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Issue #1709      November 4, 2015


Flying the nuclear kite

Malcolm Turnbull’s disagreements with former Prime Minister Tony Abbott over climate change were widely reported. Abbott is, at heart, a climate change denier who sought to do nothing about the looming disaster under cover of his “direct action plan”. Turnbull, still very much the merchant banker, wanted to tackle soaring emission levels with a market based “solution” of doubtful value that favours big corporations and dominant, capitalist economies. The new PM is still trying to promote a new, more sophisticated, post-Abbott image. Australia has a science minister again, for example, with Christopher Pine adding the portfolio to a brace of others.

Australians would be ill-advised to accept Turnbull’s “green” credentials. An indication of his approach and undeserved reputation on environmental issues was the recent appointment of Australia’s new Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel. The appointee projects a good image. His home is powered entirely by renewables. He looks forward to a fossil-fuel-free future and as speedy an exit for coal as possible. But Dr Finkel is also an advocate of nuclear power as part of the future energy mix in Australia.

The nuclear industry has never been popular in Australia. The ALP’s anti-uranium mining stance was broken by industry pressure, not popular demand. The Liberal Party has tip-toed around its pro-nuclear platform, which includes nuclear power generation. The Howard government got a fright in 2006 when it appointed former Telstra chief Ziggy Switkowski to review the nuclear power option. Zwitkowski’s recommendation for up to 25 nuclear power stations near major coastal cities had Howard & Co running for cover.

No doubt Dr Finkel will continue efforts in his new job for the rehabilitation of nuclear energy in the eyes of a public keen to embrace renewable sources such as wind and solar. The chief scientist’s last post was as Chancellor of Monash University. Academia has been a stomping ground for pro-nuclear advocates in recent times. Their voices have been added to those of obvious stakeholders, such as uranium mining companies. The industry has fallen on hard times following the Fukushima disaster. Naturally, people the world over don’t want to embrace that sort of risk.

Dr Finkle’s appointment suits Turnbull’s image-boosting campaign in other ways, too. As the former chief scientist, Professor Ian Chubb, said of his successor - “He is a scientist with the mindset of an entrepreneur. He is a businessman with the insights of a researcher.” He has also been described as a “serial entrepreneur” with a number of more or less successful business ventures to his name. He wants to do something about the paucity of funding for bringing technological developments to market. The appointment of long-time venture capitalist Larry Marshall to head the CSIRO was made in the same pro-business spirit.

While clearly wanting to look less of a philistine on the environment than Abbott, the truth is that the “nimbleness” Turnbull seeks is the crushing of unions to provide a cheap, “flexible” workforce. He is quick to hose down suggestions the coal industry should be winding down now, or its growth subject to a moratorium. “Coal is a very important part, a very large part, the largest single part, in fact, of the global energy mix and likely to remain that way for a very long time ... ,” Turnbull said.

The federal government has made a submission to South Australia’s Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission supporting the idea of reprocessing spent fuel rods from overseas and re-exporting them. It is claimed the risky venture could be a nice little earner for the economically stricken state. Others are pushing for a nuclear waste dump to receive nuclear waste from around the world.

With the Paris Climate Change Conference due to start at the end of the month, it is looking very unlikely that the Turnbull government will bring anything to it that anyone would describe as “innovative”. It’s inevitable that the government, along with its senior allies, will trot out the same pro-corporate agenda that got the planet into the current predicament. It is up to the progressive people of the world to press hard for a future based on renewable energy sources and other changes that get to the core question of a new social system. Needless to say, this won’t be handed down from above.

Next article – Palestine – awake the world

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