Monday, November 28, 2005

The Australian: Inquiry examines case for N-power

The Australian: Inquiry examines case for N-power [November 28, 2005]

David Uren
November 28, 2005
THE federal Government is building the case for a nuclear power industry in Australia, planning a high-level academic inquiry into its prospects.

Science Minister Brendan Nelson and Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane have put a proposal for the inquiry, costed at less than $1million, to John Howard.

The proposal responds to the Prime Minister's call earlier this year for a nuclear power debate.

In a television interview yesterday, Dr Nelson said the inquiry would involve the Academy of Science, together with the academies of social science and humanities. The Technical Science and Engineering Academy is also involved.

"I think we owe it to our future to examine all of our options," he said.

"We can't responsibly dig 30per cent of the world's uranium out of the ground, export it overseas and allow some 450 reactors to operate and expand in other parts of the world and not seriously consider this as an option for ourselves."

He said the inquiry would examine the geological, environmental, physical and social aspects of a nuclear power industry in Australia.

Although the academies often make submissions individually to government inquiries, such as reviews of higher education, it is the first time a Government has gone to them with a proposal for a combined inquiry.

"The Government certainly had strong support from the academies from the outset," Academy of Social Science executive director John Beaton said yesterday.

"The academies all welcome the opportunity to consider how issues of nuclear power and related topics will affect society.

"Nuclear power generation and waste management have come a very long way since Chernobyl and this debate needs to be had in the light of a much better understanding and newer technology, but it also must respond to concerns of the Australians."

The Government is still refining the terms of reference for the inquiry, which is expected to take a year to complete.

The Government's objective is to have a set of facts that can be marshalled against opponents of nuclear power.

Although there has been discussion within the Labor Party about its policies on uranium and nuclear power, it remains opposed to an expansion of the industry.

Labor spokeswoman for education and research Jenny Macklin said yesterday that no matter which organisations Dr Nelson got to do the study, it wouldn't address the concerns of Australians about nuclear power.

"Australia is as far into the nuclear cycle as the Australian public wants to be. It's absurd that Brendan Nelson is running this issue of nuclear energy when he can't even get consensus or public support to locate a dump for existing low-level waste," Ms Macklin said.

Dr Nelson said the Government was determined to build a low and intermediate-level nuclear waste repository for waste from medical and industrial uses in the Northern Territory.

He noted there was already 16 cubic metres of nuclear waste stored at Darwin Hospital and at Mt Todd, 40km from Katherine.

"We owe it to ourselves. I mean, every Australian will benefit from a nuclear-sourced medical procedure," he said.

Dr Nelson said that "under no circumstances" would the proposed repository be used for storing high-level nuclear waste from any eventual nuclear power industry in Australia.


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