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Ex-PM: World's N-waste to Outback

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Bob Hawke won the last of his four poll victories on the strength of his green policies.

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Australia
Technology (general)
Alternative Energy
Environmental Issues

SYDNEY, Australia (Reuters) -- A former Australian prime minister has proposed that the country offer to store the world's nuclear waste in its vast desert interior and use the money earned on environment and social welfare programs.

Bob Hawke, who led a centre-left Labor government from 1983 to 1991, stunned political and business leaders when he made the proposal at an informal debate, widely reported in local media on Tuesday.

"What Australia should do in my judgment, as an act of economic sanity and environmental responsibility, is say we will take the world's nuclear waste," Hawke said.

"Australia has ... geologically the safest places in the world for the storage of waste," he was quoted as telling a gathering of Australian alumni of Oxford University.

Labor opposition leader Kim Beazley said the plan was not party policy but Tony Abbott, the conservative government's health minister, said it was a good idea even though the government was not considering importing nuclear waste.

"It is a visionary suggestion but unfortunately there are a lot of politics in this," Abbott told Australian Broadcasting Corp. (ABC) radio.

"Now right at the moment, we can't even get agreement on where to put a nuclear repository for Australia's waste, let alone a repository for the world's waste," he said.

Prime Minister John Howard's administration scrapped plans for a national dump to store Australia's own medical, industrial and research waste from the country's sole nuclear reactor after states failed to agree on a location.

It is now considering three potential sites in the continent's outback heart, including one a few hundred kilometers from the Uluru monolith, a popular tourist attraction.

Hawke said money earned from the plan could be used for environmental programs such as combating increasing salinity and supporting underprivileged outback indigenous communities.

"We can revolutionize the economics of Australia if we do this," Hawke said.

Large parts of Australia are geologically stable and could be a safe repository for nuclear waste, University of New South Wales geologist David Cohen told Reuters.

"Of course, proper engineering would need to address potential problems of leakage of nuclear materials," Cohen said.

But the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) said Australia should instead focus on becoming a world leader in renewable energy.

"Getting more deeply involved in the dirty, dangerous nuclear industry is not the path we should be taking," ACF director Don Henry said in a statement.

Copyright 2005 Reuters. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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