The announcements, made in late May, by the Swiss and German Governments that they will phase out nuclear power, are premature. Australia has the ability to be the voice of reason in the international nuclear debate and to advocate the merits of atomic energy for developing nations.
Civil nuclear power has, until recently, experienced an unprecedented renaissance, driven by attempts to mitigate climate change challenges and promote energy security. The Fukushima Daiichi emergency, and subsequent announcements by the Swiss and German Governments, in late May 2011, that they will phase out nuclear power stations, has led to increasing talk of the end of the “nuclear era”.
The need in emerging markets for uninterrupted, large scale, low-carbon energy will, however, offset potential demand shortfalls from the Japanese and European nuclear sectors. Australia, with its abundance of uranium assets, is in a prime position to exploit these opportunities.
Nuclear energy will continue as a fundamental element in the growth of emerging markets, as it is essential to promoting energy security. Current energy supply deficits within developing states can only be addressed by nuclear power. Although Japan’s nuclear emergency caused public concern in the BRICS states (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), it has done little to alter their long-term nuclear power aspirations. A good example is India, where 500 million people are without access to electricity, and atomic energy is essential to provide equitable access and allow the country to realise its full economic potential.
Further, atomic energy represents the best opportunity for emerging economies to decrease their carbon output, without sacrificing productivity. Unlike fossil fuels, nuclear energy emits no greenhouse gases. As argued by Zhao Chengkun, vice-president of the China Nuclear Energy Association, ‘nuclear is the only energy source that can be used on a mass scale to achieve the nation’s goal of developing cleaner energy.’
Australia has the world’s largest reserves of uranium and is currently the world’s third-largest producer, after Kazakhstan and Canada. Australia has the potential to become a nuclear ambassador, providing economic opportunities, while simultaneously promoting responsibility within the nuclear industry.
Diversifying the national export profile, away from the current iron ore and coal focus, will provide greater opportunities in the international market and help to offset the effects of price fluctuations on other commodities.
To ensure the long term viability of the sector and prevent future nuclear emergencies, it is imperative that Australia champions responsibility within the industry. The nation’s large uranium reserves and growing geopolitical profile, will afford Australia unprecedented influence in this matter.
FDI Northern Australia and Energy Security Research Programmes