MCA spruiks nuclear energy amid policy change calls

The Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) says the country is ‘completely lagging behind’ in decarbonisation efforts, being impeded by prohibitive aspects of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (1999). 

Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Tania Constable tells Mining.com.au the MCA supports the federal government’s efforts around renewable energy. 

However, the CEO says more needs to be done to help mining projects get off the ground that will deliver the metals necessary to facilitate the transition to achieving net zero emissions by 2050.

“I think that the government and what they’re doing around renewable energy is good, it’s fair, we support it. A lot of critical minerals and other minerals, other energy sources go into the electricity grid, but it’s not going to be enough. 

It’s not going to be enough for industrial processes in Australia just to have that renewable energy. There is already a lot of pressure on being able to achieve (more than 75% renewable energy) by 2030. So adding to that by putting nuclear energy there is an option. 

And the first part of that is removing the impediments, like the prohibition within the Environment Protection Biodiversity Conservation Act, because there is a prohibition to nuclear energy, that’s the first step, and then investors will start to have a look themselves

And the first part of that is removing the impediments, like the prohibition within the Environment Protection Biodiversity Conservation Act, because there is a prohibition to nuclear energy, that’s the first step, and then investors will start to have a look themselves.”

On 18 December 2023, the MCA said the federal government’s expanded critical minerals list — as this news service previously reported — seeks to provide a level of certainty and a framework to progress development and integration. 

Yet, the cumulative effect of these policies are considered to be a ‘critical’ blockage to the investment required to build the mines of the future. 

In a wide-ranging interview with Mining.com.au, the CEO addresses the need for Australia to decarbonise as quickly as possible. However, she says there needs to be better policy settings and support in place at the federal level. 

Taking charge

Constable says these needed changes will not happen overnight, but Australia’s energy is not stagnant

“We need energy for the long-term, so the sooner we can start, the better. And if you’ve got nuclear being supported wholeheartedly in the United Kingdom, in France, in Canada, in the United States, all countries that we can compare ourselves with immediately, as opposed to Russia and Poland and others, where you’re seeing nuclear energy coming into play.

These countries have now seen a renaissance in nuclear energy starting to occur. Last week there was an announcement in France that they’re going 100% nuclear. 

So if you’re seeing that in a country like France, why not consider adding it to our mix in Australia and taking the burden and the pressure off having to do renewable energy so quickly and it to be so costly for Australia. 

Because it’s not a one size fits all – we’re going to need different types of energy and different solutions, because, again, we are a very big country that can only spend so much on infrastructure because everything costs money and everything is not free.”

In November 2023, the MCA released its Nuclear: Decarbonising Australia’s Industrial Heat Sector report, which outlines the difficulty the nation’s industrial base faces in reducing emissions, and the obvious solution.

The report pinpoints the critical need to provide Australia’s manufacturers, industrial companies and miners with the ability to properly decarbonise its heating and refining operations; where electrification is not possible. It states that industrial energy demand accounts for 42% of Australia’s total final energy consumption, half of which is used for process heating.

Of that supply of industrial heat, 80% is generated by fossil fuels (46% natural gas, 22% coal, 13% pooil and other hydrocarbons).

When put in an emissions context, Constable says the scenario is alarming, given the lack of current viable alternatives. Greenhouse gas emissions from industrial heat contributed 21.1% of Australia’s overall emissions in 2022. That’s more than the entire transport sector, and second only to electricity generation.

Attracting investment

Meanwhile, Constable adds that there is already a severe decline in investments and labour productivity in the country, which results in Australia being a high-cost jurisdiction. 

As such, investment is going to countries such as the US, Canada, South America, Africa, and Asia.

We are starting to struggle against other jurisdictions around the world,” Constable says.

For Australia to be reaping similar rewards to these other countries, Constable reiterates an important factor for critical minerals specifically, is there needs to be mining support as a political imperative. 

We are starting to struggle against other jurisdictions around the world

“It shows that a government like Australia is supportive. So when a company’s minerals project goes to financial markets / institutions, there is more certainty to also support.

(But) you need to also provide the infrastructure to support several critical minerals projects. The rail, transport, water, power infrastructure, and all of those services to help with the support for that particular mine so that the product itself can get to market quicker.”

With a goal to reach net zero emissions by 2050, Constable notes that the volumes of minerals and metals needed are ‘astronomical’. She says at least 50 new lithium mines, ‘dozens, multiples’ of nickel and cobalt mines, and other critical minerals  required to support that opportunity will need to come online. 

“But we can’t do that unless we get these policy settings and that support. Because that then makes us competitive with the trillions of dollars that are available to get a piece of that when we have been the number one resource jurisdiction and we’re slipping. 

If we want to reap those rewards, then we have to do some heavy lifting in Australia to say to those investors out there, ‘hey, take a good look at us, because we’ve got it all in Australia’, and we can provide the certainty, the political stability to be able to invest here. 

That’s the critical opportunity that is there.”

Write to Aaliyah Rogan at Mining.com.au  

Images: MCA & Supplied
Author Image
Written By Aaliyah Rogan
Relocated from the East Coast in New Zealand to Queensland Australia, Aaliyah is a fervent journalist who has a passion for storytelling. When Aaliyah isn’t writing stories, she is either spending time with friends and family or down at the beach.