Prime Minister John Howard has launched an inquiry into the feasibility and possible future role of nuclear power in Australia, including uranium enrichment and even generation.

The Prime Ministerial Taskforce is to “undertake an objective, scientific and comprehensive review into uranium mining, processing and the contribution of nuclear energy in Australia in the longer-term,” said Howard.

Australia holds 40% of the world’s known low-cost recoverable uranium reserves and there is significant potential to increase and add value to uranium extraction and exports. The review will consider the capacity for Australia to increase uranium mining and exports in response to growing global demand along with the potential for establishing other steps in the nuclear fuel cycle in Australia, such as fuel enrichment, fabrication and reprocessing, along with the costs and benefits associated with each step.

The study will also examine the extent and circumstances in which nuclear energy could in the longer-term be economically competitive in Australia with other existing electricity generation technologies, including any implications this would have for the national electricity market, and its contribution to the reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The Taskforce will be chaired by Dr Ziggy Switkowski, former chief executive officer of Telstra Corp, and will also include Professor George Dracoulis of the Research School of Physical Sciences and Engineering at the Australian National University, and Professor Warwick McKibbin, Professor of Economics at the Australian National University.

Three other members of the Taskforce will be named shortly.

Australia’s chief scientist, Jim Peacock, is to be given a pivotal role supporting the review, including by facilitating a peer review of the scientific aspects involved.

The Taskforce is to report by the end of the year and a draft report is to be made available for public consultation by November 2006.

The announcement comes as uranium prices spike to levels not seen since the oil crises of the late 1970s, sparking interest in previously abandoned workings across the globe. The dramatic rise has been pushed by a resurgence of interest in nuclear energy with a number of new projects already announced.

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