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Australia May Still Have A Nuclear Future

Australia’s new prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, may not see widespread nuclear energy in his country’s future, but isn’t shutting the door on the industry altogether.

Turnbull, a Liberal, said Oct. 28 that he supports efforts by a political opponent, Premier Jay Weatherill of the Labor Party, to conduct a formal exploration of Australia’s nuclear power options through a royal commission.

“On nuclear power, I commend Jay Weatherill for having the royal commission, I think it’s good that he has done that,” Turnbull told FiveAA radio in Adelaide.

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After all, he said, “[W]e have got the uranium, we mine it, why don’t we process it, turn it into the fuel rods, lease it to people overseas, when they are done, we bring them back [for disposal] and we have got stable, very stable geology in remote locations and a stable political environment.”

Turnbull called that option “perfectly reasonable” and added, “That is a business that you could well imagine here.”

The prime minister’s comments came a day after he gave mixed signals on the trajectory of his energy policy. On Oct. 27 he said coal remains a major factor in generating electricity worldwide, even as many countries are replacing it with cleaner-burning fuel.

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But that same day, Turnbull, who has been in office since Sept. 15, appointed a new chief scientist who will advise his government on science and technology beginning early next year. He is Dr. Alan Finkel, a neuroscientist, engineer and entrepreneur who supports nuclear energy as a technology that contributes no polluting greenhouse gases to the Earth’s atmosphere.

The government of John Howard, who served as prime minister from 1996 to 2007, commissioned a study concluding that a nuclear power was feasible in Australia as long as Canberra imposed regulations making it competitive with coal-fired energy generation.

Resistance to the recommendation was strong, in large part because of the nuclear disaster at Japan’s Fukushima power plant in 2011. One state, Queensland, even passed legislation to ban nuclear power plants, and the parliament of the island territory of Tasmania considered a similar measure.

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The subject of nuclear power was dropped altogether in 2007 when Kevin Rudd of Labor, became prime minister. Rudd’s government opposed nuclear power wholeheartedly.

The debate has now resumed. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten of the Labor party said Oct. 28 that he doesn’t see nuclear power plants in Australia in the foreseeable future because “[t]he cost of setting up a nuclear industry from scratch is expensive.” But any findings of the current royal commission would be “interesting,” he said.

And Finkel, speaking the day he was appointed, called nuclear power a viable alternative to conventional energy generation. “It’s something that should be absolutely considered for a low emissions or a zero emissions future, if that is what we are looking for,” he said. “But it is not the only way forward. With enough storage, we could do it in this country with solar and wind.”

By Andy Tully of Oilprice.com

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