Nuclear Politics

Australia / Nuclear Inquiry Is Important First Step, Says Minerals Council

By David Dalton
5 August 2019

Nuclear Inquiry Is Important First Step, Says Minerals Council
The Opal research reactor is the only nuclear unit in Australia. Photo courtesy Ansto.
A federal government inquiry into the possibility of using nuclear energy in Australia is an important first step in starting “a mature fact-based national conversation for the Australian community”, Tania Constable, chief executive officer of the Minerals Council of Australia said.

Ms Constable said the rest of the world is already focusing on the critical role nuclear energy will play in delivering zero emissions 24/7 energy to a power-hungry world.

She said that with 30% of the world’s known uranium reserves and as the third largest uranium producer, Australia will be critical to helping the world meet its need for electricity while also reducing emissions.

Ms Constable was responding to the government’s announcement last week that it would hold an inquiry into nuclear energy and the nuclear fuel cycle – the first in more than 10 years – at the request of energy minister Angus Taylor.

MP Ted O’Brien, chair of the standing committee on the environment and energy, will lead the inquiry.

He said the committee, which consists of government, opposition and cross bench MPs, will try to establish whether nuclear energy would be feasible and suitable for Australia, taking into account economic, environmental and safety issues.

The Minerals Council, which represents Australia’s exploration, mining and minerals processing industry, said Australia has some of the highest energy costs in the developed world, an ageing baseload power generator fleet and real challenges with integrating large amounts of intermittent energy sources into the grid without appropriate back-up supplies.

Ms Constable said that by initiating an inquiry into nuclear power, the federal government is allowing the Australian community to have an honest discussion regarding the role existing and new nuclear technologies like small modular reactors could play in addressing Australia’s medium and long-term energy challenges.

The Australian Nuclear Association also welcomed the inquiry, calling on the government to repeal “long-outdated” federal and state legislation preventing its proper consideration. It called for informed public debate while acknowledging concerns of safe waste disposal and radiation protection.

Meanwhile, Australia’s opposition Labor Party has asked the government to outline potential locations for nuclear power plants. Party leader Anthony Albanese suggested the inquiry showed the government was softening its position on lifting the ban on nuclear power.

Conservative Liberal and Nationals MPs have been pushing for the inquiry, arguing nuclear could be a way to drive power prices down and cut emissions.

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