dutton as he proposes a Liberal Party’s nuclear power climate change solution.


Building a number of power reactors will be very costly. But so too is the tab for 8 naval reactors.

Dutton can correctly point out that there are no countries that operate naval reactors (US, UK, France, China, Russia, Brazil and India) that don’t have power reactors. 

It makes sense from a cost amortisation perspective – a single training pipeline, a common workforce pool, common nuclear stewardship, common social licence, shared emergency response capabilities, shared waste facilities, economies of scale … the list goes on. 

Dutton could rightly argue that its simply not cost effective to do one and not the other. He can also point out the contrast between AUKUS, where all costs are borne by the taxpayer, and civil nuclear which, he hopes, would be public-private partnership.

Imposing nuclear on communities

Albanese has already tried to goad Dutton into nominating communities upon which he intends to ‘impose’ a power reactor.

But Albanese already made his own decisions to ‘impose’ nuclear reactors on a number of Australian cities. 

First there’s Perth. HMAS Stirling is going to be the base for British and American nuclear submarines deployed as a “Rotational Force West” and then as the home to Australia’s first Virginia-class nuclear submarines. 

If you live in Kwinana, Albanese has already decided to impose naval reactors on your neighbourhood.  

Then there’s Adelaide. Albanese plans for UK designed AUKUS nuclear submarines to be built at Osborne Naval Shipyards. If you live in the suburb of North Haven, Albanese has already decided to impose naval reactors right next door.

Then there’s the question of where Australia’s planned east coast nuclear submarine base will be located.  The government’s pretty coy about that, putting off a decision for at least a decade because it’s too politically hot.

But there are really just three options, Sydney Harbour (where the Navy’s fleet base is located), Wollongong/Port Kembla or Newcastle.  

One way or another, however, Albanese has a naval nuclear reactor earmarked for New South Wales.  

And what’s the difference between a naval reactor sitting alongside a wharf at Woolloomooloo, imposed upon the locals by Albanese, and a power reactor located at Victoria Barracks at Paddington, imposed upon them by Dutton? 

Naval *and* power reactors Imposed on communities?

The answer is, very little.

(Of course, Dutton wouldn’t actually put a nuclear reactor there, however tempting he might find it to impose one in a Teal electorate, but an industrial site at Botany or Kurnell wouldn’t be out of the question).


Albanese needs to nominate a place to put both low level and highly enriched radioactive waste that will be generated by the AUKUS program. With that problem solved for naval reactors, how could he not accept a proposition from Dutton suggesting it would be complementary to co-locate power reactor waste at the one site.

Not needed?

Both naval reactors and power reactors are not needed.

Australia could achieve a better Defence outcome with 20 off-the-shelf air independent propulsion conventional submarines (for a reasonable $30B). Imagine what Defence could do with the $368B?

And by the time the first electron has flowed from a nuclear power station into the electricity grid, sometime well beyond Dutton’s ridiculously optimistic prediction of within a decade, renewable energy baseload will have been sorted out.

Dumb and Dumber

Neither naval or power reactors are needed by Australia. They are both foolish and damaging public policy choices, driven by reasons of political expediency.  

So at the next election we’ll see two dunderklumpens facing off on two dumb, radioactive ideas: Albanese arguing Dutton’s idea is dumb while glossing over his own dump idea, Dutton arguing Albanese is dumb for not embracing his own dumb idea.

When it comes to choosing between the two, voters may look elsewhere on the ballot paper.

Photo above: AAP – Antony Albanese.
Michael West Media


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