Three of Australia’s richest entrepreneurs are scouring the country for suitable locations for a nuclear power plant.

Ron Walker, Robert Champion de Crespigny and Hugh Morgan have been working on the plans for a plant for the past 12 months, according to a source very close to the deal: “We have been holding informal discussions but nothing is concrete.”

The trio are the key shareholders of a private company called Australian Nuclear Energy. Walker and de Crespigny each have 40% and Morgan, the former head of uranium producer Western Mining has 20%.

The plans are long-term, the source stresses. “You can’t buy a nuclear plant for eight years,” the source says. Countries like France and the UK want plants. “And the US can’t get enough of them so this is a ten-year program.”

The trio have been looking at locations near the coast, where there is salt water for cooling, notably in Victoria and South Australia.

Little money has been spent. “It’s just been research so far,” the source says. “It’s a commercial proposition so it must show it will yield a return on investment.”

Labor attacked the plans this morning, with Peter Garrett, shadow minister for the environment, saying Australians have made it clear that they don’t want nuclear energy and power.

Other shadow ministers expressed fury at the close relationship that Ron Walker, former federal treasurer of the Liberal Party, has with Prime Minister John Howard. Howard recently announced he is looking at nuclear power as a clean form of energy.

But the source dismissed any claims of preferential treatment from a “friendly” government. “It doesn’t bother us which government says what. We are investigating new forms of low-cost energy and clean energy.”

Ron Walker, valued at about $400 million on the 2006 BRW Rich List and mining magnate Robert de Crespigny ($175 million) have been in business together for more than four years. In 2004, they set up a $300 million fund in 2004 and have been looking for deals in the resources sector.

They took a large stakes in Buka Minerals and also in retirement homes company Primelife and while the pair enjoyed rising share prices for a while, the stocks plummeted in 2005, wiping millions off their wealth.

While Portland has been mooted as a possible location for the power plant, the good folk of Portsea, where Walker has a holiday house, and Victor Harbour, where no doubt de Crespigny owns property, can be sure their towns will not be on the drawing board.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey