Sydney: Australia will probably introduce a cost on carbon emissions, which may encourage the development of a nuclear power industry, said Ziggy Switkowski, chairman of the nation’s main nuclear research institute.
Broader public support will still be needed before Australia could start using nuclear power, Switkowski, a former Telstra Corp chief executive officer, told reporters on 7 March here.
Switkowski last year headed a government-ordered inquiry into the viability of nuclear power in Australia, which found that the first reactor could start up within 15 years and that 25 may be built by 2050, producing 30% of the nation’s electricity. A separate taskforce is due to report to Prime Minister John Howard by 31 May on whether to start carbon trading.
“I’m assuming that the current taskforce looking into carbon emissions will design some sort of framework that will anticipate the introduction of some kind of carbon cost,” Switkowski said. Once carbon emissions are costed and the Australian people commit themselves to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the only cost competitive, clean and safe alternative for electricity generation is nuclear power, he said.
Howard has reopened a debate about nuclear power and uranium mining in Australia, which has the world’s largest known reserves of the nuclear fuel. At present about 85% of Australia’s electricity is generated from coal.
Public attitude in Australia toward nuclear power have shifted over the past nine months to show increased willingness to consider the debate.
“There may be a considerable time ahead before the level of comfort of Australians to support nuclear power is sufficient to look at changing laws and creating an environment for the deployment of reactors,” Switkowski said. “I think that’s some way ahead.”
The cost of reducing greenhouse gas emissions is “real”, Federal Industry and Resources Minister Ian Macfarlane said at a separate conference.
“It will cost consumers of energy in Australia a significant amount of money,” Macfarlane said. The minister said he has an “open mind” over whether a cost on carbon should be introduced in Australia, either through a trading system or carbon tax, bearing in mind the need to preserve industrial competitiveness and jobs.
AGL Energy Ltd, Origin Energy Ltd and CLP Holdings Ltd’s TRUenergy Pty unit, Australia’s three largest non-government- owned energy retailers, have all said they support the introduction of carbon trading.
Switkowski, who has a doctorate in nuclear physics, was on 4 March named as chairman of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organization.