Economist Ross Garnaut does not believe Australia will move into nuclear power production because renewables will be cheaper.
But he says uranium enrichment in Australia is a logical step in the international effort to tackle global warming.
Professor Garnaut, a research fellow in economics at the University of Melbourne and renowned climate change academic, appeared as the first witness at South Australia’s royal commission into the nuclear fuel cycle in Adelaide on Wednesday.
He said nuclear power was unlikely to be pursued in Australia because the abundance of renewable energy like solar and wind would make them more competitive and attractive as low-carbon options.
Prof Garnaut said with renewables inevitably becoming the norm, Australia would be a prime destination for energy-hungry industrial processing, including uranium enrichment.
“In the low carbon economy of the future I expect that because of Australia’s exceptional high quality of renewable resources, energy will again become a low-cost input into Australian industry,” he said.
“These would logically include enrichment of uranium for the industries of China and India.”
Prof Garnaut, who wrote the Australian government’s climate change reviews in 2008 and 2011, said China and India would rely on nuclear power to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the future.
“They don’t have the same opportunities for renewables production that Australia has,” he told the commission.
Australia already supplies uranium oxide to China and India but does not enrich it.
The royal commission will continue to take evidence at public hearings until mid-December with commissioner Kevin Scarce due to present his report to the state government next year.
He is examining what future role South Australia could play in the nuclear fuel cycle including the possible enrichment of uranium, production of nuclear power and the disposal of nuclear waste.