Senator Sam McMahon Still Backing Nuclear Power For NT

Senator Sam McMahon - nuclear and renewables

Senators Sam McMahon And Matt Canavan

Country Liberal Senator for the Northern Territory Dr. Sam McMahon has clarified her views on renewable energy, but remains steadfast in her support of nuclear power for the NT.

Perhaps channelling Senator Matt Canavan, this is some of what the senator had to say about renewables in late October:

“Renewables are the dole bludgers of the energy mix,” said Senator McMahon. “They are a great hoax perpetrated by the industry on the gullible.”

They were pretty strong words and hard to misinterpret. A couple of weeks on, this is what Dr. McMahon is saying now:

“Do I hate renewables or believe they have no role to play, definitely not, but they are not the panacea of affordable, reliable energy.”

So things have been toned down a little – perhaps resulting from a realisation many Territorians and Australians generally think renewables are a really good thing – and they have been proven to be time and time again here and around the world. Senator McMahon also acknowledges renewables have an important place in the energy mix, but says they need a helping hand.

That’s called storage and smart integration. But:

“Reliable power grid stabilisation and firming can be added to the mix by use of batteries, hydro, hydrogen and other complex systems,” the senator states. “These additional costs are often ignored by proponents of renewables.”

Perhaps Senator McMahon is ignoring that these additional costs; particularly batteries, are getting cheaper by the month.

Here’s something that isn’t.

Nuclear Power For The Northern Territory

Senator McMahon believes when it comes to emissions, reliability and power output, nuclear power is a clear winner and should be considered an option for inclusion in the NT’s energy mix.

On the emissions front, an analysis of 123 countries over 25 years by the University of Sussex Business School and the ISM International School of Management found nuclear and renewables don’t play well together in terms of carbon reduction.

As cost is a burning issue for the Senator and according to the World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2020 published in September, the levelised cost of energy (LCOE) of nuclear has risen by over 50 percent over the last 5 years and it has become the most expensive form of generation except for gas peakers. SQ’s Ronald has also written on how renewable energy increases the cost of nuclear.

A report from the CSIRO and the Australian Energy Market Operator published early this year confirmed wind, solar power and energy storage technologies are by far the cheapest form of low carbon options for Australia.

But Senator McMahon is looking beyond currently commercialised nuclear technology, to Small Modular Reactors (SMRs). None of these exist in service anywhere in the world and as the WNISR2020 report points out, will cost more per kilowatt than conventional nuclear energy – and beyond a few prototypes SMRs are unlikely to come into play.

So, as renewables are perceived to be expensive when backed by storage, the solution is to shoot for a technology that may never hit prime time and even if it does, will be even more expensive than conventional nuclear, push up energy prices and erode carbon mitigation outcomes?


Anyway, it’s nice to know Senator McMahon doesn’t hate renewables.

About Michael Bloch

Michael caught the solar power bug after purchasing components to cobble together a small off-grid PV system in 2008. He's been reporting on Australian and international solar energy news ever since.


  1. NT Senator Dr. Sam McMahon stated on her Facebook page, dated Oct 22:

    “Renewables are the dole bludgers of the the energy mix. They are a great hoax perpetrated by the industry on the gullible.”

    Meanwhile, the International Energy Agency’s (IEA’s) head, Dr. Fatih Birol, launching the IEA’s “Renewables 2020” report, said at a webinar yesterday (from time interval 04:31):

    “Just before 2025, renewables will overtake coal and will be the number one source of electricity generation…”

    Then there’s “Lazard’s Levelized Cost of Energy Analysis, Version 14.0” and “Lazard’s Levelized Cost of Storage Analysis, Version 6.0”, published on Oct 19.

    Senator McMahon also says (dated Oct 2020):

    “Renewables are unreliable in their energy production because the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow.”

    I’d suggest Senator McMahon is woefully ill-informed.

    I think Senator McMahon needs to be briefed by people like ANU Professor Andrew Blakers on 100% renewables and storage, perhaps for starters like the YouTube video titled “Professor Andrew Blakers: 100% renewables and storage – part 1”, published on Jul 23:

    The “Global pumped hydro atlas” can be found here:

  2. If “Doctor” McMahon (it seems the Senator has a Batchelor of Veterinary Science. I wouldn’t have thought that makes someone a Doctor, but according to the wiks “With the introduction of National Health Practitioner registration legislation on 1 July 2010, the title “doctor” is not restricted in any Australian state”. So I guess I am, You are, We are Doctors) thinks renewables are “Dole Bludgers”, wait til she hears about Peakers and Capacity Payments.

  3. Typical neo-con Coaltion/Liberal-speak.

    I don’t trust politicians when they can’t be impartial to bias or vested conflicts of interest.

    For example, Canavan’s brother is a managing director of a private coal company with significant interests in the second largest coal mine. Now, tell me, how is Matt is not influenced by his political leanings towards energy? We should not be even listening to Canavan when such conflicts of interests (family and money) are involved. Doesn’t pass the pub test, regardless how much they say they are not influenced, there’s always a shadow of doubt of some interest involved.

    That’s the problem with politics these days, just about every politician has a vested interest, therefore there is no guarantee of impartiality.

    As soon as a conflict of interest shows up, the minister/senator/MP should be removed from that office of responsibility and have no say or vote in the party room over such matters and any previous decision nullified/voided. (just like what they do with sportspeople who have been stripped of their medals for failing doping tests that can be carried out for up to 10 years).

  4. I have 7KW of solar on my roof, and export twice what I use.
    If i was to get an electric car i think i would be back to importing, it would be a sure thing if we were a two electric car family.
    And you cannot disagree with the statement solar and wind can be unreliable.
    I have watched the news and seen rain covering the majority of the east coast of Australia on some days. That would have a significant impact on electricity from solar as that is where most of the generation would be.
    I would not be apposed to a few Nuclear reactors to keep us going the next 30-40 years as coal plants shut down.
    At the moment Batteries are expensive, constructed from pretty nasty stuff and loose capacity as they get older. Given some time i am sure the Battery tech would develop and mature, and i think Nuclear is way to gain that time.
    Also Australia could provide all the fuel here and would not have to rely on other countries. Nor do we lack space to store used materials.
    If others think neither coal or nuclear are acceptable then i would like to hear alternatives to keep us going until tech catches up?

    • Rowdy,
      You state: “I have watched the news and seen rain covering the majority of the east coast of Australia on some days. That would have a significant impact on electricity from solar as that is where most of the generation would be.”

      Have you looked at the YouTube video “Professor Andrew Blakers: 100% renewables and storage – part 1” referred in my earlier comment above? The URL link is included.

      You also state: “I would not be apposed to a few Nuclear reactors to keep us going the next 30-40 years as coal plants shut down.”

      Would you be willing to pay much more for your energy, Rowdy? I’d suggest you look at Lazard’s LCOE analysis referred above on my earlier comment – the URL link is included.

      Would you be willing to wait 15-20 years for nuclear, Rowdy? That’s how long it will take to build in Australia – an inexperienced nuclear power generation country. Nuclear is certainly NOT the way to gain time.

      Nuclear fission technologies are:
      – too expensive – renewables with storage are significantly cheaper;
      – too slow to deploy – renewables with storage are much faster to build and operate;
      – not long-term sustainable – relies on finite fuels;
      – has a toxic waste legacy that will long outlast any energy benefits gained.

      You also state: “At the moment Batteries are expensive…”

      Relative to what, Rowdy? Batteries are now outcompeting gas ‘peakers’. See:

      You ask: “If others think neither coal or nuclear are acceptable then i would like to hear alternatives to keep us going until tech catches up?”

      Watch the Blakers video referred above – your choice – you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t force it to drink.

      Also see ARENA study “Comparison of Dispatchable Renewable Electricity Options”:

  5. James Hastwell says

    I have a 30kW solar system, so am certainly not anti-solar. I was dead against nuclear previously, however my mind has been opened to nuclear after watching the following TEDx talk. It raises some interesting points.

    • Geoff Miell says

      James Hastwell,
      Here are some interesting points for you (and anyone else) to ponder:

      “The following long list of disadvantages is enough to make anyone reconsider any commitment to nuclear power besides decommissioning and start thinking about renewables.

      • At best, nuclear power’s contribution would be minor.
      • Nuclear power is too late.
      • Nuclear power is marginal form of energy in decline.
      • Nuclear energy also produces greenhouse gases.
      • Nuclear energy is too expensive.
      • Nuclear energy is not adapted to a deteriorating climate.
      • Radioactivity and nuclear waste: more and more pollution.
      • Major accidents: a disaster is always possible.
      • Proliferation: radiological terrorism, nuclear war.
      • And then, there’s the nuclear waste storage problem…”

  6. James Hastwell says

    Interesting article, Geoff. A couple of logical fallacies in there though.

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