Nov 29, 2005

‘Miracle or Meltdown – the Nuclear Debate’

‘Miracle or Meltdown – the Nuclear Debate’

A debate co-sponsored by the Parliamentary Network for Nuclear Disarmament

and the Medical Association for Prevention of War (Australia)


29 November 2005

Nuclear power is not the answer to climate change. You don’t actually solve problems by finding solutions which create more problems down the track.

It doesn’t add up economically, environmentally or socially.

Of all the energy options, nuclear is the most capital intensive to establish, decommissioning is extremely expensive and the financial burden continues long after the plant is closed.

In the US, direct subsidies to nuclear energy totalled $115 billion between 1947 and 1999, with a further $145 billion in indirect subsidies. In contrast, subsidies to wind and solar combined during the same period totalled only $5.5 billion.

During the first 15 years of development, nuclear subsidies amounted to $15.30 per kWh generated. The comparable figure for wind energy was 46 cents per kWh during its first 15 years of development.

Regarding the Science Minister’s quite extraordinary statements on the Sunday Program, where he indicated that he and the Industry Minister – who did not previously think that nuclear power was commercially viable for Australia – announced a one million dollar study, something that Brendan Nelson is very fond of having, into the issue of investing in the nuclear industry.

We don’t actually need a million dollar study to tell us that issues of nuclear waste and nuclear proliferation remain. We are some fifty years into this debate and at least here today there are people debating it as opposed to the form of underhand debate that has people who are advocates essentially of change saying that what we need is a debate on nuclear issues and on uranium. Well I’ve been in the Labor Party for 25 years and there has been a debate for al that time.

The truth is it is up to the advocates of a change in Australia’s policy to put forward justification of why the intractable problems with nuclear energy have not been resolved.

As to the statement by Brendan Nelson on Sunday – and the issue of nuclear waste, as raised by my parliamentary colleague – here’s what Brendan Nelson said after advocating a study –

“And in terms of high-level waste, if it were ever to be produced from an Australian nuclear industry, well that will be a matter for the governments of the day.”

Not my problem, not my problem – because there isn’t a solution to the issue nuclear waste.

As we have seen with the extraordinary legislation – not just overturning the Northern Territory’s right to determine what goes on with it borders, but also overturning the Environment Protection and Conservation Biodiversity Act. Also overturning all precedent of environment and legal legislation in Australia in order to impose a small dump, low-level waste compared with what would come out of a nuclear reactor on the people of the Northern Territory and particularly on the indigenous people of the Northern Territory. To over ride native title and previous commitments that had been given to indigenous people and this comes after the Northern Territory Government was elected with a clear mandate of opposition to this and after the federal election campaign, when the Member for Solomon and other assurance that it wouldn’t be sited in the Northern Territory, that it wouldn’t be on the mainland. They have walked way from that commitment.

Given that record who could trust the government when it says we’ll worry about the nuclear waste later, we’ll leave that to future generations – I think the days of those politics are over.

I’ll actually take Brendan Nelson or anyone else seriously on this issue when they put up their hand and say, yes, I’m in favour of the nuclear industry and yes, I’ll have the reactor in my electorate of Bradfield and yes, I’ll have the nuclear waste as well. Because we all know that the nuclear reactor and the waste won’t end up in Turramurra. There are too many wealthy people there. It will end up being imposed on people who are relatively the most powerless people in Australian society, in this case indigenous people, and against the express wishes of the Central Land Council.

We all know that with the power the government has in both houses of parliament now, we know that they are drunk on power but we didn’t know that it was nuclear power. We don’t want that to be imposed on all Australians.

I want to also raise the issue of nuclear proliferation. If the issue of nuclear proliferation was an issue when we were concerned about international security between states, when it was states that mattered – at a time when perhaps the greatest threat besides climate change, to our security is that of terrorism which can be individuals, or cells or small groups. The idea that we would open up a nuclear industry and create potential targets and we know that Lucas Heights is a target for terrorists – and in spite of the government’s rhetoric which is prepared to play politics on these issues, we see them promoting nuclear energy.

According to the Oxford Research Group, as Sue has outlined, a nuclear weapons designer could construct a nuclear weapon from 3 or 4 kg of reactor-grade plutonium.

There is the issue of the creation of weapons but there is also the issue of sites in themselves.

This year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, Mohamed El-Baradei said this: “Our fears of a deadly nuclear detonation…have been

"re-awakened…driven by new realities. The rise in terrorism. The discovery of clandestine nuclear programmes. The emergence of a nuclear black market…” This is the reality that must shape the nuclear debate."

I think in terms of my colleague’s statements on Chernobyl – I am pleased we are getting closer to the real amount. On the 7th of March 2005 he said that there were only 10 fatalities for Chernobyl. We are now up to 54. It could be up to 2000.

I think that the dismissal of an accident such as Chernobyl says it all. The issue with nuclear energy isn’t that you can make a mistake and there will be a problem for a tear. The problem is that you enter into down the track something which has consequences for 10, 000 years. You have to be extremely cautious.

And at a time when the government’s mandatory renewable energy target, if you can call it that at 2%, is about to hit the wall next year and we are seeing the flight of capital from Australia, solar, wind, tidal and other forms of energy. What we should be doing is concentrating on that. We should be the Silicon Valley of the world when it comes to solar energy.

They’re the solutions we need to get in to – not this which is essentially a distraction for a government which has seen greenhouse gas emissions increase by 23.3% between 1990 and 2005.

Nuclear is not a solution. We need to get on with the real solutions such as increasing MRET, ratifying Kyoto and introducing an emissions trading scheme.