In a speech talking up the environmentally friendly merits of nuclear energy, Mr Downer said safety concerns about nuclear power were "inaccurate perceptions of risk that are not backed up by fact".
The Foreign Minister accused anti-nuclear groups of "irresponsibly" exploiting concerns about nuclear power to "pursue their own mythology".
He nominated the example of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident of 1986, saying it killed 50 people, involved old reactor technology which was being phased out of service, and that since then there had only been a "handful of fatalities" directly related to accidents in the nuclear power industry.
This was compared with the coal industry, which worldwide since 1970 had seen more than 20,000 deaths.
The Chernobyl accident is said to have released more than 200 times the radioactive fallout of the two nuclear weapons used at the end of World War II and, according to Greenpeace, led to the deaths of about 2500 people.
Delivering the 2005 Sir Condor Laucke Oration, Mr Downer also said nuclear proliferation could not be avoided by Australia's withholding uranium, and that by supplying it to the region Australia could promote its high safety standards.
Australia has just agreed to start negotiating exporting uranium to China, and the Foreign Minister said Beijing's demand for uranium could run into the hundreds of millions of export dollars by 2020.
Australia is also a member of the United States-led Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, an alternative to the Kyoto Protocol which will explore nuclear technology-sharing among the partner countries, including China, India, Japan and South Korea.
Mr Downer questioned the logic of being concerned about greenhouse gas emissions and opposed to nuclear energy at the same time, saying the environmental benefits of nuclear energy could be demonstrated by comparing Australia and France.
Australia, not a user of nuclear energy, was the ninth-biggest carbon dioxide emitter, while France, which relied on nuclear reactors to supply 80 per cent of its electricity, was ranked 26th.
Mr Downer said that "some may well ask" why Australia would not contemplate using nuclear energy.
"The reality is that nuclear energy is the only established non-fossil fuel energy source capable of generating large amounts of baseload electricity without significant emissions of carbon dioxide," he said. "In the 21st century, the responsible position is to recognise that nuclear power has an important place in the overall global energy mix."
Mr Downer said the number of reactors in the world was expected to increase significantly and "Australia will have a vital role to play with regard to the future of global nuclear power".
Australia has criticised the Kyoto Protocol, and Mr Downer reiterated the Government's opposition to joining, saying those who thought it would answer the problem of climate change "do not understand the question".
The Asia-Pacific partnership will have its first meeting in Adelaide in November.
Government sources yesterday also confirmed reports that the US had upgraded its intelligence relationship with Australia following a decree by President George Bush, putting it on par with the United Kingdom.