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Nuclear waste dumps could power economy

Australia is being urged to have a mature debate about building a waste management hub for the world’s nuclear energy industry, according to a Deloitte report that identifies 19 under-recognised “growth pockets” that would boost growth by $150 billion.

Deloitte Access Economics analyst Chris Richardson said nuclear power was among several ideas business should be considering as a way of tackling the end of the resources boom.

“Too many business people have their heads in their hands saying ‘woe is me’,” he said. “But they shouldn’t be that concerned. Asia’s boom is evolving.”

He said the need for clean air in Asia meant gas demand would rise, while rising wealth would spur more appetite for food and travel, all of which Australia provides. The ageing population and constrained federal and state budgets were also opening opportunities.

“Look at diabetes. We’re living longer but not necessarily healthier and that’s a big set of business opportunities. If you look at what businesses go bust in Australia, they are rarely related to the health sector. If you have a bad back and toothache, you’re going to do something about it. Some of the best businesses are going to be more immune from the business cycle.”

According to the Deloitte’s Positioning for prosperity? Catching the next wave, many growth drivers are outside traditional strengths of mining, agriculture, international education, tourism and wealth management. New businesses are needed to service residential aged care, retirement living and leisure and preventive health. Other areas include retraining ageing workers, providing new forms of financing for cash-poor but asset-rich retirees, private schooling to service higher birth rates and parcel delivery for online shopping.

The report suggests these businesses are likely to grow between 5.1 per cent and 3.8 per cent a year for the next 20 years, outpacing economic growth, which has averaged about 3 per cent over the long term.

Mr Richardson said other niche ­sectors were clean coal technology to offset climate concerns; ocean farming and next-generation nuclear.

Deloitte argues much of the Australian continent is geologically stable, with low rainfall, limited erosion, extremely slow ground-water velocity and low seismic activity.

“Australia also has the political and social stability lacking in some alternative sites, such as southern Africa, western China and Argentina.”

A focus on selling nuclear waste “storage” to global customers would also remove one of the biggest barriers to nuclear power around the world.

The report points out technologies are being developed in Australia that may increase the stability of stored nuclear waste, while research elsewhere suggests spent material may be used as fuel for electricity generation.

“By some estimates, nuclear waste could not only be used up over time, but could generate enough electricity to power the planet for 300 years,” Deloitte said in the report.

While Mr Richardson said the idea could be easily demonised “via banner headlines”, making it unlikely to proceed, the world was in search of a global solution.

“Clearly, the people of Australia have choices to make.

“We would simply urge a mature debate that weighs safety, cost, environmental impact, community sentiment and other dimensions of the issue, while examining it through the lens of Australian advantage and global opportunity.”

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