Australian news, and some related international items

Keep Australia’s ban on nuclear power – Noel Wauchope at Federal Inquiry Hearing

I’m here today to state that I totally oppose changing Australia’s present laws banning nuclear activities. At the present time, Australia’s in a bit of a mess energy-wise. There’s a big transition happening with energy, and—not much helped or understood by government, it seems—renewable energy is taking off pretty fast in Australia. But Australia is a kind of test canary for climate change. I think you all would know of the extremes of climate which we’re getting more of now, already, and which will come on in the future with climate change. It’s very important for Australia to decide what to do about it, and at present we have no energy policy for going forward, and the world is watching us—watching our energy policy and watching our Prime Minister cuddling a lump of coal, which doesn’t go down very well with the world. We are not showing ourselves to be a good global citizen. Worse, we’re not helping our own selves.

So what we need is a way forward. We need to head towards a zero-carbon economy. We have all the ability to go in that direction. We’ve got an intelligent, educated population. We can largely work very hard on energy efficiency. That is something which is kind of the forgotten, the ugly stepsister of energy, but the biggest thing we could do is plan and organise energy efficiency in our buildings, in our transport and in many other ways. As well as that, we need to pursue renewable energy and properly phase out coal.

When it comes to nuclear power, a debate on nuclear power for Australia is simply a waste of energy, time and money. We all know that it’ll take many decades to have nuclear power established in this country. The idea of small modular reactors, which has been put forward at times, is absolutely ridiculous. It would not happen for at least two decades. Imagine little reactors dotted about the country. It’s absurd. I believe that, while that discussion is on, we’re not heading in the direction that is practical and could be done. If we change the policy and cease to ban nuclear activities, that opens the door for the big nuclear companies, and the little ones—I suppose you could call NuScale little, although it’s probably very well funded for its propaganda if not for its actual setting up. With that distraction of removing the ban, we open the door for propaganda to be spread by these companies and their friends in Australia. Of course, some people in the defence industry are very interested because they’d be looking to small modular reactors for nuclear submarines. So I see this as a great distraction from what we should be talking about and what we should be doing.

Our laws were not just set up as a random whim; they were set up because of a realisation, well before the Fukushima thing happened, of the environmental and health hazards of nuclear power and of the issue of nuclear waste. Nobody has solved the problem, as Rosamund has said, of where to finally dispose of it. That hasn’t been worked out, and it seems quite ridiculous to keep on producing something for which we have no proper garbage can.

As well as that, there’s the question of weapons proliferation. It’s quite interesting that both in the United States and in England defence departments are out openly now stating that ‘peaceful’ nuclear energy—I put ‘peaceful’ in inverted commas—is the doorway to nuclear weapons. In fact, in America they’re actually using some of the by-products of ‘peaceful’ nuclear power, such as tritium, to make more effective nuclear weapons. So there’s a big link between nuclear power and nuclear weapons, and small modular reactors would be perhaps be the foot in the door for that.

However, I think that all the discussion about small modular reactors is pretty much irrelevant, because what the global nuclear lobby wants is Australia’s laws overturned so that it can promote its product. We have a media that is about 70 per cent dominated by Murdoch media. We have investigative journalists disappearing because of the slump in the news media, because everybody is using Facebook, blogs and all sorts of alternative digital media. So the door would be opened, once we changed those laws, for the promotion of nuclear power. Of course, they would push it as a climate change solution. As I said before, it will be decades before nuclear power reactors, small or large, can be set up in Australia. By that time, the climate change runaway horse will have well and truly run away, and it will be far too late for nuclear power to do anything about climate change

Anyway, I don’t believe that it actually is a real attack on climate change. I was interested to see that Hugh Morgan, lately, with his big, long history in uranium mining, is still scoffing at the idea of climate change, saying that it is a hoax. So those people from the mining and nuclear industries who previously called climate change a hoax are now hypocritically turning around and pretending that it’s the solution to climate change. What makes you laugh even more is that the media is buying this. Most of the stuff you will read in the media is straight handouts from a nuclear company. NuScale ought to be praised for its terrific efforts in practically brainwashing all journalists that their so-called small reactors—they’re not small anymore, because they have to be put together in bunches and form a large reactor now. The propaganda will go untrammelled when we change the laws. As I said, the laws were set up for very sound reasons. They are a real recognition of the health and environmental dangers of nuclear power, of the link to weapons proliferation and of course the cost.

CHAIR: Thank you very much, Ms Wauchope. What we’ll try to do from our side is keep our questions to one question each so that we can run through as many as possible. I was listening for overlaps between you, and one of them seems to be community engagement, access to information and the like. Something we heard from some witnesses yesterday was the promotion of the idea of an education program that would include, no doubt, pros and cons. Do you have an opinion on whether or not Australia should have an education program so that information is more readily available to its citizens?

……Ms Wauchope: I’m pretty sceptical of any education program. I note that, where I read stuff about debate on nuclear power, it’s fascinating that those who are pro-nuclear believe that the only experts we need to listen to are engineers, nuclear engineers, chemists that relate to the nuclear industry—people who are already involved in the nuclear industry. They’re very much promoting STEM education, which, by the way, I believe is good. We do need STEM—science, technology, engineering and maths. It’s certainly something that we need, but it shouldn’t be opposed to history, literature, social studies, English, languages and those other downgraded, what they call ‘soft’, sciences.

I feel that if there were an education program it would happen the way it’s happening in America. The nuclear lobby would set up little groups in universities, give the universities plenty of funding and promote the story that only nuclear engineers know what it’s all about. If you left it to nuclear engineers to know what it’s all about, it would be a little bit like deciding you wanted to know about religion—you’re not terribly interested in religion or you might not believe in religion or you might be a Hindu or something—and going to the Pope or an archbishop.

Nuclear engineers are not going to say that the industry is dirty, dangerous, unnecessary, way past its time and super expensive. We’re not going to hear much of that, so I would be very sceptical of any education program.

Mr PITT: Just for our own benefit, one of the things that we’ve been able to do as members of the panel is go to the research reactor at Lucas Heights in Sydney, where they’re actually doing some things that I really wasn’t aware of. Australia is producing some 50 per cent of the processed silica for use in advanced computing, and there are a number of other things that happen at that research facility. In terms of your submission—and thanks for your attendance—is it solely nuclear energy for the production of power that you don’t support, or is it the technology in total, including research and nuclear medicine?

……do you support that type of research?

Ms Wauchope: I don’t, because now—it mightn’t have been the case in the past but it is now—particle accelerator cyclotrons can now produce all the necessary isotopes for nuclear medicine. There are many ways in which they’re far more practical. They can exist near the point of use—near hospitals—because most of the isotopes have very short half-lives. Therefore, it’s really not so practical to be taking them, for example, from Lucas Heights all the way across to Western Australia. It’s ridiculous. Now we have more modern ways and they can produce all the isotopes, including technetium-99. I would like to point out that I’m not against nuclear medicine, but we mustn’t forget that the vast bulk of it is used for diagnosis rather than treatment. It has its negatives, because staff have to be very careful while working with it. They have to wear their radiation badges in order to not get too much radiation. There are a number of reasons that medical isotopes can be produced without needing a nuclear reactor. I’m sure that is the future.

Mr BURNS: Thank you, both of you, for coming and presenting to the committee. One of the prerequisites that we’re looking at is community sentiment and whether we have a social licence to move towards this. That’s something that I have real doubts about. Where do you think Australians as a whole are and where do you think community sentiment is at in regards to possibly moving to nuclear power generation?

Ms Wauchope: I think this inquiry itself is an example of another waste of money. In general Australians know nothing about it. They are not interested. They don’t know anything. All they know is how wonderful Lucas Heights is and that gives us nuclear medicine. I think it’s an issue that is not at the forefront for Australians; it is at the forefront only for companies that want to go ahead and do things like get nuclear submarines. I do think small reactors are a complete red herring. They won’t happen. They’re too expensive. Nobody wants to buy them. Only governments can buy them, and even then they have to buy them en masse, because they’re not going to sell just one; they’re going to have to sell many—hundreds. Of course, there are a lot of things wrong with that. If you buy hundreds of these small, modular nuclear reactors, tough luck if there’s a fault in one because there could be a fault in all of them. It’s impractical, it’s super expensive, and I don’t believe that the nuclear lobby is really interested in that; all they’re interested in is overturning the laws in Australia. That’s what I think will be the outcome of this little inquiry.

October 15, 2019 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, politics

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