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Monday, October 30, 2006

Nuclear 'unaviable till coal price rises' Australia says

Matthew Warren18oct06
NUCLEAR power is too expensive to be developed in Australia and would only become viable through a massive spike in future coal and gas prices or a significant government-imposed impost on carbon emissions.Energy generators claim current nuclear technology is between 50 to 100 per cent more expensive than conventional coal-fired power, and faces a range of political and technical hurdles before the first nuclear plant could be built.
Opposition resources spokesman Martin Ferguson yesterday accused the Howard Government of playing wedge politics between sections of the Labor Party by suggesting Australia could start building nuclear plants within a decade.
John Howard this week deliberately put nuclear power back on the political agenda as a potential low greenhouse-emissions energy solution, a month before his taskforce is due to report its draft findings on nuclear energy, reprocessing and uranium mining.
Mr Ferguson told The Australian that nuclear power was a distraction from the Government's unwillingness to properly engage in the energy security debate.
"There's no doubt the Prime Minister's fancy with nuclear power has been consistent with his 11 years of wedge politics," he said. "If he's not careful he's going to wedge himself because nuclear power does not stack up in Australia."
At an international nuclear conference in Sydney yesterday, Energy Supply Association chief executive Brad Page said that while nuclear power might be part of Australia's future energy mix, it would require either a significant rise in coal and gas prices or a regulatory constraint on carbon to be viable.
The Howard Government has consistently opposed carbon regulation without Australia being part of a global scheme.
Mr Page said as well as overcoming relatively higher costs, an Australian nuclear industry would need the support of the community and governments, the development of a skilled nuclear workforce and an established regulatory regime. He said energy investors would also want to minimise the political risk of investing in an expensive and politically sensitive investment such as a nuclear power plant.
"The assets that our industry builds are fixed in nature, very long-lived, and they cost billions of dollars when you are building base-load (power generators)," he said. "You cannot afford for an investment of that size to become stranded for what is seemingly an arbitrary political act."
Mr Page said a more rational perspective on nuclear energy was that it was one of a number of higher-cost, low-emission technologies and might be available by about 2030 as part of a composite of energy solutions to climate change.
"You'd be a very brave person today to say there was a silver bullet to greenhouse and it was any individual technology," Mr Page said.
Globally there are about 30 new nuclear plants under construction and more than 200 planned or proposed, with the World Nuclear Association forecasting a doubling of uranium demand by 2020. Australia holds the world's largest uranium reserves.
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