A royal commission into South Australia's nuclear industry will explore alternative energy potential

An inquiry has been commissioned into the potential for nuclear power in SA. Photo: Getty Images

South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill has announced an inquiry to investigate the potential “practical, financial and ethical issues” of nuclear fuel in South Australia.

The Australian-first royal commission would look at the state’s involvement in the mining, enrichment, energy and storage phases of nuclear power, ABC reported.

“We believe South Australians should be given the opportunity to explore the practical, financial and ethical issues raised by a deeper involvement in the nuclear industries,” Weatherill said.

“We need to understand the technological advances which are allowing there to be very different offerings in both the nuclear energy space but also solar energy and in wind power, all of these matters will bear on the considerations that South Australians need to make.”

Nuclear physicist Ziggy Switkowski, who led the 2006 Commonwealth government inquiry into the feasibility of a domestic nuclear power industry, told The Australian that the royal commission’s findings may present opportunities for the generation and assembly of nuclear-powered submarines in SA.

The construction of submarines in the Festival State has been a contentious matter for Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who – facing a leadership spill today – has attempted to bring South Australian MPs onside with a previously unseen pledge to hold a competitive bid into the $20 billion tender to build new Australian submarines.

Former PM Bob Hawke, who has, for decades, backed the siting of a nuclear waste dump in SA said the commission was “a hell of a good idea”.

“The Labor Party has shown that it has a degree of flexibility in the nuclear debate, particularly with export of uranium,” Hawke said.

Australia has been mining uranium ore since 1954, with three mines currently in operation and more planned. Australia’s known uranium resources are the world’s largest, accounting for 31% of the globe’s total reserves.

And while all production is exported, the World Nuclear Association says the country’s high reliance on coal and likely carbon constraints on electricity generation may lead to the possibility of nuclear energy as an alternative to fossil fuels.

The value of Australia’s uranium oxide concentrate exports is considerable, and in 2009 reached a value of over $1.1 billion.

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