Australian state completes report on nuclear prohibition

26 November 2020

An inquiry into potential benefits to Victoria of removing prohibitions on nuclear activities has tabled its final report in the Australian state's parliament. Energy security, stability and accessibility, and the need to lower carbon emissions due to climate change should be the priority, regardless of technology, the report finds.

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The 256-page report is the culmination of an inquiry announced in August 2019 and conducted by the Parliament of Victoria Legislative Council Environment and Planning Committee. Its terms of reference were to: investigate the potential for Victoria to contribute to global low carbon dioxide energy production through enabling exploration and production of uranium and thorium; identify economic, environmental and social benefits for Victoria, including those related to medicine, scientific research, exploration and mining; identify opportunities for Victoria to participate in the nuclear fuel cycle; and identify any barriers to participation, including limitations caused by federal or local laws and regulations.

The construction and operation of nuclear facilities in Victoria has been legally prohibited since 1983, and Commonwealth laws also prohibit the use of nuclear power for electricity generation across Australia, committee chair Cesar Melham said in his foreword to the report. The need to shift towards low-emissions power generation has now raised the question of nuclear power. "It is this legal prohibition of nuclear energy production that has been the focus of this Inquiry," he said.

The report finds that priority should be given to the security, stability and accessibility of energy supply and the need to lower carbon emissions due to climate change and to ensure affordable energy, regardless of technology development; there is much ambiguity and uncertainty over costs, but without "subsidisation" a nuclear power industry will remain economically unviable in Australia "for now". Discussion about Victorian participation in the nuclear fuel cycle is "entirely theoretical" while Commonwealth prohibitions remain in place, and until there is a change in the Commonwealth position, detailed discussions about emerging technologies in Victoria related to the nuclear fuel cycle and power generation are unlikely to advance.

The inquiry attracted 80 submissions and included six days of public hearings of witnesses from Australia and overseas.

"In this report, the Committee makes no recommendations and does not take a strong position on nuclear power as an alternative energy source in Australia, and particularly in Victoria," Melham said. However, he said, "traditional" nuclear energy generation is currently expensive and unlikely to be taken up in Australia. "It will be interesting to see over the next few years whether new nuclear technologies, such as small modular reactors which are in the final stages of development, change the costing of nuclear energy over time."

An inquiry by the Upper House of New South Wales earlier this year recommended the repeal of state legislation that prohibiting uranium mining and nuclear facilities as well as the repeal of federal prohibitions on nuclear facilities. An Australian parliamentary committee last year recommended that the government should consider a partial lifting of the current moratorium on nuclear energy to allow the deployment of new and emerging technologies.

The government of Victoria is required to provide a response to the report within six months.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News