This first appeared on Independent Australia ( as The Nationals and Murdoch media support nuclear power ahead of COP26)
On 1st September, Senator Matt Canavan called for Australia to boycott the COP 26 Climate Summit to be held in Glasgow in November. Was he speaking on behalf of the coal or oil industries? Well, not exactly. This was the latest, and weirdest call from Australia’s noisy little band of pro nuclear promoters. Canavan was responding to the news that the nuclear industry has been banned from having exhibits at COP 26. He ranted on that the Climate Summit was a ”sham” for excluding nuclear power – a view supported by MP Ken O’Dowd. O’Dowd said that nuclear power should be at the top of the climate agenda. Other National Party notables – David Littleproud, and Bridget McKenzie recently spoke out for nuclear power.
It’s not long ago since these nuclear fans, and especially Matt Canavan were fans of the coal industry. Indeed, they probably still are.
But like the nuclear industry worldwide, they are now taking up the cause of climate action, with a vengeance. The nuclear lobby’s motives are clear. First, they want the tax exemptions and other subsidies that come with being declared as clean and sustainable. Secondly, but also extremely important, they need that seal of approval. that public respectability, which goes with acquiring the ”clean green” label.
The global lobby’s most persuasive argument is that a nuclear reactor’s operation generates a lot of electricity, with only a minuscule production of CO2 14. (They don’t talk about the processes of the nuclear fuel chain from uranium mining through to demolition of dead reactors and disposal of wastes. Of course their favourite phrase ”emissions free” energy doesn’t count emissions of radioactive strontium-90).
The Australian nuclear promotion is less persuasive. Coming predominantly from Murdoch media, the content of nuclear propaganda is sloppy, inaccurate, and at times downright weird. THE AUSTRALIAN provides two outstanding
The first is this eye-catching article ”Savvy activists cast nuclear benefits in a fresh green light ” – subtitled -‘‘For baby boomers, nuclear weapons and nuclear energy were conflated as an existential risk. This created an irrational fear that persists today’‘ So,from the outset, the argument is an attack on anti-nuclear activists, rather than the case for nuclear power.
The hero of the piece is Zion Lights, formerly of Extinction Rebellion, who created her own pro nuclear group Emergency Reactor. She works closely with Michael Shellenberger, who, himself, has lost the support of the general nuclear lobby, due to his many inaccurate statements. Zion Lights and THE AUSTRALIAN go into a lengthy digression on the foibles of the baby boomers, who have ”conflated nuclear weapons and nuclear energy as an existential risk that could wipe out humanity.” The health effects of the Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters are minimised, and renewable energy is rubbished as being ineffective and polluting.
The author, Claire Lehmann, concludes that the too-slow movement towards carbon neutrality is the fault of the misguided anti-nuclear baby boomers.
The second article is ”Nuclear stacks up – cue the meltdown” by Greg Sheridan, who starts by accusing Australians as being ”environmental outliers”, for prohibiting nuclear power.- ” purely negative, and more or less insane”. ”Australia is not just eccentric, but nuts”. Sheridan goes on in this vein, then enthusing about the success of nuclear power in the EU and the USA (although the former is very much divided, and critical of the nuclear industry, and in the latter, the industry is collapsing).
Then come these claims about renewable energy:
“Renewables look economically competitive only because of the subsidies they get, the massive distortions to the regulatory structures required to make them viable at all, and because they have no obligation to be available all the time.”
That is absolute rubbish! The private sector is only too happy to invest in renewables! Why is that? Because renewables are cheap, clean, quick to build, do not require continuing digging up of fuel to keep them going, and do not produce pesky dangerous waste to deal with by future generations further down the track! And storage of this energy is improving and advancing all the time.
The advancements in technology are continuing in renewables and do not look like stopping any time soon! And their “viability” also involves many different ways of harnessing this energy – solar, wind, geothermal, tidal, biomass, solar thermal….the list goes on – and not relying on just one way of producing this energy, in many different regions.
Then, Sheridan moves on to spruik for small nuclear reactors (SMRs). He claims, with no evidence, that SMRs will be a cheap energy source – cheap compared to what? Certainly not renewables. He states that small nuclear reactors will be cheaper than the old large ones. But for the amount of energy produced, to equal that from a large reactor, a number of small reactors would be needed, which becomes more expensive. He predicts NuScale’s SMRs to be operating by 2028. What is he talking about? Even the NuScale company predicts just one SMR to be operating in the USA by 2029 – it is a long way from that, to widespread use of SMRs in America, let alone Australia.
Then, the main thrust of this pro nuclear argument moves on to an attack on Labor, the Greens etc: – ”the deadly, wretched, wholly negative, nihilistic scare campaigns and demonising that the ALP left and its Green allies have conducted against nuclear energy”
There is no attempt to address any of the worrying issues that surround nuclear power – costs, safety, environmental damage, radioactive wastes. He reminds that Bill Gates backs nuclear power. Well, of course Gates does – he owns a nuclear power company, Terra Power.
He also quotes the EU as backing nuclear power. While several EU countries do have nuclear power, the EU as a whole is not recommending nuclear powers as a climate solution. In fact the nuclear industry is banned from exhibiting at the Green Zone at COP26.
Sheridan moves away from the climate argument, to push for nuclear submarines, and the need for nuclear reactors to support them. And then it’s on to electric cars. Well, the submarine argument is debatable, too. He dismisses renewable energy as a power source for industry, and especially for powering electric cars ” Solar panels and windmills won’t cut it”
As I write this comes the breathtaking news that the Murdoch media is changing its attitude to global warming. From a rather crude sort of climate denialism, they are likely now to move to a more sophisticated support for the technical ”climate fixes” spruiked by the fossil fuel industries, a more subtle way of sabotaging real climate action. Perhaps we can expect them also to provide something more credible on the nuclear issue, in the future.