Wednesday, October 12, 2005

France puts hand up for Australian uranium

The World Today - France puts hand up for Australian uranium

The World Today - Wednesday, 12 October , 2005 12:24:00
Reporter: Josie Taylor
ELEANOR HALL: As argument continues in Australia over uranium mining, the new French Ambassador to Australia has entered the debate, saying his country would certainly buy Australian uranium given the opportunity.

His comments will be welcomed by those pushing for restrictions on mining the controversial nuclear fuel to be lifted, as Josie Taylor reports.

JOSIE TAYLOR: Beneath Australian soil lies about 40 per cent of the world's uranium, most of it untouched.

But if industry and the Federal Government have a say, that could soon change.

GEOFF PROSSER: There was a world demand for uranium. Australia is well-placed to supply that demand and the evidence we've received to date overwhelmingly supports the view that we should supply more of the market than we do in the present.

JOSIE TAYLOR: That's Western Australian Liberal MP Geoff Prosser, who'll chair an inquiry into Australia's uranium resources in Canberra tomorrow.

The inquiry follows a national conference on uranium held in Western Australia over the past two days.

Geoff Prosser says nuclear power is firmly back on the public agenda.

GEOFF PROSSER: The main factor is the concern generally in the community about global warming, that nuclear power generation has virtually no greenhouse emission gases, no Co2 emission. In fact the 440 nuclear power plants around the world, save the emission of some 2.5 billion tonnes of Co2 into the atmosphere each year.

That's, I guess, driven the main interest of the emerging economies wanting to at least do something about the emissions that they've got with their conventional fossil fuel power stations.

JOSIE TAYLOR: Is industry also behind this push though given that Australia has 40 per cent of the world's uranium resources?

GEOFF PROSSER: Well certainly the mining industry is keen to see those resources exploited.

JOSIE TAYLOR: Alan Eggers is a managing director of Summit Resources Limited, a company with interests in uranium deposits in Queensland.

He agrees the prospect of big profits for mining companies is behind the push for more uranium mines.

ALAN EGGERS: For a public company that is in fact the case. However, uranium mining is a big business, it's already underway in the world, there's some 440 nuclear power plants in operation, there's a large number being built in China, Japan and India at the moment, and these plants need to be supplied with fuel.

JOSIE TAYLOR: Who do you need to convince now to make this possible?

ALAN EGGERS: The only impediment to development of new uranium mining in Australia is the Labor Party has a policy of not approving new mines and it's this Labor Party policy that needs to be changed and we believe that there's a significant shift within the Labor Party to bring about that change.

JOSIE TAYLOR: The Labor Party is certainly divided on the issue, but a spokesman for Federal Opposition leader, Kim Beazley, says Labor's policy of no new uranium mines stands, at least for the moment.

From another perspective, France takes about three quarters of its energy needs from nuclear power.

Its new ambassador to Australia, Francois Descoueyte, says nuclear power offers environmental benefits, but the safety issues must be handled carefully.

FRANCOIS DESCOUEYTE: It's for Australia to decide and for Australian experts to really weigh the pros and cons of such a shift.

JOSIE TAYLOR: Would the French Government actually buy more Australian uranium if it was available?

FRANCOIS DESCOUEYTE: Oh certainly. Since we have a big number of nuclear plants, we need uranium and we have the facilities to enrich it and to, you know, the enrichment in the case of civilian use is only to 3.5 persons, so it's not a big, a very highly enriched uranium of course, but I think they would be interested, depending on the price, and I think this is discussed on a commercial basis.

JOSIE TAYLOR: But opponents of nuclear power say in the industry rush for a piece of uranium action, safety's being forgotten.

DAVID SWEENEY: Australian uranium is inevitably radioactive waste, and it also fuels weapons and waste, that is the source material for nuclear weapons, the source material for radioactive waste.

We're saying very clearly, that in an insecure world, in a world with significant security threats, in a world with significant terrorism threats, we don't need to be increasing the amounts of dangerous fissile radioactive material.

ELEANOR HALL: David Sweeney from the Australian Conservation Foundation, speaking to Josie Taylor.

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