Monday, September 05, 2005

Downer plays down nuclear power chance

Downer plays down nuclear power chance

13:11 AEST Fri Sep 2 2005
Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has played down the likelihood of Australia resorting to nuclear energy despite advocating its benefits.

As Australia considers selling some of its vast uranium reserves to China, Mr Downer has promoted the benefits of nuclear power.

Delivering the 2005 Sir Condor Laucke Oration in the Barossa Valley, Mr Downer said nuclear power plants produced no greenhouse gas emissions and concerns about their safety were overblown.

"Safety concerns about nuclear power are inaccurate perceptions of risks that are not backed up by facts," he said in a speech.

While everyone had heard of the Chernobyl disaster in Russia, it was the result of old reactor technology, Mr Downer said.

He was perplexed by the arguments of some against nuclear energy, but who also claimed they wanted to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

"Over 30 countries have nuclear power programs ... (and) in doing so, they avoid emissions of some 2.2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide each ear," he said.

He said the number of reactors globally was expected to increase significantly and Australia would have a vital role to play in the future of global nuclear power.

But at the same time, it was unlikely Australia would turn to nuclear energy itself soon.

"Here in this country we have very cheap coal, we are blessed with enormous coal resources," Mr Downer told ABC radio after the speech.

"Not only do I think that's likely to be a problem economically, just think of the political controversy and opportunism that surrounded the issue of a nuclear waste dump."

Mr Downer told the audience that although the use of nuclear power in Australia may be a way off, the nation would still play a major role in the nuclear energy debate because of the growing demand for uranium.

Australia has about 40 per cent of the world's known uranium reserves.

"As global demand for greenhouse-friendly nuclear power grows, global demand for uranium will also grow," Mr Downer said.

"As the holder of the world's largest uranium reserves, we have a responsibility to supply clean energy to other countries, even if so far we've chosen not to use nuclear energy ourselves."

Mr Downer said it was important that the growing use of nuclear energy did not have a negative effect on nuclear non-proliferation efforts.

But withholding uranium would not deter those wanting it for nefarious means.

"It is important to understand uranium is not a scare material, every country has some uranium," Mr Downer said.

Australia has begun formal negotiations on the export of uranium to China but has promised adequate safeguards to strike an export deal


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