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Australia Looks to Nuclear-Powered Future

  • Phil Mercer

Australian Prime Minister John Howard is backing nuclear energy as the solution to the country's power needs and a good way to help combat global warming. Mr. Howard spoke Friday after the release of a government-sponsored report which urged Australia to build 25 nuclear reactors. From Sydney, Phil Mercer has more on the story.

The government-commissioned report says Australia's future lies in nuclear energy bringing both economic and environmental advantages.

With about 40 percent of the world's uranium reserves to provide nuclear fuel, the report concludes that Australia could have 25 nuclear reactors producing about one-third of the nation's electricity by 2050. The 287-page study predicts that the nuclear option could also cut Australia's greenhouse gas emissions - among the worst in the world - by between eight and 17 percent. Greenhouse gases - a major cause of global warming - are a byproduct of burning fossil fuels such as coal. Australia is almost wholly dependent on such energy sources. Australia has only one nuclear reactor but it is used strictly for research purposes.

The conservative government is enthusiastic about the report's findings. Prime Minister John Howard says nuclear energy is an attractive option.

"Nuclear power is part of the solution both to Australia's energy and climate change challenges," he said. "Well, I think the public over time will accept it, yes, because I think Australians are very rational, sensible people. They will understand that nuclear power is clean and green."

Mr. Howard said his government would respond officially to the report's recommendations early next year, but stressed that a final decision would be made on a commercial basis. Australia's energy needs are expected to double in the next 40 years.

Australia's center-left opposition Labor Party - which controls all state governments - opposes nuclear power and relaxing restrictions on opening new uranium mines. The opposition says Mr. Howard is trying to create the perception that it is pro-environment ahead of national elections due next year.

Environmentalists also oppose nuclear power as "too expensive and too dangerous" to provide any answer to global warming. Such groups encourage investing in renewable energy sources - such as solar, wind and water power - as a way to end dependency on coal and oil.

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