Fortescue chair, billionaire mining magnate Andrew Forrest lampoons Coalition’s nuclear push

Billionaire mining magnate Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest has rubbished a push to develop a local nuclear energy industry, even as fresh polling showed growing voter support for the proposal.

Dr Forrest took a veiled swipe at the opposition over its soon-to-be-unveiled nuclear energy policy, saying its push was “misinformed”, would act to sustain coal and gas powered generation for another two decades, and ultimately would lead to higher power prices.

“If we swallow this new lie that we should stop the rollout of green energy and that nuclear energy will be our fairy godmother, we will be worse off again,” the chair of mining and green energy firm Fortescue told the National Press Club on Monday.

“These misinformed, unscientific, uneconomic, plucked-out-of-thin-air, bulldust nuclear policies of politicians – masquerading as leaders – help no one.”

Dr Forrest, who in 2023 ranked as Australia’s third richest person, made his billions mining iron ore but in more recent years has aggressively pursued investments in renewable energy technologies and fuel, particularly green hydrogen.

Claiming he was “agnostic” on nuclear energy, Dr Forrest said the economics of such a proposal did not stack up when compared with renewable generation.

“Who is going to pay their nuclear electricity bill when it is 4-5 times more expensive than the renewables next door, even ignoring the decade plus it takes to develop nuclear?” Dr Forrest asked.

“With wind and solar, you’re up and running, lowering electricity costs and eliminating pollution within one to three years.”

The Coalition is yet to release a costed nuclear energy policy but has committed to do so ahead of the next federal election, due by May 2025 at the latest.

A Newspoll released by The Australian on Monday revealed 55 per cent of Australians support the replacement of coal-fired power plants with small modular nuclear reactors.

However, such technology is still in development, is yet to prove commercially viable, and would not be deliverable until the mid-2030s at the earliest.

The Albanese government has similarly disparaged the Coalition’s nuclear push, and has retained a ban on nuclear power and banking.

In his address, Dr Forrest also advocated for a “renewable energy-led economy”, recommending the government establish a “climate trigger” to assess the impact of carbon pollution in granting environmental approvals, rapidly expand firmed renewable energy, and introduce a levy on carbon emissions extracted from mining or imported into Australia.

“If we make the right decisions today, it will deliver the most profound and enduring economic growth opportunities ever seen, particularly in regional Australia,” he said.

Calling out the diesel fuel rebate, which costs the federal budget billions annually, Dr Forrest said the subsidy towards mining and fossil fuel companies should be scrapped.

“Massive taxpayer-funded financial support for huge mining companies, including Fortescue, to use imported diesel is indefensible,” Dr Forrest said.

Last week, Fortescue – of which Dr Forrest and his family own a 33 per cent stake – reported a 41 per cent increase in its first-half profit, beating analysts’ estimates and bucking a growing trend of sliding profitability among other major mining firms.

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