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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 November 2006, 04:45 GMT
Australia report gives nuclear nod
The Lucas Heights reactor near Sydney
Australia currently only has one research reactor at Lucas Heights
Nuclear power is a viable option for meeting Australia's future energy needs, a new government report says.

The report, ordered by PM John Howard in June, said Australia could have a nuclear enrichment and power industry within 10 to 15 years.

It said the country could have about 25 nuclear reactors, supplying one-third of its electricity needs by 2050.

Australia has about 40% of the world's uranium, but most of its energy needs at present are met by coal and gas.

Mr Howard ordered the report to look at whether Australia should develop a nuclear industry, which successive governments have so far shunned.

"Nuclear power is the least costly, low-emission technology that can provide baseload power available today and can play a role in Australia's future generation mix," the report said.

Greenhouse emissions

The report - by a team of experts, led by nuclear physicist Ziggy Switkowski - said that nuclear power could be competitive with coal-fired power if pollution and carbon emissions were taxed.

Ziggy Switkowski
Mr Switkowski led the study into the feasibility of nuclear energy

A shift to nuclear energy would also help the country tackle pollution and cut greenhouse emissions.

Because of its heavy dependence on coal, Australia at present has the highest per capita greenhouse emissions in the world.

The move towards nuclear has been questioned by Mr Howard's political opponents.

The opposition Labor Party, which introduced a ban on any new uranium mines while in power in 1983, asked him to explain where the nuclear reactors would be built and where the radioactive waste would be dumped.

"If [Mr] John Howard is re-elected, we will go down an inexorable course for 25 nuclear reactors in this country and tens of thousands of tonnes of nuclear waste," news agency Reuters quoted Labor leader, Kim Beazley as saying.

The move has also been opposed by the environmental and coal lobbies.

Critics argue that Australia does not need nuclear power because of its huge coal resources.

But the Meteorology Bureau's announcement in January that 2005 had been Australia's hottest year on record prompted renewed fears of global warming.

Australia is one of only two major industrialised nations not to have signed the Kyoto agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the other being the US.

Australia faces international pressure to reduce emissions, and experts say nuclear power could be one way to do it.

Australia currently has one small research reactor, located at Lucas Heights in Sydney.

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