Australian nuclear weapons: the story so farProfessor Richard Broinowski
Austral Policy Forum 06-23A, July 17, 2006
Our role in limiting nuclear proliferation?Professor Richard Broinowski
The Age, August 8, 2005
Nuclear power: not green, clean or cheapMark Diesendorf
Online Opinion, June 16, 2006
Bluff and bluster: The campaign against wind powerMark Diesendorf
Online Opinion, February 23, 2005
Sun, wind better options while Australian uranium can fuel regional tensionsJames Norman and Jim Green
The Age, October 18, 2006.
From a little bang to huge blockbuster is not that difficult: The spread of nuclear power makes weapons proliferation easierAlan Roberts
The Age, October 12, 2006
Debunking the nuclear myth of greenhouse friendlinessAlan Roberts
The Age, June 14, 2006
Jim Falk, Jim Green and Gavin Mudd, 2006, "Australia, uranium and nuclear power", International Journal of Environmental Studies, Vol 63(6), December, pp.845-857.
Iain MacGill, Stephen Healy and Hugh Outhred, "Is There a Sustainable Future for Nuclear Power", IEEE Power and Energy Magazine, Vol. 4, No. 4, pp 63-74, Download
Muriel Watt, Rob Passey, and Iain MacGill, "Photovoltaics research and development in Australia", International Journal of Environmental Studies, Vol. 63, No. 6, December 2006, pp 777-790 Download
Mudd, G M & Diesendorf, M, 2007, Sustainability Aspects of Uranium Mining: Towards Accurate Accounting?. In "2nd International Conference on Sustainability Engineering and Science: Talking and Walking Sustainability", Auckland, New Zealand, February 2007, or direct download: Download
EnergyScience Coalition Submission to the Australia 2020 Summit
We, the undersigned members of the EnergyScience Coalition, call on the Australia 2020 Summit to recommend that the federal Government initiate a wide-ranging, independent public inquiry into the Australia's uranium export industry, in particular the contribution of the industry to nuclear weapons proliferation risks.
The uranium industry and its supporters routinely claim that the safeguards system of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) 'ensures' that Australian uranium (and derivatives such as plutonium) will not be used in nuclear weapons. However, only a fraction of safeguards-eligible nuclear facilities and stockpiles are actually inspected by the IAEA. The Director-General of the IAEA, Dr Mohamed El Baradei, is remarkably frank about the limitations of safeguards. In speeches and papers in recent years, Dr El Baradei has noted that the IAEA's basic rights of inspection are "fairly limited", that the safeguards system suffers from "vulnerabilities", "clearly needs reinforcement", and runs on a "shoestring budget ... comparable to a local police department" (statements posted at:
The problems with - and limitations of - safeguards are many and various and are detailed in the papers listed below. Suffice it here to mention one intractable problem. Nuclear accounting discrepancies are commonplace and inevitable due to the difficulty of precisely measuring nuclear materials. The accounting discrepancies are known as Material Unaccounted For. This problem of imprecise measurement provides an obvious loophole for diversion of nuclear materials for weapons production. In a large plant, even a tiny percentage of the annual through-put of nuclear material will suffice to build one or more weapons with virtually no chance of detection by IAEA inspectors. Australia's uranium has resulted in the production of over 103 tonnes of plutonium. If just 0.1% of this plutonium is written off as Material Unaccounted For, that is sufficient for 10 plutonium bombs similar to that which destroyed Nagasaki. Government agencies refuse to release MUF figures; for plutonium, it may well be significantly greater than 0.1%.
In addition to IAEA safeguards, countries purchasing Australian uranium must sign a bilateral agreement. However there are no Australian inspections of nuclear materials stockpiles or facilities using Australian uranium – Australia is entirely reliant on the partial and underfunded inspection system of the IAEA.
The most important provisions in bilateral agreements are for prior Australian consent before Australian nuclear material is transferred to a third party, enriched beyond 20% uranium-235, or reprocessed. However no Australian government has ever refused permission to separate plutonium from spent fuel via reprocessing (and there has never been a request to enrich beyond 20% U-235). Even when reprocessing leads to the stockpiling of plutonium (which can be used directly in nuclear weapons), ongoing or 'programmatic' permission has been granted by Australian governments. Hence there are stockpiles of 'Australian-obligated' separated plutonium in Japan and in some European countries.
As for the alleged benefits of the industry:
* Uranium accounts for just one-third of 1% of Australia's export revenue (0.32% in 2005, 0.25% in 2006, and an estimated 0.35% in 2007). The industry makes an even smaller contribution to employment in Australia.
* Claims about the greenhouse 'benefits' of nuclear power typically ignore more greenhouse-friendly renewable energy sources and the use of several types of renewables to supply reliable base-load power (e.g. geothermal, bioenergy, solar thermal with storage, and sometimes hydro). Furthermore, as the limited reserves of high-grade uranium ore are used up and low-grade ore has to be used, greenhouse emissions from mining and milling uranium will become substantial. Nuclear power, based on existing technology, is not a long-term solution to global warming.
We call on the Australia 2020 Summit to recommend a wide-ranging, independent public inquiry to reassess the risks and benefits of the uranium export industry. The inquiry should also consider the role of the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office (ASNO). ASNO makes any number of absurd and demonstrably false claims about the uranium industry and nuclear power. For example, ASNO claims that Australia only sells uranium to countries with "impeccable" non-proliferation credentials. In fact, Australia has uranium export agreements with nuclear weapon states (all of which are failing to meet their disarmament obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty), with states with a history of covert nuclear weapons research based on their "civil" nuclear programs (such as South Korea and Taiwan), and states (including the USA) blocking progress on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the proposed Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty.
Other claims by ASNO that are demonstrably false include the assertion that safeguards "ensure" that Australian uranium will not contribute to weapons proliferation, that all nuclear materials derived from Australia's uranium exports are "fully accounted for", and that nuclear power does not present a weapons proliferation risk.
At best, ASNO is ineffectual, providing an illusion that an independent agency is protecting the interests of the Australian people when it comes to the vital matter of preventing nuclear proliferation. At worst, ASNO serves the commercial interests of the nuclear industry and the political interests of those who promote it, and contributes more to the problem of nuclear weapons proliferation than to the solutions.
EnergyScience Coalition Signatories:
* Prof. Richard Broinowski
* Genevieve Kelly
* Dr Bill Williams
* Prof. Jim Falk
* Dr Sue Wareham
* Prof. Brian Martin
* Dr Mark Diesendorf
* Dr Peter Christoff
* Dr Alan Roberts
* Assoc. Prof. Tilman Ruff
* Dr Jim Green
* Dr Gavin Mudd
ABC Radio National - 'Perspective', February 7, 2008
Given that it was a clear point of policy difference between the major parties, it was surprising that the Coalition government's efforts to impose a nuclear waste repository on unwilling communities received so little media interest during the election campaign.
This issue provides a window into relations between the Coalition government and Indigenous people over the past decade and a test of the former government's policy of practical reconciliation.
In February 1998, the Coalition government announced its intention to build a national nuclear waste repository near Woomera in South Australia. Leading the battle against the repository were the Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta, a council of senior Aboriginal women. Many of the Kungka Tjuta witnessed first-hand the impacts of the British nuclear bomb tests at Maralinga in the 1950s. They were sceptical about the Coalition government's claim that nuclear waste destined for the Woomera repository was 'safe'. After all, the waste would be kept at the Lucas Heights reactor site in Sydney if it was perfectly safe, or simply dumped in landfill.
The Maralinga legacy continued to resonate in another way. A clean-up of Maralinga in the late 1990s generated controversy when nuclear engineer and whistleblower Alan Parkinson revealed that it had been compromised by cost-cutting. This was disconcerting for South Australians since the same government department responsible for the Maralinga clean-up was also responsible for the Woomera repository. Alan Parkinson's book on the Maralinga clean-up, Maralinga: Australia's Nuclear Waste Cover-up, was published by ABC Books last year. Mr Parkinson said: "What was done at Maralinga was a cheap and nasty solution that wouldn't be adopted on white-fellas land."
The proposed repository generated such controversy in South Australia that the Coalition government secured the services of a public relations company. Correspondence between the company and the federal government was released under Freedom of Information laws. In one exchange, a government official asks the PR company to remove sand-dunes from a photo selected to adorn a brochure. The explanation provided by the government official was that: "Dunes are a sensitive area with respect to Aboriginal Heritage." The sand-dunes were removed from the photo, only for the government official to ask if the horizon could be straightened up as well.
The federal government used compulsory land acquisition powers to take control of land for a repository in SA, extinguishing all Native Title rights and interests. The Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta continued to implore the federal government to get their ears out of the pockets, and after six long years the government did just that. In the lead-up to the 2004 federal election, with the repository issue biting politically, the government decided to cut its losses and abandon its plans for a repository in SA.
The ears went straight back into the pockets, however. Unequivocal promises not to impose a repository in the Northern Territory were broken by the Coalition government after the 2004 election. Traditional Owners were not consulted before three sites in the Territory were short-listed for a repository.
Government ministers asserted that the three sites are "some distance from any form of civilisation" or, more bluntly, that they are "in the middle of nowhere". This is offensive to Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people living and running successful pastoral and tourist enterprises three, five and 18 kilometres from the sites.
And then in 2005, the Coalition government rail-roaded the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act through parliament. This legislation provides wide-ranging exemptions from Aboriginal heritage protection laws. Then in 2006, the government rail-roaded amendments to the Waste Management Act through parliament. The amendments state that a nuclear dump site nomination is legally valid even without consultation with, or consent from, Traditional Owners.
The former Coalition government prided itself on its approach of 'practical reconciliation'. However, its handling of the nuclear waste issue suggests that practical reconciliation was nothing more than rhetoric. Let's hope that the Rudd Labor government avoids the temptation to impose a nuclear waste repository on an unwilling Indigenous community.
Dr Jim Green is an anti-nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth and the Beyond Nuclear Initiative.
On 3 September, the Herald Sun published an opinion piece by myself and retired diplomat Prof. Richard Broinowski on the failings of the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office (ASNO), the Canberra-based government organisation which is meant to minimise the risk of Australian uranium being diverted to nuclear weapons production.
Our opinion piece summarised a detailed paper which we sent to Foreign Minister Alexander Downer. We asked him to respond to our recommendation for an independent, public inquiry into the operations of ASNO. We were rather astonished to find that Mr Downer asked ASNO to respond on his behalf! Talk about putting the fox in charge of the chicken coop. Not surprisingly, the ASNO response fails to respond to any of the substantive issues we raised - indeed our original paper noted ASNO's "conspicuous failure" to address substantive criticisms.
The ASNO response also repeats the lie that safeguards "ensure" that Australian uranium will not contribute to the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Australia relies on the International Atomic Energy Agency to safeguard our nuclear exports, yet the head of the Agency concedes that its safeguards system suffers from "vulnerabilities" and that efforts to improve it have been "half-hearted". It may be expedient for the government to have a safeguards office which asserts that "nuclear power is not a proliferation risk", but basing public policy on a tissue of lies hardly makes for good policy and is all the more lamentable when it involves the proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction.
Associate Professor Tilman Ruff is the Australian chairman of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.
ABC Online, December 5, 2007
We're often told that the nuclear safeguards system 'ensures' that Australian uranium will not be diverted to produce nuclear weapons. But there is a risk of diversion, and a growing recognition of the serious flaws in the safeguards system.
The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Dr Mohamed El Baradei is remarkably frank about the limitations of safeguards. In speeches and papers in recent years, Dr El Baradei has noted that the IAEA's basic rights of inspection are "fairly limited", that the safeguards system suffers from "vulnerabilities" and "clearly needs reinforcement".
Labor Party policy states that the Government will "strengthen export control regimes, and the rights and authority of the IAEA, and tighten controls on the export of nuclear material and technology."
The policy also states that the Labor Government will "only allow export of Australian uranium to countries which observe the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, and which are committed to non-proliferation and nuclear safeguards."
There are one or two things the Labor Government can do to marginally improve safeguards without generating any adverse political reaction - the most obvious being increasing Australia's contribution to the safeguards budget of the IAEA.
But if the Government is serious about improving safeguards, it will need to take steps which are likely to generate opposition from uranium mining companies and from some of the countries which purchase Australian uranium.
For example, none of the nuclear weapons states is serious about its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to seriously pursue nuclear disarmament and therefore they ought not be eligible to purchase Australia's uranium. Yet uranium export agreements are in place with the US, France, the UK and China.
Earlier this year, the then Coalition government signed a uranium export agreement with Russia and the incoming Labor Government will have to decide whether to approve the agreement.
Russia is not at all serious about its NPT disarmament obligations. Indeed Russian President Vladimir Putin said on national television in October that Russia was developing new types of nuclear weapons and expanding its delivery capabilities via missiles, submarines and strategic bombers.
Another concern is inadequate security of nuclear materials in Russia. On December 1, New Scientist reported "gaping holes" in the arrangements meant to prevent the theft of nuclear materials in Russia. From 2001 to 2006, there were 183 reported trafficking incidents involving nuclear materials in the former Soviet Union.
Allowing uranium sales to Russia would not only be unconscionable, it would also be a direct breach of the Labor Party's policy to allow uranium exports only to countries which are "committed to non-proliferation".
Plutonium and spent fuel reprocessing
In addition to IAEA safeguards, countries purchasing Australian uranium must sign a bilateral agreement. The most important provisions are for prior Australian consent before Australian nuclear material is transferred to a third party, enriched beyond 20 per cent uranium-235, or reprocessed.
However no Australian government has ever refused permission to separate plutonium from spent fuel via reprocessing. Even when reprocessing leads to the stockpiling of plutonium (which can be used directly in nuclear weapons), ongoing or 'programmatic' permission has been granted by Australian governments. Hence there are stockpiles of 'Australian-obligated' plutonium in Japan and in some European countries.
At one level there is a simple solution - the Labor Government should simply ban the reprocessing of spent fuel generated from Australian uranium. The problems with reprocessing are such that the Coalition government made it illegal to build reprocessing plants in Australia, and the Labor Party assented to this legislation.
At another level, banning reprocessing of Australian-origin nuclear materials will be difficult - the uranium mining companies will bleat, and some customer countries will insist on their 'right' to do as they please with Australian nuclear materials.
Let's see if Prime Minister Rudd takes a principled stand on this issue of nuclear reprocessing or if he continues the long Australian tradition of putting profits ahead of WMD proliferations risks.
Material Unaccounted For
Perhaps the most intractable problem with safeguards is that nuclear accounting discrepancies are commonplace and inevitable due to the difficulty of precisely measuring nuclear materials. The accounting discrepancies are known as Material Unaccounted For.
This problem of imprecise measurement provides an obvious loophole for anyone wanting to divert nuclear materials for weapons production. In a large plant, even a tiny percentage of the annual through-put of nuclear material will suffice to build one or more weapons with virtually no chance of detection by IAEA inspectors.
The Coalition government refused to publicly reveal any country-specific information, or even aggregate information, concerning accounting discrepancies involving Australian uranium or its by-products such as plutonium. It is to be hoped that the incoming Labor government will be more transparent.
Australians would be further disenchanted with the uranium industry if its negligible contribution to export revenue was better understood. Uranium accounts for just 0.32% of Australia's export revenue - significantly less than the export revenue from cheese or wines. And the industry's contribution to employment is even more underwhelming - uranium mining accounts for .01 per cent of Australian jobs.
As the Labor Party explores and details its fairly vague promises to improve safeguards, perhaps it could reopen discussion on the broader question: do the meagre economic benefits from uranium mining outweigh the weapons proliferation risks associated with the industry?
Dr Jim Green is an anti-nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth and the Beyond Nuclear Initiative.
More information:* Nuclear Safeguards and Australia's Uranium Exports
* Medical Association for the Prevention of War, "An Illusion of Protection: The Unavoidable Limitations of Safeguards"
* Professor Richard Broinowski, "Fact or Fission? The Truth About Australia's Nuclear Ambitions", Melbourne: Scribe, 2003.
October 28, 2007
FORTY-FIVE years ago today, on October 28, 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis brought the world to the brink. The US and the Soviet Union came within a hair's breadth of nuclear war over Soviet missiles in Cuba, all based on mistaken analysis of the other side's intentions and capabilities.
US defence secretary Robert McNamara, who advised president John F. Kennedy during the crisis, did not realise how close the world had come to the precipice until he met Cuban leader Fidel Castro years later. It transformed his attitude to nuclear warfare and today McNamara believes we cannot afford the risk of keeping nuclear arsenals.
The crisis highlighted how misperceptions and loss of control of nuclear weapons can threaten a holocaust. Despite the end of the Cold War, there are still 27,000 nuclear weapons in the world and 4000 of these are on hair-trigger alert, ready to be launched within minutes.
Couldn't happen today? Think again. Just two months ago, six nuclear-armed cruise missiles were mistakenly loaded onto a B-52 bomber and flown across the US. The crew were unaware they were carrying nuclear weapons and went for lunch after landing, leaving the missiles unattended on a runway for nine hours. In all, it took the US Air Force 36 hours to realise that six nuclear warheads were missing.
Last week, the results of an investigation into this fiasco revealed a systemic failure in the command and control of the US nuclear arsenal. General Eugene Habiger, a former head of US Strategic Command, stated: "I have been in the nuclear business since 1966 and am not aware of any incident more disturbing."
As the Cold War thawed, we hoped that countries would move towards nuclear disarmament. At the 1995 conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the nuclear powers agreed to move rapidly to negotiations on comprehensive nuclear disarmament. More than a decade later, these negotiations have not started.
International nuclear tensions remain high. Earlier this year, the Doomsday Clock was moved forward to five minutes to midnight. Just this week, US Vice-President Dick Cheney threatened serious consequences if Iran did not abandon its nuclear program. But moves to intimidate or attack countries unwilling to comply with the hypocritical demands of nuclear states will inevitably lead the world to the brink of another war.
We can act to reduce these threats. As a first step, nuclear weapons could be taken off high alert, greatly decreasing the chance of accidental use. The United Nations will vote on a resolution calling for this in the coming week — the Australian Government should support it.
But recent studies, including the 2006 Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission led by Dr Hans Blix, make clear that the only way to stop countries developing nuclear weapons is for there to be one standard — zero — for everyone. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, launched in April, seeks to abolish nuclear arsenals and to ban the development, possession and use of nuclear weapons.
As a participant in the nuclear trade, Australia has a particular responsibility. Ahead of November 24, it is time for all our political leaders to take a stand on the greatest immediate challenge facing humanity, by committing themselves to the abolition of nuclear weapons.
Associate Professor Tilman Ruff is the Australian chairman of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.
Online Opinion, 26 October 2007
The connections between water scarcity, power generation and the federal government's promotion of nuclear power are worth reflecting on with National Water Week held from October 21-27.
Some problems associated with nuclear power are much discussed – such as its connection to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Less well known is the fact that nuclear power is the most water-hungry of all energy sources, with a single reactor consuming 35-65 million litres of water each day.
Water scarcity is already a serious problem for Australia's power-generation industry, largely because of our heavy reliance on water-guzzling coal-fired plants. Current problems in Australia's power industry resulting from water shortages include: expensive long-distance water haulage to some power plants as local supplies dwindle; reduced electrical generating capacity and output at some coal and hydro plants; higher and more volatile electricity prices; increased risks of blackouts; and intensified competition for water between power plants, agriculture, industries, and environmental flows.
Introducing nuclear power would exacerbate those problems. A December 2006 report by the Commonwealth Department of Parliamentary Services notes that the water requirements for a nuclear power station are 20-83 percent higher than for other power stations. Moreover, those calculations do not include water consumption by uranium mines. The Roxby Downs mine in South Australia uses 35 million litres of water each day, with plans to increase this to 150 million litres each day. Mine operator BHP Billiton does not pay one cent for this water despite recording a record $17 billion profit in 2006-07.
Water outflows from nuclear power plants can damage the local environment. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency states: "When nuclear power plants remove water from a lake or river for steam production and cooling, fish and other aquatic life can be affected. Water pollutants, such as heavy metals and salts, build up in the water used in the nuclear power plant systems. These water pollutants, as well as the higher temperature of the water discharged from the power plant, can negatively affect water quality and aquatic life."
A report by the U.S. Nuclear Information and Resource Service details the destruction of delicate marine ecosystems and large numbers of animals, including endangered species, by nuclear power plants. Most of the damage is done by water inflow pipes, while expulsion of warm water causes further damage.
Another documented problem is 'cold stunning' – fish acclimatise to warm water but die when the reactor is taken off-line and warm water is no longer expelled. In New Jersey, local fishermen estimated that 4,000 fish died from cold stunning when a reactor was shut down.
Nuclear reactors in numerous European countries have been periodically taken off-line or operated at reduced output in recent years because of water shortages driven by climate change, drought and heat waves. Nuclear utilities have also sought and secured exemptions from operating conditions in order to discharge overheated water.
The water consumption of renewable energy sources and energy efficiency and conservation measures is negligible compared to nuclear or coal. Operating a 2,400 Watt fan heater for one hour consumes 0.01 litres of water if wind is the energy source, 0.26 litres if solar is the energy source, 4.5 litres if coal is the energy source, or 5.5 litres if nuclear power is the energy source.
Tim Flannery, the 2007 Australian of the Year, notes that hastening the uptake of renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, and geothermal 'hot rocks' will help ease the water crisis as well as reducing greenhouse gas emissions – a win-win outcome.
Globally, there is another compelling reason to ensure that decisions on water allocation – including its use in energy production – are made wisely and equitably. Limited access to water is already contributing to armed conflicts ('water wars') in a number of places around the globe. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recently noted that shortages of food and water in sub-Saharan Africa were a precursor to the current tragic violence in Darfur. The problem goes "far beyond Darfur", he warned, as many other places are now suffering water shortages.
Australia can ill-afford to replace one thirsty industry, coal, with an even thirstier one, nuclear power.
Dr Sue Wareham OAM is National President of the Medical Association for Prevention of War. Dr Jim Green is the national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth, Australia.
Herald Sun, September 3, 2007
THE agency dealing with Australia's uranium exports is making an absurd claim.
The Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office says Australia sells uranium only to countries with "impeccable" non-proliferation credentials.
In fact, Australia has uranium export agreements with nuclear weapon states that are failing to fulfil their disarmament obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Australia is also dealing with states with a history of covert nuclear weapons research based on their "civil" nuclear programs.
The Australian Government permits uranium sales to countries, including the United States, which are blocking progress on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the proposed Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty.
This is supported by the Safeguards Office and the Government proposes allowing uranium sales to India, which is not a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
This is a serious blow to the international non-proliferation regime, yet has been met with silence from the Safeguards Office.
Last year's debate on uranium sales to China showed the Safeguards Office at its worst.
The Safeguards Office did not know the number of nuclear facilities in China, nor which of these would process uranium and its by-products.
The Safeguards Office was dismissive of China having the worst record of exports of proliferation-sensitive materials and know-how of any of the nuclear weapon states.
The Safeguards Office claims that all nuclear materials derived from Australia's uranium exports are "fully accounted for".
But that claim is false. There are frequent accounting discrepancies involving Australia's nuclear exports.
What the Safeguards Office means when it says that nuclear material is "fully accounted for" is that it has accepted all the explanations provided by uranium customer countries for accounting discrepancies, however fanciful those explanations may be.
Perhaps the most misleading of the claims made by the Safeguards Office is its repeated assertion that nuclear power does not present a weapons proliferation risk.
In fact, power reactors have been used directly in weapons programs.
Some examples include India, which is reserving eight out of 22 power reactors for weapons production.
The inevitable conclusion arising from our detailed critique of the Safeguards Office is that, at best, it is ineffectual.
At worst, the Safeguards Office serves the commercial interests of the nuclear industry and the political interests of those who promote it.
It contributes more to the problem of nuclear weapons proliferation than to the solutions.
We call on the Federal Government to establish an independent public inquiry to review all aspects of the Safeguards Office.
The inquiry should be adequately resourced, and should have powers similar to those of a royal commission.
Prof RICHARD BROINOWSKI is a former Australian ambassador and Assoc Prof TILMAN RUFF is the Australian chair of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.
Herald Sun, April 27, 2007
WE can only hope the crucial link between uranium exports and nuclear weapons proliferation receives due attention from the ALP this weekend.
The party will be debating its policy of opposition to new uranium mines at its national conference.
The erosion of our safety standards has increased the likelihood that Australian uranium will find its way into nuclear weapons in a world where such weapons have increasing appeal to more and more countries.
There is a claim that our bilateral safeguards are among the best in the world, and that together with an effective international safeguards system, they will prevent Australian uranium from being diverted into nuclear weapons programs.
In July 1975, Prime Minister Gough Whitlam commissioned Mr Justice Fox to conduct what remains Australia's most comprehensive environmental report.
The Fox Report concluded: "The nuclear power industry is unintentionally contributing to an increased risk of nuclear war. This is the most serious hazard associated with the industry."
Fox gave highly conditional approval for mining and sales, subject to the strictest safeguards. In August 1977, Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser announced these safeguards. They included:
- BUYING states must be signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
- GOVERNMENT-to-government safeguard agreements must be finalised before commercial contracts are worked out.
- AUSTRALIAN uranium must be in a form to attract the fullest International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards by the time it leaves Australian ownership. All places using Australian uranium must be accessible to IAEA and Australian inspectors.
- THERE must be no transfer, enrichment beyond 20 per cent uranium-235, or reprocessing of any uranium without Australian government consent.
- EVERY commercial contract must acknowledge that the transaction is subject to the bilateral safeguards agreement.
Because of commercial considerations, Fraser's package was gutted over the following 10 years. To give just one example, in June 1977 sales were allowed to France, which had not signed the NPT.
Mike Rann, now SA Premier, summed up the problem in his 1982 book, Uranium: Play It Safe. "Again and again, it has been demonstrated here and overseas that when problems over safeguards prove difficult, commercial considerations will come first," he wrote.
The Hawke Labor government further relaxed the original system through a series of complex, cynical manoeuvres. In May 1986, Hawke introduced the principle of "equivalence". This meant Australian uranium could in practice be used in unauthorised ways, provided that an amount of uranium equivalent to the original shipment from Australia could be seen to be used in approved activities.
Thousands of tonnes of Australian uranium are now held around the world in various enriched and unenriched forms, and with various degrees of security. Still more worrying is the 80 tonnes of weapons-useable plutonium produced from the irradiation of Australian uranium, again held in various degrees of security.
We rely entirely on the IAEA to guard Australian uranium and its by-products. Yet the IAEA Director General, Dr Mohamed El Baradei, has noted that the IAEA's basic rights of inspection are "fairly limited". He says the system suffers from "vulnerabilities", that the safeguards system "clearly needs reinforcement", that efforts to improve the system have been "half-hearted", and that the safeguards system operates on a "shoestring budget".
Worse still, the safeguards system is in danger of collapsing altogether. The 2004 report of the UN Secretary-General's high level panel on threats, challenges and change noted that we were approaching a point at which the erosion of the non-proliferation regime could become irreversible and result in "a cascade of proliferation".
These are very dangerous times to flood the international market with fresh supplies of uranium. But like the Fraser, Hawke and Keating governments before it, the Howard Government, and some elements in the parliamentary Labor Party, seem seduced by the expectation of vast profits from uranium exports.
Such expectations have fallen flat in the past. We have had waves of uranium exploration akin to the gold rushes, but they have done little to improve the national economy. Figures on export revenue in 2005 show that uranium accounted for less than one-third of 1 per cent of Australia's export revenue, a paltry return given the serious proliferation risks associated with the uranium export industry.
Prof RICHARD BROINOWSKI is an Adjunct Professor at the University of Sydney and a former Australian ambassador to Vietnam, Republic of Korea, Mexico, the Central American Republics and Cuba.
The Age, April 13, 2007
OPPONENTS of renewable energy from the coal and nuclear industries, and their political supporters, are disseminating the fallacy that renewable energy cannot provide base-load power to substitute for coal-fired electricity.
If this becomes widely accepted, renewable energy will remain a niche market rather than achieve its potential of being part of mainstream energy supply technologies. Electricity grids are designed to handle variability in demand and supply and have different types of power stations — base-load, intermediate-load, peak-load and reserve.
A base-load station is, in theory, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and operates most of the time at full power. In mainland Australia, base-load power stations are mostly coal-fired while a few are gas-fired. Coal-fired stations are by far the most polluting of all power stations, in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and local air pollution. Overseas, some base-load power stations are nuclear-powered.
An electricity supply system cannot be built out of base-load power stations alone. These stations take all day to start up and, in general, their output cannot be changed quickly enough to handle peaks and other variations in demand. They also break down from time to time.
A faster, cheaper, more flexible power station is used to complement base-load, handle the peaks and handle quickly unpredictable fluctuations in supply and demand.
These peak-load stations are designed to be run for short periods each day. They can be started rapidly from cold and their output can be changed rapidly. Some peak-load stations are gas turbines (like jet engines) fuelled by natural gas. Hydro-electricity with dams is also used to provide peak-load power.
Some renewable electricity sources have identical variability to coal-fired power stations and so they are base-load. They can be integrated into the electricity supply system without any additional back-up. Examples include:
- Bio-energy, based on the combustion of crops and crop residues, or their gasification followed by combustion of the gas.
- Hot rock geothermal power, which is being developed in South Australia and Queensland.
- Solar thermal electricity, with overnight heat storage in water or rocks, or a thermochemical store.
- Large-scale, distributed wind power, with a small amount of occasional back-up from a peak-load plant.
Moreover, energy efficiency and conservation measures can reliably reduce demand for base-load and peak-load electricity.
The inclusion of large-scale wind power in the list may be a surprise to some people, because wind power is often described as an "intermittent" source, that is, one that switches on and off frequently. While a single wind turbine is certainly intermittent, a system of several geographically separated wind farms is not. Total wind power output of the system generally varies smoothly and rarely falls to zero. Nevertheless, it may require some back-up, for example, from gas turbines.
When wind power supplies up to 20 per cent of electricity generation, the additional costs of reserve plant are relatively small. For widely dispersed wind farms, the back-up capacity only has to be one-fifth to one-third of the wind capacity. Since it has low capital cost and is operated infrequently, it plays the role of reliability insurance with a low premium.
Of course, if a national electricity grid is connected by transmission line to another country (for example, as western Denmark is connected to Norway), it does not need to install any back-up for wind, because it buys supplementary power from its neighbours when required.
By 2040, renewable energy could supply more than half Australia's electricity, reducing greenhouse emissions from electricity generation by nearly 80 per cent. In the longer term, when solar electricity is less expensive, there is no technical reason to stop renewable energy from supplying 100 per cent of grid electricity. The system could be just as reliable as the dirty, fossil-fuelled system that it replaces.
The barriers to a sustainable energy future are neither technological nor economic, but the immense political power of the big greenhouse gas polluting industries — coal, aluminium, iron and steel, cement, motor vehicles and part of the oil industry.
Dr Mark Diesendorf is the director of Sustainability Centre, senior lecturer in environmental studies at the University of NSW, and a member of the EnergyScience Coalition. His new book, Greenhouse Solutions with Sustainable Energy, will be published by UNSW Press next month.
Crikey, March 5, 2007
Dr Jim Green, national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth, writes:
Federal science minister Julie Bishop said yesterday that Ziggy Switkowski was an "an ideal choice to head up ANSTO as we move into this period of seriously discussing nuclear power as an alternative."
But will the government live to regret the decision? A high profile nuclear campaigner in a very public position could make life difficult if public opinion suddenly cooled on a nuclear future.
Last year Switkowski headed the Uranium Mining, Processing and Nuclear Energy Review (UMPNER). The report produced by the panel was very much in line with the government's (or at least Howard's) support for nuclear power.
The UMPNER report also reflected political imperatives. It ignored the original term of reference asking the panel to investigate the "business case" for establishing an international nuclear waste repository in Australia. Perhaps that political hot potato was overlooked on advice from the UMPNER secretariat in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet – but Switkowski is on a longer leash now.
The government faces problems at every turn in the nuclear debate it has unleashed:
- The government wants to talk nuclear power but goes feral at any mention of potential locations for power reactors.
- Julie Bishop waxes lyrical about the need for a more polite, civilised society, but she could hardly have been more impolite with her repeated refusal to meet Traditional Owners being targeted for a national nuclear waste dump in the NT.
- Switkowski describes waste, accidents and nuclear terrorism as "deeply emotional" issues but Foreign Minister Alexander Downer says "the awful consequences of nuclear terrorism make it imperative the global community take this emerging threat seriously."
- Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane stresses the need for a fact-based debate then routinely gets his facts wrong – for example, claiming on ABC Radio National last week that nuclear power is as safe as all other energy forms.
- The government says public support is a precondition for the introduction of nuclear power but refuses to rule out overriding state government opposition to nuclear power reactors.
Meanwhile, the government's planned imposition of a nuclear waste dump in the NT stands as a clear example of the crude methods it will use to pursue its nuclear agenda. Two sets of legislation have gutted environmental and Aboriginal heritage protections in relation to the planned dump.
The government's difficulties in managing the nuclear debate will most likely be exacerbated by the nuclear boosterism of the prominent new Chair of ANSTO.
Sydney Morning Herald, February 6, 2007
The report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change leads to the inevitable conclusion that deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions are needed urgently, before 2020. While individuals can make a contribution, their potential falls far short of what is needed: targets, new policies, strategies and actions from all levels of government, especially federal and state. It is governments that control taxation and funding, choose new infrastructure, and establish regulations and standards.
Unfortunately summits and further inquiries often delay real action. The Federal Government has been delaying greenhouse action for 10 years. Its principal strategy is to support coal-fired electricity with capture and burial of carbon dioxide. With a big subsidy, a pilot plant could be built within a decade. But this is a long way from a mass-produced, commercially available technology, which would take at least 20 years to roll out.
Knowing this, the Government is promoting nuclear power to divert attention from the clean energy technologies that are ready for implementation, given appropriate carbon pricing, regulations and standards: efficient energy use, solar hot water, solar space heating, wind power and bioenergy from crop residues, organic wastes and landfills.
Nowadays, nuclear power entails even greater risks of proliferation of nuclear weapons and terrorism. And there is still no long-term nuclear waste dump operating anywhere. High-grade uranium ore is scarce, while mining and milling low-grade creates big carbon dioxide emissions. The nuclear industry promotes a new generation of nuclear power stations that might be slightly safer and cheaper, but these will take at least 15 to 20 years to mass produce.
Clearly, the Government is attempting to delay efficient energy use and renewable energy for 15-20 years until its chosen technologies may become available. It combines token support for renewable energy with false claims that it cannot substitute for coal.
The federal Mandatory Renewable Energy Target for 2010 was so small it was reached last year. Several years ago the Government ceased to fund the Co-operative Research Centre for Renewable Energy, but it still funds three research centres for fossil fuels. Even efficient energy use, the cheapest and fastest set of technologies and measures for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, has received little support from the Government.
To give the right message to energy consumers, it is essential to expand and extend the mandatory renewable energy target and to introduce carbon pricing, either as a carbon tax or an emissions trading scheme. An effective scheme must have a strong cap on emissions, must include all the energy intensive industries and must distribute at least half the emission permits by auction. This will allow cleaner energy technologies to enter the market in competition with the existing fossil fuel technologies. As with water permits, emission permits should be temporary licences, not property rights.
The Federal Opposition promises to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, expand the mandatory renewable energy target and introduce an emissions trading scheme, without specifying its key features. Useful first steps, but not sufficiently specific to give us confidence that they will achieve big reductions in emissions by 2020.
The best action NSW has taken is to follow Victoria in establishing a mandatory renewable energy target. However, the modest emission reductions from this will be swamped if NSW permits a conventional coal-fired power station to be built. At least three such proposals are on the table. The NSW Opposition Leader, Peter Debnam, has indicated he favours a coal station. The Premier, Morris Iemma, has avoided committing himself and has attempted to reassure the public by pointing to the Government's recent approval of a gas-fired power station.
However, this is merely a peak-load station and is not relevant to the choice of the next base-load station. The program to upgrade the state's 12 coal-fired generators from 660 to 750 megawatts each will produce equivalent emissions to a new coal-fired station.
Under pressure from the property and housing industries, NSW has weakened the BASIX scheme for energy-efficient homes. On transport, it reneged on a promise to extend Sydney's light rail system, cancelled the Parramatta-Epping heavy rail link, failed to introduce an integrated ticketing system for public transport and has made negligible investment in a bicycle highway network - all indicators that it is ill-prepared for greenhouse response and for the imminent peak in global oil production.
Perhaps local climate action groups will exert sufficient political pressure to move contenders in the coming elections to adopt effective policies instead of diversions and delaying tactics.
Dr Mark Diesendorf researches and teaches sustainable development and greenhouse response strategies at the Institute of Environmental Studies, University of NSW.
Canberra Times, November 27, 2006
GIVEN its origins and the composition of its panel, the nuclear taskforce report chaired by Ziggy Switkowski, and issued last Tuesday, is in some respects surprisingly downbeat.
It supports uranium mining and nuclear power, but for at least the medium term effectively rejects uranium conversion, uranium enrichment, fuel fabrication and spent nuclear fuel reprocessing, and all but ignores the original requirement to investigate the "business case" for establishing a repository accepting high-level nuclear waste from overseas.
The Switkowski report stresses that nuclear power could be competitive only if a substantial carbon tax is imposed, and estimates the cost of nuclear power to be 20-50 per cent greater than the cost of electricity from coal. Even this seems an optimistic assessment.
The narrow terms of reference set by the Federal Government restricted the Switkowski panel to a study of nuclear power, not a serious study of energy options for Australia. As a result, the main problem with the report is that it simply misses the point.
A panel with a broader range of expertise and a less limited brief could have been asked to explore the impact of carbon tax and other policy measures on energy demand. It could have tackled the most effective means by which that demand could be met, and greenhouse emissions reduced, taking into account all the energy options, costs, time frames, waste, safety and other relevant issues.
The report simply accepts that energy demand will grow remorselessly along a projected curve. But it also proposes imposition of a carbon tax in which the cost of electricity will significantly increase.
Of course, as we know with water, in this situation, the simplest thing when a resource becomes harder to buy, is to use it less wastefully. Similarly, a host of studies show that the potential for removing energy wastage is large, and that a dollar invested in energy efficiency will produce some two to seven times the returns in energy and emissions savings versus a dollar invested in new nuclear power.
While the Switkowski panel was prevented from asking key questions, there's no reason for the rest of us to avoid them. A body of existing research indicates that the objectives of meeting energy demand and reducing greenhouse emissions can be met with a combination of renewable energy and gas to displace coal, combined with energy efficiency measures, without recourse to nuclear power.
For example, a study by AGL, Frontier Economics and WWF Australia published in May 2006 finds a 40 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation in Australia can be achieved by 2030 at the modest cost of 43c a week a person over 24 years. A detailed study, A Clean Energy Future for Australia, by Hugh Saddler, Richard Denniss and Mark Diesendorf, identifies methods by which a 50 per cent reduction in greenhouse emissions from stationery energy generators and uses can be achieved by 2040.
The Australian Business Roundtable on Climate Change, and the Renewable Energy Generators of Australia, have produced research on climate change abatement strategies. Many studies dispel myths which, unfortunately, have been promulgated by Switkowski this week, such as the claim that only coal and nuclear power are suitable to provide reliable base-load power.
This claim is an oversimplified rendition of the complex question of how to provide statistical reliability in an energy generation system. Different technologies present different challenges. Nuclear reactors are stable while they work, but when they have an "outage" they can leave a big hole in supply. Once a reactor shuts down it can take days or even weeks to restart.
There are renewable energy sources which are at least as reliable as nuclear power, such as bio-energy, while geothermal "hot rocks" technology may provide another energy source in the near future.
While a single wind turbine cannot be relied upon as a constant source of power, wind farms spread over a wide area provide a reliable power source.
Studies of Australian wind patterns have shown wind power, supported by a small amount of peak-load plant, can substitute for and hence may be regarded as equivalent to base load.
Energy efficiency and waste-saving measures are too often ignored. Apart from their other advantages, energy-efficiency measures can reduce the demand for both base-load and peak-load power.
Energy-efficiency measures can also deliver large reductions in energy consumption and greenhouse emissions.
The Australian Ministerial Council on Energy published a report in 2003, Towards a National Framework for Energy Efficiency, which concludes that "consumption in the manufacturing, commercial and residential sectors could be reduced by 20-30 per cent with the adoption of current commercially available technologies with an average payback of four years".
But as Switkowski has stressed in recent appearances, the taskforce was not charged with assessing those issues. Rather it was to look at the possibilities of a nuclear future. Will the Prime Minister now convene a panel to explore the potential of a non-nuclear future for Australia supported by rapid development in renewable energy sources and energy efficiency?
It is hoped he will, or better still, the Government will simply get to work supporting the implementation of the myriad of clean-energy solutions to the problem of climate change, such as those identified by the Ministerial Council on Energy.
Professor Falk is director of the Australian Centre for Science, Innovation and Society at the University of Melbourne. The centre assists the development of the Energyscience Coalition which provides briefing papers at energyscience.org.au
Sydney Morning Herald, November 26, 2006
IF AUSTRALIA pursued a nuclear power industry it could create enough spent fuel for up to 45,000 nuclear weapons, scientists say.
The EnergyScience Coalition scientists reviewed the report produced by a Federal Government taskforce, which found Australia could build 25 nuclear power stations by 2050 to generate one-third of the country's energy.
They criticised the report, saying it did not adequately deal with the issues of proliferation and nuclear waste. If the reactors produced 25 gigawatts of power and were used for 60 years, the scientists estimated, between 37,000 and 45,000 tonnes of spent fuel would be produced.
"That amount of spent fuel contains 370 to 450 tonnes of plutonium … which is enough to build 37,000 to 45,000 nuclear weapons," they found. That report section was written by Dr Jim Green, with the environmental group Friends of the Earth.
The Federal Government taskforce, chaired by the former Telstra boss and nuclear physicist Dr Ziggy Switkowski, said there would be no need for a nuclear waste plan until 2050.
The group includes Jim Falk, the director of the Australian Centre for Science, Innovation and Society at Melbourne University, the retired diplomat Professor Richard Broinowski, academics from the University of NSW and Monash University and members of the Medical Association for the Prevention of War. Professor Broinowski wrote that Australian nuclear materials were "increasingly likely to end up in weapons".
Professor Broinowski said the report relied too heavily on Australia's bilateral relationships and the effectiveness of the world's non-proliferation regime.
Courier Mail, November 23, 2006
THE Switkowski draft report on uranium mining processing and nuclear energy is an exercise in "greenwash" for a dirty and dangerous industry.
It skates over the major risks of proliferation of nuclear weapons, nuclear terrorism and nuclear waste management, ignores the carbon dioxide emissions from the nuclear fuel chain and presents an excessively optimistic estimate of the cost of nuclear electricity.
The single positive outcome of this report is its recognition that carbon pricing – either in the form of a carbon tax or emissions trading scheme – is essential for reducing Australia's greenhouse gas emissions.
However, a more realistic assessment of nuclear economics would recognise that the carbon price range envisaged in the report – $15-$40 a tonne of carbon dioxide emitted – is too low to make nuclear power competitive with dirty (conventional) coal-fired power stations.
The report claims that nuclear power is only 20-50 per cent more expensive than coal power. It does this by assuming that it is financed with much lower interest rates than are presently available for nuclear power stations in competitive markets.
A more realistic pro-nuclear study by an expert group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that electricity from a new nuclear power station in the United States would cost 9-10¢ per kilowatt-hour (¢/kWh) Australian. For comparison, electricity from dirty (conventional) coal-fired power stations in eastern Australia costs 3.5-4.0¢/kWh and wind power costs 7.5-8.5¢/kWh.
In the United Kingdom, when the electricity industry was privatised in the 1990s, nuclear power was propped up by means of the Fossil Fuel Levy, which amounted to about £1.3 billion a year ($A3.2 billion). The cost of electricity from Britain's newest nuclear power station, Sizewell B, has been estimated at 6p/kWh (15¢/kWh). For comparison, wind power in the UK costs 3-4p/kWh (7-9¢/kWh).
As spelt out clearly in the unbiased Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry, published a generation ago, nuclear power is contributing inadvertently to the spread of nuclear weapons and hence the risk of nuclear war. Since then, the risk has become much worse. India, Pakistan and North Korea have all used civil nuclear technology to develop nuclear weapons.
Furthermore, the fragile barrier to nuclear proliferation – the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty – is being undermined by the US and Australia which are selling uranium to India and Taiwan, countries that are non-signatories to the NPT.
These sales are obviously part of a US strategy to build a nuclear wall around China. China's response will be to expand its own nuclear weapons arsenal. However, China's uranium reserves are too small to do this and to fuel its nuclear power stations as well. So, Australia has come to the rescue with its uranium sales to China, freeing up Chinese uranium for more nuclear weapons. A future confrontation over Taiwan could be hot indeed.
The report's conclusions on proliferation are breathtaking in their complacency: "Increased involvement (in the nuclear industry) would not change the risks" and "Australia's uranium supply policies reinforce the international non-proliferation regime". This goes beyond greenwash to repainting black as white.
The report dismisses nuclear terrorism by remarking that "nor would Australia's (electricity) grid become more vulnerable to terrorist attack".
What about an attack on a nuclear power station, high-level nuclear waste in a cooling pond or highly radioactive nuclear materials being transported? Even if they don't hijack a jumbo jet, a small paramilitary group with suicidal tendencies could take over the control room of a nuclear power station and initiate a core-meltdown, creating hundreds of thousands of casualties.
The report assumes incorrectly that carbon dioxide emissions from the nuclear fuel chain are negligible. In reality, emissions (especially from fossil fuel use in mining and milling uranium) will become much larger as the uranium ore grade declines over the next few decades. As a result, nuclear power will become a substantial greenhouse gas emitter beyond 2040.
It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Federal Government's push for nuclear power, assisted by the Switkowski report, is simply a means of distracting attention away from its failure to implement strong greenhouse response policies.
The key measures needed are carbon pricing to encourage cleaner energy supply and regulations and standards to mandate efficient energy use.
As shown in the report, "A Clean Energy Future for Australia", we could cut carbon dioxide emissions from the electricity industry by 80 per cent by 2040, by using a mix of efficient energy use, bioenergy, natural gas and wind power. The barriers are neither technological nor economic, but rather the political power of the big greenhouse gas emitters.
Dr Mark Diesendorf teaches and researches at the Institute of Environmental Studies, University of New South Wales
Sydney Morning Herald, November 22, 2006
TAXPAYERS could be forced to subsidise the nuclear energy industry to the tune of several billion dollars as well as facing higher electricity prices, to get the industry up and running in Australia, energy experts say.
A Federal Government-commissioned report published yesterday underestimated the current operating costs of nuclear energy, and put too low a price on the carbon pollution generated by coal-fired power, critics said. Alternative forms of energy will only be able to compete with coal if coal pays for its greenhouse gas pollution.
But a carbon price at least double that recommended by the taskforce, which was headed by the former Telstra boss Ziggy Switkowski, would be necessary if nuclear power was to compete with coal, said Mark Diesendorf, a lecturer at the Institute of Environmental Studies at the University of NSW.
On top of that, it was likely extra government support would have to be offered to private companies to encourage it to invest in the industry, a point even the taskforce conceded in its report.
"The difference between me and Mr Switkowski is that I don't think nuclear power will get up even with carbon pricing … I don't think it could compete with coal on a price of $40 a tonne of carbon," Dr Diesendorf said.
Based on Massachusetts Institute of Technology research, the Sydney academic has estimated construction of a 1000-megawatt nuclear reactor would cost about $3 billion. That does not take account of the cost of insurance, storage of highly radioactive waste and its eventual decommissioning.
In his report, Dr Switkowski said nuclear power would be between 20 and 50 per cent more costly to produce than coal or gas-fired power. "This gap may close in the decades ahead, but nuclear power and renewable energy sources will only become competitive in Australia in a system where the costs of greenhouse gas emissions are explicitly recognised," the report said. "Even then, private investment in the first-built nuclear reactors may require some form of government support or directive."
It said nuclear power plants were initially likely to be 10 to 15 per cent more expensive than in the US because Australia had no nuclear power construction experience or any physical or regulatory infrastructure. Studies by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Chicago showed the industry would also initially suffer from what is known as "first of a kind" costs common in complex engineering projects and initial learning curves. However, the report dismissed those costs.
A campaigner with the Australian Conservation Foundation, Dave Sweeney, agreed the taskforce's calculations were unrealistic. "We welcome a carbon price, but on this basis [$15-$40 a tonne of carbon] I don't think that it will be significant enough to cover all the costs associated with nuclear power, and that is reflected in the report itself, which says the first plants in Australia could not be built as cheaply as they could be built in the US, and would need additional measures to kick start them. "This is saying very clearly that if nuclear power is pursued in Australia the public purse will have to be open a very long time."
A campaigner with Friends of the Earth, Jim Green, said the Switkowski report's estimate that nuclear power was now up to 50 per cent more expensive than coal or gas-fired power was optimistic.
A recent Victorian Department of Infrastructure report had found that nuclear power was twice as expensive as coal-fired power, Dr Green said.
- Insurance companies will not take on the risk associated with nuclear plants, forcing governments to act as underwriters.
- The cost of cleaning up Britain's ageing nuclear facilities stands at £90 billion ($222 billion).
- A carbon price of about $35 a tonne would make wind power competitive with coal.
Crikey, March 5, 2007
im Green from the EnergyScience Coalition writes:
You’ll not be surprised to learn that the Switkowski report supports an expansion of the uranium mining industry, regardless of the International Atomic Energy Agency acknowledgement of serious flaws in the safeguards system.
No news there, but the report does manage to surprise by pouring buckets of cold water on the Howard government's enthusiasm for establishing a uranium enrichment industry in Australia.
The report states that: “The enrichment market is very concentrated, structured around a small number of suppliers in the United States, Europe and Russia. It is characterised by high barriers to entry, including limited and costly access to technology, trade restrictions, uncertainty around the future of secondary supply and proliferation concerns."
The report finally decides that "there may be little real opportunity for Australian companies to extend profitably" into enrichment and that "given the new investment and expansion plans under way around the world, the market looks to be reasonably well balanced in the medium term."
Howard likes to compare uranium enrichment to value-adding in the wool industry, which ignores the weapons proliferation protential of uranium enrichment. As the Switkowski report notes: "The greatest proliferation risk arises from undeclared centrifuge enrichment plants capable of producing highly enriched uranium for use in weapons."
On the “con” side, the report states that nuclear power would be 20-50% more expensive than coal or gas-fired power, and that nuclear and renewable energy sources will only become economically competitive in Australia "in a system where the costs of greenhouse gas emissions are explicitly recognised." Unpack that and there’s a significant economic challenge for the government.
Further, Switkowski seems to be using the most optimistic estimates of the cost of nuclear power. A recent Victorian Department of Infrastructure report found that coal-fired power stations produce power for $35 per megawatt-hour, while nuclear power would cost between $60-80 per megawatt-hour.
Unfortunately, Switkowski chose to leave out any mention of the numerous studies which find that energy efficiency is 2-7 times more cost-effective than nuclear power in reducing greenhouse emissions.
The Australian (letter), November 14, 2006
Former NSW Premier Bob Carr said on ABC's Lateline program on Friday November 10 that "fourth generation reactors are safe". In fact, fourth generation nuclear power reactors are non-existent. The hype surrounding these non-existent reactors has attracted scepticism and cynicism even from within the nuclear industry, with one industry representative quipping that "the paper-moderated, ink-cooled reactor is the safest of all" and that "all kinds of unexpected problems may occur after a project has been launched."
Mr. Carr also said on Lateline that "in 30 years spent fuel won't be a problem, it will be recycled". Such schemes would require reprocessing plants as well as new fleets of plutonium-fuelled fast-neutron reactors to 'transmute' radioactive waste, thus rendering it less harmful.
Richard Lester, professor of nuclear science and engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, argues that the reprocessing and transmutation schemes outlined in the US government's Global Nuclear Energy Partnership amount to an "appealing vision, but the reality is that GNEP is unlikely to achieve these goals and will also make nuclear power less competitive."
According to Steve Kidd, a director of the World Nuclear Association, the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership proposals have been received "politely, but coolly" by the nuclear industry itself.
Jim Green, Melbourne
Sydney Morning Herald, November 13, 2006
A SCIENTIST has accused the Prime Minister of frightening the public to undermine wind power's potential.
Responding last week to a Herald/ACNielsen poll showing 91 per cent of people regarded climate change as serious, John Howard warned that wind power could become a key source of energy only if the coast was festooned with windmills. "Unless you want to have a windmill every few hundred feet starting at South Head and going down to Malabar," he said, "you simply won't be able to generate enough power from something like wind in order to take the load of the power that is generated by the use of coal and gas and, in time, I believe, nuclear."
Looking "years ahead", the only means of generating the required energy were fossil fuels and nuclear power. However, Mark Diesendorf, an expert in renewable energy at the Institute of Environmental Studies, University of NSW, dismissed Mr Howard's comments as "just not true". He said the depiction of a coastline of windmills was "a straw man … designed to frighten people … It's the same old misleading stuff."
The truth, Dr Diesendorf said, was that wind farms could supply 20 per cent of Australia's energy needs by 2040, using less land than required today for generating coal-fired power. And no one was proposing dotting the coast with wind farms. In NSW, the most likely sites would be inland, "in high country on the Southern Tablelands". Only "1 or 2 per cent" of a wind farm would be covered with turbines and associated works, such as access roads. The rest would remain available for agriculture, including grazing. Dr Diesendorf said the turbines and roads for a wind farm that could replace a 1000-megawatt coal-fired station would occupy between five and 19 square kilometres. An open-cut coalmine to support a station producing the same amount of power could take up 50 to 100 square kilometres.
Dr Diesendorf said Mr Howard's comments followed equally misleading claims by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer, in May. "It has been estimated," Mr Downer told Parliament, "that you would need a wind farm occupying 3200 square kilometres to produce the equivalent energy of a medium-sized power station."
A 2004 study, Clean Energy Future for Australia, found carbon dioxide emissions from stationary sources could be halved by 2040 with existing technology. Natural gas, the cleanest fossil fuel, could supply 30 per cent of power, said Dr Diesendorf, who worked on the study.
Small "bioenergy" power stations burning crop leftovers could supply 28 to 30 per cent, and wind power another 20 per cent.
Online Opinion, August 24, 2006
Recently, the Prime Minister has become fond of likening a domestic industry for enriching uranium to building factories to knit garments from Aussie wool. It’s a cosy argument for value-adding, but it masks the security and environmental threats of a domestic uranium enrichment industry. Unlike enrichment plants, garment factories don’t generate large volumes of radioactive waste in the form of depleted uranium and they don’t have the potential to destabilise the region.
We can safely assume that the Lucas Heights nuclear plant in Sydney never operated a secret program to knit woolen garments. But in 1965, the Lucas Heights plant, then known as the Atomic Energy Commission, did begin a secret uranium enrichment program. It was known as the 'Whistle Project' - the idea being that workers would whistle as they walked past Building 64 and studiously avoid any mention of the secret enrichment program underway in the building's basement. There is no doubt that the Whistle Project had a military agenda. Indeed, in the archives of the University of New South Wales, you can find hand-written notes by the then chair of the Atomic Energy Commission, Sir Philip Baxter, in which he calculates how many nuclear weapons could be produced if the enrichment work proceeded as he hoped it would.
As it happens, the enrichment work was publicly revealed in the 1967-68 Annual Report of the Atomic Energy Commission and the project proceeded in fits and starts until the incoming Hawke Labor government put an end to it in 1984.
Other countries proceeded with their 'peaceful' uranium enrichment programs. More precisely, they proceeded to build nuclear weapons using highly-enriched uranium from their 'peaceful' enrichment programs. This is how Pakistan and South Africa developed their arsenals of nuclear weapons. The Iraqi regime was pursuing uranium enrichment until its nuclear weapons program was terminated during and after the 1991 Gulf War. North Korea's nuclear weapons program - based on a uranium enrichment plant and a so-called experimental power reactor - is a source of international concern. There is enormous controversy over the current uranium enrichment program in Iran.
The simple fact is that 'peaceful' enrichment plants can produce low-enriched uranium for power reactors, and they can produce highly-enriched uranium for Weapons of Mass Destruction.
Further, the depleted uranium tailings waste produced in large volumes at enrichment plants can be used in munitions, such as those used by the US and NATO in Iraq, the Balkans and Afghanistan.
Australia could not credibly oppose uranium enrichment programs in North Korea or Iran if we had the same capacity to produce fissile weapons material. Nor could we credibly oppose the current plans in Indonesia to build plutonium production - oops, I mean peaceful power - reactors.
In the June 6 edition of The Bulletin, Max Walsh discusses the 'elephant in the room' in the current nuclear debate - the possibility that it is being driven by a military agenda. Could it be that John Howard is interested in uranium enrichment precisely because of its military potential? Does Howard subscribe to the 'Fortress Australia' views which led former Liberal Prime Minister, John Gorton, to approve construction of a plutonium production - oops, I mean peaceful power - reactor at Jervis Bay in the late 1960s?
The Prime Minister is undoubtedly aware of widespread concern that the international non-proliferation regime could collapse because of the recalcitrance of the major nuclear weapons states and the ambitions of would-be weapons states. As the 2004 report of the UN Secretary-General's High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change noted: "We are approaching a point at which the erosion of the non-proliferation regime could become irreversible and result in a cascade of proliferation."
The Prime Minister has argued that in the emerging Nuclear World Order, countries supplying nuclear fuel might also take responsibility for spent nuclear fuel disposal. If Australia is to supply not just raw yellowcake but enriched uranium or fuel rods, the pressure on Australia to host an international high-level nuclear waste dump will continue to build.
As Professor John Veevers from Macquarie University wrote in the Australian Geologist in August 1999 - when Pangea Resources was attempting to foist a nuclear dump on Australia - such a dump would pose serious public health and environmental risks: "[T]onnes of enormously dangerous radioactive waste in the northern hemisphere, 20,000 kms from its destined dump in Australia where it must remain intact for at least 10,000 years. These magnitudes - of tonnage, lethality, distance of transport, and time - entail great inherent risk."
Instead of pursuing his nuclear dreaming, the Prime Minister should focus his attention on adding value to benign and clean energy resources. Australia was once a leader in solar power, an industry that has been left by his government to wither on the vine as capital and brains take flight overseas, where more visionary policies are in place.
In May, a confidential CSIRO report was released which argues that solar thermal technology "is poised to play a significant role in baseload generation for Australia" and will be cost-competitive with coal within seven years. But this potential won't be realised unless the Government can be persuaded to shift its nuclear ambitions from enrichment plants and power reactors to the nuclear fusion power supplied by the sun at a safe distance of 150 million kilometres.
An expanded renewable energy target, like those recently announced in Victoria and South Australia, would provide jobs and energy security while cutting greenhouse emissions. And it won’t upset the neighbours.
Canberra Times, February 15, 2006
ABC TV's Four Corners program and especially its reporter, Janine Cohen, should be congratulated on highlighting an undemocratic practice that has been going on for decades: the muzzling of CSIRO scientists from participating in public debate about greenhouse response strategies and energy alternatives. Monday night's program also revealed the intimate links between the big greenhouse gas producing industries, the Federal Government and public officials.
The Four Corners program is entirely consistent with previous exposes and my personal experience as a former Principal Research Scientist in CSIRO. As I see it, there is a consistent pattern of collusion to promote fossil fuels and suppress renewable energy, by public officials, government, those who control CSIRO and the coal, aluminium, oil, electricity generation and motor industries.
In 2004 the ABC's Investigative Unit obtained leaked meeting minutes, emails and memos which suggest that, behind the scenes, the fossil fuels industry influenced strongly the content of the Federal Government's Energy White Paper. The ABC reported that the Industry Minister had formed a secret advisory group of 12 companies, known as the Lower Emissions Technical Advisory Group (LETAG), to assist him on the development of policy. The group worked directly with the Government to develop the energy plan. It was something that the Government was not keen to publicise. According to notes taken by one of the executives during a LETAG meeting, the Minister stressed the need for absolute confidentiality, saying that if the renewable energy industry found out, there would be a huge outcry.
The ABC also obtained the minutes of a LETAG meeting during which the general manager of the Energy Futures branch of Federal Government's Department of the Industry stated that the Government was seeking to adjust policy so that it supports and accommodates industry's direction. All this information was broadcast on ABC national radio on September 7, 2004 and the transcript is still available on www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2004/s1194166.htm.
In the 1990s, I was one of the representatives of the environmental NGOs on a group convened by the Australian Government to (nominally) advise on the development of a macro-economic model of greenhouse response called MEGABARE. Our advice was ignored and the structure of the completed model and the presentation of the results of the modelling were biased so that it exaggerated the costs of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and ignored the benefits.
MEGABARE was used widely by the Australian Government in international forums, for example during negotiations on the Kyoto Protocol, to support the Government's position in opposition to international greenhouse abatement targets. In particular, MEGABARE and its successor, GIGABARE, were used as a basis for special pleading by the Australian Government that, as a "fossil fuel-dependent country", Australia's target should involve an increase in emissions.
Subsequently, it was revealed that our advisory group was a sham and that there was a secret Steering Committee convened by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics comprising mainly representatives of large fossil fuel producers and consumers. The fee for membership of this inner group was $A50,000 and ABARE did not reveal the source of the funding for its modelling in the publications of the results. In recruiting members of the Steering Committee, ABARE explicitly stated that "the benefit to your organisation of participating in this project" includes "influencing policy debate". A report on ABARE's activities was published by the Commonwealth Ombudsman in 1998.
In the late 1970s, CSIRO was a world leader in research into solar hot water, solar-efficient building design and bioenergy. At that time I was leader of a small group of CSIRO and other scientists working in Canberra on the integration of wind power into electricity grids.
There were several indications that the energy policy of the CSIRO Executive was dominated by fossil fuel and nuclear interests. For instance, the CSIRO Executive refused to allow me to submit a grant application, which had the full support of the Chief of my Division, to the then National Energy Research, Development and Demonstration Council. I defied the Executive, the grant was awarded and our research was recognised internationally. But a few years later, in the early 1980s, the Executive closed down all CSIRO research into renewable energy. Just to make sure that the wind power research was not continued "on the side", I was placed in a situation where I had little choice but to accept retrenchment. CSIRO never recovered its eminence in renewable energy, but by the late 1990s it had recommenced a few modest projects in this forbidden field. Recently, the fossil fuel lobby, among those who control CSIRO, struck again. All renewable energy research was terminated again and the organisation's energy research was focused even more on the Federal Government's favoured "solution" to the enhanced greenhouse effect: the capture and burial of CO2 from coal-fired power stations, which is decades away from commercial application.
I suggest that the reason for the suppression of debate about greenhouse response and energy policy is simple. The producers and consumers of fossil fuels, and their supporters among public officials, the Federal Government and CSIRO, are well aware that we already have the technologies to commence a rapid transition to an energy future based on renewable energy and efficient energy, with gas playing the role as an important transitional fuel. The barriers to this transition are not primarily technological or economic, but rather are the immense political power of vested interests.
Dr Mark Diesendorf is currently senior lecturer in the Institute of Environmental Studies at University of NSW.
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