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uranium enrichment, nuclear futures « Previous | |Next »
June 19, 2007

Uranium enrichment is consistently denied as not being an option in Australia, but it is being discussed and planned for away from the public's eye. The nuclear industry has always been secretive. Secret men's business as it were. So we don't really know what is really going on concerning the Howard government's thinking about nuclear energy.


We can piece together bits and pieces. We know that the sites for that are being talked about for uranium enrichment plant are Caboolture north of Brisbane and Redcliffes (Port Pirie) north of Adelaide in South Australia. Uranium is hot and uranium mining is being treated the same as any other mining. So why not value add?

We know that is the position of John Howard. He says that the export of uranium requires looking at enrichment as there is significant potential for Australia to increase and add value to our uranium extraction and exports. The Olympic Dam mine, owned and operated by BHP Billiton, holds the world’s largest known uranium ore deposit, with about 66% of Australia’s proven reserves. The mining and enriching uranium at Olympic Dam in South Australia is linked to exporting uranium to India and China via the Adelaide-Darwin rail line. Does that mean re-importing the waste the same way for storage at the former nuclear test site at Maralinga?

On this kind of logic it makes sense for a private firm to build an enrichment plant at or near the Olympic Dam uranium mine. Hence it is no surprise that Nuclear Fuel Australia is planning to present a uranium enrichment feasibility plan to the Government.

The signs point to the Howard Government 's nuclear policy including enhanced exports, nuclear waste imports, uranium enrichment, nuclear waste reprocessing, and even nuclear power generation, thereby rekindling Australia's early Cold War nuclear ambitions.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:33 AM | | Comments (14)


If it is so pressing and logical to value add to uranium exports, why aren't we rushing to value adding all of our other primary production exports?

The whole nuclear non-debate has been bizarre from it's initiation. I supppose it's because it is being framed by the politics and not by the needs.

is that framing by politics refer to uranium enrichment being linked up with Bush's Global Energy Partnership Plans for a nuclear future in the US?

Are you referring to the way Howard has re-orientated Australia's national interests and security concerns towards the United States in foreign and defence policies to the extent of Howard accepting a Republican Washington's big picture as Australia's own?

You may find this essay--- Austral Australia's New Nuclear Ambitions by Richard Broinowski in Austral Policy Forum 06 (24A 24 July 2006) of interest.

It says that John Howard has contributed Australian technology and research towards Bush's National Missile Defence system - a sure-fire way to encourage regional nuclear proliferation.

He has supported Bush's decision to walk away from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia.

He has applauded Bush's Nuclear Posture Review of December 2001 and National Security Strategy of September 2002, which together lowered traditional US barriers to the use of nuclear weapons by sanctioning their deployment against suspected adversaries including non nuclear weapons states.

In May 2006, while he was still on a visit to the United States, Mr Howard called for what he characterised as a 'full-blooded debate' on all aspects of nuclear technology as part of a review of Australia's energy resources and their role in global warming.

There was no doubt where his own sympathies lay. Australia, he asserted on 17 July 2006, has a massive opportunity to become an energy superpower by selling more uranium on world markets. 'We are part of the nuclear fuel cycle whether we like it or not', he declared. 'The real question is whether Australia should fully consider our interests and responsibilities in the global nuclear energy debate or whether we succumb to a dogma of denial'.

It is pretty clear where the Howard Government stands.

Public servant,
I did not know about the Nautilus Institute at RMIT. Thanks for that link.

I see that Richard Broinowski has another essay Australian nuclear weapons: the story so far; an essay about the hidden, or forgotten, history of Australian moves to acquire or develop nuclear weapons. it is based on his book Fact or Fission - the Truth about Australia's Nuclear Ambitions (Scribe, 2003). Hmmmm.

I think people need to separate Nuclear Power from Nuclear Weapons. They are quite obviously 2 separate issues. Yes true they do both use Uranium but its a bit like comparing my toaster to the electric chair because they both use electricity.

reading the Richard Broinowski's essays indicates that Howard's recent proposal for urnaium enrichment fits into the nuclear industry /powerr tradition. It is the ALP that represents the break with this tradition.

logically you are right.There is a big difference.

But the nuclear power tradition historically unifies the two--eg., uranium was secretly enriched in Australia at a Sydney reactor 20-years ago. Enriched uranium is the fuel that runs nuclear power stations and can be used to build nuclear weapons.

An ABC investigation reports that enrichment technology was secretly being developed at Sydney's Lucas Heights reactor during the mid 1980's before the program ran out of money.

the '50s and '60s Australia actively, if sporadically, tried to acquire nuclear weapons. And we were among the last and most reluctant adherents to the Non-Proliferation Treaty when it was concluded in the early 1970s. At that time, with American engagement in Asia diminishing after Vietnam, Australia was focused on the need to look after itself in Asia. As one classified Defence Department analysis said in 1974, "a necessary condition for any defence of Australia against a major power would be the possession by Australia of a certain minimum credibility of strategic nuclear capability".

Howard continues the ambiguity of the nuclear tradition. Australia value adds uranium by enriching it before sellin git to India which is a nuclear power that has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and refuses to. Why so? To make money and to contain China.

Who is talking about nuclear weapons? Well, no one is, directly. But the question is there, as Hugh White points out, lurking just below the surface. Building an enrichment plant would take Australia a huge step closer to the capacity to build nuclear weapons.

I note that the Switkowski Report on Australia's nuclear future had a tolerant approach to the issue or uranium enrichment.

The report did recommend that the Government should not discourage development of an enrichment capability if the commercial prospects improved. And it hardly touched on the strategic implications of an enrichment industry in Australia, beyond warning that "any proposed domestic investment would require Australia to reassure the international community of its nuclear non-proliferation objectives".

I am not having a go at anyone in particular. Just a general observation about blog comments and radio talk back. Whenever there is a discussion about Nuclear power plants many people start chimming in with nuclear proliferation and wars and all manner of bad things when really the discussion was about power stations.
A good ad campaign would be "Nuclear power stations don't launch missiles"

I see the jury found Hurley Not Guilty on both charges.

the key is not nuclear power stations --it is uranium enrichment plants.The former depends on the latter. As Marko Beljac says:

most of the world's civil nuclear reactors are light water thermal reactors that typically use uranium enriched to some 3-4% of the isotope uranium (U)-235. Natural uranium (U-238), which is mined at places such as Olympic Dam and Ranger, contains about 0.7% U-235.

So a uranium enrichment plant is needed. In steps Nuclear Fuel Australia Limited, which is studying the feasibility of a uranium enrichment plant which could be operational by 2015. The plant - modelled on Urenco's National Enrichment Facility in the U.S. - would cost A$2.5 billion to build, with construction able to take place from 2010-15.

It is little wonder that people go from nuclear to the bomb the way they do when Australia consistently points the finger at the way civil enrichment plants can and have been have been misused in nuclear weapons programs in Iran

If it happens elsewhere then it can happen in Australia given the history of the nuclear power industry in Australia outlined in Richard Broinowski's essays. What's good for the goose is good for the gander as it were.

It does look as if the uranium enrichment ban will be lifted if the Howard Government is re-elected and remain in place if the ALP is re-elected. Australia is seen as a good base for servicing the growing Asia-Pacific market for nuclear power fuel.

As Hugh White points out the national security implications of an uranium enrichment plant is the underground current in all of this; one that is rarely spoken. However, the debate on uranium enrichment must include wider strategic considerations.

it's not just uranium enrichment that is being considered as economic development.Lots of money can be made from nuclear waste disposal. Look at this 2006 submission to the Uranium Mining, Processing and Nuclear Energy Review Secretariat c/- Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet by our dear friends at the Institute of Public Affairs.

May an earthquake rock them in their building at Collins Street

Yes there it goes again. Comparing Australias use for nuclear power with Irans nuclear weapons plans.

you ignore what is in common--uranium enrichment. You are pretending that it is not happening.

I don't think that I am ignoring anything. I am just saying that I think nuclear power for Australia is worth a try. As is solar and maybe what Geodynamics is doing.