The Bounty of Uranium, the Conundrum of Coal

By November 22, 2006Energy

Big energy news from Down Under, where an official panel has concluded, “We’ve got all this uranium lying around, why don’t we use it?” So to speak.

SYDNEY: An official commission on Tuesday recommended lifting restrictions on nuclear energy and uranium mining, setting up a showdown between a government eager to harness ample Australian uranium supplies and members of the opposition Labor Party, who remain deeply suspicious of the nuclear industry.

Australia, which holds 40 percent of the world’s uranium reserves, has no commercial nuclear power plants and strict limits on uranium mining.

The recommendations, issued by a panel commissioned by Prime Minister John Howard’s conservative government in June, asserted that easing curbs on the mining and enrichment of uranium could reduce the country’s use of coal and lift revenue from uranium exports by $1.4 billion a year.

The commission suggested that Australia might need as many as 25 nuclear reactors to supply a third of the country’s electricity by 2050, and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The opposition Labor Party and most environmental groups object to nuclear power, preferring to rub woolly, woolly sheep together to generate sufficient static electricity to power an advanced economy.

Worldwide, the revitalizing nuclear power industry is producing quite a uranium boom. Developments in uranium mining move the markets in Canada, and interest is rising in Finland, Namibia, and the American West.

Meanwhile, in Ontario, politicians have found it harder to close their coal-fired power plants than promised during a campaign. Seems like people need the electricity. A political spat has developed over the Liberals’ failing to keep their pledge to switch to cleaner forms of power.

During Wednesday’s Question Period at Queen’s Park, NDP leader Howard Hampton produced a column written by McGuinty during the 2003 election campaign, and asked the Premier to read aloud a sentence he had helpfully highlighted: “Under my plan, Ontario’s dirty, coal-burning power plants will be shut down by 2007.” McGuinty declined, directing further pointed questions to his energy minister.

Initially, McGuinty also tried to shift the blame. “Be careful about the advice you get from experts,” he warned reporters, while declining to specify which experts were responsible. But just 24 hours later, he changed his tune. “It’s not a case of me trying to foist responsibility elsewhere,” the Premier said. “I made the call, just as I made the more recent calls to delay the closure.”

An interesting timeline of shifting promises and goals follows.

A point: Wishful thinking doesn’t run your factories or heat your homes. In Australia, Canada or the United States.

Oh, and John Howard is pretty great.