While John Howard senses a nuclear future
for Australia, one state might be immune: Victoria.

In 1983, the Parliament of Victoria passed the Nuclear Activities
(Prohibitions) Act
. This Act prohibited all stages of the nuclear fuel
cycle, from mining to enrichment, power generation and associated
waste disposal. Medical uses and other minor uses were not covered.

In 1986, the NSW Parliament passed the Uranium Mining and Nuclear
Facilities (Prohibitions) Act
, that prohibited uranium mining and
limited the development of the nuclear fuel cycle to the nuclear
agency of the Commonwealth Government (currently ANSTO).

Given the enthusiasm of the Howard Government for nuclear power, it
is really only the Victorian Act that stands in the way of nuclear
power generation. Both the Labor Government in Victoria and the
Liberal Opposition have indicated in the last few days that they will
not support nuclear power development, so we can assume that the
Nuclear Activities (Prohibitions) Act will stay on the Victorian statute
books with its full powers for the moment.

The only way that nuclear power generation could proceed in the
foreseeable future in Victoria would be if the Commonwealth found a
way to override the State legislation – as it has done with the
industrial relations powers.

So what are the wider implications of the Victorian
legislation? It will, at least for the time being, prevent one quarter
of the Australian economy from being drawn into dependence on the
nuclear fuel cycle. So the imperative to deal with climate change will
play itself out in Victoria as a struggle between energy policies based
on coal plus sequestration, gas plus sequestration or renewables and
conservation. If enough support for the renewables/conservation path
develops then Victoria, like California in the US, could then become
the lead state for the new energy economy.

It is also conceivable that other state legislatures might belatedly pass
similar legislation to halt the Commonwealth nuclear juggernaut, and
NSW clearly has a major loophole to close in its legislation.

But the legislation might have another effect – one that was intended
when the campaign to outlaw nuclear power was started in Victoria in
1980. It might force the Commonwealth to hold a
genuine debate about the the pros and cons of nuclear power – rather
than persisting with the current travesty of democracy in which a
committee of mainly committed pro-nuclear people is being put in
charge of a so-called “debate”.

The only
way through will be to engage the Australian community in a genuine
exploration of the issues – with the possibility that nuclear power is
not the best solution to environmental and energy problems allowed
as a possible conclusion.

How can we have a genuine debate about nuclear issues? Read more on the website.