13 October 2021

The ANU is ready to train a nuclear workforce, so where is the nuclear?

| James Coleman
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Lachlan McKie

Lachlan McKie is studying nuclear physics at ANU. Photo: Martin Conway.

On the back of a historic deal between Australia, the UK and the US for a new fleet of nuclear-powered submarines, the Australian National University (ANU) says it is ready to train the next generation of nuclear scientists and technicians to fill a gap in our workforce.

For more than 70 years, Canberra has been home to the only university in Australia providing comprehensive training in nuclear physics from the undergraduate to postdoctoral level.

The ANU also runs the country’s highest-energy heavy-ion accelerator – the only facility in Australia which enables hands-on nuclear training.

Head of the ANU Department of Nuclear Physics, Professor Andrew Stuchbery, said the new security deal provides an exciting opportunity for nuclear science in Australia, which until now only consisted of a handful of jobs.

“This deal changes everything when it comes to nuclear science in Australia,” he said. “It ushers in a new era for the nation.

“In the past, Australia’s nuclear technology workforce needs have been minimal and a lot of talented and trained people from across nuclear science have headed overseas.”

The training covers all aspects of nuclear science, including reactor science, nuclear fuel cycles and how to ensure policy debates on nuclear issues are informed by science and best practice rather than myth and hyperbole.

A US nuclear-powered submarine

A US nuclear-powered submarine transits through the Arabian Gulf. Photo: US Navy.

Although the plan is for the eight submarines to be constructed in South Australia, it is understood the nuclear innards will be taken care of by the US and UK – both countries with established nuclear industries.

Senior public policy adviser at the National Security College, Dr William Stoltz, said the notion of nuclear-powered submarines for Australia is not sustainable unless Australia adopts domestic nuclear energy production to its agenda.

“In a time of high-end conflict, for example, we will need to be able to service and refuel our own submarines and not solely rely on doing so in the US or UK,” he said. “This makes the path to domestic nuclear energy production a near certainty.”

Professor Kenneth Baldwin – who heads up a research project called ‘ANU Grand Challenge: Zero-Carbon Energy for the Asia-Pacific’ – said the lack of a nuclear industry in Australia is more likely to prompt stronger strategic ties with allies rather than nuclear self-sufficiency.

He said Australia is one of only a few countries in the world that has forbidden the use of nuclear power by legislation.

“Other countries make a decision based on economics and environmental issues and other parameters, but we’ve short-circuited that conversation,” said Professor Baldwin. “Only if this federal law is rescinded can a true domestic nuclear industry move forward.”

Professor Mahananda Dasgupta

Professor Mahananda Dasgupta is the director of the ANU Heavy Ion Accelerator Facility (HIAF), the only one like it in Australia. Photo: Michael Hood.

These days, disasters such as Chernobyl and Fukushima Daiichi are not the issues.

“Safe nuclear power is all about good governance and good management, and both of these were accidents that showed up poor governance and poor management,” said Professor Baldwin.

“In terms of the economics of nuclear power, it’s very expensive, and that’s in part due to the significant costs associated with regulation.”

Professor Baldwin said many other countries don’t have the renewable resources Australia has so choose to go down the nuclear path in their pursuit of zero-carbon energy. For now in Australia, nuclear energy simply costs more than solar and wind alternatives.

READ ALSO What is holding back EV charging stations in Canberra?

The ACT supports 100 per cent renewable energy, but only around five per cent of this is mustered from within its borders. The rest comes from solar and wind farms located elsewhere, which are funded by the ACT Government.

“As you approach 100 per cent renewable electricity, it gets harder to guarantee it will be there when you need it,” said Professor Baldwin. “That means investigating in significant amounts of backup power storage, which can also get expensive.”

But even when Australia as a whole approaches the 100 per cent mark for renewable power, it’s unclear if nuclear will stack up then, either.

Professor Baldwin suspects that point to be only about 10 years away, and by then the costs may well have been driven down enough to make the battery a clear winner.

Even as an tradeable commodity, he said it is far more profitable for Australia to continue as the world’s leading exporter of uranium rather than put it to use ourselves.

Perhaps Australian nuclear power might be dead in the water.

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Like high speed rail, the time to get into nuclear was about 30 years ago. By the time any meaningful nuclear industry is developed here, it is likely it will be uncompetitive financially, and that the solutions to the challenges being faced will be overcome.

Had it been done in the 80s or 90s, we could be in a position such as France where they can use it as their basis for moving to a grid where emissions are minimised. But we didn’t, and by the time (even using new age reactors) get to a point that there would be any significant contribution from nuclear to the grid, its likely to be exactly the same stranded assets that are facing coal power plants at this point, and will face gas power plants in time.

During 2021 to date 5 nuclear power reactors have been connected to the grid with a combined capacity of 5.05 GW. In 2020 there were 5 new reactors connected, 6 in 2019, and 8 were connected in 2018. Currently 51 nuclear power reactors are under construction around the world, and 4 of those commenced construction this year with a combined capacity of 4.49 GW. All of these will help the world achieve net zero emission sooner, and at the same time provide reliable power when it’s neither sunny or windy.

Except the projections for future nuclear power stations keep dropping every time they are updated to reflect the general move away from nuclear power as a major energy source.

Sure it will still have its uses for niche areas where other options are not feasible but the general trend as a percentage of total energy generation is down.

That’s all well and good, and they can clearly be part of the solution in nations where there are established nuclear industries. My point was its unlikely to be economically viable in Australia, given we don’t have an established industry, and if one thing is certain – they don’t just pop up overnight.

Capital Retro2:45 pm 14 Oct 21

But we have had a nuclear industry in Australia for the past 50 years:


Chewy14, except the IEA say nuclear will play an important role in our emissions free future, and if the world is going to reach net zero by 2050 there will need to be an increase of about 50% in nuclear capacity by 2040.

JS9, other countries have recently started a nuclear power industry, and Australia could do the same.
Bangladesh commenced construction of their first 2 large power reactors in 2017 and 2018.
Egypt began construction of the first of 4 large reactors this year.
Turkey commenced construction of their first reactors in 2018/20/21, and have 9 more in planning.
UAE began operating the first of 4 this year, and the other 3 should begin operation soon.

We’re you trying to prove JS9’s point?

Each of those countries have been in development of nuclear power for decades and still don’t have any operational plants.

Even fast tracking it takes 10years+. The countries you mention have all suffered significant delays.

So why would Australia bother when the renewable alternatives are already cheaper than nuclear?

It makes no sense to go down that path now, it’s 30 years too late.

Chewy14, were you trying to prove my point? Those 4 countries started serious development of nuclear power within the last decade, and UAE already has an operational plant. Australia requires reliable power, 24/7/365, which wind and solar isn’t providing. Now is just the right time for Australia to develop nuclear, over the next 2 decades while coal is phasing out.

No the IEA don’t say that.

Under their own figures, they show new nuclear is significantly more expensive that other generation sources and will likely continue to reduce as a proportion of global energy production in the next few decades.

What they do say is that nuclear can aid in the transition by existing plant life being extended and nuclear being used in areas where other low carbon sources are not possible.

None of that applies to Australia, it’s a far more costly route for us to take for almost zero benefit.

I’m sorry Nobody, but that is nothing but a blantant lie. Three of those four countries have been at it for decades trying to get anywhere near having actual operational plants.

Egypt – Egypt: https://world-nuclear.org/information-library/country-profiles/countries-a-f/egypt.aspx . Been thinking about it since the 1960s, first selected a site in 1983.

Bangladesh – first proposed one in 1961, first acquired land in 1963. https://world-nuclear.org/information-library/country-profiles/countries-a-f/bangladesh.aspx

Turkey – first undertook a major feasibility study in 1970 https://world-nuclear.org/information-library/country-profiles/countries-t-z/turkey.aspx

UAE – it is the only one where they’ve gone from thinking about it to actually in place relatively quickly. But still taken in reality about 15 years https://world-nuclear.org/information-library/country-profiles/countries-t-z/united-arab-emirates.aspx

Assuming a best case scenario of 15 years – which given the glacially slow process anything radical takes in Australia to implement is reasonable. Nuclear already doesn’t stack up economically in Australia, and that is only going to deteriorate given the significant reduction in costs of alternative technologies.

My argument here is solely from an economics perspective – if we are going to continue a market driven solution to meeting power requirements in this country, then Nuclear has zero chance of stacking up. That’s at today’s prices, assuming you can flick a switch on it tomorrow. And we all know that simply won’t happen.

By the time anything gets anywhere near operation, the cost disadvantage it is currently at will look good compared to what it will reach by that point.

We needed to move on it in the 70s or 80s, not now. It will never stack up economically, and unless those that seem desperate to protect the free market for other needs suddenly decide absolute government intervention at far greater cost is a necessity, it will never happen in Australia.

It’s incorrect to say they started serious development within the last decade.

Bangladesh was carrying out reasonably detailed investigations from at least the 70’s for the plants only now under construction. Even being charitable, you could extend that to the early 2000’s for “serious development”, however you want to define it.

Egypt almost identical to Bangladesh.

Turkey from the 60’s and for the last 20years+ has been in active development.

The UAE is your best example and they fast tracked it in around 12 years, spending a massive amount of cash in the process, but financials and approvals weren’t really an issue for them. The opposite is true for Australia.

“Australia requires reliable power, 24/7/365, which wind and solar isn’t providing.”

Good that wind and solar aren’t the only options, even though with our changing grid and the ever increasing amount of energy storage capacity available we don’t need wind and solar to be producing constantly anyway.

By the time you even got to commission a nuclear plant in Australia it wouldn’t be needed.

I’d also like to hear your thoughts on where exactly you’re going to put these plants. They need to be located near constant watersources, which in Australia means near the coast. The chance of being able to put them near any major population centre is zero because of the political fallout (lol).

Where do they go?

Chewy14 and JS9, I did say serious development of their nuclear industry in the past decade, and ignored the on again off again talk that preceded for years and went in circles. Nuclear has and will continue to play an important role in reducing emissions, and could also be part of the mix here. Just like climate change denialism, we’ll probably always have some nuclear power resistance too.

You actually said: “other countries have recently started a nuclear power industry, and Australia could do the same.” No mention of ‘serious development’ 😛

I’m not arguing we could not start a nuclear industry. Of course we could. The point is it won’t be economically feasible, especially in the timeframes needed to get it going. It already is struggling to compete on a levelised cost basis, add 10+ years as a minimum and that equation is only going to look a whole lot worse.

I’m specifically interested in you answering the question I’ve raised because that will also be key to how long it would take to develop and build nuclear power plants in Australia.

Where do they go?

Chewy14, all 45 countries who have-are-will operate nuclear power has faced that question, and each has managed to find their own answer.

That isn’t an answer. Although it’s obvious why you can’t properly answer the question.

For right or wrong there is nowhere suitable for nuclear power plants in Australia.

Honestly, we have people on this website complaining about any form of development, the chances of any government being able to place a nuclear power plant appropriately in Australia is somewhere between Buckley’s and none.

Capital Retro1:14 pm 16 Oct 21

What about the existing multi-mode electricity generating Liddell Power Station and the purpose build (for cooling) Lake Liddell along side it?

It’s already connected to the grid as well.

And you think the 20000 people in the close vicinity of the plant will just accept a new Nuclear plant?


Capital Retro9:22 pm 16 Oct 21

Well, if they believe that coal fired electricity generation which has been on their doorstep for 50 years is killing them they will believe anything.

The facts are that they have co-existed with Liddell for half a century and it hasn’t bothered them but when the electricity from the coal stops soon they will only have the unreliable renewables.

They will soon realize that 24/7 electricity from nuclear is the only solution.

Capital Retro,
If you honestly believe that you are more deluded than I thought.

If you think people in Australia will just accept nuclear without years of convincing, I can’t help you.

By the way, seeing as you’re here, got some links to the evidence supporting your position?

You know, just like you’re asking others for. Tick tock.

Capital Retro1:42 pm 17 Oct 21

My position is the status quo – no links needed for that. The fact that we are here and nothing is changing is all the “evidence” you and your alarmist mates need.

By the way, how did all the nuclear electricity generators get built everywhere else in the world other than Australia?

Capital Retro,
You’ve claimed that nuclear power is the only economically viable alternative to coal.

That is clearly not the “status quo”, you need to back that up with evidence.

But we both know you won’t be doing that because such evidence doesn’t exist. The statement is a flat out lie.

“By the way, how did all the nuclear electricity generators get built everywhere else in the world other than Australia?”

Often with extreme difficulty and enormous delays. Particularly in western democracies and even worse when the first plants got built in a country or area.

Which is the point that I’ve been making, we could build nuclear plants but it would take decades and they are already more expensive than the alternatives.

Capital Retro10:40 pm 17 Oct 21

I don’t think I said nuclear power is the only economically viable alternative to coal, in fact it is the only alternative to give base load and reliability and without that costs become insignificant. Bear in mind that when people’s lives get interupted by blackouts and they can’t even heat up their soup they then reach for pitchforks.

And your revered renewables (wind and solar) will clap out in 15 – 20 years and they will have to be replaced at prices ruling at the time without any taxpayer subsidies which means they won’t be replaced.

Meanwhile, the nuclear power stations will operate for at least 100 years.

I understand it will take at least 10 years to build a nuclear power station and in the meantime we will need coal. Then you can blow up the coal power stations.

Good night.

Capital Retro,
LOL, you know comments don’t disappear even if you want to forget about them.

Just below responding to Hidden Dragon, Capital Retro says:

“The only economically viable alternative to hydrocarbons is nuclear power plants”.

You can’t make this level of cognitive dissonance up.

And I’ve already provided you the figures showing that new renewable generation sources are cheaper than both nuclear and coal even with additional storage to maintain reliability.

“Meanwhile, the nuclear power stations will operate for at least 100 years.”

Not remotely true, and realistically I have no idea how you think a wind turbine would only last 15 years, but a nuclear power plant can last 100. LOL.

It is truly hilarious to see you twist like a pretzel and not be able to present a single shred of evidence to back up your closed minded approach.

The hot air you’ve produced might actually be the cheapest energy source of all to power a turbine such is the level of spin.

Capital Retro8:49 am 18 Oct 21

Thanks for confirming that I said hydrocarbons and not coal as you claimed.

If we are using the amount of renewables you and your fellow travelers claim and also you claim renewables are cheaper, so how come electricity prices are still increasing? And this is after the industry received massive taxpayer subsidies. I thought sunshine and wind were free. Please explain.

Have you ever been to the west of the USA? There are thousands of abandoned wind farms everywhere – vintage about 20 years.

Boy, you have really been brainwashed.

Capital Retro,
electricity prices aren’t increasing because of the cost of wholesale electricity. Oh dear, another doozy from you, take a look at the long term graphs and you will see how silly that comment is.

In fact, a large proportion of the shorter term variability in the energy market has been caused by the Federal Government’s lack of policy direction as we transition to cheaper renewables as the aging coal fleet is retired. The reliability issues you constantly bang on about are actually a function of a lack of government action in this space.

And I see you’ve been reading myths about the amount of abandoned windfarms that exist, which is a tiny fraction of global supply. I can easily go and find numerous abandoned and decommissioned nuclear plants that only operated for a few decades too. Does that mean your 100 year timeframe is wrong?

And that’s even without even mentioning the ones that you can’t go anywhere near due to the accidents that have occurred.

Still waiting on those links, gee you really are unable to have an open mind to information that challenges your set position.

HiddenDragon8:40 pm 13 Oct 21

“The ANU is ready to train a nuclear workforce, so where is the nuclear? “

A very pertinent question to ask, just as we are being prodded, poked and shamed by assorted British imperialists and neo-colonialists to follow them into a self-inflicted energy crisis.

Meanwhile, across the Channel, a somewhat more pragmatic approach is being pursued –


The other interesting point to note from that article is the truly colossal funding which the EU is providing for “green industries”. In light of that, and similarly huge investments in prospect in other major economies, anyone who thinks that Australia can afford simply to close down our “old”, “stranded” industries a.s.a.p., and magically become the world’s “renewables superpower” (with high average incomes and living standards intact), in what will be a very crowded space, is sadly deluded.

If we continue our ban on domestic nuclear, our best bet might be going all-in on recycling of defunct solar panels, wind turbines and batteries.

Capital Retro8:32 am 14 Oct 21

……and basket weaving.

“A very pertinent question to ask, just as we are being prodded, poked and shamed by assorted British imperialists and neo-colonialists to follow them into a self-inflicted energy crisis.”

Do you honestly believe dribble like this? Who are these British imperialists and neo-colonialists?

The key point from that link is this (in relation to SMR)
“But we are not late, since we hope to launch marketing from 2030.”

So France is still a decade off even being able to export any of its SMR technology. You might get something a little earlier out of the US. A conventional nuclear plant will take even longer to get anywhere near actually operational I’d expect.

I.e. a nuclear industry is likely to be 10+, probably closer to 20 years before it produces any meaningful contribution to the Australia electricity grid. Think what has changed in the last 20 years in the energy space – transition happens quickly, and change happens quickly. I’d be exceptionally suprised, even if we started tomorrow, if by the time the first reactor of any form started actually producing power, a) it would actually be needed within the grid mix at that time and b) if it was even close to cost competitive with alternatives.

And while your last comment is likely made in jest, there would be a lot more stupid things to do then to look at new age technologies and find how we can extract value at every stage of the lifecycle, including the recycling phase.

Capital Retro10:36 am 14 Oct 21

The only economically viable alternative to hydrocarbons is nuclear power plants, which the oil industry froze with a very successful global campaign, whilst buying up the rights to extract radioactive minerals around the world at the same time.

So instead of wasting resources in useless uneconomic climate action programs, we should have concentrated on the systematic planting of uninhabited areas not dedicated to agriculture to give more significant results in the reduction of greenhouse gases, which in any case can be extracted from the atmosphere and stored where they cannot do harm or even be used in other industrial processes.

Why are campaigns like Greta Thunberg’s continually being launched and financed by special interests? Because those who have missed the hydrocarbons train are interested in the development of alternative technologies, not controlled by oil companies. Everyone tries to get a slice of the taxpayer subsidized economic pie, using their
abilities and resources, but they need a compelling script to get the democratic support required by our governments. However, 80% of the voters are unqualified to assess the strengths and risks of the technical solutions adopted by the industrial groups, but the support of the voting population remains necessary to obtain the economic and legislative action they require. Politicians are empowered to do this, but being
themselves unaware of the technical problems to be solved, they deflect the discussions towards ethical, moral or religious topics with which they can easily inflame public opinion. What is legally binding, however, does not contribute to reaching the best technical solution.

You can rest assured that, in any event, the poor solutions will be swept away by their own inefficiency and the best ones will eventually be applied universally.

Capital Retro,
Except nuclear power plants aren’t economically viable. Particularly not in Australia.

Your comments starts with an incorrect statement and goes downhill from there.

But of course, we can rest assured that whatever research and evidence is presented, you will never change your mind on any of this.

You can believe whatever analysis underlies your little ‘voters are dumb’ rant, but I’d suggest any suggest that nuclear power plants are the only economically viable alternative is short sighted at best, and reflective of just capture of your views by a different set of stakeholders, intending to do exactly the same thing as those you deride at length in your constant rants.

Other solutions that are economically viable and achievable will be found well in advance of any nuclear industry ever hitting any level of viability in Australia. And again, its economic viability likely only stacks up if you ignore pricing the externalities associated with its use. Just like fossil fuels – its just a different type of significant subsidisation.

Capital Retro2:54 pm 14 Oct 21

Why is it that you really go out of the way to challenge everything I say chewy and why should should I change my mind just to suit your narrative?

When you say nuclear isn’t viable in Australia I could say renewables (that would have never existed without massive taxpayer subsidies) are not viable either but my mind is still open to that so why don’t you convince me without resorting to barbs and bile?

Capital Retro3:21 pm 14 Oct 21

Just remind this dumb voter again what the subsidies are that are given to the fossil fuel industries.

Capital Retro,
You’ve started with a definitive statement that is false.

Nuclear power isn’t economically viable in Australia.

If you say your mind is “open”, put up the research and evidence that you’ve clearly read to determine that:

“The only economically viable alternative to hydrocarbons is nuclear power plants,”.

What is the levelised cost of energy for nuclear power. Hint. It’s much more than those horrible renewable energy generators that you don’t like, even with added storage.

CR you were the one calling voters dumb, not anybody else……

And there is plenty of research out there – try IMF, UN, Productivity Commission, and numerous other researchers (including many with no obvious political view- before you start down that path) that give a range of expert estimates estimates of both explicit subisidies for the industry, as well as the implicit subsidies associated with simply ignoring externalities associated with their use.

But you know all that – but simply prefer to yell ‘la la la’ at the top of your voice.

Capital Retro7:28 am 15 Oct 21

I’ll settle for naming of just one of the subsidies; surely that’s not too hard.


Go for your life – even ignoring fuel tax credits (which depending on who you want to talk to are or are not a subsidy), there is still plenty of subsidisation going on, primarily at the state levels.

And that’s before the fact that, as repeated ad nauseum by many, there is implicit subsidisation because externalities from the use of fossil fuels are largely ignored within their pricing. But then to care about those, you actually have to look past your own nose and give a stuff about other people hey….

Well CR, this came up as the first item from Google in response to “subsidy for any coal mine in Australia”:
The full report, naming subsidies, is linked at the bottom. You may not like the source which reports the facts but your problem is that they are facts being reported.
Subsidies exist as tax breaks, infrastructure provision, and by ignoring externalities as JS9 has repeatedly advised you.

Capital Retro12:55 pm 15 Oct 21

No, I don’t want fanciful opinions from the fanatical taxpayer funded Australia Institute, I want details from you and fuel tax credits apply to off road equipment in all industries including the farmer that supplies your organically grown kale so don’t muddy the waters with that one.

Capital Retro,
You’re still here asking other people for links yet haven’t answered repeated requests for you to do the same about your statements.

Come on, front up with your evidence. Links and research to back up your statements.

Tick tock.

Capital Retro1:16 pm 16 Oct 21

Reported they are but factual they are not.

You asked for any example, received several verifiable examples (ask the relevant governments) and don’t like it.

Capital Retro,
Still waiting for those links.

It’s almost like you don’t have anything to back up your opinions but hot air.


Capital Retro9:17 pm 16 Oct 21

Hot air drives the turbines that produce electricity 24/7.

It just seems strange that we do not develop a nuclear industry in a country like ours.

We need to shift emissions-free dispatchable power across large distances and while hydro will do some of the work, small fast reactors strategically located can fill out our needs.

The side effects include a complete new industry, more opportunities for academic research and engineering development, a greater say in the way nuclear technology is managed globally and we are then free to export emissions free power to our Pacific and Asian neighbours. We can also create more nuclear isotopes for medicinal and environmental traceability purposes.

A win-win-win I say.

Tom Worthington1:45 pm 13 Oct 21

Underwater and airborne drones will make large nuclear-powered submarines very vulnerable in the next ten years, just as aircraft rendered battleships obsolete in WWII. A better approach would be for Australia to order smaller, low cost conventional submarines, and equip them with locally developed smart weapons, for the underwater equivalent of an aircraft carrier. That will provide better defence, while not frightening our neighbors, or provoking potential enemies. https://blog.tomw.net.au/2021/09/new-generation-of-underwater-drone.html

Finagen_Freeman12:21 pm 13 Oct 21

Let’s take a closer look; the ANU was ready to go big on China and had to reverse a few plans now that the geopolitical climate has shifted.

They lost big on China students being a cash cow.

They go where the money is…tinkered with a space facility at Stromlo. Empty most months if the year.

Nuclear after their solar, after their climate. It’s just a cash grab.

The sooner the government remove the ban on nuclear power, the sooner this country can get to net zero emissions.

Capital Retro10:48 am 13 Oct 21

In the meantime we need a couple of new coal fired power stations to provide adequate, affordable and reliable electricity supply.

Living in the ’50s still I see CR. A new coal power plant wouldn’t even be close to stacking up economically compared to other alternatives. It simply won’t happen.

If we get desperate, there will be opportunities to extend the life of existing facilities, but I suspect the coming ‘rapture’ that some suggest simply won’t happen.

Capital Retro11:14 am 14 Oct 21

I’m living in today’s world JS9 and observing what is happening in the virtue signaling UK and EU where most coal fired generators have been shut down and the clean green renewables aren’t delivering enough to fill the gap left. Fossil fuel prices (gas and coal) are now reaching record levels as the northern hemisphere faces a brutal winter.

I have plenty of wood to keep me warm – I hope you will be satisfied with your solar electric blanket.

Ignore my point all you want, but you know deep down in your coal laden heart, that the point is exactly right.

New coal generators will not be built because they do not stack up economically. It is as simple as that.

And the story around fossil fuels, despite your not doubted views on it, are as much about active collusion and oligopolies as they are about anything else – https://www.smh.com.au/business/markets/energy-crisis-puzzle-why-fossil-fuel-prices-are-surging-20211014-p58zyy.html

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