A government commission has recommended lifting Australia’s restrictions on nuclear energy and uranium mining, according to a report by Tim Johnston in The New York Times and the International Herald Tribune.

Australia, with 40% of the world’s uranium reserves, currently has no commercial nuclear power plants and strictly limits uranium mining. Along with the U.S., Australia refused to join as a signatory to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

The panel, commissioned by Prime Minister John Howard’s government last June, asserted that developing nuclear power and easing curbs on uranium mining could reduce carbon emissions from coal and lift revenues from uranium exports by $1.4 billion a year. The commission advocated constructing 25 nuclear reactors to supply a third of Australia’s electricity by 2050.

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Spokespersons from Australian green and environmental groups and the opposition Labour party were highly critical of panel’s recommendations. But four years of intense drought has intensified concerns about global warming, and polls show that the Australian public may now be closely divided on the issue of nuclear energy.

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The commission said that at current prices, nuclear energy would be 20 to 50 percent more expensive than power from coal-fired plants. But as greenhouse gas emissions are monetized in coming years through taxes and carbon-trading schemes, nuclear power will be become cost competitive.

Said Ziggy Switkowski, the main author of the report:

“The earliest that nuclear electricity could be delivered to the grid would be 10 years, with 15 years more probable,” . “This gap may close in the decades ahead, but nuclear power, and renewable energy sources, will only become competitive in Australia in a system where the costs of greenhouse gas emissions are explicitly recognized.”

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