South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill has revived the nuclear power debate after announcing a Royal Commission to investigate the costs and benefits of deepening the state’s involvement in the nuclear industry.
“We believe South Australians should be given the opportunity to explore the practical, financial and ethical issues raised by a deeper involvement in nuclear industries,” he said on Sunday.
“The truth is we are already in the nuclear fuel cycle – I mean we are selling uranium to the world.”
Mr Weatherill said the aim of the Royal Commission would be to open a “mature and robust conversation” about South Australia’s future participation in a nuclear fuel cycle, including the prospects for setting up nuclear power stations, uranium enrichment plants and a nuclear waste dump in the state.
The setting up of the Royal Commission follows lobbying by prominent South Australian business figures for an independent evaluation of nuclear power and enrichment proposals for the state.
In June last year, The New Daily revealed that a group of high-powered businessmen and scientists led by former News International director Bruce Hundertmark had formed a new company to prepare business proposals for nuclear power stations in South Australia.
Apart from Mr Hundertmark, the board of South Australian Nuclear Energy Systems Pty Ltd, includes Ian Kowalick, the former chief of staff to ex-Liberal premier John Olsen.
“The Royal Commission at least opens up debate to development possibilities,” he said.
South Australian Nuclear Energy Systems has been discussing its business proposals with Federal and State politicians, with a view to amending laws that ban nuclear power generation.
The Commonwealth Biodiversity Act currently prohibits the deployment of nuclear power stations throughout Australia.
Mr Hundertmark told The New Daily last year that the company had identified international capital sources for funding local nuclear projects and had formed connections with global players.
“The funding of the things that need to be done is not a real problem – the problem is to get the legislative changes needed,” he said at the time.
Australian Conservation Foundation spokesman David Sweeney warned that the Royal Commission could merely be a pretext for conditioning South Australians to the prospect of establishing a nuclear waste dump.
“There’s no doubt that a large part of this inquiry is to de-sensitise people to the idea of creating an international radioactive waste dump in the state,” he said.
“People need to be wary of the possibility that the inquiry is just a Trojan horse for getting a waste dump built.”
Mr Sweeney said any independent inquiry would find that the economic case for nuclear power did not stack up.
“As far as nuclear power is concerned, this is a fanciful exercise because of the outstanding growth of renewable alternatives,” he said.
Mr Weatherill said the government would finalise the terms of reference for the Royal Commission in consultation with experts.