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Bill introduced to remove nuclear energy ban in Australia

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By Louis Allen - 
Nuclear energy ban Australia uranium Matt Canavan legislation

Senator Matt Canavan says it’s time for Australia to join the rest of the world in treating nuclear energy as a “safe and effective option”.


Australia could soon follow in the footsteps of other leading countries that use nuclear energy as part of their power mix, after nine coalition senators backed laws to remove the nation’s nuclear energy ban.

The nine coalition senators moved to introduce a Private Senators Bill, arguing nuclear power is one of the safest forms of energy and will play a vital role in achieving the nation’s emission targets moving forward.

Nationals senator Matt Canavan said the “mood is shifting” on nuclear energy, as the public and other politicians feel the need to explore all energy options for the future.

“Australia’s unusual legislative ban against nuclear power was moved and debated with less than 30 minutes of debate in the Senate” he said.

The ban on nuclear energy originated in 1998 when the former Howard government needed to trade it off to get parliamentary support for the construction of a new, nuclear reactor for medical purposes at Lucas Heights.

Senator Canavan said the appetite for nuclear energy has grown since the government signed on to buy nuclear-powered submarines.

“People realised, given the geopolitical situation we faced, whatever hang-ups we had on nuclear energy, we needed them in our submarines,” he said.

Not everyone was in favour of the move – with federal energy minister Chris Bowen saying it was the most expensive form of power Australia could invest in.

Mr Bowen said industry groups suggested Australia would need about 80 nuclear plants to produce the electricity it needed.

“That is one (for) every second MP. Put your hand up if you would like one,” he said.

In the past year, other leading countries have embraced nuclear power, with the UK and France announcing plans to build new nuclear power stations, while Japan works to reopen its existing ones.

Nuclear energy a ‘safe and effective option’

Senator Canavan said now was the time to open discussions on energy options for the future.

“Australia has made it almost illegal to build baseload coal or gas power stations. We cannot continue to deny our country all reliable power options, including nuclear,” he said.

“The nuclear ban may cause decades of pain if we continue to deny our country reliable power alternatives.”

Research has shown nuclear power results in fewer deaths than dam failures, oil rig explosions and instances where people fall when installing solar panels.

Across the globe, nuclear power produces double the electricity than that of solar and wind, yet between 1965 and 2018, global investment on solar and wind has reached $2.3 trillion, compared to $2 trillion on nuclear.

Senator Canavan said Australia must follow suit and support nuclear energy as an energy means of the future.

“The world is turning back to nuclear power and there are game changing developments in small modular reactor technology.”

“With the world’s largest uranium reserves, Australia cannot afford to be left out of global nuclear progress,” he said.

Coalition senator David Fawcett has backed senator Canavan’s claims, saying he believed nuclear power was the best option for the long term.

“The 2022 OECD NEA report on meeting emissions targets highlights that wind and solar will not get us to net zero and will send us broke trying,” he said.

Bill gets the ball rolling

The push to overturn the nuclear energy ban is not intended to force the construction of nuclear power plants in the country, but, instead, get the ball rolling on discussions regarding future energy supply, in an effort to avoid a crisis.

In order to construct a nuclear power station, a licence under the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act 1998 is still required, as well as a permit under the Nuclear Non Proliferation (Safeguards) Act 1987, and also needing to comply with other state or territory laws.

Senator Jacinta Price said Australia needs to fully support nuclear power to achieve its ambitious emission goals and targets.

“If we truly as a nation want the cleanest and most reliable energy source there is available, then nuclear power is the logical option,” she said.