SA should stop worrying and learn to love yellowcake
The year is 2025. The national growth figures have confirmed that, for the seventh consecutive quarter, South Australia is the fastest-growing state in the land, its economy fuelled by three key decisions which have transformed what was once regarded as an industrial wasteland into a beacon of opportunity.
The first decision was to end the hypocrisy and contradictions surrounding the mining of uranium – and the continuing ban on its use as a domestic energy source – and go forward with the creation of a world’s best-practice nuclear industry which involves both the processing of uranium and the storage of nuclear waste.
The arguments which were put to allow this policy shift started, first and foremost, with the need to eliminate a stupid double-standard – whereby our nation will happily dig up yellowcake at three, four, (now) five and (probably soon) six uranium mines for sale and processing overseas, while remaining hysterically opposed to its domestic use.
Politicians and the public also finally recognised that the advancements in safety and science surrounding the creation of nuclear energy and the storage of waste were such that it no longer made sense to invoke the spectre of Three Mile Island, an accident which happened almost 50 years ago, or Chernobyl, which said more about the shabby work practices in the old Soviet Union than anything specific to nuclear power.
The other driver was the reality of climate change – the need to identify clean energy sources other than coal, and to meet the energy demands of an expanded desalination program which had successfully taken some of the pressure off the Murray-Darling river system.
With the revenue that came in from this new processing and storage industry, two decisions were made which allowed South Australia to promote itself under the banners of Science, Technology and Lifestyle.
The State Government earmarked $1 billion – perhaps more – to create the largest research and development fund Australia had ever seen. Jointly managed by our three universities, the funds were dispersed to scientists and researchers seconded to some of the world’s biggest corporations attracted to Adelaide on generous scholarships.
The third decision – and the one which swiftly transformed SA into an economic powerhouse – was to use the remaining billions generated by this new industry to become the first state in Australia to abolish payroll tax. The benefits were dramatic and immediate, with businesses falling over themselves to relocate to the now-buzzing northern and southern suburbs where industry parks were rolled out in what for decades had become areas of entrenched economic depression, with shockingly high unemployment and dilapidated housing dominated by run-down trust homes.
Well, that’s my ham-fisted attempt at a utopian vision for SA.
And as things currently stand there is no danger of it happening at all, so critics of nuclear power need not fire off an angry letter to the editor. Our dominant politicians are determined to not even allow a debate on an issue which, if you can satisfy the valid safety concerns, has the real potential to transform our state.
Of all the arguments against the creation of a nuclear industry in SA, the biggest heap of baloney is that our state would lose its reputation as a picaresque food and wine haven, where the denizens of our city go about their business with zucchini flowers and Jerusalem artichokes, Barossa smallgoods and bottles of Adelaide Hills pinot popping out of their wicker baskets, as if in some Bruegel panting.
I hate to be blunt but this isn’t really the reputation the state has anyway. Some people over here on the eastern seaboard know it for the food and wine haven that it genuinely is. But most of them – stupidly – have made the knee-jerk assessment that it’s a run-down economic backwater.
That aside, there’s no reason the state’s lifestyle qualities would be compromised or undermined by the creation of a nuclear industry anyway, especially that almost all of it would be hundreds of kilometres away to our north in barely inhabited parts of the state.
Interestingly, the French nuclear industry is well-advanced and much of it is centred around Bordeaux, which as far as I can gather is a region known for one thing only.
The problem – I think it’s a problem – which SA has is that our local politicians are currently acting against the state’s interests by pretending to be champions of the state.
Mike Rann has said that a nuclear storage industry would be allowed in Australia over his dead body.
It’s a myopic and provincial stance.
Rann is so politically ascendant – particularly given the rabble the State Opposition has become, where it seems every member of the Party Room will at some stage be given a six-month stint as leader - that he could show some real leadership by saying that maybe it’s time for a rethink on the issue, at the very least a mature and expansive re-opening of the debate.
Instead we see Rann, SA’s Penny Wong, and other federal ministers such as Simon Crean and Martin Ferguson taking a spectacularly dated and unthinking stance against an industry where we could be world leaders, with SA the greatest beneficiary.
You can see why, in the 70s and 80s in the midst of crises such as Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, and in the middle of an arms race against the Soviet Union, that the whole issue was a total no-go.
My own views for many years were framed by growing up through that period, sitting at school in 1983 watching movies like The Day After, or thinking in 1986 when Chernobyl happened and when the US bombed Libya that maybe the entire world was actually about to end.
These are now redundant arguments, the world has changed and we should at the very least examine those opinions we have held dear for many years, as we may be bypassing a whole raft of opportunities.
The model which Mike Rann can draw on comes from one of his closest political friends and confidantes, former NSW Premier Bob Carr, a rabid environmentalist and climate change purist, who underwent his own very public epiphany on nuclear power some five years ago to argue that it is now time to go down this path.
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