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Page last updated at 06:20 GMT, Thursday, 15 October 2009 07:20 UK

Australia 'open' to atomic energy

The Lucus Heights nuclear reactor in Sydney - undated file photo
Australia's only nuclear reactor is in Sydney

There has been a significant shift in support for nuclear power in Australia, according to a poll.

It has found that almost one in two people believe the technology should be considered as an alternative source of energy to coal or other fossil fuels.

Proponents of nuclear energy said it showed Australians were more open to the technology as a means to help combat the effects of climate change.

In 2006 one-third of people surveyed supported the atomic energy option.

Now, almost 50% believe it would be a sensible alternative source of energy in a country that is heavily dependent on fossil fuels.

'Safer'

Australia is one of the world's worst per capita emitters of greenhouse gases and scientists have warned it is particularly vulnerable to the effects of a shifting climate.

Supporters of nuclear power have insisted it is the only practical low-emissions substitute for coal.

"There is a shift. People are more open to it again because they can see the damage that carbon dioxide is doing," the former premier of New South Wales, Bob Carr, told ABC News.

"It is coal that's the poison and there's been impressive progress in the handling of nuclear waste and reactor safety."

Barry Green, one of Australia's leading nuclear physicists, said the technology is improving all the time.

"The fission community - R&D community - is working very hard to produce advanced reactors that will reduce the radioactive waste problem, which will be safer... And it strikes me that certainly you cannot shut nuclear fission out of the debate at all," he said.

Despite such reassurance, critics remain concerned about the risk of accidents and the awkward issue of safely storing radioactive waste.

Opponents have also stressed that it would take too long for Australia to develop a nuclear power industry.

The federal government has no plans to go down the nuclear path, preferring instead to investigate clean coal technology and a raft of renewable energy sources.

Australia has just one atomic facility at Lucas Heights on the outskirts of Sydney, which is used mainly to produce radiopharmaceuticals.



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