Why Australia should sell uranium to India (Part 1)
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Why Australia should sell uranium to India (Part 1)

Okay eco-warriors, try this quick quiz. What is the single most important decision Australia’s Rudd Government has ever made to influence the amount of carbon dioxide that will go into the air?

a)    Signing the Kyoto protocol

b)    Delaying the implementation of the Emissions Trading Scheme

c)    Funding of renewable energy projects and clean coal technology

d)    Developing  the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme

e)    None of the above

Give yourself a big pat on the back if you went for (e).

The biggest single decision the Rudd Government has made that will impact on carbon dioxide being released into the air was its decision to ban uranium exports to India.

India already has a well developed nuclear power industry, but one major problem for its further development is access to uranium at market rates.

Now undergoing an economic boom, India is gearing up to build coal-fired power stations to help meet the unmet and growing demand for electricity in a big way. Its coal-fired power capacity is expected to treble over the next 11 years, increasing its carbon emissions by 955 million tonnes per year, an amount nearly double Australia’s current annual total emissions from all sources.

The reality of this is already biting, with Indians reportedly touring the country looking at Australian coal. 

Instead of giving them the coal, Australia could offer to replace India’s power needs with uranium. There would be two major provisos:

·         It needs to be demonstrated that the uranium serves as a genuine replacement for planned coal usage.

·         Australia should be free to negotiate to have the saved carbon dioxide provided to it as carbon credits.

Now if only one quarter of India’s expected increased carbon dioxide output from coal power stations could be saved with nuclear power, and Australia received that in the form of carbon credits, by 2020 this would amount to nearly 240 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions saved per year.

This would be about a 42 per cent reduction in Australia’s nominal carbon emissions by 2020 – slightly more than what the Greens have asked for, and never in a million years what they would really expect to achieve.

These figures are not outlandish. Australia currently exports 10,000 tonnes of uranium per year, saving 400 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per year compared with emissions generated by coal-fired power. If it can be negotiated to have uranium exports tied to carbon credits, an increase of Australian uranium exports by 70 per cent – significant, but not outlandish – would meet this 42 per cent reduction target.

Although Green groups argue against the inclusion of nuclear power in carbon credit schemes, there is a framework for this idea called the Clean Development Mechanism – the transformation of energy systems in poorer countries that allows richer countries to offset their own emissions.

Projects where this has already been done have included cleaning up factories in China, capturing methane from landfill sites in India, and distributing energy-efficient light bulbs in parts of Africa.

The reason this could work is that India is one of the few countries in the world with the resources and stable democratic political system where a Clean Development Mechanism could be confidently applied to nuclear power. Not only do we have the ability to export the fuel, but also much more – an Australian engineering firm, Worley Parsons recently won contracts to build reactors in Armenia and Egypt.

Continued in Part 2