A rally hosted by the Nuclear Pride Coalition in Melbourne.

Is Australia the only OECD country that does not use nuclear power?

August 12, 2019

The Statement

“We are the only OECD country that doesn’t utilise this type of technology (nuclear power).” 

Federal Liberal National Party MP Keith Pitt. August 7, 2019. 

The Analysis

Federal coalition MP Keith Pitt has campaigned for nuclear power to be investigated as an option to form part of Australia’s energy mix. Mr Pitt believes nuclear should not be excluded and Australia should re-examine its moratorium on the construction of nuclear power plants.

AAP FactCheck examined the Queensland MP’s claim that Australia is the only OECD country that does not use nuclear power. 

Mr Pitt’s statement was made as the federal government announced on August 7 an inquiry into the feasibility of using nuclear energy as a power source for Australia. The new inquiry follows a 2016 nuclear fuel cycle royal commission by the South Australian government and a 2006 federal review by the Howard government. The 2006 review found Australia would need about 25 reactors to supply one-third of the nation’s electricity supply by 2050, while the 2016 commission’s found SA “could safely manage” used nuclear fuel from other countries. Submissions to the new federal government review are open until September 16 with a view to finalising a report by the end of the year. 

Nuclear power stations use uranium as the fuel source for generating electricity, with heat from the nuclear reaction used to drive steam turbines connected to electricity generators.

In 1998 the Howard government banned domestic nuclear energy, despite Australia having some of the largest uranium deposits in the world. Australia’s ban on nuclear power and nuclear power plant construction is enforced by two acts of federal parliament – the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999 and Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act 1998. Section 140A of the EPBC Act 1999 states: “The minister must not approve an action consisting of or involving the construction or operation of any of the following nuclear installations: a) a nuclear fuel fabrication plant; b) a nuclear power plant; c) an enrichment plant; d) a reprocessing facility”. The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act applies to Commonwealth bodies and is not a barrier for state government body or private developer. 

Australia is the world’s third-largest uranium producer after Kazakhstan and Canada with uranium ore exports valued at $575 million in 2017-18, according to data from the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office. Uranium mining provided the equivalent of 98 per cent of the global nuclear power industry’s uranium requirements in 2016. 

Regarding Mr Pitt’s claim, the OECD was established in 1961 as a forum for governments to “seek solutions to common economic and social problems”. OECD member countries are: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States. In the OECD and Nuclear Energy Agency’s 2018 report, a table for nuclear electricity generation lists totals for OECD nations separating them into nuclear and non-nuclear countries. Listed under non-nuclear countries for OECD Pacific are Australia and New Zealand, while in Europe there are 14 nations listed and for the Americas, Chile is a non-nuclear country. 

Industry Super Australia chief economist Stephen Anthony, was quoted as saying on June 26, 2019: “The point about nuclear is that all other OECD countries have nuclear, we do not.” Mr Anthony’s interview with the ABC’s World Today program included an editor’s note which stated: “The interviewee in the report states that all OECD countries use nuclear power – except for Australia. According to OECD figures, 16 of its members do not use nuclear power”. 

When contacted about the source of his claim, Mr Pitt’s office told AAP FactCheck that the Hinkley MP “misspoke” during the interview with Sky News.

Based on this evidence AAP FactCheck found Mr Pitt’s statement to be false. Australia is not the only OECD nation that does not use nuclear power.

The Verdict

False – The checkable claim is false.

* AAP FactCheck is an accredited member of the International Fact-Checking Network. To keep up with our latest fact checks, follow us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.   

First published August 12, 2019  17:30 AEST

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