Downer welcomes Australian nuclear energy debate

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Monday, May 22, 2006

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

Australia's foreign affairs minister Alexander Downer has given his support for a serious debate on nuclear energy in Australia. Mr Downer's comments follow similar comments made by Australian Prime Minister John Howard in Canada last week.

Mr Downer said that climate change has strongly influenced many to change their position on nuclear power and to encourage debate. He encouraged people to keep an open mind on nuclear power within the context of reducing greenhouse gases. The production of nuclear energy produces far fewer greenhouse gas emissions than coal and oil power stations.

Mr Downer also said that it would make sense for Australia to investigate nuclear power generation given that it has 30 to 40 percent of the world's Uranium reserves.

Mr Downer said any discussion would need to look at whether Australia would build nuclear power stations in the future and whether a Uranium enrichment program would be undertaken.

"There's the question of whether Australia itself would eventually, some time, no doubt in the far distant future, build nuclear power stations," he said.

"There's a question of whether Australia would ever enrich uranium - in other words, we go up the processing chain, rather than just dig it out." Mr Downer said.

Unlike Australian industry minister, Ian MacFarlane and finance minister, Nick Minchin, Mr Downer refused to say when he thought nuclear energy would become a reality in Australia. Mr Downer said the construction of nuclear power plants would depend on two things - political debate and economic considerations. Mr Downer said that nuclear power plants can be very expensive to build and they would need to be comparable in overall cost to oil and coal based power plants for it to make economic sense.

Opposition treasury spokesman Wayne Swan has said he does not support Australia building nuclear power plants. He also said that Australia had large energy reserves and has no need for nuclear power generation. "We are a country with an abundance of energy, we're are optimistic about what can occur with clean coal technologies, we have an abundant supply of gas – I don't see the need for Australia to go down that road."

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This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.