John Howard's Nuclear Debate

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In mid-May 2006, Australian Prime Minister John Howard used an address to a joint houses sitting of the Canadian Parliament to foreshadow a major expansion in Australia's nuclear industry through George W. Bush's proposed Global Nuclear Energy Partnership. "In the energy area which is of course allied to climate change, Canada and Australia have much in common. We are the holders of the largest uranium reserves in the world and both of us must work together in relation to the recently proposed global nuclear energy partnership which seeks laudably to control proliferation, but we must as the holders of these vast uranium reserves, ensure that that particular partnership does not work against the interests of countries such as Canada and Australia,' he said. [1]

Two weeks later, in a speech to the annual conference dinner of the Minerals Council of Australia "need to have a comprehensive debate about all stages in relation to the nuclear fuel cycle and the relevance of that to Australia." [2]

Howard Outlines His Key Themes

Howard argued that recent changes in public opinion necessitated a re-evaluation of Australia's participation in the nuclear fuel cycle. "There is, of course, a passage of time since those accidents [Three Mile Island and Chernobyl] and the realisation that with superior technologies, the likelihood of them occurring again has been greatly diminished. There’s been, of course, the growing realisation that nuclear energy is cleaner and greener than just about any other form of (inaudible) energy. There’s also been the recognition that with the growth of countries such as India and China, there is a growing potential demand for our natural resources, "he said. [3]

Howard also foreshadowed an extension of Australia's role from solely exporting uranium to potentially including uranium enrichment plans and the establishment of a high-level nuclear waste dump. There was, he told the mining indusrty audience, a "growing realisation that in relation to uranium exports there is something fundamentally hypocritical in saying ‘well it’s too dangerous to use uranium in Australia because of the consequences, but we’re very happy to profit from the sale of it so other countries that use it can grapple with the dangers that we find unacceptable’. For all of these reasons the Government has come to the view that a proper expert inquiry into all aspects of nuclear power, whether it’s desirable and economic that we have the possibility of uranium enrichment." [4]

"But can I say this will be a debate that will attract the usual fear campaign. ... I think it’s a debate that will test the capacity of this country to maturally examine issues related to our long term energy future, and of course our long term capacity to control greenhouse gas emissions and make the necessary environmental investment that I know and you know we must make in our future and the future of our planet," he said. [5]

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