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Australia looks at nuclear power's future

May 5, 2011 at 2:02 PM   |   Comments

PERTH, Australia, May 5 (UPI) -- Nuclear power must be seriously considered as an option globally to reduce carbon emissions, said Mining giant Rio Tinto Chairman Jan du Plessis.

"We believe that if the world is very serious about reducing carbon emissions, we're going to have to look more seriously, more extensively at nuclear energy," du Plessis told reporters following the company's annual meeting Thursday, Perth Now newspaper reports.

While du Plessis acknowledged that the prospect of nuclear energy is a sensitive issue since the disaster at Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant, still, he said, "with a view to the long-term, our firm view is that for the sake of energy security to begin with, the world is going to have to include … a certain contribution by nuclear energy, I have no doubt about it."

Rio operates the massive Ranger uranium deposit in Australia's Kakadu National Park through its subsidiary Energy Resources of Australia, supplying about 10 percent of the world's uranium market. Tepco, operator of the stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant, has been a long-standing customer.

For his part, Australian Minister for Resources and Energy Martin Ferguson, in two separate speeches Wednesday to industry groups, expressed his support for nuclear power. However, he said, nuclear power wasn't necessary for Australia because of the country's abundant supply of low-cost and reliable alternative energy sources.

"Safety must always be the No. 1 priority and we therefore welcome the reviews and any measures to strengthen and improve nuclear power systems that Fukushima has prompted," Ferguson said, adding that he disagrees with those who say the disaster means "the end of nuclear power and the end of uranium mining."

Global need for uranium will continue, Ferguson said, given the dual drivers of an increasing demand for energy and the desire to decrease emissions, "particularly in countries that do not enjoy the same abundance of renewable energy sources as Australia."

The country's uranium industry would continue to expand, Ferguson said, saying that his immediate priority was "ensuring this happens in the proper way."

Meanwhile, uranium processing at the Ranger facility has been suspended until July to prevent environmental damage resulting from the risk of a tailings dam overflowing into the Kakadu National Park.

The mine has had more than 150 leaks, spills and other incidents since it opened in 1981, amid strong opposition from Kakadu's Aboriginal community, its traditional owners, reports The Age newspaper.

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