The South Australian Government has recently announced the appointment of a Royal Commission into the potential role of the State in the nuclear fuel cycle. While the terms of reference for the Commission are still in draft format, notably, it has been proposed that the Royal Commission’s enquiry will extend not only to the the feasibility of establishing facilities in South Australia for the management, storage and disposal of nuclear and radioactive waste, but also to the feasibility of establishing and operating facilities to generate electricity from nuclear fuels in South Australia.

This is a significant step, not only for South Australia but for Australia generally, which will be welcomed by many, given that the development of the necessary legislation required to remove the restriction on the production of nuclear power in Australia is expected to take approximately two years, with the commissioning and production of a commercial nuclear reactor thought to take a further six to ten years.

Beyond South Australia and any specific benefits that may be derived from reviving an ailing manufacturing industry, through the development of an associated nuclear manufacturing and services sector, the appointment of the Commission is relevant to all other Australian States given the potential for future domestic nuclear energy production in not only assisting Australia to meet its international emissions reduction commitments, but also in addressing possible gas shortages and higher electricity prices on the east coast of Australia.

Consideration of the viability of nuclear energy as an alternative provider of base-load electricity is appropriate given the growing use, internationally, of modern small modular reactors (SMRs), which can be produced at a much lower cost to traditional facilities and are not limited by the geographical constraint of requiring a nearby ready water supply, providing an effective solution to Australia’s extensive geography and the significant costs involved in providing power to those at the outer reaches of the network.

Submissions on the terms of reference can be made to and are due by Friday, 12 March 2014. A further update will be provided after the Commission’s terms of reference have been finalised.