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 Menace of China forces nuclear revision

23.02.21.  “The frequent incursions of Chinese fighter jets into Taiwanese airspace invites two conclusions. The least likely is that China’s air force has a dodgy navigation system. More probably, it is spoiling for a fight. If ever there were a time for our political class to shake off the nuclear taboo it is now. The imperative to strengthen Australia’s underwater naval capability is stronger than at any time since the end of the Cold War. The benefits of switching from diesel-electric to nuclear submarines deserve to be debated. A spin-off from a nuclear defence capability would be the chance to install nuclear reactors to generate electricity, since defence and civil benefits go hand in hand. If we are serious about eliminating net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, the option of nuclear must surely be on the table. Yet Anthony Albanese has dismissed the idea of nuclear energy as “a fantasy”, ruling out the possibility of bipartisan agreement on his watch.”

Source: Nick Cater, News Corp

Rise of China puts nuclear power option back on table

Albanese’s nuclear phobia goes back a long way. As shadow environment minister in 2006 he set up a scare campaign with a written parliamentary question to prime minister John Howard. “Will he rule out locating a high-level nuclear reactor in the federal electoral division of (i) Adelaide, (ii) Aston … ? ” The question listed all 150 electorates, concluding Werriwa, Wide Bay and Wills.
This warning shot across the Coalition’s bow was enough to silence any serious discussion about nuclear in the run-up to the 2007 election. It also served to tie Kevin Rudd’s hands. How different things might now be if the incoming prime minister had spent his not inconsiderable political capital on opening the door to nuclear as a means of solving the great moral challenge, as wiser heads such as Bob Carr were urging him to do.
Think of the deaths that could have been avoided, since installing solar panels and wind turbines is a surprisingly dangerous exercise. The death toll from solar power per unit of energy supplied is more than five times as high as the death toll from nuclear, according to estimates from Cambridge House in Canada. By the same measure, nuclear power is 1000 times safer than coal and 400 times safer than natural gas. Yet still Albanese persists with the lame excuse that nuclear power is too dangerous to consider.
Not for the first time, Labor finds itself siding with the Greens on energy policy, and possibly defence policy as well. Overturning the ban on nuclear would be “crackpot stuff”, claims Sarah Hanson-Young. “Aside from being a dangerous technology, nuclear power is wildly expensive and would take a decade or more to build,” she said. Unlike her own plan to take $42bn out of the defence budget to invest in renewable energy.
The conventional wisdom within the Coalition is that a political fight with Labor over nuclear is best avoided. Yet the world has changed mightily in the past decade and a half and the nuclear debate has moved on.
The large pressurised-water reactors that were becoming all but impossible to build thanks in no small part to the costs imposed by regulation are yesterday’s technology. Small modular reactors, however, with almost no risk of meltdown or explosion, may be with us faster than we think. If the cost can be driven down through mass production, they could become a competitive source of energy in Australia. Small, locally based generators help reduce grid costs, an important advantage in a nation as large as ours.
As our ambitions to reduce carbon emissions move into crazy-brave territory, ruling out nuclear becomes less tenable. It is sobering to remind ourselves that Rudd’s policy was a relatively modest 60 per cent reduction by 2050. Today the world and his dog are promising 100 per cent, with precious little clarity about the technology that will get us there. Labor is trailing in the politics of energy and climate change, and the nuclear option provides the Coalition with another wedge, exploiting the dispute between the commonsense faction and the utopian fringe. For all the obsession with wind and solar, nuclear and hydro power provide three-quarters of the world’s global low-carbon generation. Nuclear power alone has reduced CO2 emissions by more than 60 gigatonnes over the past 50 years, nearly two years’ worth of global energy-related emissions. Illogically, the strongest opposition to nuclear is from those most committed to emissions reduction.
While highlighting lefty hypocrisy is an amusing pastime, it doesn’t win elections. The most potent reason for playing the nuclear card is not to assuage climate anxiety, a condition that is largely limited to voters pathologically incapable of voting Liberal or National. It is the rise of China, which has become a destabilising and unpredictable force in our region.
Fast, long-distance submarines capable of remaining immersed almost indefinitely and bristling with intelligence and offence capability will be the most effective contribution Australia can make in defence of freedom in our region. You don’t have to be a hawk to realise a Chinese attack on the sovereignty of Taiwan is more likely than not sometime this decade. The Chinese government’s escalating rhetoric is reason enough to be alarmed.
The diesel-electric subs on order operate well in coastal waters and are likely to serve us well in defending Australia’s northern and northwestern approaches, but are ill-suited to the job of force projection. Nuclear subs provide much better support for surface strike groups, can shadow ballistic missile submarines and deny enemy fleets access to zones of interest. They can operate closer to the enemies’ bases, deployed covertly to avoid raising tension.
In the world of submarines, the words cheap and quick never apply. A nuclear fleet would require a massive investment in naval infrastructure, not to mention a uranium enrichment facility. China’s assertiveness in the region, however, is changing the cost-benefit calculation and the politics. In defence, as in energy, Australia’s peculiar nuclear objections may be a luxury we can no longer afford.
Nick Cater is executive director of the Menzies Research Centre.

{ 18 comments… add one }
  • Graham+Richards 23/02/2021, 5:53 am

    Albo is living a second fantasy………becoming PM of Australia!

  • Cliff 23/02/2021, 5:57 am

    State governments will be a major tripping point preventing the installation of nuclear power plants if ever the federal government wakes up to the fact that they are long overdue to provide clean AND RELIABLE electricity to this nation.

    The federal government could override any State government’s attempts to block nuclear power stations by installing them on military bases near each capital city. This would provide both reliable power to the defence facility AND, located within the military base, the necessary security for the nuclear reactor and its infrastructure.

    And any leftover power (of which there will be plenty) could be sold to the State grid.

    As for the submarines… getting out of the imbecilic diesel deal with the French is such a no-brainer, I think even Christopher Pyne would agree now that it should be done – tuit suite.

  • Finn 23/02/2021, 6:07 am

    China has 4 times the population of USA. USA doubles the food and energy output of China (more or less GAO figures etc)

    China has no friendly neighbours (Russia, Vietnam (ouch in 1979) Taiwan and India and eventually Europe)

    USA has 2 friendly oceans and 2 friendly neighbours in Canada and Mexico.

    China is a net food importer, Australia, USA, NZ, Taiwan (?) Europe are net exporters.

    Most world armed forces are volunteers as opposed to chinas conscripted men and women.

    The lesson of history is that not one single invading force has ever lasted. They bloom and die. Some spectacularly short far less than a decade Japan snd Germany). Not much comfort for those invaded I might add.

    So what did China do? Tried to set up vassal debtor states with out actually saying so in 3rd world countries. Pain in the arse but cannot last bc the countries themselves will not relinquish sovereignty.

    So back to Australian submarines and Air Force. They are not a Blue water fleet nor should they be. But China is not a Bluewater fleet either. They don’t have to be they are at best extended coastal protection. Australia is far too far away. And they have to subdue first then cross a logistically impossible distance to get here. And first they must re-name the straights of Malacca the Straights of China to ensure food supply.

    Australia does not have a military to defeat others That’s not the point, it just has to make it uneconomical in its little region. The navy and Air Force are adequate. And Kokoda is still there. Hirohito and Hitler were not just defeated – they were economically fore-doomed to be crushed to death.

    Of course if they nuke me here in Sydney – they nuke me. But I think, with reason, they better get the USA first or it will be a hot time in downtown Beijing.

    Breathe easy.

    • Ian_A 23/02/2021, 7:50 am

      “The lesson of history is that not one single invading force has ever lasted.”

      Hmm, not too sure of that one, Finn. Thinking 1066. But I suppose you could say the invaders eventually end up being ‘absorbed’. Regarding China, I’d still want to hedge my bets there. Wouldn’t hurt to have the odd nuclear missile silo dotted around. Or the odd nuclear sub.

      • Penguinite 23/02/2021, 9:07 am

        I agree Ian! The history of World domination is always limited to resources. The Romans, Huns, Vikings, Mongols, several Chinese Dynasties, Nazis and our very own Brittania all eventually succumbed to ‘overreach’. Assimilation too is a temporary phenomenon.

      • Finn 23/02/2021, 11:16 am

        Corrected ….. memo to file: try and save face by better research. Completely overlooked 1066

    • Ian_A 23/02/2021, 1:09 pm

      No worries Finn. We’re all here to enjoy MM, it’s great over a morning coffee. Sometimes maybe we’re commenting here before we’ve even got around to speaking to anyone — first stirrings and stretchings of the mind each day.

  • crankykoala 23/02/2021, 10:05 am

    Look, let’s be realistic the government and opposition have more to worry about such as, sexual allegations of years ago than think about nuclear energy/submarines, dams, coal fired power stations, China etc. Stuff the country and kowtow to the minorities is the way to go.

    • Ian_A 23/02/2021, 11:12 am

      “Stuff the country and kowtow to the minorities is the way to go.”

      Couldn’t agree more, KC. I felt a bit different this morning, and realised I’d become woke overnight. Now I fully believe that we need to find the most extreme minority positions possible, criminalise all dissent, and for the rest, like Chinese imperial militarisation, just sing que sera sera (whatever will be, will be). Opposition to Chinese state power would obviously be xenophobic. Also, it distracts from the woke agenda of progressing sanctimonious causes.

  • Botswana+O'Hooligan 23/02/2021, 10:37 am

    Bob Carr a wise head???? Cater has been on something mighty powerful to even mention he or Ms S H Young. Why not build coal fired plants whilst the argument rages for after all we have a seam of the stuff running from Wilsons Prom to the top of Cape York.

  • Botswana+O'Hooligan 23/02/2021, 10:48 am

    Guess who bought the “Melbourne” and was pleasantly surprised at the amount of gear the RAN didn’t remove before it was sold to them, and guess who reverse engineered stuff as in steam catapults etc. and what about the Admiral Kuznetsov now the Liaong or something? Google Chinese Aircraft Carriers and be pleasantly unsurprised.

  • jaded 23/02/2021, 11:20 am

    The Federal Govt. has to pick a topic to go to the election with otherwise what do they stand for. They want to go Carbon Neutral by 2030 – 2050 take your pick. The voter will not stand for a Carbon Tax, along with No Manufacturing industry, No Agriculture Industry. It doesn’t matter how much spin the Climate Zealots put on Renewables, NOTHING works without cheap baseload power that can only be supplied by Coal or Nuclear. OK you Ideological Zealots we Pragmatists are Grown Up Enough to come half way and do Nuclear? Get on with it. Just think another upside is that we can save a lot of money on the infamous submarines by buying them off the shelf as guess what! NUCLEAR.

  • Cliff 23/02/2021, 6:23 pm

    Finn, you posit a good argument, but allow me to attempt a counter argument. (Not saying you’re wrong – for my children’s sake, I sincerely hope you are not!)

    But how about this? China won’t need to mount a WW2-style classic invasion of Australia should its leadership ever decide something a bit more traditional than an economic takeover is required to keep Australia toe-ing a line acceptable to China. Sadly, a half dozen widebody airliners co-ordinated to arrive in our major cities at the same time filled with soldiers rather than tourists (or even more likely, simply weapons to be handed out to the sleeper agents already living here) would be more than enough to hold the fort while sufficient troops arrived to ensure they would prevail.

    Even easier than a half dozen airliners would be three or four cargo ships full of troops turning up in all our major ports on the same day, (just as those two ChiCom Navy ships arrived unannounced in Sydney Harbour a few years ago).

    As for any invading force eventually failing “except for 1066”, (BTW – there were two earlier successful invasions of England, both by the Scandahooligans, who ended up as Kings of England, Canute being one of them), I think your argument might fail in a hypothetical Chinese invasion of Australia simply because of two factors.

    Firstly, numbers. The Chinese have the capability (and the will) to simply swamp Australia with so many colonists/immigrants that they could quite easily completely (note that word) overwhelm the native population (that’s us) within a generation.

    The second point is important. The Chinese have already proven that they have (what I’ll call) “an Old Testament” attitude to being the victor. That is, 21st Century Western squeamishness such as the Americans have exhibited in waging war since 1945 does not apply to them. If “the long game” (which they have always been very good at playing) dictates that Australia would be more easily managed if it contained a population that is 100% Chinese, they would not hesitate for one moment to do whatever was necessary to make that happen.

    All that could quite possibly come to pass before the first of our French submarines is ready for delivery.

    • Ian_A 23/02/2021, 7:32 pm

      Good stuff Cliff. Better than anything written by Suntan Stan.

  • Finn 23/02/2021, 9:41 pm


    I am no expert. All wars are studies in economics. A simultaneous airborne and sea borne strike on all ports and air bases is a massive massive undertaking as a surprise attack.

    I suppose the first strike could be made with devastating consequences for all Australians in each local area.

    Long distance logistics come into play. Financing, fielding and supporting what I suppose are brave and resourceful Chinese professional soldiers 6,000 km away is a no fox go.

    Now every anti Chinese country between Shanghai and Darwin are out for the kill. Good luck with re-supply with the American Navy, Guam, Phillipines, Singapore India Japan saying GO THE CHINKS !!!

    Each US ACC is 1/3rd whole Chinese Air Force.

    How do they re-supply their invaders?

    A surprise attack like that envisaged is already postulated for Taiwan with a 40% chance of enduring success bc MUCH shorter distance. Assuming no US interdiction.

    So with respect the economics/logistics of a second wave (which is a sort of back up sneak attack) determine the success of the first mission. Not a do le soul in Australia likes the invaders. Each gallant policeman is armed poorly to be sure. 10,000 in each state. So cost benefit analysis bodes ill. We can’t “win” if they land 200,00O heavily armed elite troops who must be fed, sheltered, and rearmed. But we can’t lose either.

    India, which has the 4th largest navy gets cranky too.

    Not finally but significantly, the straights of Malacca must be controlled FIRST by the Chinese first or food and oil supply crashes cataclysmically. SO dual invasion? Perhaps. But merely taking that control, if it could done, is belligerent. It’s not peacefully. Bang goes surprise

    Finally, the Australian/US ALLUANCE is so strong that it would take(my guess) at least 3 crap administrations on both sides of the pacific to ruin it. But that can be ignored. US economic interest in the region is so great that the first wave, assuming it landed would never be supported by 2nd wave. 10’s of thousands of Chinese soldiers die in the air en route.


    Breathe easy

  • Pat 23/02/2021, 10:13 pm

    Thank you Bots Hooliganism etc.
    Bob Carr had the brains of a louse and a louse has no head.
    Finn, I hope you are right, but we have been infiltrated stealthily already to an extent unknown yet except for Victoriastan, so I am concerned for the future.

    • Finn 23/02/2021, 11:22 pm

      I fear infiltration

  • Cliff 24/02/2021, 6:20 am

    Finn, again I hope you’re right. But I don’t think the Chinese would give much thought to massive re-supply. They’d do what armies have done up until the 19th century – live off the land. (And guess who’d have to go without the food the invaders would need – and take?)

    Throw in another random virus with a high mortality rate from a different fantasy ‘wet market’ a month or so before ‘D Day’ and they’d be able to walk in virtually unopposed as we all obeyed Chairman Dan and stayed locked indoors.

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