New South Wales should repeal nuclear bans, inquiry concludes

05 March 2020

The government of New South Wales should support the repeal in its entirety of legislation that prohibits uranium mining and nuclear facilities in the Australian state, an inquiry by the state's Upper House has concluded. As well as encouraging and supporting uranium exploration, the state should also pursue the repeal of federal prohibitions on nuclear facilities, it recommends. 

The flag of New South Wales (Image: Pixabay)

The inquiry was established in June last year by the State Development Committee to consider the Uranium Mining and Nuclear Facilities (Prohibitions) Repeal Bill 2019, which is legislation that is being proposed to remove state-based prohibitions on uranium mining and the construction and operation of nuclear facilities in New South Wales that have been in place since 1987. The inquiry received 72 submissions from Australia and overseas and held three hearings during September and November. Its final report, published today, now goes forward to the state's Upper House for its consideration.

Committee Chairman Taylor Martin said the existing prohibitions on uranium mining and nuclear energy reflected the "outdated fears" of the 1980s. "The safety of nuclear technology has advanced in leaps and bounds since the State prohibition commenced. On the balance of evidence gathered for this inquiry, nuclear power in its emerging small scale applications is a compelling technology where energy policy settings seek to decarbonise emissions while delivering secure, reliable and affordable energy to the New South Wales grid," he said.

It is imperative that legislators and governments are "genuinely technology-neutral" and don't "lock out appropriate, low-emissions alternatives" to replace the state's ageing coal-fired generation assets, he added.

"There are no compelling justifications from an environmental or human safety point of view which would warrant the blanket exclusion of nuclear energy, especially in its emerging small scale applications, from serious policy consideration in New South Wales. The outdated arguments for prohibiting nuclear on the basis of safety are increasingly difficult to defend," he said.

The NSW report follows a federal inquiry in December that recommended the Australian government consider a partial lifting of the current moratorium on nuclear energy to allow the deployment of new and emerging technologies.

Tania Constable, CEO of the Minerals Council of Australia, said the NSW report represented "another major step forward in the national debate".

"Australia is endowed with the world’s largest uranium resource but is only the third largest producer. Enhancing the knowledge of New South Wales’ potential uranium resource will enhance Australia’s presence in global energy markets," she said. "As the report also finds, all energy options need to be considered, particularly in securing affordable, reliable, sustainable baseload power, including nuclear. New advanced small modular reactors are rapidly proceeding through design approval processes in North America. Australia should ready itself as they come to market with strong potential applications in our electricity mix. This is what the NSW report is trying to do."

The NSW government's final response to the report is due on 4 September. If enacted, the proposed bill would lift the prohibition on uranium mining in New South Wales, although the prohibition on nuclear facilities would remain in place as a result of legislation at the federal level.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News