The recent COP28 conference held in Dubai, being colloquially referred to as the Nuclear COP, was the first of the regular series of events held by the United Nations where the nuclear industry was welcomed with open arms as a critical factor in achieving Global Net Zero. This resulted in the Triple Nuclear pledge, where more than 20 of the world’s leading nations undertook to Triple global nuclear capacity; which will have the result of requiring significant additional sources of uranium.
The Global Net Zero point is important. The issue is called Global Warming; the whole concept being a planetary wide phenomenon. Clearly with differentiated local effects, but generally speaking the point is to reduce overall global emissions to help in limiting global temperatures rises to 1.5 degrees (the target). No point reducing emissions in one jurisdiction if overall emissions continue to rise due to unchecked emissions from elsewhere.
This holistic target of reducing overall emissions has often been a sticking point for those that campaign against emissions reductions. Why should we bother, if large emitters continue unabated? It is clear that Australia in its direct emissions, is a small player in the overall scheme of things, and WA just a subset of that. But what about when we consider all the emissions that the users of our exported raw materials create?
From our coal, petroleum and natural gas products that are burned for energy (but burned somewhere else in the world); or all that iron ore that must be processed in emissions intensive blast furnaces (but blast furnaces located internationally)?
This is essentially the consideration of Scope 3 emissions; the most difficult to quantify. Do we absolve ourselves of any responsibility for selling these emissions causing raw products? And this is not in any way suggesting that mining the raw materials is bad. In fact, there will be no energy transition without the nickel, copper, lithium, vanadium and even steel that is produced by our raw materials.
To achieve the global goals, there actually must be a massive increase in the global mining complex. But it must be done responsibly. The fact is Australia has the largest proportion of uranium resources of any country in the world. It makes sense that we should contribute to the uranium supply. However, there are many other sources where indeed uranium could be mined. Canada is another tier one mining jurisdiction with impeccable mining credentials.
However, there is also a large amount of uranium in jurisdictions which don’t prosecute the same level of strict environmental controls (or social governance) on their mining industry. So another question to ponder is whether we should worry about the source of origin of the world’s raw materials.
This argument is perhaps best recognised with the issue of Blood Diamonds, but can be applied similarly to other commodities from less aligned countries.
As the complexity of the climate situation becomes more and more of a dinner table discussion topic; our population is growing to understand that there is a actually a shared moral duty to consider these issues. Consider at least. It may still be more difficult to ask populations to act in a manner that causes them as a whole or at an individual level loss; but at least recognition of the issue has come a long way.
The exciting opportunity here is that in Western Australia we can not only consider the issue and talk cheaply about how we are concerned for the globe and our children’s children; we can actually do something about it. We have the luxury to react in a manner which leaves us financially better off. We can make money and prosper whilst helping the world to decarbonise.
Such no brainers of opportunities don’t come along often - we would be fools to turn this one down. And this moral obligation rationale is not foreign to the WA leadership. Indeed, West Australian Premier Cook has recently used this argument in helping to justify a proposed change to WA’s gas export policies. Currently, export of gas from onshore fields in WA is largely restricted, a policy that, like the uranium policy, was implemented by former Premier Mark McGowan.
And like the uranium policy there were also certain exemptions to that policy. The new Premier Cook’s explanation for considering the change to open up export permits is that the greater export of gas will in fact help our trade partners wean themselves off coal, a far worse culprit in the global warming wars. Expectation is that over the coming months the Government will finalise its proposed changes and allow greater exports, which will in turn help the industry to develop assets (and hence create and sustain jobs) that may not have stacked up on the lower domestic gas sales prices alone. (The potential of job creation from a change in uranium policy will be explored further in a separate article).
The environmental bona fides of expansion of the gas industry to help reduce coal is one that may be challenged by the greener side of politics (including the left of the Labor party); incidentally the same side which opposes greater uranium mining in the State. A movement that through ideological opposition seems to embody the warning phrase “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”
And yet the Premier is demonstrating his willingness to proactively listen to industry and weigh up a competing set of circumstances and regardless of potential risks from the left side of politics, push through with reform that is both common sense and also builds the State’s resilience in a time of otherwise lower commodity prices in some of our other export commodities.
By doing this, he creates a logical precedent (developed and delivered by the Labor Government – no change of Government necessary) that can and should be applied to the issue of reform the uranium industry policy – an industry that as previously argued, already enjoys strong overall community support. Watch this space. Jonathan Fisher is the CEO of Cauldron Energy, an ASX listed (ASX:CXU)
uranium explorer with a uranium project located in WA.
This article is the second in a series aimed at ensuring West Australians are fully informed about all aspects of the uranium mining industry, the opportunities for WA and the role of uranium in helping decarbonise the world economy. Follow Jonathan on X (@cxuasx) or on LinkedIn to stay up to date with the latest instalments.