Australia is following a complex, risky and speculative path on future energy needs when international experience shows a simpler path forward, Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation Chair Ziggy Switkowski told a conference in Perth today.
Arguing the case for nuclear power as the solution to Australia's greenhouse challenges, he said: "Nuclear power must be in the mix, it should be most of the answer."
"When it comes to uranium mining Australia leads the agenda; when it comes to nuclear energy we are struggling to keep up," he told delegates at the In The Zone conference at The University of Western Australia.
Dr Switkowski said that Australia's failure to embrace nuclear energy perplexed people from overseas, a stance he described as "nuclear avoidance".
He said 15 per cent of the world's electricity was produced from nuclear power and two thirds of the world's population derived their electricity from nuclear reactors. Australia has around 38 per cent of the (known) recoverable uranium and Australian uranium powered a fifth of the world's reactors.
He anticipated several years of public debate and education would be needed before the public was ready to seriously consider nuclear power.
However, Woodside Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director, Don Voelte, said the transition to nuclear and other renewable energies, such as solar and wind power, would take decades and an alternative energy supply was needed in the meantime to replace "dirty fuel".
"What is the best hydrocarbon initiative to make that happen? I believe it is natural gas," he said. "I would love to have our grandkids grow up in a different (energy) world to the one we have today, but it is not going to happen," he said.
Dr Megan Clark, CSIRO Chief Executive Officer, said that Australia needed a new map on the journey to a lower carbon future - an Australian Integrated Carbon Assessment System.
"Over the short to medium term we would need to refer to nuclear, carbon capture and storage, and renewable sectors or pursue the above mix," she said.
IN THE ZONE is a major public policy conference initiated by The University of Western Australia positioning Western Australia as a thought leader within the time zone it shares with 60 per cent of the world's population and the nations which promise the greatest economic growth for the 21st century.
2009 marks the inaugural IN THE ZONE Conference. This will become a biennial event and a strategic meeting point for the Australian and wider regional community to engage in dialogue about the zone we inhabit and to deepen the policy, trade and investment relationships.
Information about In the Zone, including the conference program: http://www.zone.uwa.edu.au/
NB: MEDIA REPRESENTATIVES MUST REGISTER TO COVER THE CONFERENCE. GO TO: http://www.zone.uwa.edu.au/news/media_registration