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Mining industry re-ignites nuclear debate

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South Australia’s peak mining and energy body has called for a “mature debate” on nuclear energy.

Citing a recent survey it commissioned, the South Australian Chamber of Mines and Energy (SACOME) claims a greater proportion of South Australians support nuclear power than oppose it.

It says the survey results dispel common misconceptions and demonstrates the need for a mature debate on the development of a nuclear industry.

A survey into the attitudes of 1,216 randomly selected South Australians towards uranium and nuclear power found that 48 per cent support nuclear power while only 33 per cent recorded any level of opposition.

The survey, conducted by market research company, ReachTel, also found consistency across all age groups, recording a majority support for nuclear power.

Less than one-third of all respondents opposed it, and one-fifth remained neutral.

“A key aspect of responses to this question was the level of strong opinions expressed, with 29 per cent strongly supporting and only 20 per cent strongly opposing nuclear power – in other words, there are more staunchly pro-nuclear than anti-nuclear advocates,” SACOME Chief Executive Jason Kuchel said.

The issue of nuclear power and the steps required for seeing its introduction in Australia is a focus of the latest issue of the SA Mines & Energy Journal, with international uranium companies saying they would warmly welcome a revision of current policies and pledging interest in doing business in Australia if prohibitions on uranium and nuclear are reduced.

The journal also includes special features on the history of how prohibition laws came about, along with the economic case for an Australian nuclear fuel cycle.

SACOME also pointed to the results of another survey (published in The Advertiser) where more than half (58.6 per cent) of the respondents to a FutureSA poll said nuclear power should be allowed in South Australia.

The State Government’s position on nuclear power has been a controversial one.

In mid-2011 then-Mines Minister Tom Koutsantonis proposed the development of a uranium enrichment industry in Australia and called for a debate at the ALP national conference. Koutsantonis told a mining conference in Adelaide in May 2011, that Australia should maximise uranium profits and provocatively pointed to the nuclear crisis in Japan as proof that enrichment should be embraced.

“No deaths have been attributed to radiation (in Japan),” Koutsantonis told the annual Paydirt uranium conference.

“I am not joining the chorus of naysayers. I urge you to step up to the plate and argue the safety of nuclear reactors. I will stand with you and argue that case.”

Koutsantonis said the old way of digging something out of the ground and sending it offshore had to change.

“We’ve got to start looking at uranium exports and how we can value add here to get the maximum bang for our buck,” he said.

“One day, down the track, were going to have to start enriching uranium … we need to start the debate.”

Less than a year later, that position had changed, with Koutsantonmis telling another conference in February 2012 that Australia has no need and no social licence to develop nuclear power.

He said that while he fully supported uranium mining, the debate over nuclear power was a non-starter.

“It’s not just a question of political will,” Koutsantonis said.

“The truth is you need a social licence to operate and there is not a social licence for nuclear power.

“The Australian public don’t want it.

“I don’t think it’s economic, I don’t think it’s viable and I don’t think it’s politically saleable.”

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