Australian nuclear power plants rejected by states

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Monday, June 5, 2006

Wikinews Australia has in-depth coverage of this issue: Australian nuclear debate

Australian media reports that Prime Minister John Howard is expected to push a nuclear energy inquiry through federal cabinet this week. Meanwhile, a list of possible sites for nuclear reactors has been leaked by the Opposition to media. The locations, listed in 1997, include Adelaide, Darwin, Perth, Lucas Heights, Goulburn, Holsworthy, and Broken Hill in New South Wales and other sites.

West Australian (WA) premier Alan Carpenter says the list of fourteen potential sites were a "facade to soften up Western Australians into accepting a nuclear waste dump." The WA Premier said people would not only be surprised but "stunned to learn that the federal cabinet considered possible sites... without disclosing them to any state government."

Mr Carpenter said in a media release that the document mentions a site near Perth airport. "People should wake up to what's happening around Australia, particularly in WA," said Mr. Carpenter. "Only a few weeks ago, we had three prominent WA Liberal MPs supporting a nuclear waste dump in WA," he said. "This is all a facade in the Howard Government's push to soften up West Australians for a nuclear waste dump."

Premier Carpenter, whose Labor government stridently opposes uranium mining in WA, stated his opposition to a nuclear waste dump: "I vehemently oppose the prospect of our State becoming the dumping ground for the world's nuclear waste and that is what will happen if we allow uranium mining in WA. The evidence is mounting and indisputable."

The South Australian Government has ruled out any possible nuclear power plant in SA. "A nuclear power plant would bankrupt our state," SA Premier Mike Rann said. "It would not be commercially viable and would not, in my view, be acceptable to the public. Nuclear power plants need giant populations to sustain them, there is no-one coming to me from the commercial sector or the mining industry or anywhere else, suggesting a nuclear power plant."

Earlier, Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer said South Australia should build a nuclear power station to run a desalination plant. Premier Rann dismissed the idea as ridiculous and said comments by Mr Downer highlight divisions within Federal Cabinet. He said Mr Downer is at odds with the Federal Finance Minister Nick Minchin, who says the high costs of nuclear power would rule it out.

Mr Rann says South Australia will not allow nuclear power. "For once I'm agreeing with Nick Minchin," he said. "I think Nick Minchin is right that a nuclear power plant isn't necessary and won't happen and I think that Alexander Downer is having a bit of a lend of him."

Victoria's Energy Minister Theo Theophanous said nuclear energy in Australia did not make sense when the cost and problems of waste disposal were considered. Mr Theophanous has rejected a report that found nuclear power could be competitive with conventional energy generation if it was subsided with help from a taxpayer subsidy.

A recent report found nuclear power could compete with gas or coal-fired electricity if taxpayers helped to pay for it or shouldered the risk of its production. The ANSTO report found nuclear plants could be built in the next 10 to 15 years and an Australian version would cost about $2.5 billion to establish. To make it viable, taxpayers would pay hundreds of million towards start-up costs, said the report.

But Mr Theophanous said Victoria had already had concluded the nuclear proposal did not add up. "I had my department look at this and provide a report to me more than a year ago in relation to the prospect of nuclear power," he said. "The problem is a commercial one as much as anything else. It costs roughly double the price to produce power out of nuclear energy. If you're going to pay double the price, why not put in wind farms? Why not use renewable energy, which is even cheaper than nuclear energy?" said Mr Theophanous .

The Victoria Government urges householders to reduce greenhouse emissions by reducing daily energy consumption. A new campaign identifies simple measures residents can adopt to cut power bills and greenhouse emissions, including turning the heating thermostat to no more than 20C, washing clothes in cold water and turning appliances off at the switch when they are not being used.

New South Wales Premier Morris Iemma has also declared his opposition to nuclear power. He said no nuclear power stations would be built in NSW as long as he is premier. Mr Iemma urged state opposition leader Peter Debnam to join him in opposing the construction of nuclear power plants in NSW. "While ever I'm premier of NSW there won't be any nuclear power plants in NSW," he told reporters.

Queensland Premier Peter Beattie says he "would not jeopardize the state's coal industry by supporting a nuclear power plant." Mr. Beattie has ruled out uranium mining in Queensland to protect the state's huge coal industry. He said he would not support a nuclear power plant. "The State Government would not support it," Mr. Beattie said.

"We have the power to block them and we would block them, we would not support nuclear power. Why would we have a nuclear reactor in competition with the coal industry?" Mr. Beattie told media.

Climate change

The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) chairman Don Henry says a nuclear debate must consider climate change. "If the inquiry is just about nuclear power it will be a waste of taxpayers money because nuclear power is too dangerous, too dirty, and too slow to tackle climate change," he said. "If the inquiry is going to be fairdinkum, it needs to look at that issue: what can we do right now to tackle climate change in Australia?"

Australian Greens climate change and energy spokesperson Senator Christine Milne said in a media release: "Instead of turning to nuclear power, Australia should ratify the Kyoto Protocol, invest in renewable energy, adopt a national energy efficiency target and improve public transport. "Several studies examining options to achieve deep cuts in Australian greenhouse emissions all show this goal can be achieved, cost effectively, without resorting to nuclear power."

Greens Senator Rachel Siewert says: "The nuclear industry is engaged in a concerted effort to be given one last chance for redemption... yet every step of the nuclear fuel chain, from mining, milling, enrichment and operating reactors to waste storage, is subject to the same human error, material breakdowns, complexity and incompetence as any other area of human endeavour." said Senator Siewert. "The current inventory of nuclear waste will already present our descendents with a monstrous intergenerational headache. Allowing so much as a kilogram more of this material to be produced is simply immoral."

The ACF say "nuclear energy is not a solution to climate change." ACF President Professor Ian Lowe says "Nuclear is too slow to provide any legitimate answer to climate change or to energy security for the developing world." The ACF report that, as an energy source globally, uranium provides less power than renewables do. "Uranium is inextricably linked to very serious environmental and health problems via nuclear weapons and radioactive waste. There is nothing ideological about opposing its use..."

Nuclear inquiry

Centrifuges used to produce enriched uranium

The Australian Newspaper reports that Prime Minister Howard is preparing to appoint chief scientist Jim Peacock, a supporter of nuclear power, and other high-level nuclear industry experts to the team. The public inquiry, to be undertaken by three or four selected experts is expected to "examine the economics of nuclear energy, health, safety, environmental and proliferation issues as well as waste and storage." The taskforce will take submissions and is expected to prepare a report to Government within four or five months, with the Government's response early in 2007.

The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), Ian Smith, says "at least three" power plants would be required. Mr Howard said the ANSTO report challenged the view that the cost of nuclear power was prohibitive. Dr Smith told a Senate estimates hearing that Australia would require "multiple power stations to make the industry viable".

Federal Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane said the nuclear energy inquiry would also include consideration of nuclear enrichment plants in Australia. Mr Macfarlane said he would consider a nuclear power plant in his own Toowoomba electorate.

Prime Minister John Howard insisted he would not be deterred by the unpopularity of nuclear power.