Interview with Barrie Cassidy, Insiders ABC
11 June 2006
Nuclear power too expensive, dangerous: Albanese
The New South Wales and Queensland branches of the Labor Party met this weekend. The NSW branch passed a motion opposing nuclear power, but neither branch debated whether Labor should change its three mines policy. Labor’s spokesman for the environment Anthony Albanese says that is an issue for the federal conference next April.
BARRIE CASSIDY: And now to our program guest: Labor’s shadow minister for the Environment, Anthony Albanese. The NSW and Queensland branches of the Labor Party met this weekend. The NSW branch passed a motion opposing nuclear power, but neither of them debated the key issue of whether Labor should change its three mines policy. It seems they’re happy to leave that sensitive issue for the federal conference next April. The Prime Minister, meanwhile, says Labor is failing the national interest by turning its back on these sorts of nuclear issues.
JOHN HOWARD, PRIME MINISTER (7:30 REPORT, TUESDAY 6 JUNE): I have the hunch, in my bones, that in years into the future, you’re going to have nuclear power. In a lot of places we don’t have nuclear power generation, but certainly, to look at the three of them, given the energy challenges this country has, is the sensible thing to do. To shut your mind against it, in the negative way the Opposition has done, might be, you know, populist politics, but, in the long run, it’s not serving the national interests.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Anthony Albanese, good morning.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, SHADOW ENVIRONMENT AND HERITAGE MINISTER: Good morning.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Now, I know that you maintain that it’s a mistake to refer to Labor’s policy as a three mines policy. You say it’s not. It is genuinely an anti-uranium policy?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, it’s a no new mines policy. It’s a policy that I believe gets the balance right in that it recognises the problems with the nuclear fuel cycle, but also recognises that an economically responsible position is to guarantee all existing contracts. So, in effect, it’s a phasing-out policy.
BARRIE CASSIDY: So, when current contracts run out, that’s it?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: That’s right.
BARRIE CASSIDY: That suggests, then, that you will be arguing next April at the federal conference that no more uranium mining be conducted in Australia once current contracts have run out?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: We need to recognise, Barrie, of course, that that allows for a substantial amount of uranium mining. Within our existing policy we’re going to see a tripling of the Olympic Dam project and a satisfaction of existing demand. We, of course, have projects such as Honeymoon, which have been approved, but which aren’t economically viable. So it’s not as if there’s this queue banking up under our existing policy.
BARRIE CASSIDY: But why do you make that point? Because you don’t want to startle people that uranium mining will go on in Australia? It seems to me you’re trying to have it both ways.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, we’re not. We have a position that balances the economically responsible position of honouring existing contracts. To do otherwise would leave the Commonwealth open to compensation. But also, one that recognises that there are problems with the nuclear fuel cycle, and I must say that in the recent Newspoll, only 22 per cent of Australians opposed our position and were calling for a change in Labor policy.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Kim Beazley has a different view, though, doesn’t he? He said it’s not a question of who digs it up, but the terms and conditions under which it is sold. So clearly, he’s going to be at loggerheads with you at the conference.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, well, I don’t think that’s right. I think it’s a matter of the balance that’s there. Kim has certainly emphasised issues such as nuclear non-proliferation, and the need to make improvements in the MPT and I certainly agree there. The real issue, we believe, is John Howard’s push for a massive expansion for a domestic nuclear power industry, for the waste issues associated with that. We have the fact that John Howard went to the United States and met with George Bush and then announced his plan for a nuclear Australia. We have the global nuclear partnership issue, which proposes for nuclear leasing for Australia and then us taking back, effectively becoming the world’s nuclear waste dump. I think that Labor – there is far more that unites us on this issue than minor differences at the edges.
BARRIE CASSIDY: But, do you think, at the end of the day, that Kim Beazley and others will go with you on this and maintain a no new mines policy?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, there are many in the party who’ve said they won’t do that and it’s up to us, in April, to sort those issues out. But as I say, the real issues, which unite Labor, are the issues of opposing this push of John Howard to have nuclear reactors in Australia, to further involve Australia in the nuclear fuel cycle, and all the dangers that that represents.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Why didn’t the New South Wales conference debate this very issue yesterday?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, it wasn’t on the agenda. We had a unanimous position of the New South Wales conference yesterday, a position that completely opposed to a domestic nuclear power industry…
BARRIE CASSIDY: Yeah, we’ll get to that in a moment, but why did they not discuss uranium mining, given that it’s going to be a key debate at the federal conference next April?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, it wasn’t on the agenda. And of course there isn’t any uranium in New South Wales, so it’s not an issue for the state conference. It’s an issue for the national conference. It’s appropriate that it be debated there, and we’ll have a resolution of that issue next April.
BARRIE CASSIDY: It’s an unusually reticent view, isn’t it, for a state branch to take: they won’t interfere in a federal matter?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, not at all. They took a very vigorous position yesterday. There was a full debate about nuclear issues on the floor of the conference and a unanimous resolution of it, which shows, I think, how united Labor is and determined to oppose John Howard’s dangerous plan, John Howard’s nuclear fantasy, indeed, which we believe will turn into Australia’s nuclear nightmare.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Well, at this stage, what that amounts to is an inquiry. Now, what’s wrong with that inquiry? What’s wrong with putting a few facts on the table?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, it’s a matter of whether you’re putting the facts on the table. I mean, this is like asking the AFL commissioners to enquire into what’s the best footy code for Australia. It’s been stacked with nuclear proponents. The Prime Minister has said that it’s inevitable that Australia will develop nuclear power, so it’s an inquiry in the best terms of Yes, Minister. I mean, the World Wrestling Federation would be at baulk at the stack and the pre-determined outcome that’s been set up with this inquiry. And the fact is that the Prime Minister, in announcing this inquiry, couldn’t even say the word renewables. We have greenhouse emissions in Australia exploding – increasing by 25.1 per cent between 1990 and 2004, if you exclude land clearing issues. So what we need to do is get serious about immediate changes, get serious about the fact that the renewable energy industry is collapsing due to the emirate running out, get serious about geo-sequestration and clean coal technology, get serious about gas to liquids, get serious about…
BARRIE CASSIDY: But getting serious about clean coal…
ANTHONY ALBANESE: …the changes that are needed.
BARRIE CASSIDY: …that’s perhaps for the future, but are you prepared to concede that, as it stands right now, nuclear power stations are cleaner than coal-fired power stations?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, in their development, they’re certainly not. They’re very greenhouse gas intensive, and when you look at the nuclear industry, if you see it as a solution to climate change, then you have to put it in perspective, which is that if you double the number of nuclear power plants, you will decrease greenhouse gas emissions by 5 per cent and run out of known uranium reserves within 25 years. In 25 years time, you will still have, out of the 60 per cent cut that’s needed, you will have achieved 5 per cent, have 55 per cent to go, and still – and have the issue of nuclear waste hanging round for the next 250,000 years.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Well, let me give you a figure…
ANTHONY ALBANESE: If we’re getting serious about climate change, we need to, actually, we need to find real solutions and get on with the job of moving down that path a carbon-constrained economy.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Well, let me give you a figure that Julie Bishop, the Science Minister, quoted last week: coal-fired power stations produce 320,000 tonnes of toxic waste; nuclear: 20 tonnes. 20.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Which is why we need – yeah, when they’re in production, but in the getting the uranium, getting the nuclear power stations up they’re incredibly greenhouse gas intensive. And she excludes that, just like the so-called study that she released in two stages – because she didn’t want people to look at the detail – excluded the costs of decommissioning, which, in the UK, is $170 billion to decommission their 20 plants. It excluded the costs of waste and it had envisaged Government backing for insurance. It’s a bit like asking the cost of a pie without the pastry and the meat. They’re not serious about these issues, I don’t believe, Barrie, and when you look at nuclear power, it simply doesn’t stack up economically for Australia. It doesn’t stack up in terms of waste and in terms of nuclear proliferation, that is a major issue, because that confronts the world, which is acknowledged…
BARRIE CASSIDY: Yeah, but on that safety issue: there are 440 nuclear reactors around the world. Now, identify the safety issue that has arisen from any one of those reactors?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, the second largest reactor in Japan was shut down this year because it was – because of seismic activity. You’ve had leakages in the United States into the water table. You’ve had Chernobyl, being the best example. But you’ve had a number of nuclear incidents and leaks and problems. We’ve had problems even at Lucas Heights with the minor size of that reactor there. So, I believe that safety is an issue. The issue of nuclear waste hangs around for 250,000 years, and the big issue, the big issue of nuclear proliferation, we know, and we can see it with the debate over Iran. The problems that remain over nuclear proliferation and their link to the nuclear cycle, and until such time as we have some solutions there – that’s why Mohammed El-Baradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, has called for a moratorium, for example, on enrichment, because of these issues, and they remain, and in the climate of terrorism, where we don’t have to worry just about states, but have to worry about organisations and individuals, then I think that the issue of proliferation is of more concern than it was years ago.
BARRIE CASSIDY: OK, just finally on whaling – and there is an important conference in the Caribbean this week – and again, it seems Australia will struggle to get the support of many of the Pacific island countries.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, that’s not surprising. The Pacific island countries’ major concern is climate change, and Australia is seen as an international pariah for our failure to ratify the Kyoto protocol and be part of that global effort. So it’s not surprising that when Australia says "Be a part of the international environmental effort," they’re saying "You can’t pick and choose," and are vulnerable to having been picked off and have in the past: Tuvalu, Nauru, the Solomons haven’t supported Australia. I think, at this conference, it’s quite clear – it’s unlikely, of course, that the Japanese will be able to get – the pro-whaling nations – will be able to get the three-quarters majority to secure a return to commercial whaling, it may well be that they have a majority – but what it really shows is the best outcome that can come from this conference is a status quo outcome that allows an increase in scientific whaling, that will see humpback whales hunted once again this year, and that’s why the Howard Government, if it’s serious, needs to take the pro-whaling nations to the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea – just as we did on southern bluefin tuna – so that we can actually show that we’re serious about ending this barbaric practice.
BARRIE CASSIDY: But, if that is the outcome, you can’t blame Australia for that, surely, because a lot of these votes are being gathered because of the largesse that comes their way from special interest groups?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, certainly corruption in the IWC is a concern. But Australia needs to do more than every two weeks prior to an IWC meeting, travel round and talk to people about these issues. We actually need to show that we’re serious. The only time that Australia has been involved in a legal case was to intervene against the Humane Society International case last year, to show that – which was about upholding Australian law, and in that, the then attorney-general, Philip Ruddock, said it would create a diplomatic disagreement with Japan. Well, we do have a diplomatic disagreement with Japan. That doesn’t mean we’re not friends on other issues, but on this particular issue, we should be taking legal action to back up our diplomatic action, which, of course, should be continued.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Anthony Albanese, thanks for your time this morning.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Thanks, Barrie.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.