Despite being listed offhand as a 'future reliable energy' in an issues paper released no less than by the federal government, Australia will not consider using nuclear power. Not now nor even in the future.
"The Coalition has no plans to pursue nuclear energy," Ian Macfarlane, spokeswoman for the industry minister, told Guardian Australia. "Nuclear energy won't become part of Australia's energy mix without bipartisan and community support."
Australia's Department of Industry, in an issue paper, said the government has started laying the groundwork for an Energy White Paper that will be delivered in 2014. The paper effectively sets out "an integrated and coherent Australian Government position on energy policy."
The No.4 reactor building (top) and the building housing the common spent fuel pool are seen at Tokyo Electric Power Co's (TEPCO) Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima prefecture, in this aerial view taken by Kyodo November 18, 2013. TEPCO began on Monday removing 400 tonnes of the dangerous spent fuel in a hugely delicate and unprecedented year-long operation fraught with risk. Mandatory Credit. REUTERS/Kyodo
"Australia's plentiful energy resources, well-developed transmission and distribution infrastructure, open energy markets and improving energy productivity provide a solid basis for continued high living standards and a growing economy. Ongoing reforms are needed to address cost-of-living pressures and improve small, medium and large business competitiveness, ensure growth in energy exports and encourage investment," the issues paper said.
However, bells immediately rang out when the use of nuclear power was mentioned as most cost-efficient for Australia.
"A growing area of global interest is in the use of small modular reactors, which have the potential to reduce the cost uncertainties and construction timeframes associated with current generation reactor designs," the paper said. "These reactors could be factory built, highly standardised and even used in locations without advanced infrastructure."
"The smaller size of the reactors may allow for more flexible deployment, making nuclear electricity available to isolated areas or countries with small or distributed electricity grid systems that cannot support conventional large-scale nuclear power."
Dave Sweeney, nuclear free campaigner at the Australian Conservation Foundation, said he sees the Coalition's mention of nuclear as "trying to keep the door open to the option... although it can see politically and economically it doesn't add up."
Australia's uranium industry is currently in the limelight, no thanks to the Dec 7 spill in the processing area of the Ranger uranium mine in Kakadu National Park. At least one million litres of highly acidic uranium slurry went sliding downhill when the large leach tank failed. The containment system was later found inadequate. What's worse, the mine operates inside Kakadu National Park which is not only Australia's largest park but also a dual World Heritage-listed site.
Moreover, the global prices of the yellowcake uranium has fallen more than it should - more than 50 per cent - since the March 2011 tsunami that devastated Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant. With Japan having shut down all its nuclear power plants and Germany most probably following suit, prices of uranium commodity shows no sign of recovery.
"There's no doubt there are people within the Coalition who would want to embrace nuclear. We are aware of that and that sort of ideology concerns us, so we aren't complacent. But it's quite unthinkable that any private company would want to fund nuclear in Australia due to the huge start-up cost," Mr Sweeney said.
"The government doesn't want to critique nuclear because it raises the question 'why then are we digging it up and having spills in the Kakadu?'. But there are huge political and economic hurdles to bringing in nuclear power. The numbers just don't stack up, in dollars or votes."
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