Dr Alan Finkel

Monash University chancellor Dr Alan Finkel has been announced by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull as Australia’s next chief scientist, replacing Ian Chubb.

Science bodies have been quick to welcome his appointment.

“Professor Finkel is an excellent choice for this position and I’m confident he will speak strongly and passionately on behalf of Australian science, particularly in his advice to government,” Australian Academy of Science president Professor Andrew Holmes said.

Engineers Australia chief executive Stephen Durkin said Dr Finkel was an outstanding appointment for a role that would be “critical in Australia’s transition to a high-tech, high-value economy”.

“Dr Finkel has been a strong campaigner for advancing the cause of science and engineering in this country, and this appointment is a worthy recognition of his work,” he said.

Dr Finkel’s appointment has not been without controversy, however, as he has been a vocal proponent of nuclear power in Australia.

In an opinion piece for the Herald Sun in 2013, Dr Finkel said that in light of the approval of the UK’s Hinkley C power station, it was time for Australia to have a nuclear debate.

“In Australia, we have avoided debate on the nuclear power option despite our determination to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. But we should be asking ourselves, if nuclear is not included as part of the mix, will we be able to achieve the abundant, reliable supply of low-emissions electricity needed to meet our goals?” Dr Finkel said.

“Nuclear electricity should be considered as a zero-emissions contributor to the energy mix.”

The use of nuclear power in Australia has previously been promoted by the influential Committee for Economic Development of Australia, though has a number of vocal opponents on economic, environmental and health grounds.

South Australia is currently conducting a Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission into the state’s role in the nuclear industry.