Faith, the Climate Crisis and Nuclear Power

Gershon Nimbalker, Common Grace's National Director, reflects on the federal Coalition's recent nuclear proposal and what it means for our call to be faithful stewards of God’s good creation.

The climate wars have sadly returned to Australia’s political landscape, this time being highlighted by a radioactive glow.

For those of us who thought and hoped that after decades of debate in this nation, we had finally resolved a pathway forward, another election fought over this issue with all the uncertainty and delay that can engender, is disheartening. Especially as we, and the rest of the world are becoming increasingly familiar with the devastating impacts of climate change.

I remember the Black Summer bushfires of 2020 that burnt through 24 million hectares of Australia’s east coast, killed over a billion animals, and caused over 400 deaths from bushfire smoke. My then pregnant wife and I were away from the worst of the blaze, but still, holed up in our small apartment as the skies turned red and ash was reiged down. I also remember escaping from a camping trip in Yamba in 2022, as the stormfront, that would eventually flood Lismore came barrelling down. Many of my family and friends ended up being stranded for a week, while food was airdropped into the town. I’m mourning that my young family may not ever see the Great Barrier Reef in all its splendour if we don’t get to it soon.

And of course, these impacts I have felt are dwarfed by those most vulnerable, often the poorest in our nation and our global community. Those that are losing homes and livelihoods, or facing hunger and displacement. Many of our Pacific neighbours may find their entire nation rendered unliveable if we don’t act with urgency.

Our faith teaches us that creation is a gift from God, a testament to His love and creativity. God created humankind as bearers of His image to be stewards of His creation, with the responsibility to fill it with His goodness by both developing it and protecting it, for the flourishing of all (Gen 1:26-1:29).

The urgency of climate change then, demands our immediate and faithful action.

The federal Coalition opposition is proposing to build nuclear power stations as a solution to replace our ageing coal-fired power plants, achieve zero emissions and shore up our energy supply. It can feel like a technical, or more often, ideologically driven discussion – but it’s important to engage with as its consequences are serious for how Australia responds to the climate crisis.

The scientific consensus is clear: to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, we must act decisively within this decade. Delaying action only exacerbates the risks and makes the path to mitigation more challenging.

The federal Coalition is saying they are still committed to achieve zero emissions by 2050, and nuclear energy will help us get there. Sadly, they are abandoning interim targets along the way, and have yet to give any serious detail about how their plan will dovetail with a pathway to rapid emissions reductions.

The core of their argument is that centralised energy generation from Nuclear plants better plugs into our existing infrastructure, is a more reliable way to supply consistent energy, and the plants have a longer lifespan than their renewable energy counterparts.

There are however a number of very significant caveats. The most critical is the time it will take to build nuclear in Australia. The federal Coalition says they could be done in 10 years, the CSIRO says 15 is the minimum, and in all likelihood, it will be much longer given the technical, community and legislative barriers that need to be overcome. Nuclear power generation is currently illegal in Australia, there is no nuclear industry or workforce, and no plan to store, manage and pay for the nuclear waste (which can last for hundreds, if not thousands of years).

The federal Coalition’s willingness to step away from interim emission reduction targets acknowledges that there is no nuclear-driven path to reduce emissions as quickly as renewable energy can (and already is).

Modelling by the CSIRO and the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) also confirms that Nuclear Energy is the most expensive form of energy production available to Australia, while renewables (even including all the infrastructure investments to back them) are the cheapest.

A final point to note, is that from the minimal detail that the federal Coalition has given to date, only a fraction (as little as 3-10%) of the needed energy will be supplied by their nuclear proposal. Presumably the gap would have to be filled by renewables anyway, or alternatively, polluting fossil fuels such as gas. The former means that even with nuclear in the mix, the rapid rollout of renewables must be maintained, and the latter is just inconsistent with our commitment to addressing the climate crisis at all.

Renewable technologies on the other hand, like wind and solar can be deployed quickly and at a lower cost. It also has a range of additional benefits, lower air pollution, more jobs and tapping into a green energy-fuelled export industry.  Australia's renewable rollout has been complicated and while progress in renewable energy has accelerated, it remains behind schedule. The opposition argues that the slow rollout warrants abandoning our interim reduction targets altogether, but the reality is that we need to increase our investment in renewables and accelerate our progress as the only viable option to do our part in addressing the climate crisis.

At Common Grace, our focus is not on endorsing specific technologies but on mitigating the worst impacts of climate change. The nuclear proposal put forward, will not address the climate crisis at the scale and speed that is needed.

In contrast, renewables provide the quickest, least risky, and most cost-effective path to a sustainable future.  

We’re already enduring the terrible impacts of the climate crisis. Including fires, floods, droughts, poverty and displacement. This decade is crucial to stop these disasters from becoming worse. Our decisions will have lasting consequences for generations to come. At the next election, let us act and advocate for policies that reflect our commitment to steward God’s good creation, for the flourishing of all people and all creation.


Gershon Nimbalker is the National Director of Common Grace and founder of Sojourners Social Change Consultants. He has more than 15 years of experience working in advocacy, policy and research, as well as leading and growing grass roots movements to campaign on issues of social justice. 

Creation & Climate Justice