Whether it’s nuclear safety or weapons proliferation, the federal government (and the Opposition and the mining companies) can be safely relied upon to exacerbate problems with irresponsible uranium export policies. Widespread safety breaches and proliferation concerns in North Asia are recent manifestations of the problem.
In May, five engineers were charged with covering up a potentially dangerous power failure at South Korea’s Kori-I reactor which led to a rapid rise in the reactor core temperature. The accident occurred because of a failure to follow safety procedures. A manager decided to conceal the incident and to delete records, despite a legal obligation to notify the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission.
In October, authorities temporarily shut down two reactors at separate South Korean nuclear plants after system malfunctions. In November, a major scandal was revealed involving the systematic use of forged quality and safety warranties for nuclear reactor parts such as fuses, switches, heat sensors, and cooling fans. The current total stands at 8601 reactor parts, 10 firms and six reactors. Plant owner Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power has acknowledged possible bribery and collusion by its own staff members as well as corruption by firms supplying reactor parts.
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Whether purchasing a house or a car, developing a mineral deposit, or planning for water or energy security, exploring our options is roundly regarded as a good place to start. Options let us explore alternate pathways. They let us envisage and model different outcomes.
Options let us consider the costs and benefits of action from a range of perspective with a simple goal in mind: making the best, most informed and beneficial decision we can in a world of scarcity and finite resources.
It follows that the exclusion of options at the early stages of planning runs the risk of the opposite outcome. Unless we get lucky, closing ourselves to options without objective analysis is nearly destined to generate an outcome that is sub-optimal. That means embracing higher costs for slimmer benefits, which then limits our ability to deliver more and better change in future.
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In the mid-eighteenth century, coal engines did not only power factories and illuminate streets; they fired up entire nations. Burning coal allowed for material production to explode.
It facilitated the development of the quintessential assembly line necessary to produce building materials like iron to build infrastructure and allowed for the mass production boom. Burning coal allowed goods to be transported across countries and saw diaspora from pastoralist lifestyles to the thick smog of the city for employment.
In 1863 Sydneysiders saw electricity in action for the first time with the illumination of a battery powered lamp on Observatory Hill in celebration of the marriage of the Prince of Wales.
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Australia currently gets about 10 per cent of its electricity from renewable energy and we’re shooting for double that by the end of the decade under our national 20 per cent Renewable Energy Target.
So far this policy has delivered thousands of jobs and billions of dollars of investment, and is capable of much more if the Federal Government can resist tinkering with it. It’s a classic case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.
The idea of producing pollution-free power just seems to make sense to people, which is why between 80-90 per cent of people voice their support whenever a poll does the rounds. So far our politicians have acted to give them what they want.
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The Dark Knight Rises, the last and final instalment in Christopher Nolan’s Batman series, packs a serious punch. For almost three hours audiences are held captivated by the reluctant return of the Caped Crusader to save Gotham City from a neo-fascist Nemesis in the guise of the megalomaniacal Bane. The political subtexts are not standard Hollywood fodder.
Nolan not only fesses up to the corruption at the heart of the otherwise civilized veneer of modern liberal Democracy, he also tackles head-on themes such as the inevitable compromise and capitulation to following orders intrinsic to carrying out state sanctioned authority, and ultimately, the darker impulses that may lay at the heart of the nuclear industries push into promoting itself as the clean energy solution of the future.
It is on this second score that The Dark Knight is at its most prescient, timely and cutting. One of the major arms of the Wayne Empire’s commercial interests is in developing Nuclear Fusion energy – the silver bullet often touted by the real world nuclear industry as the answer to the impending climate change crisis.
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During the lead-up to last week’s federal budget and the reporting that followed, the overwhelming focus was on whether Labor could deliver on the surplus promise it had pledged.
The focus Australia has on keeping its books balanced is commendable, but there is another deficit we face. One that gets worse every year, and one that could create havoc in the economic budget if not attended to.
The environmental deficit. Last year’s State of the Environment report made the same point that it has made since its initial publication in 1996 - things are OK, but getting progressively worse.
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If a week is a long time in politics then 106 of them must be close to an eternity.
That’s how long it has taken Federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson to steer his controversial nuclear waste legislation though both Houses of Parliament.
Introduced as an urgent matter with Coalition support in February 2010, the law passed the Senate this week. While the delay might cause frustration to an impatient Minister, in the timeframe over which radioactive waste remains a serious human and environmental risk it is but a blip.
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Watching a Test match is a great teacher of the virtues that make for success in life: determination, strategy and simply keeping your eye on the ball.
Anyone watching India knows that they are beating Australia hands down at all three. India is set to win while the complacent, lucky country seems sure to waste its natural advantages.
Obviously, after the events at the MCG yesterday, I am talking not of cricket, but of energy security.
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The option of using nuclear power to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation has been raised from time to time during the national debate on the carbon tax and climate change.
Although nuclear power it is not currently on the government’s energy agenda, Australia is a major supplier of uranium to the global nuclear industry which produces 14 per cent of the world’s electricity from four hundred and forty reactors in thirty countries. Their combined fifty year experience provides a basis on which to consider the deployment of nuclear power here.
As memories of the 1979 Three Mile Island accident and the 1986 Chernobyl catastrophe receded, a global nuclear power renaissance seemed likely as climate change concerns mounted. Then came the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster following a massive earthquake and tsunami.
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The Labor Party is set to backflip on dealing uranium to countries that have not signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. At the upcoming ALP conference, Prime Minister Julia Gillard will push to lift the ban on selling to India - and chances are it will go through.
The move has upset the Greens, and some in Labor’s left faction, who argue that even though India may not use Australian uranium for weapons, it could free up uranium from other sources to be used by the military.
The Punch spoke to Professor Stephen Lincoln from the University of Adelaide, an expert in uranium, nuclear power and climate change, about what it all means.
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A number of times in each federal Parliament, the elected representatives of the people face important tests of their values, ideas and policy credentials. This week will see one of these tests when the House of Representatives votes on the Gillard Government’s clean energy future legislation.
MPs will be asked whether they want to respond to scientific advice and take action to leave a cleaner environment for future generations or whether they prefer to ignore the advice of scientists and squander the opportunity to tackle climate change.
They face a choice between a market-based reform and the discredited nostrums of subsidies and politicians picking winners.
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Australians want to help improve the world in which they live. Most would therefore rightly assume that if they pay a Carbon Tax this will at least clean up emissions in Australia.
Certainly this is the impression given by the Government’s Carbon Tax ad campaign and from the debate as the Parliament this week votes on the legislation. But nothing could be further from the truth.
Australia’s emissions will go up, not down, under the Carbon Tax. And on top of the $105 billion the tax is to raise between now and 2020, Treasury’s own modelling shows that we will also have to spend an additional $3.5bn each year on foreign carbon credits.
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As a scientist who studies natural climatic disruptions of the distant past and finds disturbing parallels with the vast changes that we’re setting in motion with today’s fossil fuel emissions, I’ve long favoured a switch to alternative energy sources.
But having been an anti-nuke protester back in my college days, I’ve also been reluctant to support nuclear power thanks to the unresolved problems of meltdowns, waste storage, bomb proliferation, and terrorism.
Nonetheless, my attitude changed several months ago after a chance conversation with a geologist friend whose son is training to become nuclear engineer. “He’s working on a new kind of reactor,” my friend explained, “It can’t melt down, it makes only minimal waste, and it can’t be used for making bombs. Instead of running on uranium, it uses thorium instead, which is a lot safer to work with.”
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The staggering rise in electricity prices over the past few years has been the single-biggest cost of living issue for average families trying to bring up kids and get into the housing market. The impact of these price rises, and the anger they have generated, has been seriously underestimated both by governments trying to remain in power and oppositions trying to win office.
The trickle-down effect of this explosion in the cost of living has not yet been fully examined. As one example, there were figures out on the weekend showing that the rate of home ownership in Australia had fallen from 71.4 per cent to 69.5 per cent, in defiance of trends across the OECD. You could validly speculate as to how many Australians who would love to shift from renting to owning are so tied up paying inflated bills that they simply can’t get a deposit together.
State governments have tried to quarantine themselves from any responsibility for the spiral, arguing that price rises are out of their hands and the result of external factors. Oppositions have been sluggish to make governments own the problem.
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A utilities representative recently came to my front door offering a better deal on our gas and electricity prices if we changed to a different supplier. He was offering a larger discount than the existing supplier.
The visit prompted me to look back at the cost of electricity over the past few years. The results were startling. Last year, the costs were more than 50 per cent higher than five years ago. Our usage was about the same.
The price increases are being felt by households across Australia. According to Australian Bureau of Statistics data, power bills increased by 50 per cent. In the same period, total expenses only increased by 16 per cent. Since Labor has been in government, the prices have risen by more than 42 per cent.
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What started as a ripple is now growing into a powerful protest wave sweeping across our great nation.
In the space of a week, it has been fed by a series of fiery meetings in outback Queensland and southern States, a symbolic funeral service in Perth and gatherings in Brisbane and Melbourne.
At first glance these might seem unrelated, but beneath the surface they are connected by a strong under current of people pushed to the limits. The Perth “funeral” on the steps of Parliament House involved the “death” of property rights, complete with wreath laying, a piper in full regalia and a cortege to Cottesloe Beach for symbolic burial.
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For three weeks I have been anxiously waiting for an answer from President Barack Obama. Not to me, unfortunately, but to my old friend Danny Kennedy, who recently met POTUS in the Rose Garden of the White House.
Danny Kennedy is a solar entrepreneur in San Franscisco. His company Sungevity has offered to install a US$108,000, 17.85kW solar PV system on the roof of the White House, which would supply 81% of its electricity needs. The Secret Service can even see a handy photoshopped image of the rig, to check the security implications.
The public campaign behind the solar offer, Solar on the White House, or ‘Globama’ is not merely a smart PR exercise. Danny and other ambitious green capitalists know that the political economy is built not just of steel and dollars but stories and symbols. When we change these things, we change the rules that shape political reality.
He might have a problem with yellowcake, but with his apocalyptic oratory at the National Press Club this week, Greens Leader Senator Bob Brown showed he’s more than happy to resort to nuclear-powered fraudulence to make his case.
The Senator’s performance in the debate with Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation chairman Ziggy Switkowski at the National Press Club this week was one of the more disingenuous recent contributions to Australian public life.
Since September 11 and throughout the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Senator Brown has been our very own antipodean Noam Chomsky, arguing long and loud that Australia has been suckered into a battle with an illusory enemy at the behest of Uncle Sam.
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Australians are inspired by the great mirror fields of solar energy in California and Nevada. That vision is possible in Australia. But it is a vision now at risk.
For over a year now, the government has delayed renewable energy legislation which would establish a 20% renewable energy target by 2020. We have an end date but not a start date.
The renewable energy target was a promise made back in 2007. Yet, here we are in the second half of 2009 without any debate on the legislation yet.
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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.
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NOW that we’ve all accepted Peter Garrett is a monstrous sell-out, can we get back to the real debate _ should we develop a nuclear power industry in Australia?
It’s a debate Labor desperately doesn’t want us to have. Note how quickly Penny Wong and Wayne Swan yesterday shut down the suggestion from Rio Tinto _ admittedly the owner of our biggest uranium miner _ that Australia should start using nuclear energy to help meet its carbon reduction targets. ``We don’t agree with Rio Tinto on that point,’’ was the Treasurer’s curt response.
Unfortunately, the government’s blanket refusal to accept nuclear energy as a potential solution the planet’s greenhouse woes is fatally undermined by Labor’s own schizophrenic platform on uranium _ pro-mining, pro-exports but anti-power.
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A funny thing happened on the weekend: the world’s second largest greenhouse gas emitter - the US - took the first step towards establishing a carbon reduction scheme and almost nobody wanted to talk about it.
The Obama-endorsed scheme passed the US House of Representatives and only has to clear their Senate to become law.
In Australia, a few people welcomed the vote and applauded the move, but almost no-one dared to lift the carpet and comment on the design of the US scheme.
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This week there is an amazing discussion going on in Tokyo between Chinese and Japanese companies, academics and Government representatives about how to cooperate in the area of new energy. It is part of the ‘PVJapan Solar Power/Photovoltaic 2009’ conference and trade show.
Both countries are realizing that the new kind of economy we need to cut greenhouse gases, is itself going to become an opportunity for jobs and development.
Japan’s PM Mr. Taro Aso raised the stakes back on June 9 when he said that solar power and electric cars are the foundation of Japan’s future economic growth and the way out of the financial crisis. He announced that by 2020 Japan’s new low-carbon sector will be a 50 trillion yen market ($AU650 billion), employing 1.4 million people.
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