World Nuclear Association welcomes South Australian nuclear review

The World Nuclear Association (WNA) has welcomed South Australia's review into whether the state should expand the role of nuclear energy in the state.

Earlier this week the state announced a Royal Commission into the potential expansion of the nuclear production chain.

The inquiry will include an examination of the extent to which uranium ore is processed in the state, and whether further processing in order to value-add to the product.

SA premier Jay Weatherill said he had previously held opinions against any further nuclear development in the state, including nuclear waste storage or power generation, however he was prepared to consider those options having changed more open-minded about the potential for economic benefits for the state.

“It seems that nuclear energy, at least in the large scale transmission form, is not something which would be economically viable in South Australia or even indeed the nation, although technological changes are occurring with much smaller nuclear generation plants,” he said.

“And of course [there is] the question of enrichment, adding value to the ore that we send over in a relatively unprocessed manner.

“All of those things are within the scope of this inquiry, some would be less likely than others.”

His state would follow both Queensland and NSW reversing their policies on uranium exploration in their states.

The WNA has thrown its support behind South Australia's recent decision.

"This will lead to an objective assessment of the facts about nuclear energy and should identify the most realisable economic opportunities on offer to South Australia – and indeed the country – as well as formally recognise the immense greenhouse gas saving contribution that the technology is capable of making," it stated.

"The Royal Commission presents the chance to dispense with [Australia's] fundamentally outdated and unscientific policy [on the nuclear energy fuel cycle] forever."

Agneta Rising, WNA director general, commented: “It is only natural that a technologically sophisticated country like Australia should seek to make expanded use of the nuclear fuel cycle as it attempts to address its climate and energy challenges. The country is already home to at least one of the most advanced nuclear research and medical facilities in the world, not to mention being one of the largest suppliers of uranium.”  

The World Nuclear Association added: "The global nuclear industry stands ready to support the expansion of fuel-cycle activities within South Australia, and especially a reactor program. Australia's well-equipped political, legal and educational structures mean that any such program could be started swiftly – with the support of experienced international partners. This would act as a growth engine for local and regional economies where facilities are sited, creating employment and business opportunities over many decades."

The decision comes on the back of what has been described as a "perfect storm", for resurrecting the global uranium industry. 

Speaking at the 2014 Africa Down Under Conference, Deep Yellow Limited’s managing director, Greg Cochrane, said nuclear energy growth was underestimated.

He said uranium demand out of China, India, Russia and the Middle East would create a 70 million pound supply gap by 2020.

“When one looks at uranium supply, new project development has mostly stalled, the HEU secondary supply stream is finished, there has been a widespread curtailment of production and at least 12 to 15 new uranium mines are needed globally by 2020,” Cochrane explained.

“The sector’s strategic response for the development of new mines will only commence when the trigger price moves beyond US$80 a pound, probably between 2016 and 2020.”

The comments came as prime minister Tony Abbott signed a uranium export deal with India which will see Australian uranium power nuclear reactors in the country.

Australia has about 40 per cent of the world's uranium reserves and exports nearly 7,000 tonnes of yellow cake annually. Though the top trading partner is China, the deal would ensure regular shipments for nuclear energy starved India.

Rio Tinto has also thrown its support behind uranium. 

However, Rio Tinto’s energy chief Harry Kenyon-Slaney late last year warned punters should not get too carried away with a spike in the uranium price, predicting an uptake in the industry was years away.

“The uranium market has been very weak for a long period of time,” he said.

“Over the long-term we will need all supplies of electricity and the need for nuclear power and the growth in nuclear power, particularly in china is self-evident.

“But at the moment the industry is going through some very tough times and at some point new production will have to be incentivised in order to deliver into the power programs, particularly in china but also in many other countries around the world.

“This is going to take time.”

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