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Wednesday, 4 December 2019
Page: 5010

Senator McGRATH (QueenslandDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (12:50): It is time that we had a serious conversation about nuclear power in Australia. In July this year I joined my colleague Keith Pitt, the member for Hinkler, in calling for an inquiry into the nuclear economy in Australia and exploring the opportunities associated with capitalising on our uranium-rich nation. I commend the Liberal-National government for establishing a parliamentary inquiry, which is currently being chaired by my fellow Sunshine Coast colleague the member for Fairfax, Ted O'Brien.

As a resource-rich nation it is reasonable that we take the necessary steps to understand the state of the nuclear industry in Australia. Specifically, it is vital that we understand the research and development from around the globe. Most of all, it is crucial that we consider the benefits of a domestic nuclear industry to the national economy—in particular, the capacity for Australia to benefit domestically through the uptake of existing nuclear technologies or from new and emerging nuclear reactor technologies, such as the small modular reactor that is currently being developed in North America.

Additionally, with our significant endowment of uranium, it makes sense that we explore all the steps of the nuclear fuel cycle, such as fabrication, fuel enrichment, reprocessing, mining and the exporting of uranium and other fuels. It is well documented that Australia is uranium rich. Indeed, we hold 30 per cent of the world's uranium. However, we are only the third-largest producer, currently behind Kazakhstan and Canada, of uranium. With no doubt, Australia's uranium can only be used for peaceful purposes, such as civil nuclear power and nuclear medicine, which we can ensure through stringent trade agreements in addition to the International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. If anything, we are best positioned to exploit uranium and use our foreign relationships to ensure that it's only being used for energy generation, not for other purposes. On the environmental front, the inquiry has explored the extent to which nuclear and existing electricity generation sources contribute to greenhouse gas emissions through their life cycles.

I propose that our approach should align with the other 31 countries, including France and the United States: that we seek to implement nuclear energy to support our energy grid and ensure baseload power. As it is fully feasible, the domestic nuclear industry presents an opportunity not only to generate affordable and emission-free energy but also to foster our untapped potential in science and research that includes nuclear medicine, material and agricultural research, and world-class training and employment opportunities. The Minerals Council of Australia reports that as Australia begins to realise its uranium potential it would equate to an approximate $9 billion industry by 2040 and deliver more construction and higher-skilled jobs. This data is reinforced by the success of the nuclear industry in other countries around the world. This is also supported by countless examples and evidence from around the globe which demonstrate new technologies, like small modular reactors, which are both effective and safe for constructing and developing nuclear energy.

Additionally, these technologies have come a long way in managing the by-product through enhanced safety methods and configurability that is designed to produce less waste. This enhanced safety conforms well to Australia's stringent workplace and health regulations that will ensure that we can manage any environmental and storage hurdles. This aligns with improving technology to see countries like France and the United States, along with 29 other countries, operate nuclear power reactors and save 2.2 billion tonnes in global CO2 emissions.

As it stands, Australia is the only G20 country that prohibits nuclear power. Nuclear may in fact be our long-term, environmentally friendly solution to generating energy and, most importantly, bringing down energy prices. Take France, which not only produces three-quarters of its electricity with nuclear but also pays 15 per cent less for its electricity than fellow EU counterparts. It's time we had a serious adult conversation about nuclear. As well documented, the threats and dangers of nuclear are spawned out of either regulatory mismanagement or corruption. However, what we can't allow are the nay-sayers and the conspiracy theorists, who mostly come from the left side of politics, who are stopping the country from having this grown-up conversation.