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Tuesday, 13 October 1970

Mr Stewart asked the Minister for National Development, upon notice:

What are the respective (a) advantages and (b) disadvantages to Ausatralia if (i) natural uranium or GO enriched uranium is adopted as the fuel for our nuclear power stations.

Mr Swartz - The answer to the honourable member's questions is as follows:

Under Australian conditions, the costs of nuclear power derived from natural uranium and enriched uranium may not be very different. Actual figures must depend upon the evaluation of specific sites and of specific tenders called for such sites.

Cost of power is, however, not the only consideration. Natural uranium power ' stations generally have higher capital costs than enriched fuel stations. This is offset by the fact that natural uranium fuel is cheaper than enriched uranium fuel, and this effect persists throughout the life of the station. Part of the extra cost of natural uranium stations is the cost of heavy water, in the cases where it is used. Supply of the initial heavy water charge would be the responsibility of the successful contractor. The heavy water is not consumed like fuel although some reactor types require some makeup of irrecoverable heavy water. We would not be in a position to manufacture heavy water in Australia for some years.

Australia has adequate resources of natural uranium to sustain a nuclear power programme. The manufacture of natural uranium fuel could be carried out in Australia and this could constitute significant savings of foreign exhange. Manufacture of zircaloy fuel cladding could also be accomplished in Australia within a few years.

Although Australia may one day be able to enrich its own uranium, that day is some way off and it is not yet certain what the cost of that operation would be. Purchase of enrichment services overseas would cost a considerable amount of foreign exchange, and would make the nuclear power industry dependent upon the ability and willingness of foreign powers, at present only one, but in the future perhaps two or three, not only to continue to supply, but to do so at an acceptable cost.

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