News National South Australia’s nuclear power push

South Australia’s nuclear power push

Qld mine uranium
Owners of mine near Townsville given EPA order. Photo: AAP
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A group of high-powered businessmen and scientists have formed a new company aimed at establishing nuclear power plants in South Australia.

The company, known as South Australian Nuclear Power Systems Pty Ltd, is chaired by merchant banker and former News International director, Bruce Hundertmark.

The company is developing a business case for getting the Federal and South Australian governments to amend laws, including the Commonwealth Biodiversity Act, which prohibit nuclear power generation in Australia.

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According to documents filed with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, the business was established in December last year – three months before the South Australian election which the Liberal Party had been expected to win.

It appears that the company’s ambitions were dealt a blow by the poll result, but recent announcements by Prime Minister Tony Abbott may have renewed hopes of government support for its strategic plans.

The federal government allocated $2.5 billion in the May budget to fund clean energy initiatives, including “clean power stations”.

At the launch of a new consulate in Houston, Texas on June 13, Mr Abbott stated that the Australian government “did not believe in ostracising any particular fuel”.

Powerful group

Other directors of the business include former ALP Federal MP turned academic, Bob Catley, and Ian Kowalick, a council member of the University of Adelaide and the former head of the Department of Premier and Cabinet during the reign of John Olsen’s Liberal Government  in the late 1990s.

The board of South Australian Nuclear Power Systems also boasts two leading scientists from the University of Adelaide who have figured prominently in climate change debates – Professor Stephen Lincoln and Professor Tom Wigley.

“The funding of the things that need to be done is not a real problem – the problem is to get the legislative changes needed.”

Mr Hundertmark declined to participate in an interview with The New Daily, but in a brief phone conversation said that climate change and the decline of South Australia’s manufacturing sector had created pressure on legislators to consider proposals to open up new industries in the energy sector.

“We’re hoping an opportunity will arise for capital investment in the nuclear industry for the purpose of creating new businesses and jobs and a future for battling South Australia,” Mr Hundertmark told The New Daily.

“The funding of the things that need to be done is not a real problem – the problem is to get the legislative changes needed.”

newdaily_240614_uranium_3Cheaper energy

South Australian electricity prices are among the most expensive in the developed world, according to the Energy Users’ Association of Australia.

In a report published last year the Australian Energy Regulator found that South Australia and Tasmania had the highest average retail electricity prices in the country.

Since 2011, rising electricity costs in South Australia have caused a blowout in the number of households being disconnected from the power system.

Mr Hundertmark believes that nuclear power would lower production costs in the South Australian economy and help to diversify the state’s industrial base.

“To get anything to work in Australia you’ve got to have some competitive advantage.”

“There’s a lot of things we can do with uranium oxide.”

It is understood that the company has held preliminary talks with international nuclear design and generation companies, including Mitsubishi.

In February, Richard M. Cherry, a prominent American businessman active in the US nuclear industry was appointed to the board.

Mr Cherry is based in Oklahoma where he has held senior consulting and executive roles in the uranium and nuclear generation sectors since the 1970s.

He is a former executive of General Atomics, a US company that has invested in South Australia’s newest uranium mine, the Four Mile Project in the Flinders Ranges.

SA Premier Jay Weatherill on Wednesday officially opened the first stage of the Four Mile mine.

newdaily_240614_uranium_4‘Energy superpower’

During his recent visit to the United States, Mr Abbott revived the Howard Government’s energy policy agenda which included a push to loosen the national ban on nuclear power generation.

Former Prime Minister John Howard fused his personal support for nuclear power into the coalition’s platform at the 2007 federal election, arguing that obstacles to Australia becoming an “energy superpower” should be removed.

Abbott echoed Howard’s rhetoric at the launch of the Houston consulate that was established to develop Australia’s links to global energy markets.

“It is prudent to do what we reasonably can to reduce carbon emissions,” he said.

“But we don’t believe in ostracising any particular fuel and we don’t believe in harming economic growth.”

In the lead up to the coalition’s softening policy stance on nuclear power generation at the 2007 election, it was revealed that government ministers had been in talks with several leading nuclear power companies including Westinghouse and Mitsubishi.

Mr Hundertmark was a key figure in the development of News Corporation’s pay television businesses in the 1990s and was later appointed to the boards of Sky Television and News International.

He is a qualified chemical engineer and worked in the British nuclear power sector before entering the media industry.

In recent years he has been an active venture capitalist in the biotechnology sector through private and publicly-listed vehicles such as Biotron Ltd.

“We must get these reactors turned out by the dozen to answer every energy need being met by fossil fuels.”

Professor Wigley, who trained as meteorologist at the Bureau of Meteorology, has actively promoted nuclear power as the most efficient method for combating climate change.

In an article published in The Conversation last year he advocated the introduction of new generation “modular” nuclear reactors to curb carbon emissions.

“We must get these reactors turned out by the dozen to answer every energy need being met by fossil fuels,” he wrote in the April 2013 article.

Funding a nuclear power industry in South Australia would require investment of up to $20 billion.

Most of that would likely flow from international investors and bank loans.

The big four Australian banks – NAB, ANZ, Westpac and Commonwealth – have tended to reduce lendng to controversial power generation projects in the last decade because of the reputational and business risks they carry.

In 2007 the National Australia Bank stated that it had a global policy of not lending to the nuclear power industry.

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