Residents have reacted strongly to a draft proposal for a $7 billion processing plant to enrich uranium to be based in Whyalla.
Adelaide-based nuclear advocacy group SA Nuclear Energy Systems has developed a $20 billion blueprint to create a South Australian nuclear industry including a Whyalla-based enrichment plant.
SA Nuclear Energy Systems, chaired by Bruce Hundertmark, believes the Eyre Peninsula would become one of the richest regions in the country should the state government adopt its proposal.
Adelaide University chemistry professor Stephen Lincoln is one of six board members of SA Nuclear Energy Systems and believes the blueprints have the potential to create thousands of jobs.
Mr Lincoln said building the plant and its continued operation would employ people with a wide range of qualifications and would reverse the region’s economic misfortunes.
“You’re talking about spending a very substantial amount money,” he said.
“The whole motivation of starting the group was we were concerned about the economy of South Australia.”
Mr Lincoln said Australia had one third of the world’s uranium and the state had one of the world's largest uranium deposits at Roxby Downs.
Resident Jo-Anne Waters questioned whether the proposal would create local jobs and said it would more likely compound the region’s transient working population.
“I don't think it will create very many local jobs,” she said.
Ms Waters said taking an anti-nuclear stance did not make her anti-jobs and said Whyalla's climate made it ideally suited for solar and wind energy.
“In Whyalla, if it's not sunny it's windy,” she said.
Resident John Sowerby said he wanted more investment in solar and wind energy which he believed would become cheap energy sources in the future.
Premier Jay Weatherill opened the door for a renewed nuclear debate when he announced a royal commission into the industry in February.
“It used to be royal commissions were held to investigate things that were done wrong, now they're using them to justify doing the wrong thing."Resident Jo-Anne Waters
Whyalla City Council mayor Jim Pollock said the council would wait until it had seen the results of the royal commission before it could commit or not commit to supporting nuclear expansion.
“Everyone has their opinion about it [nuclear], but it would be premature for council to make a decision,” he said.
“I would personally need to know a lot more about an enrichment plant in our backyard, my first thoughts are I don't think it's such a good idea.”
Ms Waters criticised the state government’s royal commission and said it had succumbed to the economic allure of the industry.
Ms Waters said she believed the royal commission was acting as a public funded publicity platform for the nuclear industry.
“It used to be royal commissions were held to investigate things that were done wrong, now they're using them to justify doing the wrong thing,” Ms Waters said.
Premier Jay Weatherill announced a royal commission into the nuclear industry following major job losses in the mining and resources sector.
Ms Waters said she believed the economic circumstances would make people in Whyalla “desperate” and in a frame of thinking where they would “accept anything”.
“Businesses in the main street have had to shut; people are scared,” she said.
“It makes me feel sick because it's like they're putting us in a position where we have to take this or there won't be any jobs.
“They'll sell us out.”