Will Australia go coal-free?

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The Federal Government’s new chief scientist, Dr Alan Finkel, is backing the end of coal-fired power in Australia, but Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull isn’t on board.

Taking over the mantle from Professor Ian Chubb, Dr Finkel is expected to provide independent advice to the Government on issues of science, technology and innovation. He was questioned about his views on coal-fired power at a media event at which his appointment to the role was publically announced.

“My vision is for a country, a society, a world where we don’t use any coal, oil, or natural gas because we have zero-emissions electricity in huge abundance,” Dr Finkel said. However,

Malcolm Turnbull insists that coal will remain a main global energy source for many more years.

Malcolm Turnbull has faced criticism recently for dismissing a call from a group of 61 prominent Australians – including Wallabies star David Pocock, a trio of former Australians of the Year and well-known scientists and economists – to place a moratorium on coal.

It was hoped the Prime Minister would stop any new coal mine projects and bring an international moratorium on coal exports to the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, commencing in November in Paris.

“No I don’t agree with a moratorium on the idea of exploiting coal,” the Prime Minister said yesterday. “If Australia were to stop all of its coal exports it would not reduce global emissions one iota. In fact, arguably it would increase them because our coal, by and large, is cleaner than the coal in many other countries.”

He claimed that coal played a crucial part in relieving poverty in developing countries, and said, “You’ve got to remember that energy poverty is one of the big limits on global development in terms of achieving all of the development goals.”

Dr Finkel said it would take time to develop the technologies to replace coal and admits we “can’t get there overnight” but alternatives, such as nuclear energy “should be considered for a low emissions or a zero emissions future.”

“What we need to do is optimise the technology so we can cost-effectively introduce alternatives,” he said.

The Australian Conservation Foundation’s Chief Executive Kelly O’Shanassy criticised the Prime Minister’s claims about coal easing poverty, and added that “Australia needs an energy mix that is 100 per cent safe.

“Neither coal nor nuclear are safe, so we should not be planning a future around them,” she said.

Read more at www.abc.net.au

Opinion: Doesn’t sound promising

Alan Finkel is a highly-regarded neuroscientist, engineer, entrepreneur and philanthropist. He lives in a house powered entirely by renewable energy and drives an electric car. He is a public advocate of nuclear energy in the fight against global warming, and believes that Australians will all eventually be driving electric cars.

Clearly, Dr Finkel has a particularly strong stance on clean energy. So why has the Prime Minister chosen him for the chief scientist position if he doesn’t appear willing to follow his guidance?

Admittedly, Mr Turnbull said his Government would adopt “whatever energy mix is appropriate,” though he acknowledged there were significant costs and environmental challenges associated with alternatives, such as nuclear technology.

It doesn’t exactly sound promising though, does it?

Dr Finkel will officially take over the chief scientist mantle in December, after Professor Ian Chubb’s four-year term ends. To me, he sounds exactly like the kind of person I want advising the Government on environmental issues. But I don’t envy the work he has ahead of him – convincing the Prime Minister on environmental action. However, it’s early days yet. Maybe we’ll be surprised to discover our politicians can actually be made to see reason. Funnier things have happened. Maybe.

What do you think? Should we be seeing more cooperation between the Prime Minister and Australia’s Chief Scientist at this time? Or is it still too early to say? How do you feel about Dr Finkel advocating nuclear energy in Australia?

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Written by ameliath


Total Comments: 128
  1. 0

    I struggle with the idea that a Prime Minister can only have an adviser who totally agrees with the PM’s(Governments) view. I would have thought that it is healthy for the PM to have access to all views to enable proper decisions to be made.

  2. 0

    I saw this on TV and was/am, outraged but the idea that ANYONE would be stupid enough to go nuclear, after all the trouble Uranium and Nuclear has and is still causing.

    The whole world had changed for the worst since 1945 when nuclear came in.

    There is NO way of getting rid of the dangerous waste and there is so much danger in having Nuclear stations. so many are ending up with cancer caused by Radiation.

    I did see that Turnbull “credited” Chris Pyne with the bringing on board of this Alan Finkel

    • 0

      Plan B, while I share your concerns about the possibilities of nuclear accidents and waste, are you aware that in Lucas Heights, Sydney ANSTO has a nuclear facility which provides hospitals and other facilities all around the country with isotopes etc for use in medicine which we are totally dependent on? There are apparently many uses for nuclear products which we are now taking for granted and even maybe not aware of. Maybe we need to listen critically to what the Chief Scientist has to say before we disregard it?

    • 0

      Yes Happy, I am well aware of the Site at Lucas Heights, that is a medical site and they were the ones that came up with Synroc to store their waste in however even though the danger is minimized it is still not 100% safe.

      They are and have been using Depleted uranium — a waste product of the nuclear industry — in the Iraq war and also used it in the Falklands too which has caused horrific deformities and still does as it forms into dust and is breathed in by all.

    • 0

      You are perfectly correct PlanB. The ‘future’ is something that few politicians in this country ever think about. Nuclear is a dangerous, dangerous alternative which will be regretted if pursued. You may realise that every person on the planet has strontium90 in their bones because of nuclear tests and spills in the past. Putting more of this stuff around is plain stupid. Welcome to politics!

    • 0

      Seems to me our PM is having a bet both ways. Toeing the Party line while being advised by a nuclear advocate. There is nothing on earth that will convince me we should go ‘nuclear’. How many plants would have to be built to service SYDNEY not to mention all of Aus. Nuclear energy is not 100% safe and I don’t want to be responsible for allowing a world disaster. We have nuclear medicine, that’s enough for the world. Plan B and mick, I agree whole heartedly, and am fearful of the future.

    • 0

      Sorry, but nuclear has been around for many years prior to 1945. That line of reasoning should see lead, steel, fire and horses removed from our existence.
      We are still paying for the errors of the 50’s and 60’s eg Chernobyl etc, but recent technology USES the waste that the older reactors left behind. All of the waste produced in the world so far would be less than the ash waste from 1 of our Coal power stations, which is also radioactive, and cancerous.

      No matter what we do there is a price, and all we can do is minimise the total cost, dollars AND environmental. By any accounting system, nuclear comes out in front in the long term. if we want our children’s children to live on this planet, there is no other currently feasible base load option.

      I would be happy if someone had a solution to that problem, and please don’t say solar tidal wave or wind – we can’t use these supplimentary sources as base load.

      Could you please research this topic more, using science not emotion, and do an unbiased comparison between coal and nuclear, or any other energy source, for base load.

      I do not espouse immediately removing coal from the equation. It must be phased out, rather than chopped. Nobody, even the Greens, are suggesting that.

      PS I am (was) an environmental scientist with training in nuclear physics.

    • 0

      Australia as i think Bob Hawke was espousing some years ago,could/should become the leader in nuclear waste storage and disposal.
      We have an abundance of the raw material for sale and we have in the Kimberly’s some of the most stable geology in the world.
      We could store and manage the worlds nuclear waste ,at a cost , which would bring in substantial revenue to pay for our welfare and hospital systems and provide the world with an abundance of clean energy.
      Mind you this could all be hypothetical given that thorium is more abundant than uranium and vast amount of research is taking place on harnessing it’s power. Looks like we may have already missed the bus.

  3. 0

    Don’t these fools know what horrors nuclear has and is causing STILL with not only the tests done but still with Chernobyl and Fukushima.

    The horrific effects of Radiation is FOREVER there is no way of cleaning this mess up.

    • 0

      They know but when one of their vested interests can make a buck who cares………. Makes you want to cry.

    • 0

      Don’t these fools know what horrors coal fired power stations have and are causing STILL with not only the atmospheric waste but still with Yalourne and Hunter Valley and China and India.

      The horrific effects of fine particles as well as the greenhouse gas which is forever there is no way of cleaning this mess up.

      Anyone got a Plan C ???

  4. 0

    Firstly, I don’t really see any conflict between Finkel’s vision for a world where we don’t use any coal, gas or oil and the PM’s position that coal has to be an important part of our energy mix for the present and the medium term future of the world. It’s a question of timing. Undoubtedly we will eventually not use coal as an energy source but to think we can just switch off all the coal use and replace it with sustainable energy sources as they now stand is just ridiculous. The cost of the renewable energy would be enough to break our country and I suspect the technology isn’t good enough at this stage to power some industries. And for all the talk of renewable energy use in Europe, we should remember that Germany is actually building new coal-fired power stations.

    And the PM is quite right that if we stop exporting coal to developing nations then those countries will just buy dirtier coal from another source and the overall level of emissions will probably increase.

    Secondly, I don’t have any problem with nuclear power being part of our energy mix. France gets about 80% of its electricity from nuclear power and also exports it to other countries. We are probably the best suited country in the world to use nuclear power. We own large supplies of it and we’re one of the most geologically stable countries in the world so the danger from earthquakes is minimal. And the technology used in the new reactors is far better and safer than the earlier reactors.

    • 0

      Even by removing the Uranium from the ground is bad it should never have been mined in the 1st place.

    • 0

      Agree Dave.

    • 0

      I agree with plan B. Nuclear plan are a worst case disaster waiting to happen with the results of it happening once way more that the value. Plus Nuclear plants are hellishly expensive to build.

      But I looked at the tariffs in France and found them comparable to ours except for the standing charges. Interestingly I found that the standing charge goes up the more you use. This is similar to that proposed not long ago here but was rejected.

      The annual standing rate are:
      for 6kw $139 year
      for 9kw $189 year
      for 12kw $303 year
      for 15kw $352 year
      for 18kw $396 year

      Not that the higher users increase is greater than the lower.

      My usage over the winter quarter was 10.62kw day this means in France I would pay $303 PA compared to the $505 I pay in Australia.

      It seems that France can deliver electricity cheaper with expensive nuclear plants than we can using cheap coal.

      Once again showing how e are being ripped off.

      This is why I am all for completely disconnect from the grid using solar panels and batteries. Also look at


      Where communities can have a community battery fed from their rooftops solar panels and released during the night.

      The continues building of centralized power just continues the big end of towns grab for money and holds everyone captive. It doesn’t matter whether it is nuclear, vast solar arrays or wind power they still need the grid that will keep us all captive.

      It is satisfying to see the rapid expansion in the development of battery storage and even more so that we are starting to see an expansion of people going off the grid. I have noticed recently that there are even companies advertising this.

      After all this I cannot see dumping all coal mining it should be a gradual decay until technological development overtakes it as it gradually is. Coal fired plants are a monolith of the past and will eventually die much the same as with fossil fueled cars as the all electric car gathers pace.

      By the way Wind power windmills are an eyesore if this is so what is the grid? Poles are in your face wherever you are.

    • 0

      Just agreeing wholeheartedly with what Dave and Wstaton said. Well reasoned and factual.
      I wonder if we did end up using nuclear could we space-ship the waste directly at the sun?
      See, we are engaged in a discussion today about energy needs that we were not yesterday. The PM’s calm and good sense and Finkel’s credibility are a good combination at the pointy end of this idea – which is actually a disguised discussion to open the real debate on renewables.

    • 0

      I don’t understand the argument “if they don’t buy from us they will buy from someone else” – sorry, but if you are taking a stand about the future that is a simpleton’s statement. This statement is used to support the Adani mine project – dangerous to the reef and economically unviable! Is money changing hands to keep going with such a ridiculous venture, one that all but one bank will not support?
      Australia can lead the world in renewable energy research and establishment. Long term thinking and planning is what is needed. Turnbull said he would explain things to everyone – to him so far it means talking at you until you come around to his way of thinking

    • 0

      Dave: It is obvious that coal needs to be phased out, not shut down tomorrow. Also, there will need to be infrastructure left for emergency situations too.
      Nuclear? No. This is the solution from people who cannot think 100 years ahead.
      Not sure about your post regarding Germany. Germany claims that it will be coal free in 10 years time.
      Solar – storage batteries are coming. Just like colour TVs they will be expensive to start with but as time goes on they will get cheaper. And then somebody will find a much cheaper and much more efficient storage capability than lithium cells. GAME OVER COAL.
      Lets not kid ourselves that coal is here to stay. It isn’t. But yet this government has given the green light for Adani to rape the Great Barrier Reef and destroy much of it. Give me strength!!!

    • 0

      the US has solar energy refined enough to export for a profit and still be competitive in o/s markets. I am not a big fan of the US but I sure want them to ‘invade’ us with renewable solar.

    • 0

      And storage batteries.
      Actually there are 3 manufacturers of panels: US, Germany and China. All available here!

    • 0

      I have solar on my roof that I bought early in the piece when they were costing an arm and a leg. I really wonder how cost effective they really are. Perhaps it would be more cost effective if instead of everyone putting solar on their own roof, we had all used our money and bought some kind of “solar bond”. With the money raised through the “solar bond” a large thermal solar power station could have been built which would have been much more efficient (generating 24/7) then we all could have all been paid a dividend which we all could have used to pay off our power bill. Probably much more cost effective given that most solar inverters only have a 10 year warranty or less

    • 0

      hAVING read most of the above, i so agree on what mangomick has said, and thats exactly what should be happening!!!
      PUt me down for a cut will ya mango!!!

  5. 0

    We can’t stop coal mining without replacing it with an equally lucrative alternative. If we did, Australia’s economy would be in dire straits. There is no overnight solution this has to be well thought out and kept in balance. If we used wind powered turbines or solar power, our export market would suffer as we could not export ‘nature” (wind) and our manufacturing costs here in Australia are far too high to export solar panels and besides this – we once again cannot export “nature” (the sun)
    We need to be seen to using the very thing we export. We all know that we have to be our own best customer when it comes to marketing.
    We also know that nuclear power while cleaner to use, poses many dangers – one just has to look at Japan’s issue that is still ongoing to understand that Nuclear is not an option.
    So for now its coal – I must say this, it was quite shocking to witness the amount of coal that is being exported from Australia.

    A couple of years ago a friend and I took a weeks holiday and used Maitland NSW as our base while we explored the Hunter Valley wineries, Newcastle and even had lunch at the Fish Markets in Sydney one day. Apart from hiring a car to visit the wineries, we chose to include train trips as much as possible, even taking the train from Brisbane to Maitland.
    One day while waiting for our train at Maitland railways station to take us to Newcastle, we counted an average of 98-100 carriages of coal pass through Maitland to Newcastle Port every 10minutes – every 10minutes carrying that quantity of coal – we were there 30minutes and that was a total of almost 300 coal trucks in 30mins.
    We found it rather scary to think that the ground was being hollowed out at that rate.
    Furthermore, the rail coal trucks were uncovered and most of the schools were along that rail line – coal dust is very toxic and the locals were crying out for changes to be made to protect the citizens of against toxicity.
    So .should Australia get their local energy from the wind and the sun and continue to export coal? we could but we need to put our money where our mouth is when it comes to marketing our resources overseas.

    • 0

      Now we are talking looknlisten. This is about MONEY not the planet. Because politicians have sold off everything of value we need export income (coal and iron ore) so the planet and the future have been sold out.

  6. 0

    Thankfully the PM has used common sense. What image this scientist has for the country is of little use to the Government trying to balance the budget. Scientists luckily are not in charge of the Budget in Australia.
    We cannot afford further step backs in revenues and our coal is of the highest quality. Nor is Asia etc financially able to move to Nuclear energy. Having seen their construction skills, it is another Japanese melt down waiting to happen.

    • 0

      Agree – Coal is our second largest export we would be in financial strife if we stopped exporting it.

    • 0

      ‘Balancing the budget’ isn’t the only important issue for a government. Most household and business budgets get along quite happily with an unbalanced budget, one that owes money. Any issues with government budget are the fault of the installed loss of revenue from tax changes, superannuation handling, focus on investment in housing, and selloff of utilities thus reducing their long term input to the budget.

    • 0

      What was said is a carefully developed strategic mask to let Turnbull go back to his passion for renewables letting him avoid the wrath of the looney right in the Coalition or the looney left among the Greens. The renewables debate will naturally emerge from the statements made yesterday. Two problematic alternatives nearly always produces a third way that is more acceptable.

    • 0

      The fact that we need the cash is no substitute for bad management. This is what we have in this country: flog off everything and then dig something out of the ground and get a pitiful royalty. The answer to destroying the planet!!!

  7. 0

    To me a very tricky question. The need for CHEAP (belay that – never happen) power is increasing daily, and quite honestly, the trip from here to Malbun via the Latrine Valley nearly kills me. Are there no other alternatives? We seem to have an over-supply of wind and sun here in Oz…….

    • 0

      you can’t export the wind and the sun

    • 0

      you can’t export the wind and the sun

    • 0

      Yes – but I thought we were concentrating on our own usage first. Interesting about the Maitland trains etc – I grew up in that area and it’s still going full blast. Many of us in our old age have asthmatic and other troubles.

      Australia could afford to export alternative energy equipment if a proper industrial base was re-established – but of course for that we need power – question is from what and where.

    • 0

      But we could export the technology if we concentrated on that more.

    • 0

      Trebor: we ALREADY have cheap power. Queensland and South Australia were producing 25% of their power needs from rooftop systems. That is why the previous government was thrown out of office. The coal industry was having none of that!
      Despite Tony Abbott having done everything in his power to destroy the renewables industry it is still here and grinding away albeit more slowly. When storage batteries hit town coal will die a very quick death….as it should.

    • 0

      mick, can you forge steel from a battery?
      By the way, those two states are Labor held now.

    • 0

      Labor did not tear down renewables. Your mate Tony Abbott did. And tried to obliterate renewables from the nation. Did not work!

  8. 0

    You can’t stop coal mining as it is one of the biggest resources we have. It’s like cutting your pay packet in half. How are we going to pay our huge debt off without it. Can someone come up with a more environmentally friendly way of making money. Maybe they should investigate ways of cleaner burning coal.

    • 0

      A post from a neanderthal? Sounds like it. Or a coal funded troll.
      “Making money” is important but the future of the planet and in particular our country is more important.
      Solar will win this game when storage batteries arrive. Game over. And no amount of political bribery will stop that.

    • 0

      HERE HERE mick……… Truth be the coal miners are just scared they will become poor. Poor buggers……
      Perhaps they could make a start on the solar thing, the silly fools instead of raping the soil we need to sow our seeds in, to survive, the future?

  9. 0


    Black coal is Australia’s second-highest export commodity.
    Australia is the world’s leading coal exporter
    In 2009-2010 Australia exported 293.4 million tonnes of black coal to 33 destinations.
    Black exports have increased by more than 50% over the past 10 years.
    Japan takes 39.3% of Australia’s black coal exports – the largest share, with a total of 115.3 million tonnes exported last financial year.
    China is our second largest market with 42.4 million tonnes in 2009-2010, almost double the previous year.
    Australia was the only one of the world’s 33 advanced economies to grow in 2009 during the worst global recession since the Great Depression.
    The export coal industry in Australia is serviced by nine major coal loading terminals located in Queensland and New South Wales.
    As a result of expansion work in recent years, the terminals in 2009-10 had a total handling capacity of almost 350 million tonnes and loaded nearly 300 million tonnes of coal.
    Located in the Port of Newcastle, NSW, Australia, Port Waratah Coal Services operates the world’s largest and most efficient coal handling operations through its two terminals; Carrington and Kooragang. An expansion of the PWCS terminal is in the pipeline.
    Trains transporting coal are among the longest in the world, with as many as six locomotives and 148 wagons amounting to a length of more than two kilometres. A train of that size can carry about 8,500 tonnes of coal.
    An important innovation in Queensland at the beginning of the 1980s was the construction of aluminium wagons equipped with rotating couplings which enable the wagons to be emptied by being turned upside down to reduce unloading time.
    The main rail companies operating in Australia are QR National and Pacific National who together service the states of Queensland, New South Wales and South Australia.

    • 0

      I can see You now doing a Toyota Heel Click !!
      You must have a Motza of Shares ? 🙂
      It’ll all end soon when they have Flogged it all off at a Discount !
      And we are back to Cooking our dinner on a Campfire like a Swaggie !! 🙂 🙂

    • 0

      Don’t have any shares except a gift of Porsche shares that a friend once gave me which I should go an check up on 🙂

      I Don’t necessarily post my own personal beliefs, but rather a view or understanding on why certain decisions are made.

    • 0

      Thanks for the coal paid advertisement.
      We all understand where coal sits. Perhaps also give a background on how much the coal price has fallen or the fact that rooftop solar systems are about to bury the coal industry.
      The issue of income is sad. This country and its bought governments have sold out to the coal industry but renewable energy will soon kill big coal. WHAT THEN? Having refused all calls to develop the future our governments have thrown in lots with an industry which will soon be dead and buried.
      Tell me about the dollars looknlisten…..and then tell me about the FUTURE of the nation which you and your industry are trying to destroy.

    • 0

      But what about the economic cost? A new report has revealed that the financial “propping up” of the Australian coal export industry, through government subsidies is costing taxpayers roughly $5.2 per tonne of coal produced, or a total of $1.8 billion a year.
      Freedom of Information search revealed that former Queensland Premier Campbell Newman promoted the Adani coal, rail and port project proposal through multiple offers of taxpayer subsidies and the provision of enabling capital.
      These included an open-ended coal royalty holiday; free water allocations and purpose-built $500-1,000 million water infrastructure; construction of a new $50-100 million tug harbour; underwriting for the related single-purpose greenfield coal-freight railway; and a proposed “purchase” of dredge spoil at Adani’s Abbot Point Coal Terminal to offset growing investor concerns about the commercial viability of the project.
      Investor concerns about the project’s viability were, held by Queensland Treasury, and just about everyone else but the Queensland and federal Coalition governments.
      The OECD estimates that between 2005 and 2011 the Australian government provided a total of $1,150 million of financial assistance via tax subsidies and direct spending to the Australian coal industry.

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