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Nuclear debate flares again

By: Andrea Hayward
02 December, 2010

It's a debate that rears its head in Australia periodically - whether or not to go down the path of nuclear energy.

But the discussion never gets too far.

The release of a report by the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering has renewed discussion.

The report says nuclear power could be a viable low-carbon energy option once a suitable price is put on carbon.

But, it says, Australia would not be ready for nuclear power - which it argues has a lower fuel price than conventional power plants and no carbon dioxide emissions - until after 2020.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has hosed down the merits of nuclear power despite support for it among some Labor politicians.

Gillard says she is happy to have a debate, but anyone seeking to overturn Labor's long-held policy would face a tough argument.

The issue of where waste from nuclear power plants would be stored is perhaps the crux of the problem.

Australian Greens leader Bob Brown points out no one really wants a nuclear waste dump in their backyard.

Nor do they want nuclear power stations, it seems.

WA Premier Colin Barnett says the federal government should start investing in nuclear energy.

But there's no room for a nuclear power station in his state, where uranium is abundant, because its energy grid could not accommodate one, he says.

The grid from Brisbane to Adelaide would, however, be suitable, he adds.

Research examining the attitudes of Australians to nuclear power by Macquarie University researchers found more people were likely to become interested in it as the debate on climate change continued.

The survey of 1175 people found they didn't think nuclear power should be embraced over renewable energy but they were likely to accept the building of nuclear power stations if it helped tackle climate change and improved energy security.

So attitudes may be changing.

But not so for the traditional owners of the site earmarked for Australia's first nuclear waste dump at Muckaty Station in the Northern Territory, 120km north of Tennant Creek.

Labor had promised to throw out the Howard government's plans to establish a site for radioactive waste at Muckaty but is still considering it despite the protests of local Aborigines.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott is on the record as saying nuclear power is the only realistic way for Australia to cut its carbon emissions.

But he did not take the policy to the election, saying the time was not right because Australia has an abundant reserve of coal and large reserves of gas.

Nuclear energy would also make electricity bills more expensive Abbott says, something the coalition is railing against in its attacks on the government over the planned introduction of a carbon tax.

Former Telstra boss Ziggy Switkowski, who explored nuclear energy for the Howard government in 2006, says nuclear energy is inevitable and after a few years of talking about it and reassuring people about their concerns, work can start on reactors in the 2020s.

With Australia home to 40 per cent of the world's uranium, yellowcake is an accessible commodity with no local market.

But the debate is likely to be quelled once again because embracing a nuclear-powered future is a risky business when it comes to winning votes.

Source: AAP NewsWire

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