Published on Wednesday June 08 2011 (AEST)
AUSTRALIA should try to get its first electricity generating nuclear reactor up by 2022, despite the Fukushima nuclear plant accident in Japan, the head of the Australian Uranium Association says.
Michael Angwin, chief executive of the AUA, told an International Uranium Conference in perth today he was puzzled why the country was debating a carbon price without talking about energy choices.
But with political debate reaching its ``crescendo'' Mr Angwin said attention could now be given to Australia's future energy sources, including nuclear.
He said although the meltdown of reactor cores at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in March caused nuclear energy to fall out of favour, the various international examinations would address many safety issues and give the community greater assurances over the power source.
``Now is not the time for policy makers to go any softer on nuclear power,'' Mr Angwin said.
``Now is exactly the right time for policy makers to give nuclear power a dispassionate, economic, technological, social and political examination.''
He called for a ``genuine conversation in which the outcome is not pre-determined by political fear and which there's some considered, weighing up of benefits of cost and after which the country makes a genuine choice.''
Mr Angwin called on the Productivity Commission to bring Dr Ziggy Switkowski's 2006 report into nuclear energy up-to-date in light of the Fukushima accident and the current climate change policy debate.
A nuclear energy commission should be established to provide the regulatory framework and identify possible reactor sites, while the government should encourage nuclear business proposals from industry.
``If Australia takes these kinds of initiatives we might be in a position to make a decision about the nuclear industry within five-to-seven years,'' he said.
If that path was followed, Australia could have its first power-generating nuclear reactor by 2022, he said.
Fukushima was not the accident which resolved the nuclear debate in favour of the anti-nuclear side but re-opened the entire debate.
The current debate among global greens groups was no longer about their anti-nuclear tactics but whether nuclear energy was better than fossil fuels.
Demand for electricity in Australia is expected to increase 35 per cent by 2030, which will require high capital investment and be managed with the government's 20 per cent renewable energy target.
Mr Angwin criticised those who argued against nuclear power because solar power was a baseload power source, '' in that they think solar is a consistent and reliable, around-the-clock source of energy''.
``Bear in mind most people's only experience of solar power is likely to have been installing photovoltaic panels in their roof at the expense of other tax payers.''