CURRENT AUSTRALIAN LAW
The commonwealth legislation that underpins the prohibition of nuclear power was passed into law over 21 years ago, spearheaded by the anti-nuclear Greens and Australian Democrats, in a mostly empty Senate chamber. For a full history of how the ban came about, head over to Bright New World and read the detailed account, where the whole saga is summed up as:
“After a three-and-a-half hour committee meeting, a several-page report drafted over two days, one hour and 36 minutes of debate post-prohibition recommendation, and six minutes of considering the amendments it was decided that Australia should not go down the nuclear path.”
The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act 1998 (the ARPANS Act) was signed into law on the 10th of December 1998, and section 10 reads as follows:
A similar section also appeared in The Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act) the following year, which formally prohibits the Environment Minister to approve certain nuclear installations:
Both Section 10 of the ARPANS Act and Section 140A of the EPBC Act must be repealed in Federal parliament to make nuclear power legal in Australia. There is also some state government legislation in South Australia (Nuclear Waste Storage Facility (Prohibition) Act 2000), Victoria (Nuclear Activities (Prohibitions) Act 1983) and New South Wales (Uranium Mining and Nuclear Facilities (Prohibitions) Act 1986) that will likely need to be amended if those states wish to develop nuclear power.
There are currently three Australian parliamentary inquiries regarding nuclear power, one in Federal parliament, and one each in New South Wales and Victoria.
Federal Inquiry into the prerequisites for nuclear energy in Australia
On the 6th of August 2019, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy resolved to conduct an inquiry into the prerequisites for nuclear energy in Australia. Submissions closed on the 16th of September 2019, and the Committee is expected to report its findings by the end of the year.
The terms of reference are quite broad, and state:
“The Committee specifically inquire into and report on the circumstance and prerequisites necessary for any future government’s consideration of nuclear energy generation including small modular reactor technologies in Australia, including:
a. waste management, transport and storage,
b. health and safety,
c. environmental impacts,
d. energy affordability and reliability,
e. economic feasibility,
f. community engagement,
g. workforce capability,
h. security implications,
i. national consensus, and
j. any other relevant matter.”
Victorian Legislative Council Inquiry
This inquiry was referred to the Environment and Planning Committee on the 14th of August 2019 to inquire and report on the potential benefits to Victoria in removing prohibitions enacted by the Nuclear Activities (Prohibitions) Act 1983. The terms of reference state that, the Committee should-
- Investigate potential for Victoria to contribute to global low carbon dioxide energy production thorugh enabling exploration and production of uranium and thorium;
- Identify economic, environmental and social benefits for Victoria, including those related to medicine, scientific research, exploration and mining;
- Identify opportunities for Victoria to participate in the nuclear fuel cycle; and
- Identify any barriers to participation, including limitations caused by federal or local law and regulations.
The date for which submissions are due has not yet been announced. Full details of this inquiry can be found here.
NSW Legislative Council Inquiry
This inquiry was established on the 6th of June 2019 to inquire and report on the Uranium Mining and Nuclear Facilities (Prohibitions) Repeal Bill 2019, a bill before the NSW parliament that aims to repeal existing state legislation that prohibits nuclear power in NSW.
Submissions for this inquiry are due by the 18th of October 2019. The terms of reference can be found here.