The Labor government is holding firmly to its anti nuclear platform for now but the rumblings of dissent from within the party are growing.

Anti-nuclear campaigners continue to maintain that nuclear power is expensive, risky and legitimises the proliferation of nuclear weapons in secretive states after a renewed push from figures in the Labor Party for a debate on nuclear power at next year’s national party conference.

Energy Minister Martin Ferguson has gone on the record recently saying he supports the investigation of nuclear power as a way of solving a potential energy crisis and as a way of combatting emissions that result from other forms of power.

WA Senator Mark Bishop has also advocated a discussion at next year’s conference, writing recently that nuclear power plants are “safe, becoming cheaper, cost effective and competitive as part of the power supply mix.”

Labor backbencher Chris Hayes, meanwhile, recently stated that the federal government “should not be blinkered” when it comes to nuclear energy, NSW Senator Steve Hutchins said there was a to discuss “all forms of alternative energy”, while Australian Workers Union chief Paul Howes said last year that it was time to “rethink” the moratorium on nuclear power.

Julia Gillard has previously stated that she does not support a change to the party’s line on nuclear power, but would welcome a debate on the issue at the national conference. She has previously said that nuclear power “doesn’t stack up as an economically efficient source of power”.

Recent polls suggest there is some support for nuclear power — a Nielsen poll held during the ETS debate last year revealed that 50% of people polled were in favour of considering it — but the ‘not in my backyard’ sentiment remains strong. According to a Newspoll survey conducted in 2007, 66% of people were strongly against a nuclear power station being built in their area with just 25% in favour while there is currently a backlash against a potential national nuclear waste dump in Muckaty Station, Northern Territory.

Dave Sweeney, a nuclear free campaigner at the Australian Conservation Foundation, says that nuclear power is “high cost and high risk” and that there are better cheaper and ways of producing energy.

According to the 2009 World Nuclear Industry Status Report, nuclear power plants currently being built in Europe have been plagued by cost blow-outs and construction delays. It is estimated that the cost of a plant being built in Flamanville, France has increased from 3.3 billion euros to 4 billion euros.

“For a start, nuclear power is expensive. The time delays are very long, not to mention the construction costs and all of that,” Sweeney told Crikey. “Nuclear power reinforces the false dichotomy that our future is reliant on coal and nuclear power, it dismisses and downplays the future of renewables and it legitimises Australia’s role as an increasingly significant uranium provider.”

Recently, the federal government inked a deal which would allow Australian uranium to be enriched in Russia. Dave Sweeney, nuclear free campaigner at the Australian Conservation Foundation, says that decision showed all the signs of a government who has “seen the dollar signs and has deliberately turned its back on the danger signs”.

“Putin’s Russia is a closed state. There have not been international and independent nuclear inspection in Russia since 2002 and it has the largest nuclear weapons cache in the world,” Sweeney said. “For us to be fuelling that is extremely irresponsible.”

In April this year, Ziggy Switkowski, chairman of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, recommended Australia build 50 nuclear power reactors by 2050. That number is double what he suggested to the Howard government in a report in 2006.

According to the Switkowski report, 25 reactors could deliver one third of Australia’s electricity needs, which, if it replaces coal power, would reduce Australia’s total emissions by around 17%. That is simply not enough to justify a push for nuclear power, according to Jim Green, coordinator of the Choose Nuclear Free project.

“It’s simple maths really, even if we build 12 nuclear power reactors — two outside each of the six state capital cities — that would reduce Australia’s emissions by less than 8%,” he said. “It leaves a huge amount of heavy lifting in other sectors.”

Dave Sweeney agrees and says that, instead of “running from one environmental problem by embracing another”, the federal government should look to invest in renewable energy.

“We’re at a point now where we can look to become a world leader in renewable technology or we can continue with a rip and ship policy that focuses on the extraction of resources,” he said.