Viewpoint: Australia must review its outdated regulations on nuclear

24 October 2019

It is not too late for Australia to join nuclear power countries in the fight against climate change, writes Tania Constable, CEO of Minerals Council of Australia.

Tania Constable, CEO of Minerals Council of Australia (Image: MCA)

The following is the foreword Constable wrote for the organisation’s new report, titled Untapped Potential.

"Australia has one-third of the world's uranium resource which will be increasingly critical for a power hungry world seeking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As the third largest uranium exporter, the electricity produced by Australia's uranium is equivalent to 96% of Australia's total annual electricity generation - and all with zero emissions. Nuclear energy provides around 10% of the world’s electricity and last year resulted in about 2.2 billion tonnes of CO2 not being released into the atmosphere. It is safe, reliable and affordable. Yet in Australia outdated regulations in some states ban the exploration and mining of uranium, and under federal law nuclear energy is prohibited. The result is that Australians are denied a zero emissions 24/7 energy source that is not dependent on the weather.

Canada is like Australia in many ways. Yet it has chosen to embrace nuclear energy and uranium mining and is now a world leader in nuclear technology. Not only does Canada meet about 15% of its electricity needs with zero emissions nuclear power, its citizens pay some of the lowest prices for residential electricity in the world.

It's not too late for Australia. With the next generation of nuclear technologies such as small modular reactors (SMRs) expected to be commercially available by the late 2020s, Australia should consider SMRs as an option to replace some of our ageing baseload coal-fired power generators.

Australia is already better placed than many countries to safely manage nuclear waste, both as one of the world's most geologically stable nations and the beneficiary of world-class health and safety and environmental protections.

Public support for nuclear energy is growing. Recent surveys show a majority of Australians support a role for nuclear in the nation's energy mix. This is also a position held increasingly by business and industry groups, including Industry Super Australia. The Australian Workers' Union, the country's oldest and largest blue collar trade union, also recognises the potential of nuclear energy in supporting industry and households and has called for the immediate lifting of all legislative bans on uranium exploration, mining and nuclear power.

The benefits of a nuclear industry go far beyond energy generation. Nuclear medicine, for example, is literally life-saving, with around 50% of Australians expected to benefit from nuclear medicine during their lifetime. The irony is that the nuclear medicine saving lives in hospitals across the country is coming from uranium mining which is banned in the three most populous states and Tasmania, and limited to four mines in Western Australia.  In spite of this, the completion of the Mo-99 (Molybdenum 99) Manufacturing Facility at Lucas Heights in Sydney means Australia will increasingly be a major player in international health care, supplying ever growing domestic and global demand for nuclear medicines.

So Australia has a clear choice. It can reconsider the role nuclear energy can play in a low carbon future and remove the obstacles prohibiting the development of a nuclear industry. Or it can continue to help the rest of the world reduce its emissions through the export of our uranium and, as we've done for the past 40 years, allow domestic policy to be dictated by anti-scientific scare campaigns. This approach has achieved nothing but to deny Australians the benefits of this amazing natural resource. The Minerals Council of Australia has produced this two-part booklet as part of its contribution to a mature national discussion about the future of energy generation and energy security in Australia."

Tania Constable

Researched and written by World Nuclear News