November 9, 2009

Go Nuclear, France Tells Australia

France - the world's most Nuclearised country - has thrown its weight behind a nuclear power industry in Australia.

The French government's environment ambassador, Laurent Stefanini, said nuclear power was a good fit for Australia, and offered his country's technological know-how to get the industry started.

"We think that Australia is certainly a country that would win much from putting in place ... a nuclear program," Stefanini told AAP in an interview in the ministry of foreign affairs in Paris.

"It's a reliable and useful way to avoid greenhouse gas emissions."

Australia, which has the world's largest uranium reserves, exports uranium to France but does not have any nuclear power reactors.

Close to 80% of France's electricity comes from 59 nuclear reactors dotted across the country.

Nuclear power has negligible greenhouse gas emissions; France's emissions are about one-third of Australia's on a per capita basis.

"You've got the primary material, you're a serious country which is democratic, organized, and has reliable institutions," Stefanini said.

"You've got plenty of space ... that makes it easier. You've got the territory to build (reactors) a certain distance (from towns)."

Some French reactors are located near towns and villages.

Stefanini said France's experience of more than 20 years of nuclear power was that the industry created jobs - in security and maintenance - and while construction costs were high, as a 30-year investment the price tag was not prohibitive.

There had been no major accidents in France's nuclear industry, but it was very tightly monitored and regulated, Mr Stefanini said. There was a national consensus on the utility of nuclear power but an accident would jeopardize that consensus.

An adviser to French president Nicolas Sarkozy was also positive about the potential for nuclear power in Australia.

"Nuclear should be one of the possible options ... we think it's one of the solutions for producing carbon-free energy," he told AAP in an interview in the French presidential palace, l'Elysee.

"Australia is a country which offers all the guarantees of an excellent mastery of technology, and there are no concerns about nuclear (weapons) dissemination."

The adviser said he didn't want to tell other countries what to do with their electricity generation, but nuclear power had worked well for France and had kept greenhouse gas emissions low.

Australia exports about 10,000 tonnes of uranium oxide a year and has the world's largest uranium deposit, at Olympic Dam in South Australia.

The vast majority of Australia's electricity comes from coal, which has high greenhouse gas emissions.

The federal government says there's no need for nuclear power because renewable energy - like wind and solar - is a better way to green up the electricity grid.

The opposition has been more open to the nuclear option, with former prime minister John Howard floating the idea at the last election and various MPs recently calling for it to be considered afresh.

Opinion polls in Australia show that the long-running hostility towards nuclear power is breaking down, and roughly half the population now thinks it could be a good idea.

France's nuclear reactors are state-owned and the country is an electricity exporter.

No country gets more of its electricity from nuclear sources than France. France also has nuclear weapons.

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The uranium spot market was relatively quiet last week, with uranium market consultant TradeTech's U3O8 Weekly Spot Price Indicator slipping just US$0.50/lb to US$46.00/lb after a drop of US$3.50/lb the previous week.

There were only three transactions totalling approximately 400,000 pounds U3O8 equivalent registered by TradeTech for the week.


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