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Nuclear enrichment industry could lead to multi-billion-dollar economic bonanza



SOUTH Australia would benefit from a multi-billion-dollar windfall that could create hundreds of jobs, if governments embraced a new lucrative nuclear industry, experts say.

Adelaide-based researchers have found that building a uranium enrichment plant here could deliver up to $4 billion in construction investment.

For the first time, experts have quantified the financial windfall such a program would deliver to the SA economy.

They say an enrichment plant would "significantly value add" to our uranium mining. But the University College London, Australia, team also found it could help tackle climate change - fuelled by fossil fuels - provide "energy security" amid dwindling resources and potentially lead to cheaper electricity.

Researchers concluded that pursuing the controversial policy would fuel a jobs boom, with more than 1000 new roles created over the next 30 years in construction, management and decommissioning.

In a speech in Adelaide on Monday, UCL's International Energy Policy Institute director Prof Stefaan Simons will argue Australia should "consider the benefits of building, operating and maintaining a nuclear energy industry".

Speaking at the Royal Institution of Australia, Prof Simons considered a world expert in energy policy, will argue securing a "supply of enriched uranium may become an increasingly valued resource" amid growing world demand.

The chartered engineer, who moved to Adelaide last year from Britain, will say it could help South Australia address its "economic challenges" while addressing climate change. Nuclear, he believes, was not the only solution but part of a "low carbon, energy mix".

"Over the next six months, the IEPI will publish new research that will show we are entering a window in which Australia could commence significant value-adding to its abundant uranium resources with a nuclear enrichment industry, " he will tell the audience at the event co-hosted by the Grattan Institute.

"This new research will show an Australian nuclear enrichment industry, depending on the scale, could generate up to $4 billion of investment (from one plant), 600 construction jobs and provide up to 400 new permanent jobs over the next 30 years. And a similar number of decommissioning jobs. And this is just for enrichment.

"Opening new mines and constructing a conversion facility to supply the enrichment plant, and developing the nuclear fuel supply chain, would create thousands more."

He will add: "Australia should further consider the benefits of building, operating and maintaining a nuclear energy industry that would require significant investment in education and training, a highly skilled workforce and an ingrained safety culture."

Critics have questioned the safety surrounding such policies while the global uranium industry is reviewing its processes, following the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster in Japan, which was triggered by the 2011 earthquake.

Latest figures show that Australia's "abundant" uranium resources equates to almost a third of the world's supplies. The research bases its investment figures on a standard facility that could fuel a 25 gigawatt (GWe) nuclear industry. The head of UCL's research in Australia will warn that the world should "make no mistake, climate change is upon us" and it needed to address the looming energy crisis.

Prof Simons, due to speak alongside Opposition climate change spokesman Greg Hunt, said while there was a nuclear energy fear, people needed to realise burning coal was "not an option". "If you are going to be serious in decarbonising electricity to remove coal from the energy mix, I believe nuclear processes should be the only realistic option, " he told The Advertiser ahead of today's speech.

"But there could be other benefits for Australia in terms of economic growth and energy security. Nuclear could address all three parts of this trilema quite nicely."

His team's research, submitted to a leading academic nuclear research journal, comes just weeks after leading South Australians urged the state to new embrace a nuclear future to help prop up the economy.

South Australia's London-based agent-general Bill Muirhead, the founding partner of global advertising giant M &C Saatchi, believes the state is the perfect place for Australia to establish a nuclear industry, for both economy-boosting and environmental reasons.

The concept of a domestic nuclear industry was also seized on by Defence Teaming Centre chief executive officer Chris Burns whopredicted the state could become the "future Dubai of the world'' if it went nuclear.

Federal Resources and Energy Minister Gary Gray threw his support behind developing a nuclear energy industry in Australia during an industry conference in May.

But back in late April, State Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Tom Koutsantonis said there was no business case for nuclear enrichment facilities in SA and that it was not commercially viable.

South Australia hosts three of Australia's four active uranium mines - Olympic Dam, Beverley and Honeymoon. The fourth mine, Ranger, is located in the Northern Territory.

Uranium oxide concentrate from South Australia is used around the world with long-term contracts in place with Britain, France, Sweden, Finland, Belgium, Canada and the United States.


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