From: Michael Perry, Reuters
Published May 22, 2006 12:00 AM

Australia May Develop Nuclear Power, Says Prime Minister Howard

SYDNEY — Prime Minister John Howard says he has an open mind on the development of nuclear power in Australia, which has 40 percent of the world's known reserves of uranium, and has called for a full debate on the issue.

Howard said soaring oil prices and environmental concerns from existing fossil-fuel energy were adding pressure for change in the way nations produced energy, predicting that "the nuclear energy scene will change significantly in Australia".

"I want a full-blooded debate in Australia about this issue and I want all of the options on the table," Howard told a news conference in Canada on Friday.

"I have a very open mind on the development of nuclear energy in my own country and that includes an open mind on whether or not Australia should in fact process uranium for the purposes of providing fuel for nuclear power in the future," Howard said in a transcript made available on Saturday.

"The pressure for change is driven in part by environmental considerations, it's driven in part by the soaring price of fuel, it's driven in part by a realisation that confronting the challenge of high energy pricing is one of the big economic challenges."

Australia is one of the world's top coal producers and the Howard government has steadfastly supported the industry in the face of calls for more renewable energy, but until now it has not openly raised the idea of nuclear power.

Treasurer Peter Costello, heir apparent to the prime minister, said this week that nuclear power would cost twice as much as coal power, adding that nuclear energy was not economically right for Australia at the present time because it had such large resources of gas and coal.

The development of nuclear power in Australia could prove politically difficult with only a small majority of people in favour of nuclear energy. A survey in 2005 found 47 percent of Australians supported nuclear power and 40 percent opposed it.

The Labor federal opposition and all six state governments, also Labor, oppose nuclear power or even further uranium mines. Australia has a strict three-mines uranium policy and has so far not moved to expand the number of mines despite lobbying by uranium miners.

"Labor will not change that view. I look forward to Labor changing John Howard's nuclear fantasy," said opposition environment spokesman Anthony Albanese, quoted on Saturday by the Sydney Morning Herald.

Scientists have said that Australia could not develop a nuclear power industry in time to stave off the effects of climate change. Greenpeace Australia says that even if there was a doubling of nuclear energy by 2050 it would only reduce greenhouse gas emissions by five percent, well below the large cuts scientists say are necessary.

Source: Reuters

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