The Australian: Greens exposed on nuclear storage

Senator Sean Edwards

As published in The Australian, March 20, 2015

If there’s one party in Australian politics morally and philosophically compelled to support advanced nuclear energy it’s the Greens. That they so enthusiastically oppose it is an act of supreme hypocrisy.

My submission to the South Australian royal commission into the nuclear fuel cycle proposes that SA stakes its claim in the global nuclear fuel recycling industry. Worldwide, there is more than 240,000 tonnes of spent uranium looking for a home and about 50 countries willing to pay handsomely to the state that provides it.

But this is not about building a permanent repository. It’s about employing the latest recycling technology to turn used fuel into a far more manageable commodity for disposal by dramatically reducing its half-life and volume while producing plentiful, baseload electricity.

Depending on the scope of our involvement, not only is free power a real possibility but so is the generation of revenues of a scale that could supplant the $4.4 billion in state taxes my constituents pay the SA Labor government every year.

Polling proves South Australians want this and they want it yesterday. By virtue of Labor’s royal commission there is now for the first time a bipartisan sentiment attached to the nuclear issue, opening an unprecedented opportunity. But ironically it’s the Greens and their fellow travellers who would seek to stop us.

It’s ironic because nuclear reactors produce no emissions that contribute to global warming, nor acid rain or smog. They also deliver abundant energy without any mining and by the assessment of prominent climate scientist James Hansen, nuclear power is responsible for saving 1.8 million lives due to reduced air pollution and may save seven million more in the next four decades.

Try as they might, the Greens can’t meaningfully oppose a nuclear industry on environmental grounds so they attempt to do so on the basis of safety. But that argument falls flat on its face, too.

There have been just three significant commercial reactor incidents in the history of civil nuclear power. That’s 15,000 cumulative years of operations in 33 countries across six decades. There was just one incident in which anyone was killed by nuclear fallout. (Coalmining kills thousands of people each year.) That incident was at Chernobyl, a facility without even rudimentary containment and subject to the poorest regulatory oversight known to man.

Needless to say, the former Soviet Union will never be a model for Australia’s nuclear industry. To use it as a precautionary case study is an act of desperation. But facts won’t stop the Greens.

Conservation Council SA is trying to crowd-source a $42,382 salary to hire “a ferocious campaigner to respond to the recently announced nuclear royal commission”, its recent email campaign says.

That same body is proud to boast of its work in “climate change, biodiversity loss, fracking and protecting our precious reefs and state waters”. Ironically, a nuclear industry would further progress in all of these causes and many more, as a coalition of 75 international conservation scientists made clear in a recent open letter to the environmental community.

The science is sound, the business case has been made and the public is behind us. The challenge is a political one.

In political battles, the smallest fringe-dwelling minority can make the loudest and most unrepresentative noise, and the Greens are good at that.

Therefore, it’s essential that all who want to see South Australia grasp this opportunity speak loudly and ensure their voices are heard far and wide.