Australia -- with the world's largest deposits of uranium -- should quickly lift restrictions on export and enrichment of the radioactive fuel to boost the multimillion dollar nuclear industry and help reduce the nation's reliance on polluting fossil fuels, a government report found yesterday.
The report into the uranium industry said federal and state governments should lift a long-standing restriction on opening more than the current three uranium mines in the nation.
"Skill shortages and government policies restricting the growth of the industry should be urgently addressed," the report said.
The report -- commissioned by the government in June -- said enrichment of uranium ore in Australia could add A$1.8 billion (US$1.4 billion) to the A$573 million a year uranium export industry.
"Current legal and regulatory impediments should be removed," the report said.
The report found 25 reactors could be supplying a third of Australia's energy needs by 2050.
The opposition center-left Labor Party, which introduced a ban on any new uranium mines while in power in 1983, called on Prime Minister John Howard to explain where the nuclear reactors would be built and where the radioactive waste would be dumped.
"If John Howard is re-elected, we will go down an inexorable course for 25 nuclear reactors in this country and tens of thousands of tonnes of nuclear waste," Labor Leader Kim Beazley told reporters, referring to elections due next year.
Howard refused to speculate on how many nuclear power plants could be built in Australia or where they would be located.
"It's too early for me as the leader of the government to start speculating about numbers and dates but the economics are obvious and compelling," Howard told reporters in Vietnam where he attended a weekend summit of APEC leaders.
"My approach will protect the coal industry. The approach of others will undermine it because they see the coal industry as the cause of the problem," Howard said, referring to Labor.
"I see the coal industry as part of the solution, as I see nuclear power, as I see renewables," he added.
Australia, which holds almost 40 percent of the world's known uranium reserves, imposes strict rules on its uranium sales to ensure that the fuel is not put to military use.
But sales are expected to soar with a recent agreement to supply uranium to China's burgeoning energy market.
Australia is also considering selling uranium to India to meet its growing energy demands despite New Delhi's refusal to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
Australia, the world's largest coal exporter, uses the fossil fuel to generate most of its electricity. The nation's dependence on coal makes it the world's worst greenhouse gas polluter per capita, according to the World Resources Institute.
Generating nuclear power would be between 20 and 50 percent more expensive than coal or gas-fired power, the report said.
"Nuclear power and renewable energy sources will only become competitive in Australia in a system where the costs of greenhouse gas emissions are explicitly recognized," the report said.