“The Prerequisites for Nuclear Energy in Australia”: A Brief Anaylysis of the House Standing Committee’s Findings

In August we reported that the Australian Parliament’s cross-party House Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy was undertaking an inquiry into the “prerequisites for nuclear energy in Australia”.

After nine country-wide public hearings and 309 submissions, the Committee has now published its findings: Not without your approval: a way forward for nuclear technology in Australia.

The meat of the report is some 93 pages long, with additional appendices, and has come up with three main recommendations to enable a way forward for nuclear technology in Australia; in summary these are:

The firstrecommendation would be achieved by prioritising reliable and affordable energywhile fulfilling emissions reductions obligations; adopting a strategicapproach that would consider collaborating with international partners,developing Australia’s own national nuclear capability, procuring next-of-a-kindand not first-of-a-kind technologies; adopting a holistic approach which looksat opportunities in other nuclear areas such as medical applications and alsonon-energy areas such as health, water, food and agriculture. The community wouldneed to be put at the centre of these efforts.

Indeveloping its further understanding of nuclear technologies, the AustralianNuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) should produce anassessment of the various nuclear technologies, and, in particular, considerthe newer and next generations of reactor, including Small Modular Reactors(SMRs). Associated with this would be an economic viability of nuclear and anassessment of the other requirements which would need to be in place. Acommunity engagement programme should be established that would “educate andinform” Australians.

There isa current moratorium on nuclear development in the country, and so theCommittee calls for a partial lifting of this which would allow, subject to theabove technology assessment, the potential development of the newer generationreactors. Moreover, development of a reactor or waste disposal site wouldrequire local community consent.

Thereport is not a consensus view of the whole Committee. The Labor members and anindependent member, Zali Steggall MP, have produced dissenting reports,included in the main report. The Labor view is, inter alia, that there is noeconomic case for pursuing nuclear and that nuclear is in decline elsewhere. Ithas come up with a number of its own alternative recommendations. Ms Stegallgoes along with the first two recommendations but says that the lifting of themoratorium is “pre-emptive”.

Thereport has been presented to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, forthe Government to take the next steps.

In termsof lifting the moratorium, the Mineral Council of Australia (MCA) recentlypoll of some 1500 people has shown support for lifting the ban rather thanopposing it, although it recognised 54% of them were unaware there was a suchmoratorium. The MCA has also welcomed the Standing Committee’s “pragmaticand methodical approach outlined in the report”, saying also “ … thecurrent bans mean Australia – with the world’s largest deposits of uranium – ismissing out on a potential industry which could employs tens of thousandsAustralians with high paying jobs, mostly in regional areas.”

We awaitwith interest what the Government’s response will be.

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Prospect Law is amulti-disciplinary practice with specialist expertise in the energy andenvironmental sectors with particular experience in the low carbon energysector. The firm is made up of lawyers, engineers, surveyors and financeexperts.

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