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Issue #1673      February 18, 2015


A renewable or radioactive future

South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill’s announcement that there will be a Royal Commission into the extension of the nuclear industry into enrichment, waste storage and nuclear power has rocked the state and sent shock waves across the country. The Labor Party reversed its anti-uranium mining stance in the 1980s with a promise to limit to three the number of mines extracting and exporting the radioactive material. Kevin Rudd later lifted the cap to five. Widespread security and safety concerns in the community meant that political leaders had to step carefully in advancing the interests of the uranium industry.

Long decades of pressure from the industry via lobbyists, servants in academia, the media and the bureaucracy appear to have changed all that. There have always been advocates of hosting the riskier parts of the nuclear cycle, including nuclear-powered vessels and even nuclear weapons, but their views were considered extreme and hawkish. The SA Premier’s choice of an open-ended Royal Commission to inquire into the matter appears to be an effort to make the impending policy shift appear “scientific”, “arm’s length” and “impartial”.

Concerns about likely outcomes of the Royal Commission were not allayed by the appointment of former State Governor, Kevin Scarce, as Commissioner. Mr Scarce is a retired Rear Admiral who has made public comments in favour of the expansion of the nuclear industry. Adelaide-born professor Ian Plimer anticipated the result of the Commission with a suggestion for a nuclear power plant for Port Adelaide. “Nuclear power would provide jobs and Port areas around the world are undergoing rejuvenations and this would just be another rejuvenation. SA desperately needs employment,” the professor said. Unfortunately for the jobless supposedly keen to work in the proposed power plant, a geological fault line runs along the adjacent Port River.

There has been speculation that Mr Weatherill, a figure in the ALP’s left faction, has shaken off his previous political outlook in favour of an overtly neo-liberal one. Many were stunned by his support of Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest’s call for welfare “reform” such as cash-less, restricted social security payments and individual freehold title for Aboriginal people living in remote communities. The latter step could help mining corporations buy up land in the event of a boom in the sector.

The Premier is faced with a bleak economic forecast for the state. US car giant General Motors may well shut down its Holden plant at Elizabeth before the announced closure date of 2017. Thousands of jobs will be lost in an already depressed district of Adelaide – victims of the “free trade” practices initiated by Labor in the 1980s and accelerated at every turn since then. It seems the Adelaide Submarine Corporation will not get the contract to build the next generation of submarines for the Royal Australia Navy. Hopes that SA would become the “defence” state, site for the design and manufacture of the weapons systems required for Australia’s role in support of US aggression in the region, have been dashed.

Rather than make SA a hub for renewable energy and other sustainable technologies (the state already derives 26 percent of its energy from wind power), the corporate board rooms are determined to press ahead with the most dangerous “alternative” available. The Murdoch press, which previously defended the state from the imposition of a nuclear waste dump, has changed its tune accordingly. Its pages, usually dominated by climate change denying pens-for-hire, now carry bogus “carbon-free” claims for the water-guzzling, weapons proliferating, tax-payer supported nuclear power industry.

The Australian Financial Review refers to opponents of the nuclear industry as the “loony, left-progressive class”. The same editorial says the locating a dump for the world’s nuclear waste in SA would be an “act of good global citizenship” given that we supply the uranium. The dishonesty of this position is plain. A good global citizen wouldn’t have supplied the uranium in the first place. Australian uranium was present in the Daichii reactors at Fukushima when disaster struck in 2011. Australian governments must share responsibility for the hardship caused to hundreds of thousands of people and damage to the environment, including the Pacific Ocean as far away as the US.

The choice is clear: there will be either a renewable or a radioactive future.

Next article – Union saves hundreds of jobs

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