Nuclear future ... "Inevitable" says Rio Tinto chairman Jan du Plessis. Photo: Rick Stevens
A NUCLEAR Australia is inevitable if the country is serious about reducing carbon emissions, according to the chairman of Rio Tinto, Jan du Plessis.
The head of one of the world's largest uranium mining companies said while it would be ''lovely'' to be able to live solely off solar power it was ''not going to happen''.
Addressing the company's annual meeting in Perth yesterday, he said: ''Our firm view is that for the sake of energy security … the world is going to have to include … a certain contribution [from] nuclear energy.
"If the world is serious about reducing emissions by carbon, we're going to have to look more seriously, more extensively at the use of nuclear energy.''
Mr du Plessis said he supported the government putting a carbon tax on the table but warned against moving ahead of the US and China.
"I'm supportive of any efforts aimed at reducing emissions," he said. "Having said that … the government needs to be careful not to penalise energy intensive export businesses in Australia until such time as the big beasts such as the US and China move as well, because there is a risk [to] … Australian businesses without actually making a big impact on carbon emissions."
Shareholders grilled executives over the company's responsibility in the Fukushima nuclear reactor meltdown in March and the leaking of millions of litres of ''radioactive contaminated'' water from the Ranger uranium mine - operated by Rio subsidiary Energy Resources Australia - which polluted Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory earlier this year.
Tom Albanese, Rio's chief
executive, said uranium from the Ranger mine had been exported to Japan, although commercial confidence prevented him from confirming whether it was being used at Fukushima.
In acknowledging that the nuclear issue divided many, Mr du Plessis said it was ''very hard to convince the anti-nuclear believers that there's another point of view''.
Senator Scott Ludlam of the Greens said Mr du Plessis's comments were ''irresponsible''.
''Rio Tinto is not interested in solar energy because it doesn't own the sun, so they've got no interest at all in promoting the alternative [to nuclear energy],'' he said. ''It's pure self-interest [while] pretending to be an energy policy expert.''
Senator Ludlam said the growth in renewable energy capacity, including from wind, biomass and solar power, had outstripped nuclear capacity each of the past 15 years and last year surpassed nuclear for the first time.
''The Rubicon has been crossed for nuclear power - it is a dying industry and there is no turning back,'' he said.
''Even before the Fukushima disaster, investors and insurers in the US, for example, could not be coaxed to back nuclear power.''
The Minister for Resources and Energy. Martin Ferguson, was not persuaded by Mr du Plessis's argument, saying Australia did not need nuclear power given the country's abundance of low-cost and reliable alternative energy sources, namely fossil fuel and renewable.
Mr Ferguson said the Fukushima incident had not changed the government's position on uranium exports. It would continue to support an expansion of uranium mining and the supply of the resource to countries that were signatories to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
''Global need for uranium will continue, given the dual drivers of an increasing demand for energy and the desire to decrease emissions, particularly in countries that do not enjoy the same abundance of renewable energy sources as Australia," Mr Ferguson said.
''Australia's uranium industry will continue to expand and my immediate priority is ensuring this happens in the proper way.''