Australia may need nuclear in future, minister says

15 November 2012

Australia will have to consider including nuclear energy as part of its future energy mix if other sources cannot provide low-cost, clean baseload electricity, the country's energy and resources minister Martin Ferguson has stated.

Last week, the Australian government launched its Energy White Paper, which noted that "there is currently no social consensus on the technology or an economic case for its deployment, even taking into account the carbon price and the need to reduce our emissions." Whilst stating that the current government does not support the use of nuclear energy, the White Paper concedes that "Future Australian governments might not necessarily hold that view."

"If at some point in the future we don't get the breakthrough on baseload clean energy, Australia will need to think seriously about considering nuclear."

Martin Ferguson,
Energy and Resources Minister

The Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) - a national economic think tank - yesterday released a report on Australia's energy options, which essentially drew the same conclusions as the White Paper. However, CEDA expressed support for the use of nuclear energy in Australia.

Commenting on the release of the White Paper and the CEDA report, Ferguson said, "Both papers recognise the emerging challenges in Australia's energy sector, and present a long-term vision for strengthening our energy economy." He added that both the White Paper and CEDA "remain in lock-step on the increased deployment of clean energy technologies." While there is agreement that "low-emissions technologies have a role to play in meeting growing energy demand while reducing greenhouse gas emissions," Ferguson noted that "it is important that the market drive this change."

The nuclear option

"Nuclear power is not needed as part of Australia's energy mix, given our country's abundance and diversity of low-cost and reliable energy sources, both fossil fuel and renewable," Ferguson said. "Indeed nuclear has never been needed because it has not been economically competitive nor has it had the required community support."

However, he said, "The community will continue to have these debates, just like we have had a debate over the previous decades about uranium mining."

He admitted, "The Australian government's responsibility is to test all forms of clean energy and if at some point in the future we don't get the breakthrough on baseload clean energy, Australia will need to think seriously about considering nuclear."

Ferguson was quoted in the West Australian newspaper as saying that the exclusion of nuclear energy in the White Paper was a "serious omission." He added, "If Australia is serious about mitigating the effects of climate change then nuclear must be on the table."

"It is important that steps are taken now, such as the development of a regulatory framework, to ensure this option can be utilised in the future if necessary," Ferguson suggested.

About 78% of Australia's electricity is currently produced from 54% of its installed generating capacity, reflecting the predominance of baseload demand and the fact that coal provides the main baseload capacity in the country.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News