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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 June 2006, 10:01 GMT 11:01 UK
Australia press split over nuclear review
Lucas Heights nuclear reactor in Sydney
Australia currently has one research reactor in Lucas Heights

Australian commentators are divided over Prime Minister John Howard's decision to commission a study into whether the country should develop nuclear power.

For some, such as Peter Hartcher in The Sydney Morning Herald, the issue shouldn't even be on the table.

"Australia, one of the world's great energy exporters, does not have an energy shortage," he says. "Even if Australia did have a shortage of energy, nuclear power is not the answer."

He believes the numbers just don't add up.

It is not for government to pick and choose between nuclear, clean coal, hydro or any other method of generating electricity
The Australian

"It is not commercially viable anywhere in the world without substantial government subsidy," he argues.

"It is even less viable in Australia, a country awash in cheap alternatives."

The Australian agrees that Mr Howard should let economics decide the outcome.

"It is not for government to pick and choose between nuclear, clean coal, hydro or any other method of generating electricity," the paper says. "The role of government is to ensure there is a rules-based marketplace."

If the government feels it must intervene in order to rein in greenhouse emissions, the paper maintains, "it should do by setting national environmental standards, rather than by pushing for one particular solution for power generation".

Open debate

Others, however, argue that the pros and cons of nuclear power must be examined in full before any decision is taken.

"The debate on the merits or otherwise of nuclear power needs to be a rational, objective assessment based on hard science, economics and fact," says Guy Webber in The Australian.

"It must be open and public so that the issues, supported by reference material that is peer reviewed and unbiased, can be appraised," he adds.

Also writing in The Australian, Steve Lewis agrees that the idea of using nuclear power needs to be considered.

"Australia, with 40% of the world's uranium reserves, must have this debate," he says.

"We should look to a future where Australia can value-add to this precious mineral, not simply export it to energy-guzzling nations such as China."

All the same, he argues, Mr Howard faces a tough battle to win over public opinion.

"The prime minister spent several hours yesterday convincing his cabinet colleagues of the merits of a full-blooded nuclear inquiry," he points out.

"It will take much longer to convince a sceptical community of the benefits of going nuclear."

Howard's mistake

Meanwhile, Michael Gordon in The Age takes issue with Mr Howard's decision to announce a review that will focus on nuclear power "in isolation, without examining how it stacks up against the various alternatives".

"This is a mistake," he warns. "The key to any decision to tread further down the nuclear path is whether that decision will be cleaner, greener, cheaper and safer than what else is on offer."

"This is a modest, limited and hastily announced start to the debate," he adds. "But it is a beginning."

Please note: The report above was revised subsequent to publication following a complaint from Mr Guy Webber, one of the sources quoted. The revisions are to ensure that the views Mr Webber expressed in his original article are accurately reflected.

For a full version of Mr Webber's article as published in The Australian, please visit the newspaper's website (see hyperlink in sidebar).

BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaux abroad.

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