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writing for godot

The machinations of the global nuclear lobby

Written by noelwauchope   
Monday, 31 October 2016 09:54

Australia has been pretty much of a forgotten player in the global nuclear "renaissance".  Not any more.  The big nuclear players - USA, Russia, Canada, France, China , Japan South Korea are busily marketing nuclear technology to every other country that they can.  Strangely enough little ole non-nuclear Australia, (population 23 million) has a starring role to play in all this.

You see, the global nuclear lobby's problem is - what to do with the radioactive wastes?   I know that the new geewhiz guys and gals are pushing hard for Generation IV reactors that will "eat the wastes".  The trouble is - there is an awful lot of the stuff. World total of high level radioactive wastes was estimated at 250,000 tonnes in 2010 .  There must be quite a bit more by now.  The other trouble is that even the most geewhiz of the as yet non- existent Gen IV nuclear reactors still would leave a smaller but highly toxic volume of radioactive trash, which would still require disposal.

This leads to a serious marketing issue. If countries such as USA, Japan, Canada, South Korea, are still having trouble dealing with their own domestic accumulation of nuclear waste, how can they persuasively sell nuclear reactors to Asian, Middle Eastern and African countries? The waste problem must be solved!

The wizards of the global nuclear lobby have come up with what they see as the perfect answer. A far away land, with lots of space that's owned by "unimportant" indigenous people, could import the wastes, and thus remove the problem.  It's a sort of variant on the old "toilet way down the back".

Although Australia is relatively inexperienced in nuclear technology, it has long had a strong and determined domestic nuclear lobby. After World War II, both Liberal and Labor parties in Australia supported the development of a nuclear bomb – that is why a nuclear reactor at Lucas Heights in Sydney was developed.  This research reactor  has been seen as a foot in the door for the nuclear industry in Australia. An essential part of its operation has been the contract for its wastes to go to France and Britain for processing, and later, be returned to Australia. That means that Australia must develop a disposal facility for the very small amount of radioactive waste that returns.

That Australian issue is not connected with the global hunt for the huge international nuclear waste solution. And yet, and yet - psychologically, perhaps it is. The Australian government has picked out a remote site, at Barndioota, in South Australia, So - South Australia might well look like a candidate for hosting even more nuclear waste.

Anyway, the idea of South Australia importing nuclear waste has been around for a long time. An international consortium – Pangea Resources, backed by the World Nuclear Association, planned to establish a high-level nuclear waste dump in Australia from the late 1990s until 2000. The plan settled on South Australia, but they were not successful. Public outcry, especially Aboriginal opposition, led to South Australia's Nuclear Waste Storage Facility (Prohibition) Act 2000.

In 2015 the plan was back, with a vengeance. Despite the Australian Labor Party's clear policy against nuclear waste importing, the South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill decided that importing nuclear waste would bring the much needed financial bonanza to his economically distressed State. The South Australian law expressly prohibits using government funds to "encourage or finance construction or operation of nuclear waste storage facility". Despite this, Weatherill went ahead to fund a $8 million Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission South Australia (NFCRC), headed by a military man, Kevin Scarce, a supporter of the nuclear industry. Unsurprisingly, the NFCRC came up, in May 2016, with a recommendation that South Australia should develop a commercial nuclear waste import industry as soon as possible.

Weatherill went on to spend more $millions on blanketing the State with propaganda forums held in many locations. He also set up three forums of "Citizens' Juries", run by a small South Australian firm DemocracyCo.  DemocracyCo are themselves supervised by another firm, Sydney's New Democracy , which has strong corporate and government links. Closely involved and supervising the proceedings are officials from the NFCRC.  The Citizens' Juries have been given a very narrow brief, with question loaded to lead to a pro nuclear answer. Nevertheless, the 350 members of the so-called "jury" have been asking inconvenient questions. They will meet again on November 5-6, and there's a possibility that they might produce answers not to the government's liking.

Meanwhile, the South Australian Labor Party has just held its annual conference (October 29). No doubt much to the Premier's relief, they decided to postpone questions about overturning South Australia's nuclear law, and Labor's national policy that clearly prohibits nuclear waste importing.

This decision must have been a relief to Premier Weatherill. He has had the difficult juggling task of promoting the nuclear industry to the population of the State of South Australia, while keeping it hidden from the nation at large.

This latter task is easier than you might think. The Australian media is a "Murdochracy" - over 70% controlled by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, on which the nuclear lobby can depend for positive, or better still, no, coverage. The national broadcaster, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, has made small efforts to cover the issue, but lives in fear, as the federal government views it as left wing, and cuts its funding accordingly.

So - the Australian public dreams on - preoccupied with the Melbourne Cup and other sporting events. And the global nuclear lobby continues its machinations. It would be such a strong selling point, to be able to tell South Asian countries that they can go ahead with nuclear power, as Australia will take out the radioactive trash. your social media marketing partner
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