Driving through Traralgon South in Victoria’s east you could be forgiven for not realising there was a coal-fired power station just a few kilometres away.

Lining the broad, leafy streets are large homes with well-manicured gardens, overlooking a nature reserve.

Traralgon South is surrounded by a nature reserve for flora and fauna.(ABC Gippsland: William Howard)

Traralgon South Primary School’s website describes “modern, spacious facilities” surrounded by a “picturesque bushland setting”.

“We’re very blessed to have this beautiful nature on our doorstep,” said Traralgon South resident Yvonne McInnes.

“People love coming out here because it is so beautiful. We’re very close to Tarra-Bulga National Park.”

Yvonne McInnes is concerned by the prospect of having a nuclear reactor in her backyard.(ABC Gippsland: William Howard)

But down the road, about 5 kilometres as the crow flies, is one of Victoria’s biggest powerhouses, Loy Yang A.

With a capacity of 2,210 megawatts Loy Yang A generates about 30 per cent of the state’s power.

The Loy Yang A coal-fired power station is scheduled to close by 2035.(ABC Gippsland)

It is scheduled to close by 2035, and Ms McInnes was beginning to think her days of living in a community at the centre of Australia’s energy debate were over.

“I was born in Traralgon and it’s been a whole lifetime of having power stations on my doorstep,” she said.

Under its plan, the opposition has said the first sites would be operational between 2035 and 2037 — and provide a cost-effective solution to Australia’s net zero transition.

However, according to the CSIRO, building a large-scale nuclear power plant in Australia would cost at least $8.5 billion, take about 15 years, and produce electricity at roughly twice the cost of renewable sources.

Regardless of whether it goes ahead or not, Ms McInnes is concerned by the Coalition’s proposal.

“I hope it doesn’t happen,” she said.

“We’ve got big cracks in our driveway from the last earthquake we had.”

Concerns house prices could drop

Down the road, Christopher Folks had a different view.

“I don’t think it’s a bad idea,” Mr Folks said.

“When you take into account the number of nuclear power stations around the world, one or two accidents is bound to happen sooner or later and safety is much better than what it was.”

Christopher Folks is hopeful the Coalition’s proposal will go ahead.(ABC Gippsland: William Howard)

Mr Folks admitted opinion amongst neighbours was divided, with many preferencing wind and solar farms over a nuclear reactor.

But a common concern shared by all residents the ABC spoke to was the potential impact on house prices.

Research conducted by real estate agency Barrows and Forrester in 2023 found properties situated close to nuclear reactors in the United Kingdom commanded about a fifth less than the wider market.

In a statement, the agency’s managing director, James Forrester, said this was “no doubt down to the public’s perception that living close to a nuclear site is not only a potential eyesore but also poses a potential risk.”

The ABC attempted to speak with several real estate agents in Traralgon, but none were willing to speak on the record.

Locals share concerns a nuclear reactor in their backyard could affect house prices.(Pexels: Rob; license)

For Mr Folk, the possibility the value of his family home could drop overnight was worrying, but it didn’t change his view.

“If it was going to happen, there’s not much you can do about it,” he said.

“If the government says they’re doing it, they usually do it. You don’t get much of a say in this day and age.”

Reliving the past

When Victoria’s power industry was privatised in the 1990s, the Latrobe Valley’s unemployment rate soared into the double digits, numerous businesses went under, and the housing market collapsed.

The region has never made a full recovery.

Transmission lines are a common sight across the Latrobe Valley.(ABC Gippsland: William Howard)

Latrobe City councillor Graeme Middlemiss has lived in the Valley for 78 years, 35 of which he spent as a power station operator at Loy Yang.

After witnessing such enormous change, he has hesitations about the possible construction of a nuclear reactor in his community.

“The environmental movement gave us a bad name because of our relationship with coal and I think we could get another bad name because of our relationship with nuclear if this proposal goes ahead,” Cr Middlemiss said.

“I could see that as holding house values down.”

Graeme Middlemiss says the region’s population was affected by the privatisation of the power industry.(ABC Gippsland: Jarrod Whittaker)

In the late 1990s, Latrobe City’s population was about 75,000. In the 30 years since, it has barely grown.

“We’ve stood still while places around us have expanded,” Cr Middlemiss said.

This is in stark comparison to cities like Ballarat and Bendigo where the number of residents living in the regional centres has ballooned to about 101,000 and 124,000 respectively.

Cr Middlemiss said a nuclear reactor could see more people make the move to surrounding towns, including Warragul and Sale.

“Those who have the money may shift,” he said.

A much-needed boost for a struggling region

Still, as the Latrobe Valley finds its feet in the shift away from coal, some residents believe a nuclear power plant could provide a much-needed economic boost to the region.

In 2019, Saikrishna Madarapu and Reshma Gande moved to Traralgon South.(ABC Gippsland: William Howard)

In 2019, Saikrishna Madarapu and Reshma Gande packed up their lives in Benalla, in Victoria’s north-east, and moved to Traralgon South.

They own and operate the suburb’s only general store, but business has been tough.

“When we moved here, we didn’t know Loy Yang was scheduled to be closed,” Mr Madarapu said.

“This, with the timber industry shutting down, means a lot of locals have moved out of the town.

“It’s not helpful for a small business.”

The main road connecting Traralgon South with surrounding suburbs.(ABC Gippsland: William Howard)

The couple said the construction of a reactor could result in an influx of people to the area, but they were pessimistic about the housing market.

“There are a lot of questions about the safety and security of the power,” Mr Madarapu said.

When speaking to his constituents, Cr Middlemiss estimated community opinion was split about 50-50 over whether a reactor should be built in Traralgon.

The site of the Coalition’s proposed nuclear reactor in Victoria’s east is just kilometres from a leafy residential suburb.(ABC Gippsland: William Howard)

While half were staunchly opposed to nuclear energy, he said the other half were staring down the barrel of ongoing job losses and wondering how the community would look in a decade’s time.

“The closure of the power industry will have a dramatic effect on our community,” he said.

“That effect hasn’t fully been realised yet.”

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