Newly appointed Minerals Council chair Helen Coonan has become the latest business heavyweight to call for nuclear power to be considered as part of Australia’s future energy mix.
The former Howard government minister said the “nuclear option” should be on the table, along with renewables, as the resources industry edges away from fossil fuels in the coming decades.
Speaking to the ABC’s AM program, Ms Coonan said Australians were ready for a “sensible conversation” about nuclear power generation, which is currently outlawed in Australia.
“I think it’s time to give it a go quite frankly. There’s a long way to go, of course, because there are legislative barriers and there needs to be political will,” Ms Coonan said in her first broadcast interview as the Minerals Council of Australia’s chair.
“Certainly we would ask the Government to have an inquiry, because that will enable all of the factors to be teased out, including storage and safety and the new technology that’s now available in uranium mining.”
Ms Coonan’s push for nuclear power came as she responded to growing concerns about the future of coal, after BHP chief executive Andrew Mackenzie recently said climate change posed “an existential risk” to the planet.
Federal and state legislation blocks the development of local nuclear power generation, although calls are growing for a parliamentary inquiry into the feasibility of a local industry.
Last week, former National Party leader Barnaby Joyce suggested residents living near a nuclear reactor could be offered free nuclear power.
Ms Coonan — the first Minerals Council chair to come from outside the resources industry — did not sidestep environmental and safety concerns, but suggested Australia could consider smaller nuclear power stations, unlike the giant plants in the US, Europe and China.
“You’ve always got to be concerned about safety and that applies to nuclear power,” she said.
“It’s important to that any technology any mine and any power source is safe.”