Japan earthquake provokes nuclear debate in Australia

15:59, March 14, 2011      

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By Vienna Ma

Nuclear crisis in Japan on Monday prompted wide-spread debate over whether Australian federal government should consider a nuclear energy industry in the country.

Nuclear reactors there have been badly damaged by an earthquake that rocked Japan on Friday.

On Monday, Australian Labor Member of Parliament (MP) Stephen Jones said nuclear crisis in Japan showed the controversial power source can never be entirely safe.

Jones, a parliamentary convener for Labor's Left faction, was in Japan during Friday's earthquake hit.

During his trip to Japan, he discussed energy security and global warming with the Tokyo Electrical Power Company, which runs the Fukushima No. 1 plant, which is now believed to be in meltdown.

"Clearly the disaster in Japan is further evidence that there's no absolute fail-safe when it comes to nuclear power," Jones told The Australian Online after he arrived back in Australia on Monday.

"These reactors are some of the best designed in the world. And there can be no absolute guarantee."

However, National Secretary of The Australian Workers' Union, Paul Howes, as well as a prominent figure in the Labor's Right faction, has supported the consideration of a nuclear energy industry in Australia.

He said the evolving nuclear crisis in Japan should not prevent a calm and unemotional debate about the use of nuclear energy in Australia.

"Every time there's been an incident at a nuclear power plant anywhere in the world, it's always put that debate back globally. And you know not unjustly. But I think it's important that we look at the issue unemotionally," he told The Australian Online.

Howes said a driving imperative for consideration of nuclear power was the transition towards a low carbon future.

Meanwhile, nuclear power advocate Dr. Ziggy Switkowski, a former chairman of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organization, also acknowledged the unfolding situation in Japan could set back the cause of nuclear power.

"It's a bit like when Three Mile Island occurred which was the first of the major nuclear accidents in 1979. It chilled the development of the nuclear industry for arguably decades," he told ABC radio.

"This has the potential I think to set back interest in nuclear power. It doesn't take too much damage to a critical component to the reactor to create great concern about broader community impacts."

On Sunday, Greens Leader Bob Brown used the disaster to highlight the dangers with nuclear energy, especially when putting the power in a country where 20 percent of the world's earthquakes occur.

"It's an unsafe technology. It's not just earthquakes, it's the potential for terrorism. You can't have it in flight paths, it needs to be built next to big areas of population energy use, it takes up a lot of water, it's enormously expensive and we have much better alternatives," he said.

Earlier, Labor MPs, including the Queensland Premier Anna Bligh, the Resources Minister Martin Ferguson and the former prime minister Bob Hawke, supported a debate on the nuclear issue at the Labor Party conference in December this year.

Source: Xinhua

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