Article by Eric Johnston associate editor of The Australian
Dozens of countries including Britain and France are now turning to Australia to lock in a long-term clean energy source that can help the world dramatically cut its carbon emissions.
After nearly a decade in the deep freeze, nuclear power has been getting a fresh look as a way for the world to rapidly end its dependence on heavily-polluting coal and oil.
An energy crisis brought about by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has turbocharged this, prompting much of Western Europe to look for ways to slash their reliance on Moscow.
Shunned by politicians here as being too hot to handle, uranium has been a workhorse for decades, fuelling nuclear reactors in more than 30 countries.
Although off-limits locally, uranium generates baseload electricity essential to underpin an energy grid but with barely any carbon emissions.
Just this month British Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised up to eight new nuclear plants within this decade. This followed France’s Emmanuel Macron, who was fighting a presidential election, outlining plans to build as many as 14 new reactors to bolster his country’s energy needs.
This uranium renaissance is creating a shift in Australian investment markets, which saw one player – mining hopeful Boss Energy – quietly cross the key $1bn mark over the past week.
While Boss hasn’t yet shipped an ounce of uranium, the valuation makes the Perth-based company hard to ignore.
Production could still be 18 months away as it does the numbers on the mothballed Honeymoon mine it is sitting on, 80km northwest of Broken Hill and just inside the South Australian border.
But chief executive Duncan Craib is confident that as the world revisits uranium’s role in the energy mix, his mine can become a low-cost, long-term supplier.
Craib says nuclear energy can “absolutely” play a role, alongside solar, wind and hydro, to deliver clean baseload power in Australia.
“When we talk to politicians on both sides of politics, there’s definitely a growing awareness,” Craib says.
“For nuclear power in Australia to be considered and for it to be successful, you really do need bipartisan support from both the major political parties – and we’re not there yet,” he says.
Craib is very close to bringing Honeymoon back to life. The mine had previously been owned by a Russian-backed entity Uranium One but closed the operation in 2013 amid weak prices.
Boss later took control and took a fresh look at the economics of the mine. A trial in 2016 used different processes to extract uranium, creating a much better prospect for a financial return even at the then subdued prices.
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The Hinkley Point C nuclear power station under construction in Bridgwater, England.
Picture: Getty Images