Australian news, and some related international items

Marles devises AUKUS alternative — The Bug Online

DEFENCE:                The Albanese Government has swiftly initiated a fallback plan in the event reported political unrest in the United States results in the collapse of the AUKUS pact signed by the Morrison Government to purchase a fleet of nuclear submarines. The new strategic alliance between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the USA followed the scrapping […]

Marles devises AUKUS alternative — The Bug Online

January 8, 2023 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Australian government joined enthusiastically into America’s espionage law attack on whistle blowers and journalists

Key US Allies Collaborate On Espionage Laws Considered Harmful To Whistleblowers And Journalists

 Since the legislation was passed, Australian Federal Police have raided the homes and offices of journalists who reported on war crimes in Afghanistan and the monitoring of Australian citizens’ communications.

Groups, such as Reporters Without Borders and the National Union of Journalists, wrote to lawmakers and warned that the bill conflated journalism with spying, expanded the definition of classified information, and disproportionately increased the penalty of espionage to life imprisonment.

Many of these new elements align existing laws with the United States Espionage Act, an antiquated law that was adopted over a century ago.

Richard Spence, Jan 5, 2023

Ministers and security officials in Australia, Sweden, and the United Kingdom have coordinated with the United States to develop new espionage laws.

Each of the countries have faced criticism from news media and civil society organizations for proposing laws that will harm journalists and whistleblowers’ ability to report on abuse and corruption in their own and each other’s countries.

These states have close intelligence ties to each other and the United States, and they have played some role in the extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, whose prosecution is widely recognized as a threat to global press freedom. In fact, disclosures of the kind that Assange published have been cited as what the laws aim to make illegal.

FBI Director Christopher Wray had several days of meetings with “law enforcement partners in the United Kingdom” during July 2022. After these meetings, MI5 chief Ken McCallum promoted the “National Security Bill,” the first change to UK espionage laws since 1989.

The law would purportedly address the perceived threats Wray and McCallum discussed.

McCallum and other intelligence officials’ warnings and suggestions were frequently referenced by parliament members and government ministers who supported the bill when it was debated in the UK Parliament in November 2022.

Priti Patel, when she was UK Home Secretary, said the bill “was designed in close consultation with security services.”

In Sweden, the 2022 Foreign Espionage Act, which was adopted last November, specifically criminalized disclosures that cause “substantial damage” to Sweden’s relations with other countries or organizations. That led reporters to warn that journalists revealing war crimes committed by the US government could be prosecuted.

The Australian espionage bill also defined information that “harm[s] or prejudice[s] Australia’s international relations” as illegal to disclose.

Australia Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) Director Duncan Lewis, who advised the country’s premier on their legislation, was asked at a parliamentary committee hearing, “Is there a connection, in your view, between our diplomatic and economic relations and our national security? In other words, if someone causes harm to our diplomatic relations with a foreign country, like the United States, can that harm our national security?”

“Absolutely,” Lewis responded. “You would need [to] go no further than perhaps the case of [Edward] Snowden to think about that—the enormous damage that was done to various diplomatic relations as a result of the leaks that came out of Snowden.”

The Espionage and Foreign Interference Act of 2018 introduced a range of measures the Australia government claimed were meant to combat Chinese interference.

A collection of media outlets, including The Guardian and News Corp, opposed the law, saying that “journalists and their support staff continue to risk jail time for simply doing their jobs” due to the possibility of being prosecuted for dealing with classified information.  

Since the legislation was passed, Australian Federal Police have raided the homes and offices of journalists who reported on war crimes in Afghanistan and the monitoring of Australian citizens’ communications.

The ASIO gave “extensive operational briefings” on foreign interference to Malcolm Turnbull, when he was Australia’s prime minister, and Turnbull noted their input as he introduced the legislation in Parliament.

ASIO Director Duncan Lewis explained what in part motivated the push to expand the country’s espionage law. “Our international allies and partners with whom we share threat information tell us resoundingly that Australia is not alone in confronting a new threat environment, one that’s different from what we’ve seen before. In ASIO’s view, we must now adjust to this harsh reality.”

Lewis pointed to UK Prime Minister Theresa May who had urged allied powers to do more to “clamp down on the hostile activity of foreign agents.”

During parliamentary debate in the UK, Patel referred to these discussions.

“Let me say something about the legislation we want to introduce. We are learning from other countries, such as Australia—indeed, I had a bilateral meeting just last week. This is also part of the work of Five Eyes,” Patel shared. “A lot of work is being done to look at the institutional impacts of hostile state activity, alongside issues such as foreign agent registration. We want to get this right through future legislation, and that is what we are working on.”

Groups, such as Reporters Without Borders and the National Union of Journalists, wrote to lawmakers and warned that the bill conflated journalism with spying, expanded the definition of classified information, and disproportionately increased the penalty of espionage to life imprisonment.

Many of these new elements align existing laws with the United States Espionage Act, an antiquated law that was adopted over a century ago.

During a Novembr 2021 speech for the right-wing Heritage Foundation on the US-UK alliance, Patel acknowledged this fact.

“We will modernize existing counter-espionage laws to better reflect the contemporary threat; and we will improve our ability to protect official data and strengthen the associated offenses,” Patel declared “Our strategic partnership must continue to address all this activity – which is uninhibited and growing along with all the other threats we see day in, day out.”

The UK’s proposed legislation updates the current espionage laws to now be applicable to non-UK citizens. Press organizations have complained, “The lack of geographic limits and the overly broad definition of the safety and interests of the United Kingdom can extend the reach of the bill across the globe.”

Australia’s new laws also apply outside of the country and like the UK include assisting (or benefiting in the UKs case) foreign entities, leading to criticism that officials are criminalizing those who work with foreign press outlets.

According to the Australian chair of the Five Eyes Law Enforcement Committee, the organization will arrest those who have committed espionage “no matter where those criminals are in the world.”

Swedish military and intelligence officials studied changes to espionage legislation at the behest of the Swedish government and used WikiLeaks’ release of US diplomatic cables in 2010 as an example of a kind of leak that would harm Sweden’s relationship with other countries if it happened today.

Officials also singled out the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the US as powers that were important to protect from damaging leaks.

In June 2022, Conservative Party parliamentary member Sir John Hayes asked Damian Hinds, who was the UK minister of state for prisons, parole, and probation, if “a WikiLeaks-type disclosure dressed up as being by a guardian of liberty or some such other nonsense” would be illegal.

“The defenses in part one of the bill provide law enforcement with several options for prosecuting disclosures, where the person is acting for or on behalf of a foreign power or where the disclosure would materially assist a foreign intelligence service,” Hinds responded. “That can include bulk disclosures.”

“To be clear, with this bill, the maximum sentence for an indiscriminate disclosure—a bulk data dump—will be higher than it is today if that act is done for a foreign power or the disclosure would materially assist a foreign intelligence service, even if not procured by that foreign intelligence service itself,” Hinds further stated.

Canada, which is a Five Eyes country like Australia and the United Kingdom, has also followed their lead.  Canadian security officials briefed the press and politicians, claiming that China aims to influence Canadian democracy.

Security officials in Canada have submitted reports to their government requesting new security laws to prevent Canada from becoming a “weak link” amongst its allies.

January 8, 2023 Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, civil liberties, media, secrets and lies | Leave a comment

Delay to small nuclear reactors as ministers battle over costs

Sunday January 08 2023, 12.01am GMT, The Sunday Times Harry Yorke

A funding deal for the first fleet of mini nuclear reactors is not expected to materialise for at least another 12 months, amid a row in government over the cost of Britain’s wider nuclear ambitions.

Last year, in order to triple domestic nuclear capacity to 24 gigawatts by 2050 — a quarter of the UK’s projected electricity demand — Boris Johnson set out plans for eight new large reactors alongside the development of small modular reactors (SMRs).

The government also announced the formation of Great British Nuclear (GBN), a body responsible for helping to deliver the next generation of reactors and SMRs by identifying potential sites, developers and investors.

 At present only one plant, Hinkley Point C, is under construction, with the financing and final investment decisions on Sizewell C still pending. However, even though all but one of the UK’s existing plants are set to be shut down by the end of the decade, the government’s nuclear strategy now appears at risk of stalling amid internal disagreements.

In particular, Whitehall sources have revealed that there remains significant uncertainty over the scale of state investment in SMRs. Rolls-Royce, which has created designs for a 470 megawatt SMR and wants to
begin building factories, has called for ministers to enter funding talks and start placing orders. Rolls is understood to be seeking a commitment for four initial SMRs at a cost of about £2 billion each, which it
believes would unlock orders from interested foreign buyers.

But a senior government source said the Treasury would not sign off on any orders or significant funding until the technology had approval from the Office for Nuclear Regulation, which is not expected until 2024.

While the government has already invested £210 million in Rolls’s technology, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) is also still assessing whether its competitors, including GE Hitachi, may offer “more viable” alternatives.

Insiders have signalled that the government may opt to launch yet another competition to gather further evidence before any firm deals are struck. More broadly, Treasury ministers harbour big concerns over the
costs associated with GBN, which officials have warned is billions over budget. While officials expect GBN to be announced early this year, after months of delays, the internal wrangling could lead to changes to both the body’s scope and funding.

 Times 8th Jan 2023

January 8, 2023 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Secret War in the Making: Americans Should Not Die to Defend Taiwan

American Institute for Economic Research Doug Bandow January 2, 2023

The United States might be a democracy in form, but most policies are developed without even a semblance of public participation. For instance, policymakers overwhelmingly believe that the US should go to war with the People’s Republic of China if it attacks Taiwan. President Biden has five times declared that he would back Taiwan militarily. Yet Congress has not voted.

Those predicting conflict believe the hour is late, but some imagine that a tough stance would preclude war. America’s president merely needs to wave his pinky finger, or state his demands, and Chinese Communist Party officials would run screaming back to the leadership compound of Zhongnanhai, never to be heard from again. General Secretary Xi Jinping is, however, made of sterner stuff, buttressed by the People’s Liberation Army, which is rapidly expanding to prevent Washington from treating the Asia-Pacific as coastal American waters.

Even so, many Blob members assume that if Beijing were foolish enough to fight, it would (of course) be defeated. Not so. Any war over Taiwan would be won on the seas, and the PRC is much closer and can more easily reinforce its forces. Breaking a naval blockade would be difficult and would invite full-scale conflict. Beijing now possesses a larger (based on numbers, not tonnage) navy than America. And China is able to concentrate its forces in the Asia-Pacific. Reported the Congressional Research Service: “China’s navy is a formidable military force within China’s near-seas region, and it is conducting a growing number of operations in the broader waters of the Western Pacific, the Indian Ocean, and waters around Europe.”

Geography is a major problem: Taiwan is barely 100 miles off China’s shore, roughly the same distance as Cuba from America. The PRC could rely on two score mainland military bases and enjoy air superiority over the island. Beijing’s strategy would be anti-access/area denial, using submarines and missiles, especially, to keep the US Navy afar.

Washington would have to rely on allied bases, most notably Japan (Okinawa), the Philippines, and South Korea. However, none of America’s friends want to end up as targets of Chinese missiles. The Republic of Korea, confronting a dangerous North Korea, is least-likely to back the US in a war against the PRC. The Philippines is a semi-failed state; a former defense secretary once opined that his nation had “a navy that can’t go out to sea and an air force that cannot fly.”

Which leaves Japan. North Korea’s nuclear turn and China’s rise have caused Tokyo to plan a major increase in defense outlays. That government now notes its strategic interest in Taiwan, but has insisted that nothing said so far commits Japan to go to war with China over the issue. Entry into any war would turn the entire country into a potential target, and reaffirm Tokyo’s status as an enemy of the PRC.

Alas, the US usually loses wargames involving a Taiwan conflict. ………

Equally important, China cares much more about Taiwan than does the US  For the Chinese, the issue is nationalism at its most raw: the island was seized by Japan as war booty more than a century ago. Regaining Taiwan would complete recovery from the so-called “century of humiliation,” during which outside imperialistic powers, including America, effectively humbled and dismantled the moribund Chinese empire.

Taiwan also has obvious military significance. No great power would accept an enemy base so close to its territory. In the event of defeat, China could expect the island to fill with US bases and forces. Washington faced such a possibility with Cuba in 1962 and almost fought a nuclear war with the Soviet Union over the issue.

No surprise, then, that the PRC is serious about forcing reunification. In his talk at the twentieth Chinese Communist Party congress in October, Xi Jinping insisted that “The complete unification of the motherland must be realized, and it will be realized.” Several Chinese diplomats strongly expressed similar views to me after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s ill-considered August visit to Taiwan.

In contrast, in terms of security, Taiwan doesn’t matter one whit to the US.At most, Washington would gain by denying Taiwan to China, inhibiting the latter’s naval activities in the region. But that is no justification for war. Beijing will always be willing to spend and risk more in any fight over the island.

Moreover, a conflict between the US and China might not remain conventional. Never before have two nuclear-armed powers fought a major conventional war. Escalation would be a constant danger. The US could not easily ignore military targets on the Chinese mainland. Attacking China proper, however, would force Beijing to respond by, for instance, hitting American possessions like Guam, at least. The PRC would face even-greater pressure to escalate if it was losing, since Taiwan is an existential interest………………..

The US needs to have a serious debate over Taiwan. Now.

……………… Finally, the US should seek tripartite negotiations to find a modus vivendi to keep the peace in the Taiwan Strait. We might begin with Taiwan downplaying its efforts to assert a separate international identity, the US pledging to forgo a military relationship with Taipei and minimizing efforts to highlight ties with Taiwan, and Beijing reducing military forces targeting the island and agreeing to eschew military action as long as the other parties keep their promises.

Most members of the Washington foreign policy elite have never met a war they didn’t want other Americans to fight. Policymakers managed to blunder through Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya without wrecking the US. A war against China over Taiwan could have far more destructive consequences. It is vital for the American people to participate in the decision-making process over policy toward Taiwan. For their future, and that of their kids and grandkids, the right answer is no to war.

January 8, 2023 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

From the fossil fuel frying pan into the fission fire

“Coal to Nuclear” plan is old thinking at its worst

From the fossil fuel frying pan into the fission fire — Beyond Nuclear International

Another smokescreen that obscures real climate solutions

By Linda Pentz Gunter

They’ve given it a snappy little acronym, one that is perhaps supposed to masquerade as a sort of scientific-sounding calculus — C2N. After the failure of the much-trumpeted “nuclear renaissance” that never was, the nuclear lobby and its federal lackeys have come up with another PR clunker — Coal 2 Nuclear (hence, C2N). In reality, this is less C2N than CPR for an ailing nuclear power industry.

Unfortunately, to arrive at this dangerously out-of-touch scheme, our tax dollars had to be wasted on yet another U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) report. Its conclusion was that, “hundreds of U.S. coal power plant sites could convert to nuclear power plant sites, adding new jobs, increasing economic benefit, and significantly improving environmental conditions.”

Notice the word “could” though. Not “will”. Because it’s more of the same aspirational irrationality that is driving the small modular reactor fantasy in the first place, the version of nuclear power that would supposedly dot the defunct coal plant landscapes.

The DOE study was conducted by Argonne National Laboratory, Idaho National Laboratory, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Their self-interested conclusions then, come as no surprise.

C2N is enough to make you despair — or confirm your pre-existing suspicions — that our leadership is blind and deaf to the reality of the climate emergency we are facing. They are truly mired in the mud of outdated thinking, clinging to failed and foolish energy plans that have long been supplanted by demonstrably better, faster, cheaper, safer and more workable options, ergo renewable energy, energy efficiency and conservation.

More than 3 million of the 7.8 million jobs in the US energy sector are in areas aligned to America’s goal of being carbon neutral by 2050”, reported the World Economic Forum in July 2022. “This means renewable energy jobs in 2021 accounted for around 40% of total energy jobs.”

But no, the DOE would rather spend decades dangling before depressed coal communities the false promise of “new jobs” and “economic benefits” in a phantom new nuclear sector. It’s a con and the worst form of betrayal and guess whose fingerprints are all over this?

With C2N, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia (Democrat in name only and with his pockets full of coal money), is throwing his most deprived constituents under a petroleum-powered bus. He is leading those who need work today down a long and winding road to C2N that will deliver little if anything and nothing anytime soon.

All of this is in line with a collective madness that appears to have taken over significant swaths of human society. In November, UN General Secretary, António Guterres, desperate to steer us away from our final precipice, issued his most strident and urgent warning yet:

“We are in the fight of our lives and we are losing … And our planet is fast approaching tipping points that will make climate chaos irreversible,” Guterres said. “We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator.”

He was speaking at the opening of the COP27 UN climate summit in Egypt, or the “COP-out” as some cynics prefer to call it, given the abject failure of these annual meetings to ensure enforcement of the pledges made, albeit most are still woefully inadequate.

The US DOE meanwhile, prefers to dwell in the dark ages of denial. “A coal to nuclear transition could significantly improve air quality,” the department alleged in its report. But this ignores the fact that nuclear power plants and the nuclear fuel chain routinely release radioactivity, especially dangerous to children. Among more than 60 epidemiological studies worldwide, most found increases in rates of leukemia among children under five living near nuclear power plants. The rates increased the closer children lived to the plant.

And it ignores the fact that air quality could be improved faster and more significantly by shifting from coal to renewables rather than to nuclear, thereby also avoiding the cancer-causing emissions delivered by nuclear power.

Of course, “air quality” would be rendered meaningless if/when one of the C2N plants suffers a serious accident. Such an event would release large amounts of fast-traveling radioactive iodine-131 gas, followed by clouds of heavier radioactive fallout such as cesium and strontium. A major disaster, such as those at Chernobyl in 1986 and Fukushima in 2011, even released “hot” particles such plutonium into the environment.

This outcome is made even more likely by virtue of the reactor choices for these C2N sites, which include small modular reactors, sodium-cooled fast reactors and very high temperature reactors, all designs vulnerable to fires, leaks, explosions and other major failures.

Needless to say, a C2R program (Coal to Renewables), the most obvious choice staring our federal government in the face, just wasn’t even on the cards. That would have meant relinquishing the stranglehold —and renouncing the pocket-lining dollars — of the big fossil fuel and nuclear corporations. 

As M.V. Ramana and Cassandra Jeffery noted with such precision on these pages, the powers that be are “far more devoted to maintaining the current system for as long as it is feasible,” rather than exploring genuine climate solutions.

C2N preserves that status quo, operating inside a spectacularly failed system that, nevertheless, continues to enrich the already wealthy and preserve the monopoly enjoyed by large, inflexible and already obsolete forms of energy production such as nuclear power.

An argument made by these entrenched establishment forces is that moving from coal to nuclear allows for a continued electricity supply system that is “always on”, reinforcing the myth that base load energy is somehow beneficial.

Nuclear reactors “run uninterrupted,” Maria Korsnick, head of the industry lobbying group, Nuclear Energy Institute, told an audience of Purdue University students in October when stumping for C2N. “Every hour of every day, rain or shine.”

But, as George Harvey explained in CleanTechnica: “Base load power may supply the electricity in the middle of the night in many cases, but power from other sources could be used instead.” Clinging to base load is related to cost, not demand and efficiency.

Already back in 2017, the Brattle Group conducted an analysis for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee — Advancing Past “Baseload” to a Flexible Grid, in which the group concluded that the base load concept was outdated. Base load, it said, has now been left behind by the economics of a changing electricity landscape that have rendered it “no longer very relevant”.

Much more efficient, said the report, is an electricity demand and supply met with high renewable generation. In their graph illustrating this, nuclear power is nowhere to be seen.

And of course, nuclear power invariably doesn’t “run uninterrupted.” It must power down or off during violent storms, droughts or heatwaves, or due to offsite grid instability, and shut down for extended periods during refueling and maintenance. And, as exemplified most recently by France, it can simply break down altogether for extended periods.

If the C2N reactors ever do happen, it will be decades in the future. By then, those who needed the work in the 2020s, falsely promised by C2N, will be retired or deceased. Our coastlines may well be underwater. If we did enough in time to save ourselves, we will be on smart grids using distributed generation. 

“Nuclear energy is going to create incredible new career opportunities all over the country,” Korsnick told the Purdue students. According to the dictionary definition, “incredible” means “not credible; hard to believe”. That about sums it up. 

Linda Pentz Gunter is the international specialist at Beyond Nuclear and writes for and curates Beyond Nuclear International.

January 8, 2023 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

SMRs – an oversold hype? 8 Jan 23 Writing in the venerable US journal Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Markku Lehtonen takes at look at Small Modular Reactors (SMRs), warning that they may be being oversold.  He says  ‘Despite the boost from the Ukraine crisis, it is uncertain whether SMR advocates can muster the political will and societal acceptance needed to turn SMRs into a commercial success. The economic viability of the SMR promise will crucially depend on how much further down the road towards  deglobalization, authoritarianism in its various guises, and further tweaking of the energy markets the Western societies are willing to go. Moreover, the reliance of the SMR business case on complex global supply chains as well as on massive deployment and geographical dispersion of nuclear facilities creates its own geopolitical vulnerabilities and security problems’.

A key issue for the selling of  SMRs is ease of deployment . Well it may not be as easy as some hope, although the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission has recently moved to allow ‘advanced  nuclear plants’ to be built in thickly populated areas. The NRC decision entitled ‘Population-Related Siting Considerations for Advanced Reactors,’ was passed subject to one vote against from Commissioner Jeffery Baran, who said ‘multiple, independent layers of protection against potential radiological exposure are necessary because we do not have perfect knowledge of new reactor technologies and their unique potential accident scenarios… Unlike light-water reactors, new advanced reactor designs do not have decades of operating experience; in many cases, the new designs have never been built or operated before.’  

There may be other ways for NRC to smooth the path ahead .  NIRS/WISE Nuclear Monitor 904, reports on the views of  Dr Ed Lyman, from the US Union of Concerned Scientists, who says SMRs and Advanced Modular Reactors are likely to be expensive and he lists some other possible ways to ‘cut corners on safety & security to cut costs’, that the industry would like NRC to consider. Here are some of them:  

• Allow nuclear power plants to have a ‘small containment-or no physical containment at all’. 

• No offsite emergency planning requirements. 

• Fewer or even zero operators. 

• Letting the plants have ‘fewer NRC inspections and weaker enforcement.’ 

• ‘Reduced equipment reliability reporting.’ 

• ‘Fewer back-up safety systems.’ 

• ‘Regulatory requirements should be few in number and vague.’ 

• ‘Zero’ armed security personnel to try to protect an advanced nuclear plant from terrorists.

We are almost talking about a ‘wild west’  free for all!  Hopefully some sense will prevail. And a more balanced view of possibilities, risks and benefits will be taken, in the US, and also in the UK, where there are plans for developing 20-30 PWR-type SMRs as part of the UK plan to triple UK nuclear capacity by 2050. 

Will it really happen?  There certainly are  a lot of very different ideas being mooted,  beyond just mini-versions of Pressurised Water-cooled Reactors, including sodium cooled fast neutron reactors, molten flouride salt reactors, and high temperature helium cooled reactors. But as I explored in my recent book, looking back how these ideas emerged and were then abandoned in the early days of nuclear experimentation, I’m not convinced that any of the new nuclear, variants large or small, has much of a future. Renewables are arguably a far better bet. And I’m not alone in thinking that SMRs are not the way ahead.

January 8, 2023 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

January 8 Energy News — geoharvey

Opinion: ¶ “What Does It Mean That (Once Rare) Atmospheric Rivers And Bomb Cyclones Are Becoming More Frequent?” • Atmospheric rivers and bomb cyclones are ever more frequent and intense parts of the North American meteorological landscape. That fact is perfectly compatible with projections of climate change driven by our warming our planet. [The Hill] […]

January 8 Energy News — geoharvey

January 8, 2023 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment