Australia should move quickly to export more uranium and could generate significant environmental benefits by developing a greenhouse-friendly nuclear power industry, a report for the Federal Government says.
The Prime Minister is expected to make public today the final report from a taskforce that has been examining whether Australia should move further into the nuclear fuel cycle.
The taskforce, headed by the former Telstra chief executive Ziggy Switkowski, issued a draft report in November calling for a major expansion of uranium mining in Australia while offering more qualified backing for domestic uranium processing and nuclear power.
It is understood the final version of the report, which was handed to John Howard last week, confirms most of the conclusions from the earlier draft while including considerably more material to support its findings.
Mr Howard will use the report to continue his campaign to persuade state Labor governments to remove restrictions on approving new uranium mines under the ALP's no-new-mines policy.
Mr Howard says there should be a community debate over expanding the uranium industry and has suggested nuclear power generation would have environmental benefits by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The Labor leader, Kevin Rudd, has pledged to push for a change in the ALP policy against expanding uranium mining but will face opposition from the party's Left. However, Labor's factions are united in opposing nuclear power, and the Opposition has said it will campaign against the Government on the issue at the next federal election.
Today's report will give Mr Howard ammunition for this debate. It is understood to estimate that Australia could double its earnings from exporting uranium oxide to more than $1 billion a year by the end of the decade.
Production in Australia is set to rise from the record 12,360 tonnes of yellowcake last year to more than 20,000 tonnes by 2014-15.
The report says growth in global demand for uranium to fuel nuclear power industries provides Australia with a timely opportunity to expand the mining if barriers such as skills shortages and state government restrictions were removed.
It points to a strong increase in exploration activity in Western Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory and concludes that there are many areas with the potential to yield uranium in coming years.
On the issue of whether Australia should allow local uranium conversion, enrichment and fuel fabrication, the report says this could more than quadruple the value of locally mined uranium.
But the report expresses doubts about the feasibility of a full-blown uranium processing industry in Australia, saying access to enrichment technology would be a big barrier.
It is more positive about the feasibility of a local nuclear power industry, saying that if regulatory barriers were surmounted nuclear reactors could be generating electricity in Australia within 15 years.