The cooling towers at the Belarusian nuclear power plant in Belarus.
The cooling towers at the Belarusian nuclear power plant in Belarus.

Queensland’s $10b nuclear opportunity

BENEATH the dusty red dirt of Queensland's outback is a nuclear opportunity worth billions of dollars with the potential to create thousands of jobs.

Australia has the world's largest endowment of uranium resources in the world, with about one-third of global resources.

Some Queensland federal MPs are leading a growing push for Australia to now re-examine the use of nuclear power, but it remains a divisive topic.

In one of the more significant moves towards a nuclear future, a federal parliamentary inquiry is examining the prerequisites for nuclear energy in Australia.

This week the state LNP criticised the push towards nuclear, declaring any investigation into the controversial power was a "waste of resources".

A Queensland Government review in 2013 into the recommencement of uranium mining in indicated the value of the state's major uranium deposits was about $10 billion.

From cleaners to nuclear engineers, the construction of small nuclear reactors would create a range of jobs, University of New South Wales Field Professor John Fletcher said.

"I'd like to think with nuclear being partly more advanced there's got to be some opportunities for local businesses to develop products and services around what would be a fairly high-technology solution," he said.

Professor Fletcher said, should nuclear be progressed, the manufacture and operation of small nuclear reactors would be required.

"The size of power systems that we would want to put in the network favours small modular reactors," he said.

He said each small reactor would produce a similar power output to a large jet engine, around 30 megawatts, enough to power 30,000 homes.

Queensland has a chequered nuclear history.

Uranium was extracted at the Mary Kathleen mine, located about halfway between Mount Isa and Cloncurry, between 1958 and 1982.

In 2012 the Newman Government removed a two-decade ban on uranium mining, only to have it reintroduced by the Palaszczuk Government in 2015.

That reintroduction was a blow to the resources sector, which hoped the extraction of Queensland's estimated 166 million tonnes of uranium ore deposits would create thousands of jobs.


Queensland Resources Council chief executive Ian Macfarlane. Picture: Jerad Williams
Queensland Resources Council chief executive Ian Macfarlane. Picture: Jerad Williams


Professor Fletcher admits educating people on the idea of nuclear was difficult.

"It takes a generation to educate and inform but nuclear energy does polarize the public," he said.

"How can we achieve a lower carbon-emissions system and do everything we want to do already with electrical energy, plus much more?

"This is going to create a great demand on the electricity network.

"Some of the pain we're feeling at the moment, if we don't spend money on it, we're going to feel it worse."

The Queensland Resources Council agrees incorporating nuclear in Australia's energy mix could provide opportunities for Queensland businesses.

"Nuclear power is a proven supply option for reliable, low emissions power and the International Energy Agency has recognised the role nuclear can play in reducing emissions," the council's chief executive Ian Macfarlane said.

"The economic benefits created from the nuclear power supply chain could be significant for the Queensland economy.

"There are already more than 316,000 jobs associated with the Queensland resources industry, and more than 70 per cent of them are in regional Queensland.

"Uranium mining would provide an opportunity to add to those jobs and support new jobs in other industries such as refining and manufacturing."

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

No date is set for the finalisation of the federal inquiry into nuclear power in Australia.