News | 19th Oct, 2010

Business in push for Victoria to go nuclear

Tuesday, 19 October 2010
Clay Lucas, The Age

Serious consideration should be given to building nuclear power stations in Victoria within decades to cope with growing demand for electricity and the need to slash carbon emissions, a report by a business think tank says.

The Committee for Melbourne, in a study to be released today, also argues that the desalination plant at Wonthaggi may need to be expanded by a third and that a second desal plant might eventually be needed in Melbourne’s west.

And it says authorities might one day have to consider adding recycled sewage to drinking water — an idea long opposed by the Brumby government.
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Predicated on a forecast by the committee that Melbourne’s population will grow to 8 million by 2060, the report also suggests the introduction of road-use charges to curb traffic jams.

Among the 170 member organisations of the Committee for Melbourne are many of the nation’s biggest engineering, legal and construction firms — some of which could potentially benefit from some of the projects proposed in the report.

Committee for Melbourne chief executive Andrew MacLeod said if Melbourne was to cope with the serious infrastructure problems it faced over coming decades, there needed to be a ‘‘serious examination’’ of options such as nuclear power.

‘‘We need to take the emotion out of this [nuclear power] debate and put the logic back in,’’ he said. ‘‘Right now we rule out nuclear, don’t even talk about it. We need to have a serious discussion.’’

The report proposes investigating a number of sites where nuclear power facilities could be built, and says that recent technological advances have cut waste and improved safety.

Ziggy Switkowski, who headed the Howard government’s 2006 review into uranium and nuclear energy, said last night that nuclear was increasingly ‘‘the only option’’ for Australia.

Dr Switkowski, who now chairs the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, a government-funded research institute at the Sydney Lucas Heights nuclear facility, said: ‘‘Which technologies are going to make the contribution, recognising they have to be able to provide electricity around the clock, 365 days a year?

‘‘If it’s not going to be coal, gas or hydro-electric power, the only option is nuclear.

‘‘Sometime after the middle of the century we are going to need and use twice the amount of energy that we currently use. Places like Hazelwood will likely have to be replaced by next-generation non-fossil fuel power stations,’’ Dr Switkowski said. ‘‘A future with nuclear power is obviously something that state planners have to think about.’’ He said 437 nuclear reactors in the world today produced 14per cent of the planet’s electricity, and this was set to grow, and become cleaner.

Environment groups bristled at the idea of Victoria going nuclear. Environment Victoria campaigns director Mark Wakeham said nuclear power was currently illegal in Victoria, and should remain so.

He said the Committee for Melbourne was trying to ‘‘grab some headlines’’ by including it in its plan. ‘‘But a plan for Melbourne’s future that’s reliant on nuclear energy is seriously lacking in credibility,’’ he said.

Mr Wakeham said the committee ‘‘should be looking at how we move away from brown coal, and move to genuinely green energy sources like solar and wind and geothermal technologies, and energy efficiency’’.

Mining and processing uranium, transporting it, and storing radioactive waste was extremely energy intensive, not the zero-emission technology that would be needed, Mr Wakeham said.

‘‘Nuclear has had its day,’’ Mr Wakeham said. ‘‘Ziggy Switkowski has been trying to drum up support for nuclear power for five years, but there is not a single company that is interested, and that’s because the economics don’t stack up, particularly in a country like Australia that has really good renewable energy resources.’’

In other findings, the report says Melbourne’s road and train network may not cope with the predicted surge in population. It suggests road pricing — charging motorists based on the distance they drive — as a way of better managing the expected traffic problems. It also calls on the state government to consider establishing a Victorian Infrastructure Commission, a statutory authority that would report to Parliament.