Canberra Report - Sub Deal could Lead to Nuclear Industry - Friday, 8 October 2021

Canberra Report - Sub Deal could Lead to Nuclear Industry - Friday, 8 October 2021 Main Image

By Joel Fitzgibbon

08 October 2021

It is said that author Mark Twain once declared “the reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated”.  Many have spoken about the demise of the coal industry too. But like Twain’s death, the claim has been somewhat overstated.


Our local coal is currently fetching the highest prices ever.  Last week the thermal product was selling for $US203.00 per tonne. That’s $279.00 in Aussie dollars.  Metallurgical coal is selling at record high prices too.


I tire of people telling me about the decline of the coal mining industry in the UK and Europe.  What they don’t understand is that the coal industry in a number of countries including the United Kingdom, Germany and Spain long ago became uneconomical.  By contrast, our local industry is strong and profitable.


Our coal is of higher quality than that of our competitors and demand for our product is strong.  Unlike the Europeans, we mine coal in the growing Asia-Pacific region where coal-fired generators are being built in big numbers.  Further, fast growing developing countries are desperate for the metallurgical coal they need to produce steel.  This won’t change for many decades.


Upper Hunter residents who in any way rely on the coal mining industry can rest assured that they’ll enjoy the economic security the coal sector provides for many years to come.  The market is speaking.



The AUKUS defence arrangement could be great news but we don’t really know for sure because we know so little about it.  The idea that the United Sates and the United Kingdom might cooperate in dealing with regional threats is hardly new.


Access to America’s nuclear submarine technology is new. And it’s exciting.  Nuclear propelled subs have not previously been an option for Australia because in the absence of a civil nuclear industry we don’t have the requisite local skills to maintain the nuclear power pack.  But the US technology changes that because the on-board reactor is capable of powering the under-water boat for all of its operational life without deep maintenance.


The problem is, we don’t complete the build of the first sub until 2040.  That’s later than we hoped to have had the French sub, despite the fact that our Collins Class submarines have already passed their use by dates.


It is likely therefore the Government will be forced to lease US submarines to fill the capability gap.  I don’t have a big problem with that per se, but it will have consequences for Australian industry and jobs. 


Maybe those lost job opportunities could be replaced with the establishment of an Australian nuclear industry.  We have a reactor in Lucas Heights, a short drive from the Sydney CBD.  In the not-too-distant future we will have reactors parked in our ports and navigating up and down our coastline.  But for some reason governments remain unprepared to allow a discussion about a 5th generation nuclear power generator here in Australia.  It makes no sense.


Australians may not be supportive of nuclear generation and if not, we probably shouldn’t build them.  But we don’t really know how the majority feel because a general prohibition prevents investors from putting forward a serious proposition.  That twenty-year-old ban should be lifted.   Let the people decide.