Nuclear power should be considered for Australia: Minerals Council chair Helen Coonan
Newly appointed Minerals Council chair Helen Coonan has become the latest business heavyweight to call for nuclear power to be considered as part of Australia’s future energy mix.
- The Minerals Council’s new chair Helen Coonan says there should be a parliamentary inquiry into nuclear power for Australia
- Ms Coonan’s comments come in response to statements from BHP’s CEO saying that climate change poses “an existential risk” to the planet
- She backed Adani’s Carmichael coal mine, saying the company “wouldn’t be proceeding if they didn’t have the business model to sustain the mine”
The former Howard government minister said the “nuclear option” should be on the table, along with renewables, as the resources industry edges away from fossil fuels in the coming decades.
Speaking to the ABC’s AM program, Ms Coonan said Australians were ready for a “sensible conversation” about nuclear power generation, which is currently outlawed in Australia.
“I think it’s time to give it a go quite frankly. There’s a long way to go, of course, because there are legislative barriers and there needs to be political will,” Ms Coonan said in her first broadcast interview as the Minerals Council of Australia’s chair.
“Certainly we would ask the Government to have an inquiry, because that will enable all of the factors to be teased out, including storage and safety and the new technology that’s now available in uranium mining.”
Ms Coonan’s push for nuclear power came as she responded to growing concerns about the future of coal, after BHP chief executive Andrew Mackenzie recently said climate change posed “an existential risk” to the planet.
Federal and state legislation blocks the development of local nuclear power generation, although calls are growing for a parliamentary inquiry into the feasibility of a local industry.
Last week, former National Party leader Barnaby Joyce suggested residents living near a nuclear reactor could be offered free nuclear power.
Ms Coonan — the first Minerals Council chair to come from outside the resources industry — did not sidestep environmental and safety concerns, but suggested Australia could consider smaller nuclear power stations, unlike the giant plants in the US, Europe and China.
“You’ve always got to be concerned about safety and that applies to nuclear power,” she said.
“It’s important to that any technology any mine and any power source is safe.”
Minerals Council backs Adani mine
Ms Coonan backed the approval of Adani’s Carmichael mine in central Queensland and said tough regulation was unnecessarily delaying projects.
“There should be proper process. There is enormous duplication and delays that stop productivity. That’s something that’s a handbrake on the proper processes of mining exploration,” Ms Coonan said.
“If project approvals were sped up it would release something like $160 billion to national output and another 69,000 jobs.”
Ms Coonan rejected concerns about Adani’s financial viability in Australia after it had to “self fund” the Carmichael mine when no bank would provide finance.
“They wouldn’t be proceeding if they didn’t have the business model to sustain the mine,” she said.
“The mine’s likely to have a 20-year life, and if you want more nurses, hospitals, police and infrastructure in areas like central Queensland, that’s the way to do it.”
Last week, University of Sydney forensic accounting specialist Sandra van der Laan told the ABC that Adani’s corporate structure was “a corporate collapse waiting to happen”.
In an analysis labelled by Adani as false and misleading, Professor van der Laan likened Adani’s complex structure to the US energy giant Enron, which collapsed in spectacular fashion in 2001.
However, Ms Coonan has rejected concerns about Adani’s financial model saying, “they obviously know their business model and are confident that they can finance it”.
Delayed coal shipments to China in focus
Ms Coonan was also cautious when pressed about sensitive negotiations relating to Australian coal shipments that are being refused entry to China, leaving the diplomacy to Trade Minister Simon Birmingham.
“We very much support the Government’s diplomacy and advocacy behind the scenes to try to better understand the issues involved,” she said.
“Of course, they’re sensitive discussions, but we support the Government taking the lead on this.”
Helen Coonan was appointed Minerals Council chair in May this year, after Scott Morrison’s surprise election victory.
In addition to the Minerals Council role, Ms Coonan is also chair of the Australian Financial Complaints Authority and a non-executive director at Crown Resorts.