Peter Dutton’s nuclear plan could cost as much as $600bn and supply just 3.7% of Australia’s energy by 2050, analysis suggests

<span>The UK’s Hinkley Point C nuclear plant. Cost overruns in the UK could mean a $600bn bill to Australian taxpayers, the Smart Energy Council says.</span><span>Photograph: Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images</span>
The UK’s Hinkley Point C nuclear plant. Cost overruns in the UK could mean a $600bn bill to Australian taxpayers, the Smart Energy Council says.Photograph: Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images

The Coalition’s pledge to build seven nuclear reactors as part of its controversial energy plan could cost taxpayers as much as $600bn while supplying just 3.7% of Australia’s energy mix by 2050, according to the Smart Energy Council.

The analysis found the plan would cost a minimum of $116bn – the same cost as delivering the Albanese government’s plan for 82% renewables by 2030, and an almost 100% renewable energy mix by 2050.

The Coalition has drawn widespread criticism for not releasing the costings of the nuclear power proposal it unveiled on Wednesday as part of its plan for Australia’s energy future if elected. On Friday, the opposition leader, Peter Dutton, said the costings would come “very soon”, but did not confirm whether it would be days, weeks or months.

The Smart Energy Council, an industry body for renewable energy in Australia, came to the $116bn figure using data from the CSIRO and the Australian Energy Market Operator’s latest GenCost report. It factored in the Coalition’s proposed timeframe and the capital costs of replacing the 11 gigawatts of coal capacity produced on the seven sites with nuclear reactors.

But factoring in the experience of cost and timeframe blowouts in the UK, the refurbishment of coal-fired power stations, and Dutton’s plan to compensate the states, the Smart Energy Council found the cost could reach as much as $600bn.

The council found the large nuclear reactors – of which there will be five alongside two smaller reactors – would probably cost $60bn each and were unlikely to be built by 2040. Dutton has said that they plan for the reactors to be built and operational by the second half of the 2030s.

“At best, Peter Dutton’s nuclear proposal would deliver 3.7% of the energy required at the same cost as the government’s comprehensive strategy,” John Grimes, the chief executive of the Smart Energy Council, said.

“In reality, current cost overruns happening right now in the UK could mean a $600bn bill to Australian taxpayers, whilst delivering a small proportion of the energy that is actually required.

“The most optimistic assessment of Peter Dutton’s nuclear proposal indicates it is a pale shadow of the reliable renewables plan outlined and costed by the Australian Energy Market Operator (Aemo).”

The Smart Energy Council called on the opposition to immediately release its costings and the generation capacity of the proposed seven nuclear reactors.

“They need to explain how their forecasts contradict the experts at the CSIRO and Aemo. It is extraordinary that the details are being hidden from the Australian public,” said Grimes.

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The CSIRO and Aemo have assessed the cost of different electricity sources and found nuclear generation would be the most expensive technology available for consumers.

It found that solar and wind backed by storage energy, new transmission lines and other “firming” – in other words, what the country is building now – were the cheapest option.

The Coalition’s promise has met widespread scepticism from Australia’s energy sector and industry groups, which have warned about the risks of cost blowouts and destroying private sector investment.

During an address to party officials in Sydney on Saturday, Dutton said his nuclear energy plan would cost a fraction of Labor’s renewable energy rollout, and would assist in achieving the party’s goal for “cheaper, cleaner and consistent power”.

• This article was amended on 25 June 2024 to clarify in the text that the Smart Energy Council is an industry body for renewable energy in Australia. The article headline has been amended accordingly.