Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Nuclear Energy in Australia? Someday – Maybe

Aussie uranium Bloomberg reports on the growing realization in Australia that its ambitious carbon emission reduction goals may be hard to achieve without nuclear energy. Well, those with a horse in the race definitely think so:

“As more and more Australians get involved in the whole climate change debate, as they learn about what’s happening around the world where the uptake of nuclear power is increasing quite strongly, they’ll accept the attraction of nuclear power and over time embrace it,”

That comes from Ziggy Switkowski, head of the nation’s main nuclear research institute, and you really wouldn’t expect him to say different, would you?

So what does the government think?

“We have a very clear view that Australia is blessed with conventional energy resources, as well as renewable energy resources and our focus as a nation should be on developing those technologies in renewable energy,” Wong told reporters in Canberra. “That’s why we have got our renewable energy target, to drive investment in the technologies that increasingly the world will need.” [Wong is Climate Change Minister Penny Wong.]

Right now, the Liberal Party, which indeed is liberal (can’t always tell by name with foreign political parties), is in charge.

There has been some progress:

Australia’s ruling Labor Party dropped its 27-year-old ban on new uranium mines in 2007, while leaving state governments with the power to reject mining proposals. Western Australia state scrapped a six-year ban on uranium mining in 2008. The country is the world’s third-largest uranium producer, according to estimates from the World Nuclear Association.

But a fair number of Australians didn’t care for that move, either. In any event, it’s not nearly the end of the story:

Views inside the Government are divided, with some senior players strongly opposed to nuclear energy now and into the future, reflecting a strong no nuclear stance from the party's grassroots.

But some ministers regard the resumption of the debate as inevitable, given expert advice that nuclear energy is now the only technology capable of delivering low emissions base-load electricity, while "clean coal'' technology is not yet
commercially proven.

That “some ministers” comment might have been expanded in the story, but regardless, there is at least a suggestion that as the issue of climate change takes hold in Australia, nuclear energy will become more prominent a part of the conversation just as it has here.

Too Panglossian? Well, maybe, but Mr. Switkowski is right on points and even this much movement in Australia is better than we’re used to. So – maybe – someday – sooner than we would have guessed even last year.

The hydrometalurgical unit at BHP Billiton's Olympic Dam uranium mine in South Australia. 

5 comments:

Joffan said...

On "foreign" political parties' names ... "Democrat" and "Republican" are the ultimate in non-disclosure as far as political position goes. Unless, of course, you choose to assume that from comparison with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (aka North Korea), both groups represent totalitarian communists. :-)

I dont think it's a given that the head of a national nuclear institute supports the extension of nuclear power. I'm sure there have been periods in several European countries where this was arguable at best. So I greet Mr. Switkowski's words with pleasure and applaud the effect they are having on the Australian debate.

Isaac said...

Actually, the Liberals are the conservative party, and from late 2007 haven't been in power (at least federally). It's correct to say that they're the party that was more inclined to lean to nuclear, as John Howard (former Liberal party leader and Prime Minister) tried to lead a debate about it in his last couple of years in office.

Unfortunately, the Labor party (who run the current Federal government) have a longstanding policy against nuclear power that I think is unlikely to change any time soon, at least as long as the Greens have significant sway in the Senate - nothing gets passed without them.

Interestingly enough, Rio Tinto, who are one of the world's biggest coal miners, also came out swinging in favour of nuclear power in a submission to a government inquiry on climate change (with the national broadsheet, The Australian, reporting this on its front page yesterday). They also have significant uranium interests, but the value of their coal business has to be orders of magnitude more than their uranium business.

Finrod said...

Attitudes toward nuclear power may change here in Australia sooner than anyone thinks... at least if I have anything to do with it, and I intend to.

distantbody said...

Ha, as your comment didn't give an indication of whether you were for or against nuclear power, it could be interpreted quite ...ominously.

Finrod said...

"Ha, as your comment didn't give an indication of whether you were for or against nuclear power, it could be interpreted quite ...ominously."

Click on my name. That will take you to my blog, and you can decide for yourself.