Nuclear inquiry boss vows to keep an open mind

Sydney Morning Herald
June 08, 2006
By Phillip Coorey, Political Correspondent

Government's taskforce into nuclear energy has vowed he would approach the inquiry objectively and was not biased towards nuclear power.

The former Telstra chief executive, Ziggy Switkowski, a nuclear physicist and board member of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, said his academic and commercial background suited him for the role.

"I don't think that having a nuclear physics background should be interpreted as orientating me towards being pro everything to do with nuclear. I approach this review with an open mind," he said yesterday.

Mr Howard yesterday further deflected allegations of bias when he announced the remaining three members of the six-person taskforce.

They are: Radiation Health and Safety Advisory Council chairman Sylvia Kidziak; energy executive Martin Thomas, and former supervising scientist with Environment Australia, Dr Arthur Johnston.

The committee also includes nuclear physicist George Dracoulis and economist Warwick McKibbin.

"These appointments provide a well-rounded, highly experienced and balanced taskforce that will allow for an objective and highly professional review of the complex issues outlined in the terms of reference," Mr Howard said.

Keen to calm growing public concern, Mr Howard softened his rhetoric, saying nuclear energy was just one option for future energy needs.

It would be considered along with renewable energy, such as solar and wind, as well as gas and "clean coal" technology.

"It's a question of sensibly using the resources that providence has given us," Mr Howard said. "We are very greatly endowed with uranium, with natural gas and with coal, and we also have a lot of sunlight. Let us calmly and sensibly examine what our options are."

Mr Howard even volunteered his seat of Bennelong for a nuclear power station.

"I would have a completely open mind in relation to where a power plant might be located, including my own electorate, of course I would," he said.

The taskforce will examine the potential for an expansion of uranium mining, and enriching uranium into nuclear fuel, the feasibility of nuclear power and the problem of nuclear waste.

An unpublished Newspoll, conducted in September last year and seen by the Herald, shows attitudes have hardened against nuclear power. The poll found 47 per cent of respondents favoured nuclear power and 40 per cent opposed it, but a Newspoll published in The Australian a week ago found 38 per cent were in favour while 51 per cent opposed it.

The September poll found only 10 per cent supported accepting nuclear waste from countries that bought Australian uranium while 83 per cent were opposed.

The Treasurer, Peter Costello, ruled out a carbon tax on fossil fuel power generators to make nuclear power more economically viable, despite Professor McKibbin and Professor Dracoulis suggesting it.

Nuclear power would have to stand on its own two feet and not be aided by having its competition taxed, Mr Costello said.


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