Nuclear power in Australia

Nuclear power in Australia

Nuclear power in Australia is a heavily debated concept. Australia currently has no nuclear facilities generating electricity, however, Australia has 23% of the world's uranium deposits[1] and is the world's second largest producer of uranium after Kazakhstan. At the same time, Australia's extensive, low-cost coal and natural gas reserves have historically been used as strong arguments for avoiding nuclear power.[2]

In 2005, the Australian government threatened to use its constitutional powers to take control of the approval process for new uranium mines from the anti-nuclear Northern Territory government. The government is also negotiating with China to weaken safeguard terms to allow uranium exports there.[citation needed] States controlled by the Australian Labor Party are blocking the development of new mines in their jurisdictions under the ALP's "No New Mines policy."

The John Howard-led Coalition government went to the November 2007 federal election with a pro-nuclear power platform. This government was defeated by the Labor Party, however, which opposes nuclear power for Australia.[3][4]


1969 Jervis Bay Plant proposal

The Jervis Bay Nuclear Power Plant was a proposed nuclear power reactor in the Jervis Bay Territory on the south coast of New South Wales. It would have been Australia's first nuclear power plant, and was the only proposal to have received serious consideration as of 2005. Some environmental studies and site works were completed, and two rounds of tenders were called and evaluated, but the Australian government decided not to proceed with the project.

Nuclear power politics

As uranium prices began rising from about 2003, proponents of nuclear power advocated it as a solution to global warming and the Australian government began taking an interest. In late 2006 and early 2007, then Prime Minister John Howard made widely reported statements in favour of nuclear power, on environmental grounds.[5] Faced with these proposals to examine nuclear power as a possible response to climate change, anti-nuclear campaigners and scientists in Australia emphasised claims that nuclear power could not significantly substitute for other power sources, and that uranium mining itself could become a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions.[6][7]

In 2006, the Howard Government commissioned the Switkowski report, an investigation into the merits of Nuclear power in Australia. The report concluded that nuclear power would be competitive with coal power plants if Carbon credit sanctions were implemented upon Australia. The Industry would have been able to produce its first plant in 10 years and could have delivered 25 plants by 2050 supplying Australia with a third of its base load power.[8]

An independent panel of Australian scientists and nuclear experts have been critical of the findings of the Switkowski nuclear inquiry. They found that the Switkowski report relies on some flawed assumptions which reveal a bias towards nuclear power on economic, technological, health and environmental grounds.[9]

Queensland introduced legislation to ban nuclear power development on 20 February 2007.[10] Tasmania has also banned nuclear power development.[11] Both laws were enacted in response to the pro-nuclear position of John Howard,[12] and the release of the Switkowski report.[13]

Anti-nuclear campaigns were given added impetus by public concern about the sites for possible reactors: fears exploited by anti-nuclear power political parties in the lead-up to a national election in 2007.[14][15] The Rudd Labor government was elected in November 2007 and is opposed to nuclear power for Australia.[16][17] The anti-nuclear movement continues to be active in Australia, opposing expansion of existing uranium mines, lobbying against the development of nuclear power in Australia, and criticising proposals for nuclear waste disposal sites.[18]

At the same time, a number of Australian politicians feel that the development of nuclear power is in the country's best interests. Notably, on 13 June 2008, the annual New South Wales state conference of the National Party passed the resolution, proposed by the delegates from Dubbo, supporting research into the development of a nuclear power industry and the establishment of an international nuclear waste storage facility in Australia. The resolution was opposed by the delegates from NSW's north coast and by the party's state leader, Andrew Stoner.[19][20]

Nuclear power debate in Australia

In the 2010 book Why vs. Why: Nuclear Power[21] Barry Brook and Ian Lowe discuss and articulate the debate about nuclear power. Brook argues that there are various reasons why people should say "yes" to nuclear power, and these reasons include:[21]

  • Because renewable energy and energy efficiency may or may not solve the energy and climate crises
  • Because nuclear fuel is virtually unlimited and "packs a huge energy punch"
  • Because new technology solves the “nuclear waste” problem
  • Because nuclear power is the safest energy option

Lowe argues that there are various reasons why people should say "no" to nuclear power:[21]

  • Because it is not a fast enough response to climate change
  • Because it is too expensive
  • Because the need for baseload electricity is exaggerated
  • Because the problem of waste remains unresolved

Opinion polls

A McNair Gallup poll [1] on the construction of nuclear power plants in Australia was carried out in 1979. The same poll was conducted again 28 years later in 2007 by McNair Ingenuity Research, using Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing on 1,000 randomly selected people throughout Australia. A new poll was asked in 2009 which marked the first time that more people support nuclear power than oppose it. The support for nuclear power is still in a plurality not an outright majority [2] . Respondents were asked the following question:

“Do you favour or oppose the construction of nuclear power stations in Australia?” 1979 2007 2009
Favour 34% 41% 49%
Oppose 56% 53% 43%
Don’t Know 10% 6% 8%

The 1979 poll was conducted soon after the Three Mile Island Unit 2 (TMI-2) nuclear power plant accident located near Pennsylvania USA where a sequence of events lead to the partial meltdown of the TMI-2 reactor core reactor core[22].

The worst nuclear disaster in history occurred in 1986 the Chernobyl disaster, when reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant exploded resulting in a nuclear meltdown and a succession of explosions[23]. It seems from the 2007 McNair Gallup poll that the need to consider nuclear power as an alternative energy source overrides any concern that events such as the Chernobyl disaster will be repeated with more Australians conceding the need for nuclear power plants to be built in Australia.

Opposition to the construction of nuclear power plants in the 2007 poll was strongest amongst females, Greens supporters and Australians aged 18–29 and 40-49[24].

Do you favour or oppose the construction of nuclear power stations in Australia? TOTAL ALP Coalition Greens
Favour 41% 30% 59% 22%
Oppose 53% 66% 34% 78%
Don't Know 6% 4% 7% 0%

The McNair Gallup Poll showed a significant difference in opinion between ALP, Coalition and Green supporters. An overwhelming 78% of Green voters were opposed to the construction of nuclear power plants in Australia. In contrast, 34% of Coalition voters were likely to oppose the construction of nuclear power plants. The poll revealed that 59% of Coalition voters favoured the construction of nuclear power stations in Australia compared with only 30% of Labor voters.

The 2007 McNair Gallup poll found differences in responses between men and women. Men were more likely to favour the construction of nuclear power stations (55%), with twice as many males in favour of the construction of nuclear power plants in Australia than women. 41% of men were more likely to oppose the construction of nuclear power plants in Australia. In contrast, 65% of women were more likely to oppose the construction of nuclear power plants in Australia, while 28% favour the construction of nuclear power plants.

See also


  1. ^ Australia's Uranium and Nuclear Power Prospects
  2. ^ Australia report gives nuclear nod BBC 22 November 2006
  3. ^ Support for N-power falls
  4. ^ Rudd romps to historic win
  5. ^ Martin, Brian. Opposing nuclear power: past and present Social Alternatives, Vol. 26, No. 2, Second Quarter 2007, pp. 43–47. Retrieved 12 January 2008.
  6. ^ Diesendorf, Mark (2007). Paths to a Low-Carbon Future: Reducing Australia’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 30 per cent by 2020 (PDF)
  7. ^ Green, Jim (2005). Nuclear Power: No Solution to Climate Change (PDF)
  8. ^ Nuclear power in Australia within 10 years: Switkowski Sydney Morning Herald. 26 November 2006
  9. ^ Media Release 24 November 2006: Response to UMPNER draft report
  10. ^ Queensland bans nuclear facilities Aleens Arthur Robinson Client Update: Energy. 1 March 2007. Retrieved 19 April 2007.
  11. ^ Australias States React Strongly to Switkowski Report Hieros Gamos Worldwide Legal Directories 10 December 2006. Retrieved 19 April 2007.
  12. ^ Wikinews PortalAustralian nuclear debate
  13. ^ Uranium Mining, Processing and Nuclear Energy – Opportunities for Australia?
  14. ^ Matthew Franklin and Steven Wardill, PM nukes Labor's "campaign of fear", Courier-Mail, 6 June 2006.
  15. ^ Joseph Kerr and Steve Lewis, Support for N-power plants falls, The Australian, 30 December 2006.
  16. ^ Support for N-power falls The Australian, 30 December 2006. Retrieved 12 January 2008.
  17. ^ Rudd romps to historic win The Age, 25 November 2007. Retrieved 12 January 2008.
  18. ^ ABC News, Anti-nuclear campaigners say Muckaty will be dumped, 26 November 2007, Retrieved 31 January 2008.
  19. ^ Nats leader 'not keen' on nuclear power Business Spectator, 13 June 2008
  20. ^ Stoner defies Nationals' nuclear support, ABC News, 13 June 2008
  21. ^ a b c Brook, B.W. & Lowe, I. (2010). Why vs Why: Nuclear Power. Pantera Press, ISBN 978-0-9807418-5-8
  22. ^ National Museum of American History (link: Three Mile Island: The inside story. Retrieved April 2008
  23. ^ World Nuclear Association ( Chernobyl Accident. Retrieved April 2008.
  24. ^ Australian Social Science Archive ( Opinion Poll D0237: Australian Gallup Poll, July 1975. Retrieved April 2008

External links

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