Inquiry to probe Australia’s nuclear future

AUSTRALIA should investigate a nuclear economy beyond just a nuclear power plant, including expanding its uranium mining, exports and enrichment, according to LNP Senator James McGrath.

It is part of the terms of references for a proposed nuclear power plant in Australia, being championed by Senator McGrath and Hinkler MP Keith Pitt.

If backed, it would investigate how Australia would "benefit" from taking up existing, new or emerging nuclear reactor technologies, as well as what would need to be done to set up a nuclear power plant and "advantages and disadvantages of generating electricity in this manner".

The nuclear inquiry would also seek how Australia could do more in expanding its existing uranium mining, processing and manufacturing to meet domestic needs.

It would not look at where a nuclear power plant could be located in Australia, but consider waste processing and storage issues associated with it.

Resources Minister Matt Canavan has raised this as a significant roadblock for any nuclear plan, saying Australia had been unable to agree on a storage facility for low-level radioactive waste in the past 40 years.

Other issues to be investigated would be whether a move to nuclear power would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and "possible health and safety implications relating to nuclear energy".

Senator McGrath said he was seeking Parliament's support for the in-depth inquiry into the nuclear power industry.

Queensland Senator James McGrath says Australia could benefit from a nuclear power economy. Picture: Adam Head
Queensland Senator James McGrath says Australia could benefit from a nuclear power economy. Picture: Adam Head

"This is the discussion we need to have and now is the right time," he posted on social media Tuesday morning, along with the terms of reference.

Energy Minister Angus Taylor last month said the Government would be "more than willing to consider" nuclear power if there was a clear business case that showed the economics could work.

In April, Mr Morrison said nuclear power was "not not" on the agenda, before clarifying that it was not Liberal policy and there were no plans to change that.

There are currently just two uranium mines in Australia, Ranger in the Northern Territory and Olympic Dam in South Australia.

Australia has about a third of the world's known uranium deposits.

According to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australia exported 7081 tonnes of uranium worth $596 million in 2016-17. It is enough to power about 37 power plants.

There is a prohibition on nuclear power in Australia, meaning in any nuclear power plant would require a change in legislation.