Michael Owen reports that Conservative Senator Cory Bernardi will introduce a bill in parliament today that seeks to lift a ban on nuclear power plants and enrichment and processing facilities. Southern and eastern states face a summer of potential blackouts and soaring power prices while discussion continues about clean-energy policies and the forced closures of coal-fired power stations.
South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill has asked Malcolm Turnbull to give Aborigines the “final right of veto” over any site chosen by the federal government for the planned national radioactive waste dump. Senator Bernardi, who plans to run candidates under his Australian Conservatives banner at the South Australian election in March, said he would introduce a bill today to remove bans on an Australian nuclear fuel cycle, particularly as they apply to nuclear power plants.
Former South Australian governor Kevin Scarce’s final Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission report recommended 18 months ago to lift a national ban on nuclear power so it could be used to cut Australia’s carbon emissions, and lift state and federal bans on uranium processing. Last month, former prime minister Tony Abbott called for laws to allow for the construction of nuclear power plants.
Senator Bernardi said his Nuclear Fuel Cycle (Facilitation) bill was about opening the door to an industry that could have already given Australia energy abundance, affordability and reliability. “The Senate shut the door on a nuclear energy industry two decades ago in a highly regrettable, economically, and some would argue environmentally, destructive act at the Greens’ behest,” he said. “It is time to embrace opportunities that the nuclear fuel cycle offers Australia. We are blessed with abundant uranium ... We should not just be exporting, but processing uranium for our use.”
He said the proposed legislation did not fully deregulate the nuclear fuel cycle, but if passed would “send a powerful signal to the world that we are ... open for an Australian nuclear industry”. The bill would remove sections of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (1999) and the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act (1998), which ban construction of nuclear power, fuel fabrication, enrichment or reprocessing plants, and any authorization of such facilities.
Mr Scarce’s royal commission report strongly called for South Australia to pursue storage of high-level international nuclear waste, which could deliver $100 billion in profits to the state. He said integrating a large nuclear power plant into the current network would be difficult and expensive in the short-term. High-level international nuclear waste storage would require approval from federal parliament, which the Turnbull government had indicated it was prepared to support.
Federal Labor has a longstanding constitutional opposition to nuclear waste storage. Mr Weatherill has written to the Prime Minister about the federal government’s plans to establish a national low-to-medium-level dump for domestic nuclear waste, with three SA sites under consideration: two near Kimba and one near Hawker.
In the letter obtained by The Australian, Mr Weatherill said Aboriginal leaders were deeply concerned about the Hawker proposal and urged the commonwealth to commit to “provide a local Aboriginal community with a final right of veto over any future facility proposed on their lands”.