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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Australia: Nuclear Plans and Anti-nuclear protests

On Friday morning 25 protestors disrupted the start of the Australian Nuclear Association conference and the speech by Ziggy Switkowski, chairman of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) in Sydney. With anti-nuclear placards and chanting slogans the protest caused heated arguments with conference attendees before the building manager was called and ordered the protestors to leave. The protest and Switkowski's speech outlines that this Federal election campaign is effectively a referendum on Nuclear Power in Australia.

Outside the conference Senator Kerry Nettle gave the Greens policy on Nuclear Power to the media. "Ziggy Switkowski who is speaking as a keynote speaker today has drawn up the plan for 25 (nuclear) reactors around Australia," Senator Nettle said. "This is a plan which sparks a disaster for us in tackling climate change." she was reported in the Age as saying.

The Greens say Sydney’s nuclear reactor at Lucas Heights should be shutdown. The new OPAL reactor had to be shutdown three months after it opened this year because of problems in the fuel assembly and leaking water coolant and ANSTO say they don’t know when it will become operational, although the Greens have inside information that repairs may take up to 12 months.

ANSTO and the Federal Government justify the $140 million annual cost of running the new reactor by its production of nuclear isotopes for use in nuclear medicine. However a 2004 report by the Medical Association for Prevention of War Australia found that a nuclear reactor at Lucas Heights in Sydney is not required for medical purposes, with supply of essential isotopes able to be satisfied by importing reactor-produced isotopes from overseas and producing many other isotopes here in cyclotrons.

Inside the conference ANSTO Chairman Ziggy Switkowski said that the protesters' views were not representative of the general population. "If we allow the debate to unfold, and make it fact based, I think we will see that the broader community will accept nuclear power," he said according in an ABC report.

Yet according to a Newspoll conducted late in December 2006 for the Australia Institute, detailed in their report 'Who Wants a Nuclear Power Plant? Support for nuclear power in Australia', there is widespread majority opposition to the construction of Nuclear Power plants both generally and even more so when it is local to people questioned.

Dr Switkowski is pushing for 25 nuclear power plants that he claims would would produce about a third of Australia's energy needs reducing greenhouse emissions by a fifth. However at all other stages of the nuclear cycle: the construction, mining, milling, fabrication and transport nuclear power is heavily dependent on fossil fuels and generates an enormous amount of greenhouse gases.

The Australia Institute published a paper in January 2007, Siting Nuclear Power Plants in Australia Where would they go? (PDF), outlining the likely location for nuclear power stations. They include:

  • in Queensland – Townsville, Mackay, Rockhampton, Gladstone, Bundaberg,
    Sunshine Coast and Bribie Island;
  • in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory – Port Stephens,
    Central Coast, Botany Bay, Port Kembla and Jervis Bay/Sussex Inlet;
  • in Victoria – South Gippsland, Western Port, Port Phillip and Portland; and
  • in South Australia – Mt Gambier/Millicent, Port Adelaide and Port
    Augusta/Port Pirie.

Switkowski is also pushing heavily the development of the 'clean coal' technologies of carbon capture and sequestration, which are still at an early research and development stage. "The most important thing is to find ways to burn coal more cleanly, to capture the combustion product and store them and then to make that technology available to the large coal burning countries around the world," he said to the conference.

However Professor Kurt Lambeck, a geophysicist at Australian National University has criticised both the Government and Labor opposition support for the development of clean coal technologies. "There's a lot of talk about clean coal - it could be construed as an oxymoron. The technological solutions that are being looked at are probably 20 years away before they can be really employed on the large scale. The sequestration has its limitations, the capture of the CO2 has limitations, and it's never totally clean anyway." said Professor Lambeck according to a report in the Age in September. He pointed out that renewable energy systems such as wind and solar are truly clean and should be supported by Government funding and regulation rather than the substantial public handouts and protection to the established coal industry through 'clean coal' research and development.

Australian Governments over the last 30 years have ignored and continue to ignore the necessity for an ongoing national Australian energy policy and a framework for developing alternative energy systems. Justice Fox in his wide-ranging First Report of the Ranger Uranium Enquiry in 1976 made a number of recommendations that have never been carried out by the Fraser, Hawke, Keating or Howard Governments. He recommended that the Australian Government should: develop a national energy policy and review it regularly; take immediate steps for instituting programs of research and development into liquid fuels to replace petroleum, and energy sources other than fossil fuels and nuclear energy; institute a national program of energy conservation; and take into account the energy needs and resources of developing countries.

According to the Greenpeace report, 'Hung Out to Dry:
Federal Neglect of renewable energy research and development in Australia
' (PDF) released September 6, 2007:

"In Australia, renewable energy research and development (R&D) now receives very little federal funding; in fact, nearly all current federal energy R&D supports fossil fuel industries. A recent report examining energy and transport subsidies estimated that for 2005-06 R&D funding to Cooperative Research Centres and the CSIRO for fossil fuels was $226 million compared with just $27 million for renewable energy."

Succeeding Governments have continued to fund the Australia Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation and the coal industry while a pittance in comparison has been devoted to the development of liquid fuel alternatives and alternative energy sources other than fossil fuels and nuclear power.

Cycle Against the Nuclear Cycle Reaches Melbourne

While Mr Switkowski was outlining his ambitions for nuclear power in Australia, an intrepid group of cyclists has been cycling through the State of Victoria meeting local people and talking about uranium mining and nuclear power. They are the Cycle Against the Nuclear Cycle III who started their journey in Rockhampton in June and will finish in Adelaide in November after more than 4500 kilometres on the road.

I caught up with the cyclists 4 weeks ago when they rode into the East Gippsland rural service town of Orbost on the banks of the Snowy River. Even in deeply rural Victoria they had generated a degree of local support with a welcome barbecue. More astounding, two participants of the 1977 Ride Against Uranium (Video) happened to be in Orbost and attended the barbecue and talked about their experiences in the 1970s campaign against uranium mining. At the public meeting that night about 30 people attended and watched the 'Climate of Hope' 30 minute documentary on climate change and nuclear power.

Three weeks were spent riding through Gippsland, talking to people with Meetings in Lakes Entrance, Bairnsdale and Wonthaggi. According to the Irregular Gippsland Peace Newsletter:

"....the PM's 'facilitator' Dr. Switzkowski claimed that Victoria could have 8 nuclear power generators by 2050. When asked about a Western Port location Switzkowski replied: "If you are going to build a reactor you need to have it near the electricity grid, near a really big user base - whether it's industry or a large population - and you need it close to water - and the coast is acceptable. Does Western Port satisfy those criteria? Yes, it does." It is an interesting statistic that two out of every three Australians remain opposed to nuclear reactors in their local area. The recent earthquake in Japan underneath its largest nuclear reactor highlights the vulnerability of these power stations to natural disasters...Whilst the Member for Flinders apparently states no nuclear power plant will be built in Flinders because four fault lines run through the district whilst every nuclear power plant in Japan and a number in California are built on, or near, fault lines and in countrysides prone to earthquakes. The fact remains that if the Howard government is reelected then Westernport remains the most likely location for the first of up to 8 nuclear reactors planned for the state.

A Nuclear white elephant met the cyclists in Hastings on the 11 October. "We are here because the Hastings community is concerned about the dangers of nuclear power. Nuclear waste is the biggest problem" said spokesperson, Rebecca Pearse. "After 60 years of the nuclear industry, there is still no safe way to deal with radioactive waste. From uranium mines to nuclear reactors, all stages of the nuclear fuel chain leave a radioactive legacy for hundreds of thousands of years" said Pearse. "If we doubled the world's current nuclear power output, we would only reduce CO2 emissions by 5%. Instead of reducing emissions, nuclear power will leave us with radioactive waste dumps, uranium mines and reactors imposed communities. These are things we don't want or need" said Pearse.

Mary Madigan of the Westernport Action Group (WAG) supported the cyclists "We are part of the 74% of Australians who know renewable energy technologies and energy efficiency measures are the solutions to climate change. Nuclear power is dangerous, expensive and unnecessary" she said.

On the 14th October the Mayor of Frankston briefly joined the ride guiding them on the start of their last leg into Melbourne along Beach Road to St Kilda. More cyclists joined the group at St Kilda for the final leg through the city and a relaxed Garden Party event with picnicing with lots of "yellowcake", dancing and a few speakers. Mike McKeon and John Englart, both veterans of the Friends of the Earth Rides Against Uranium in the 1970s gave impassioned accounts of their experiences, followed by ACF anti-nuclear campaigner Dave Sweeney. A mutant 3 headed kangaroo scooped the prize for the best costume of the day.

Ride to Work Day

Tens of thousands of people embraced Ride to Work Day on Wednesday, October 17, with CANC cyclists participating by riding into Federation Square before leaving for Geelong. According to an ABC report Deputy Lord Mayor of Melbourne Gary Singer said 8 per cent of city's traffic is now made up of cyclists. "What we're seeing is people often cycling for fitness and wellbeing and also a concern about the environment," he said.

"Every cyclist here is saving 0.3kg of CO2 for every kilometre they ride today." said CANC spokesperson Rebecca Pearse. "People are willing to reduce their energy use and change their lifestyles. What we need to complement this is a government that will committ to sustainable energy technologies, energy efficiency measures" said Ms Pearse.

Thirty thousand people had pre-registered in Ride to Work Day in Sydney and Bicycle Victoria organisers said over 90,000 had participated nationally. Bicycle counts from around Australia show a 30% increase on major commuter routes in the past year. Bicycles outsold cars for the fifth year in a row, reaching a record of 1.3 million in 2006, while motor vehicles declined. 34% of those who took up riding in the Victorian event in 2006 were still riding to work five months later, according to Bicycle Victoria.

Cycle Against the Nuclear cycle are holding further events and meetings in towns in Western Victoria and South Australia. They are due to arrive in Adelaide on November 11, 2007 in time for the Walk Against Warming event.


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