Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, however, does not see nuclear energy as part of Australia's contribution to dealing with global warming.
He has a mantra that has been produced a number of times in recent months in media interviews: "This is an energy-rich country. We have multiple sources of energy. We are working on clean coal initiatives, solar PV initiatives, large scale solar initiatives and renewable energy initiatives.
The challenges are to make sure we use these resources as effectively, as environmentally sensitively and as cost effectively as possible. Some countries have no alternative but to use nuclear power. This is not the case in Australia."
Former New South Wales Premier Bob Carr, however, says there is a need for a more clear-headed debate on the nuclear question in Australia.
"Those who came of age in the 1980s have closed their minds on the issue," he told a radio program late last year, "but younger people are more open to it because they can see the damage that carbon dioxide is doing. It's coal that's the poison and there's been impressive progress in the handling of nuclear waste and reactor safety."
The issue of building nuclear power stations is particularly relevant to NSW and Queensland. Together, including the ACT, they make the eastern seaboard the largest electricity consumption area in the country -- now using 117,000 gigawatt hours of the 187,000 GWh a year required in the national electricity market that serves all of Australia except Western Australia and the Northern Territory.
The Energy Supply Association projects that the demand in NSW and Queensland will rise to more than 150,000 GWh annually by 2018 and industry analysts have forecast that the two states and the ACT will have demand exceeding 250,000 GWh a year by 2030, reflecting population increases and the rise in commercial activity and services, such as schools and hospitals, needed by larger cities.
Total national annual demand today is 252,000 GWh and is projected by the Australian Bureau for Agricultural & Resource Economics to exceed 400,000 GWh in 2030.
The dominant fuel for power generation by far in NSW and Queensland is black coal, with 52 million tonnes being burned each year to make electricity.
Replacing the coal plants and meeting the surge in demand in the region over the next 20 years from renewable energy and gas -- while a