Nuclear industry to push for Australia to adopt 'clean, affordable power'

The nuclear industry will lobby for nuclear energy in Australia, saying the prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, should embrace the technology as a way to slash greenhouse gas emissions.

The Australian Nuclear Association (ANA) will accompany Danny Roderick, chief executive of the leading US nuclear technology firm Westinghouse, to talk to government ministers and business leaders in Canberra and Sydney next week.

Roderick said nuclear power could help produce “clean, reliable, affordable electricity for more people”.

“We’d like to help Australia explore ways to create jobs and economic opportunity that are also good for the environment,” he said.

The ANA is optimistic that the change in Australia’s prime ministership will mean nuclear will be looked at “on its merits”.

The move is the latest attempt to overturn legal obstacles to nuclear energy generation in Australia.

Federal environmental law bans building nuclear reactors, and an attempt by the Family First senator, Bob Day, to scrap a separate law that blocks building reactors and uranium enrichment plants was halted in August by the Tony Abbott government.

Australia has nearly a third of the world’s known uranium supplies but there has long been bipartisan political opposition to creating a nuclear industry, although South Australia is exploring it.

The problem of disposing of nuclear waste in Australia has also proved highly controversial.

The ANA says nuclear is a better option to cut emissions from electricity than renewable sources such as solar and wind.

“My concern is that renewables won’t get us across the line in terms of emissions reduction,” said Rob Parker, the president of the ANA. “Nuclear is more reliable and it has a smaller resources footprint than renewables.

“Until we approach the issue of carbon abatement honestly, we won’t replace coal because it is the cheapest fuel we have. Nuclear is dead until we acknowledge carbon abatement is the main issue. We already pay a premium for renewables but we need to go further or we’ll just keep burning coal.”

Parker denied that nuclear was prohibitively expensive, estimating that Australia could build 29 reactors for $160bn with companies such as Westinghouse “lining up” to invest.

He also claimed “strong community support” for nuclear despite the Fukishima disaster in Japan, which prompted the German government to phase out its nuclear energy supply.

The first target of the lobbying push is to overturn an Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act ban on the nuclear development process.

The environment minister, Greg Hunt, said there was no plan to change government policy. However, he was not “philosophically opposed” to nuclear energy.

Research conducted by the University of New South Wales last year found that it was feasible to transition to 100% renewable energy without the need for nuclear power.

Separate analysis conducted by the federal government in 2013 put the cost of 100% renewable energy to be between $219bn and $332bn by 2050.

Jim Green, an anti-nuclear campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said it was unlikely that nuclear would ever be feasible in Australia.

“Nuclear is expensive and it’s getting more expensive as time goes on,” he said. “The start-up costs would be spectacular. Once you involve the employment of thousands of specialist scientists and technicians, land acquisition and a new regulatory system you’d almost certainly need government subsidies.

“There is no reality to this. There’s no technology that is vaguely acceptable to Australia available at a cost of $5.5bn a reactor.

“We don’t need a bridge from fossil fuels to renewables, we just need renewables. It’s viable and affordable. There is a lot of rhetoric around a nuclear renaissance, but not much else.”

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