Nuclear Citizens’ Jury in action: the purpose and the process

On June 25 and 26, the South Australian government held the first of three citizens juries, dedicated to discussing the recommendations of the recent Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission. The sessions are being run by the South Australian company DemocracyCo.

From the start, there are problems with the purpose of this Citizens’ Jury. Premier Weatherill did not really help to clarify this, in his opening speech, as he explained its purpose:

It is not to arrive at a decision, but to arrive at a decision that the government can make a decision.

The initial company charged with setting up the jury plan was the Sydney company New Democracy. They used the term “Citizens Jury” which is trademarked by the Jefferson Institute. Here’s where the trouble starts. The Jefferson Institute, in in its definition of Citizens’ Jury  clearly states:

The Citizens Jury convenes diverse groups of citizens to study an issue deeply, discuss different perspectives on the issue, and recommend a course of action or craft their own solutions to address the issue at hand.

The Citizens Jury process has been used in several countries, and was used Adelaide in 2015. On that occasion, the Citizens’ jury recommended the mandatory desexing of cats and dogs. All of these Citizens’ Juries made a decision and a recommendation, in keeping with that trademarked definition. To my knowledge, this Nuclear Citizens’ Jury is the first in the world to abandon that principle of making a decision, verdict, or recommendation. Instead, it is charged with the job of developing a readable, understandable, summary of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission’s 320 pages of recommendations.

How did New Democracy come to this decision to abandon an intrinsic purpose of a Citizens’ Jury? One can only surmise that this was done under pressure from the South Australian Labor government and the Royal Commission?

No wonder that Premier Weatherill floundered a bit in his introduction at the jury opening.

Having arrived at this plan for the jury, New Democracy handed over the process to the South Australian company, who, by the way, had managed the Adelaide Cats and Dogs desexing question.

There are intrinsic flaws in this Citizens Jury process

For one thing, there are too many members (50) in this “jury”, and in the one planned for later this year (350) . A jury should be made up of 10 to 20 members.

Apart from that, the process looks good at the start. New Democracy and DemocracyCo have gathered their 50 members following a random selection from a database of over 820,000. A payment of $500 (Citizens Jury 1) for the four day commitment ensures that the members are not disadvantaged, by for example, missing work, and other costs. Facilitators are selected to be neutral. DemocracyCo have gone to a lot of trouble to ensure that the hearings are transparent and accessible to all. They provide videos, at and at and will be providing transcripts. Watching these videos, it is clear that DemocracyCo’s facilitators are endeavouring to manage the hearings in a fair way, courteously giving space for jury members to question the speakers.

Even so, the process is fraught with difficulties. Following Premier Weatherill’s introduction, the first session  introduced members of the Royal Commission team. They outlined the Royal Commission’s steps and recommendations. I got the impression that they were keen to have the Royal Commission strongly influencing the process. Questions from the jury members were at times answered in a vague way.

If this were a real legal jury, speakers could not get away with waffly answers.

Here’s an example:

A female jury member asked Greg Ward, (member of the RC) about the non existence of a functioning underground nuclear waste storage. Her exact words:

But they haven’t actually done it

Mr Ward’s reply:

There is one – the USA’s WIPP .

He then very quickly went on to lengthy information about the countries trying to develop one. A lawyer would have stopped Mr Ward from doing that waffle – the lawyer would have said:

Yes or No?

The lawyer would also have been briefed, and would know that the Waste Isolation Pilot Project is not functioning, and has in fact, been a disaster.

Another interesting question to Greg Ward:

You make it clear that the Royal Commission has no responsibility to educate the community at large. We jury members, with our lack scientific knowledge are given this job – our job is greater than the Commission’s. Who is going to support and fund this necessary education of the public?

Answer from Greg Ward:

It is a big challenge. I think you will enjoy the process. (repeats) It is a big challenge. You will need to focus on the real issues and the facts. I’m sure that you will provide the right advice.

A problematic area is in the choice of witnesses. This is done in a complicated way, but

DemocracyCo is trying to be fair here. In looking for expert witnesses, the jury members are not necessarily aware that some might come with technical knowledge, but with an implicit or well-known bias on the subject. This is most likely to happen with witnesses on the subject on health and ionising radiation.

A later meeting, on selection of witnesses on the subject of “education” (educational methods etc), the meeting recommended a speaker from Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA). What was needed was an education expert, not a radiation expert.

If you go to DemocracyCo’s Citizen Jury website – Citizens’ Jury One Video Library or to Youtube – you can see 24 videos of these recent hearings.

To try to assess the content of all of these witness speeches is quite a daunting task. However, when one breaks it down into topics, it becomes easier to analyse these speeches from witnesses, and to detect any biases, omissions and flaws. Day One was pretty much a big spruik from the Nuclear Fuel Chain Royal Commission. Day Two was more complicated.

As one goes through all these hearings, as I have done, questionable areas emerge. Some of these are – the economics of waste importing, transport safety, including terrorism risks, the effects of low dose radiation, and perhaps the most significant aspect of all – Aboriginal rights. I think that if observers study each aspect separately, flaws in the Royal Commission’s (RC’s) case will become evident.

It’s not a proper “Jury”, with a purpose to arrive at a yes or no verdict. It is a campaign ruse by the Weatherill government to get these “ordinary people” to develop a readable, understandable, summary of the RC’s 320 pages of recommendations. Apparently the RC personnel are not able to do this themselves.

Two rays of light in all this. First, the jury members are already asking intelligent questions. Secondly, DemocracyCo’s personnel are making every effort to run these hearings fairly, and transparently.

The South Australian nuclear lobby may be in for some surprises.


What does the nuclear lobby want, for South Australia?

This article first appeared on Online opinion

In South Australia, a government appointed panel is considering the Terms of Reference  for a Royal Commission into expanding South Australia’s nuclear industry. So far, the membership of this panel has not been made public, with the exception of the Head of the Commission, Kevin Scarce, former Governor of South Australia. Mr Scarce has already expressed support for nuclear industry expansion.

In the meantime, there have been numerous articles published, promoting the cause of nuclear expansion. Most of this publicity has appeared in South Australian media. The nuclear promotion in South Australia comes mainly, but not entirely, from South Australians. Nuclear technology marketers  in Canada, USA, and UK take a keen interest in Australia . At the end of this article, I will note some of the most recent prominent promoters.It is difficult to work out exactly what is planned in nuclear industry expansion for South Australia. The plans involve some or all of these industries: uranium enrichment, nuclear power, importation and storage of nuclear wastes, 4th Generation nuclear reactors, and expansion of uranium mining.

However, we can be grateful to ABC Radio’s “Ockham’s Razor” programme, as it provided the nuclear lobby with a platform for setting out succinctly their intentions.  Oscar Archer, a well -known voice for the nuclear industry, explains.

Archer begins with a simplistic story telling us how much carbon is emitted from our household appliances He moves on to suggest, with an analogy about cars – that we should recycle energy. –  a “new, clean, economical form of power”.

That alerted me to the expectation that he would be recommending nuclear reprocessing,and sure enough, this followed, immediately afterwards. Australia should get a fleet of PRISM small nuclear reprocessing reactors – Archer’s plan is for these – ” IFS+IFR: Intermediate Fuel Storage and Integral Fast Reactor, namely the commercially offered PRISM breeder reactor from General Electric Hitachi.”  
What he means here is the Power Reactor Innovative Small Module

Archer then sets out the sequence of events that would lead to the establishment of this fleet.  In Archer’s  words  “it goes like this. Australia establishes the world’s first multinational repository for used fuel – what’s often called nuclear waste”

However, he notes that   “This is established on the ironclad commitment [my emphasis] to develop a fleet of integral fast reactors to demonstrate the recycling of the used nuclear fuel”

Funding for this fleet would be no problem, because “our international partners” would pay for the fleet and the waste repository.

Radioactive wastes from the new nuclear reactors would be no problem, because their half-lives would be only 30 years, (according to Archer) . All this, in solving the wastes problem, would enable a surge in development of conventional nuclear reactors world- wide, which, in turn, would boost our uranium industry.

Archer goes on to explain the safety features of the PRISM nuclear reactors, using the safer sodium coolant, preventing risk of meltdown. These Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) would have to be mass produced. The radioactive wastes would last for only 300 years.

Archer dismisses radiation risks as unimportant, and dismisses proponents of renewable energy as a “vocal minority”.

Finally, Archer reveals the most important step to be taken –  “ for Australia to have a shot at this revolution, the first step must be to amend the ARPANSA and EPBC acts. We must remove the restriction on establishment of nuclear installations and set effective regulations under the expanded auspices of our internationally recognised regulatory body, ARPANSA.”

What he means is that Australia must change a federal law, because nuclear power is a  protected issue as a ‘A Matter of National Environmental Significance’ under the National Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 .  We must change the regulations of  Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) . presumably to weaken the restrictions about radiation safety.

All will be achieved as popular support is developed “through outreach and education”

Where to start in examining Oscar Archer’s argument?

Well – the sting in the tale of his plan is really exactly what he calls the first step – the overturning or weakening of Federal and State laws.  The Federal Act protects against nuclear reprocessing and expanded nuclear industries.  ARPANSA sets safety standards for exposure to ionising radiation. South Australian State Law would have to be overturned, too – under the Nuclear Waste Storage Facility (Prohibition) Act 2000

These laws are not frivolous products of tree huggers – and are there for sound health and environmental reasons.The central premise of Oscar Archer’s promotion of this nuclear chain of events is that Australia should go out on a limb – be the first country in the world to import nuclear wastes and to order a mass purchase of PRISM reactors.

Many will comment on the idea of Australia as the world’s nuclear waste dump.

Fewer will grasp the significance of Australia making a mass purchase of PRISM nuclear reactors.  Now who is going to take that financial risk?  He must mean the Australian government, – because for sure no private investor is going to take that on. The USA manufacturers realised that, which is why Westinghouse and Babcock pulled out of making SMRs

The PRISM  reactor exists only on paper and its development is decades away from completion.  David Biello, in Scientific American comments  “Ultimately, however, the core problem may be that such new reactors don’t eliminate the nuclear waste that has piled up so much as transmute it. Even with a fleet of such fast reactors, nations would nonetheless require an ultimate home for radioactive waste, one reason that a 2010 M.I.T. report on spent nuclear fuel dismissed such fast reactors.” 

The PRISM can’t melt down in the way that conventional nuclear reactors can. However, its essential use of plutonium entails hazardous transport – vulnerability to terrorism and use as a “dirty” bomb. And – finally the PRISM reactor itself becomes radioactive waste requiring security and burial.

There is another, underlying premise here that needs to be examined. This is the premise that it is OK for Australia and the world to continue to consume energy endlessly.The scenario painted here, of Australia’s squillion dollar industry of importing radioactive wastes, and exporting uranium and processed nuclear fuel, assumes that the world will rapidly develop conventional nuclear reactors.  But the rationale for the Small Modular Reactors, and all their reprocessing relatives Integral Fast Reactors Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors, is that they are safer than the large “conventional” reactors.

So the whole plan still promotes those less safe reactors!

The plan purports to reduce greenhouse emissions by means of thousands of little reactors, (and big ones)   – but their development is so many decades away that it would be too late for climate change action.

We are left with a plan that looks suspiciously as if the troubled nuclear industries of USA, Canada and UK have selected Australia as the guinea pig for a plan to reverse their industries’ present decline.

It is a worry that the South Australian Government is looking to Canada to take part in the Royal Commission. If ever there were a troubled nuclear industry, it is in Canada. The World Bank’s Corrupt Companies Blacklist is Dominated By Canada, because of one company, SNC Lavalin, – exporter of small nuclear reactors.

The most recent case  for the nuclear industry in Australia is also promoted by South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill, Professor Ian Plimer , by Dr Ziggy Switkowski , and others.An imported pronuclear publicist is Dr Tim Stone, from Britain. He works for The Office for Nuclear Development (OND), which‘focuses on removing potential barriers to investment, and signals clearly to the industry the serious intent of the Government to push forward nuclear new build’

Dr Stone will be speaking at various events, along with well-known Australian nuclear industry  promoters, Ben Heard, Ian Hore-Lacey, Dr Nigel Long.

The nuclear publicity blitz has been pretty much confined to South Australia. But it really is  a national issue.

Well, good on the ABC for giving it a national airing, and good on Oscar Archer for spelling out that sequence – providing much food for thought indeed.

Ebola is not a priority for pugnacious Prime Minister Tony Abbott

According to the latest report from the World Health Organisation, the outbreaks of Ebola in Senegal and Nigeria have been “pretty much contained.” WHO reports 5,833 cases of Ebola in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea, Senegal, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with 2,833 deaths. WHO is recommending a return to travel and trade, and an end to travel restrictions to affected countries.
Clearly WHO is pointing to a more optimistic outlook for the Ebola affected countries, The disease has the potential to wreck the economies and societies of West African countries in the way that the Great Plague wrecked Europe in the 14th Century.

Tribute for turning the situation around can be paid partly to government action such as Sierra Leone’s 3 day shutdown, and to the heroism of Medecins Sans Frontieres’ doctors and nurse. A critical factor must also be the collective action of the World Health Organisation, and foreign governments that responded to the WHO’s call for help. USA, Cuba and France are sending not only money, but troops and health workers to set up the medical campaign across West Africa.

Where was Australia? Oh well, Tony Abbott offered $2.5 million to Medecins Sans Frontieres, but ruled out sending what is really wanted – people on the ground. MSF’s response: – “We have been very clear with the government for two weeks now we are not asking for financial support, we are asking the government to evaluate Australia’s emergency medical capacity and mobilise it on the ground in West Africa.”
Even the generally conservative Australian Medical Association was appalled at the way that Abbott is dismissing the WHO’s call for help. “The AMA is calling on the Government to urgently coordinate the recruitment and deployment of volunteer doctors and other health professionals to West Africa, and provide ongoing practical support such as protective and medical equipment and supplies, transport and accommodation,” said AMA president Professor Brian Owler

One area where Australia was making a contribution to the battle against Ebola was in research. The Australian Animal Health Laboratory was working on a vaccine for the Ebola virus. However, the Abbott government cut their funding by more than $110 million, with eight researchers losing their jobs

Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott has been riding on a bit of a wave of international and domestic acclaim, for his, and his Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s outspoken and forceful stands against Russia, in the Ukraine crisis, and the ISIL threat in Iraq.

This time of global crises – Iraq, Ukraine, world financial meetings, climate change, Ebola – provides grand opportunities for Tony Abbott to strut the world stage. And he did seem to be doing that successfully. However the latest poll shows that Australians might be noticing now not only the government’s budget failings, but also the flaws in Abbott’s international policies. The Murdoch press tries to put a positive slant on this -“Abbott ends his first year on the rise rather than the reverse” and “Abbott…. could be about to prosper” But the Roy Morgan poll of 22 September found that “Abbott’s decision to ‘send in the troops’ fails to secure poll bounce: Young Australians comprehensively reject the Abbot Government.” The only group that preferred the government was those aged over 65.

Clearly, Tony Abbott is most comfortable when extending his pugnacious personal style to the international scene. He is least comfortable when it comes to complex negotiations about matters that cannot have a military solution.

On Iraq – Tony Abbott has declared that Australia would not need a United Nations resolution for Australian forces to fight in Iraq.
Repeatedly using the phrase “ISIL death cult” in a radio interview on Channel 9’s Today show, Abbott pretty much indicated that Australia is at war – “we are well and truly prepared for combat operations inside Iraq.”
So – Australia is sending 10 aircraft – including eight Super Hornet fighter jets – along with 400 support staff and 200 special forces troops to the United Arab Emirates ready for any action against Islamic State (IS) militants in Iraq.

On Ukraine – On September Tony Abbott told Parliament on Wednesday that Australia was considering sending “civil and military capacity-building assistance” to Ukraine. David Wroe in the Sydney Morning Herald described this as “- a clear signal that Mr Abbott is pushing to position Australia firmly as an active “middle power” in international affairs.” Peter Jennings, executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute said “What you’re seeing here is the physical expression of something that Tony Abbott wants to do, which is to lift Australia’s profile globally on security issues.” Almost a pity that on that same day , Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko declared he had reached a ceasefire deal with Moscow. That sort of took the wind out of Abbott’s grand plan for Australian military action on that particular stage.

On global security. In New York Tony Abbott will address a specialmeeting of the UN Security Council, September 24 on a USA resolution for a global crackdown on foreign fighters. He will be discussing with world leaders other global matters – conflict in Ukraine, the November G20 summit in Brisbane – but not, I think, climate change.

On climate change This was the subject of the New York world leaders’ meeting on September 23 – but Tony Abbott did not attend: he was too busy with important matters in Australia “My first duty in a sense is to the Australian parliament and that’s where I’ll be early in the week,” he explained. Or was it that Tony is too scared of what kind of reception he might get, at that meeting?
Never mind. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was there, to do his dirty work for him. She had been given her lines. Ms Bishop would explain that Australia will not be taking any new action on climate change, – it is “too early” to present plans for deeper emissions cuts beyond Australia’s existing policies. “We’re looking at what other countries are doing, we’re in consultation with other countries … [but] this is too early to do it”.

Ebola – last but not least -is the crisis on which Tony Abbott most clearly shows where his priorities lie. Is it possible that, despite the mainstream media’s harping on terrorism, and security, and military action – that Australians are waking up to Abbott’s complete lack of humanitarian concern, both at home and abroad?

President Obama got it right about Ebola. Will Australia?

In Sierra Leone, six million people are confined to their homes – the country is in”lockdown” as 30, 000 health workers and volunteers visit homes to explain the situation about the Ebola epidemic. No up to date figures are available on the number of infected people, and recent deaths. In Guinea, on September 18 2014 villagers using machetes and clubs killed 8 healthworkers, dumping bodies in a septic tank. The killers in Guinea apparently blamed the health workers for spreading disease.Sierra Leone has imposed a three day curfew, to try and stop the spread of disease.

With military crises in Iraq and Ukraine, this Ebola crisis doesn’t make the news, or even the Twittersphere, especially in Australia. Australia is sending troops to Iraq, and investigators to Ukraine. Not a word about sending people to West Africa.

The World Health Organisation has declared the Ebola epidemic to be an international emergency. USA is sending 3000 troops to West Africa, to set up infrastructure for the medical battle against Ebola.. Both WHO and Obama are calling for other countries to join this effort. Is Australia listening?

Ebola is not like other infectious diseases. It is like the medieval Black Plague, in both its often fatal course, and in its frightening social effects. From 1347 to 1351 the Black Plague killed about 25 million people – about half of the population of Europe. The causes of these two diseases may be different, but the rest of the story is uncannily similar.

The Black Death was predominantly a European epidemic, though it did spread beyond Europe. Ebola is predominantly a West African epidemic Ebola is affecting Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea, Nigeria and Senegal. Right now, this disease is affecting West Africa in just the same way as the Black Death affected Europe. Without real help, this is heading for a national disaster with global security implications just as dangerous as the ISIS movement.

Obama’s approach goes against the tide of prevailing system of dealing with epidemics. The developed world is used to health campaigns driven by market forces, with pharmaceutical fixes. The Ebola battle demands collective action, driven by the public interest.

The comparison of Ebola with the Black Plague is a sobering exercise.
It is hard to exaggerate the long term consequences of Europe’s Black Plague. So many workers dead meant that agriculture, industry. education – all stalled. “The result of the plague was not just a massive decline in population. It irrevocably changed Europe’s social and economic structure and was a disastrous blow to Europe’s predominant organized religion, the Roman Catholic Church. It caused widespread persecutions of minorities like Jews and lepers, and created a general morbid mood, which influenced people to live for the moment, unsure of their daily survival. ”
Starvation, poverty, malnutrition conflict and massacres, resulted in the following years, and this was reflected in morbid themes in the arts.” (see engraving of the “Danse Macabre) The Political and Social Consequences of the Black Death, 1348 – 1351 It took another 400 years for Europe’s population to its pre-plague numbers . (The very long term effects were complicated, and not all negative.)

The Ebola disease starts with symptoms like those of other tropical diseases, flu like, and with a rash. Then in about 50% of cases progresses to bleeding from nose, gums, the gastro-intestinal tract. There may be coughing up and vomiting of blood, and blood in diarrhoea The effect on internal organs is to cause excruciating pain. Blood vessels burst underneath the skin, bringing out welts, that become black, gangrenous.

These symptoms are the same as the symptoms of the medieval Black Death. Some investigators claim that the cause of the Black Death was not bubonic plague, a bacterium transmitted by flea-bites, but in fact one of the five Ebola viruses, transmitted by contact with human secretions.

The surrounding conditions, of crowding, poverty, poor hygiene, lack of clean water in many areas in West Africa are also uncannily similar. People are living in proximity to animals, their food markets are crowded, not sanitary: people are exposed to the entrails of animals.

The social and cultural environments also have similarities, that in both cases, have added to the horror of the disease, and to extreme and odd reactions of the affected communities. People shunned the plague victims. The same thing is happening with Ebola. Carers are terrified. People with symptoms hide away, rather than be treated as outcasts. Cultural customs can spread infection – traditional burial practices in West Africa led to more infection. However, now relatives stay away – while strangers in protective gear carry the dead to unmarked graves. It’s not unlike the carts that patrolled the medieval streets, with the cry – “Bring out your dead”.

“Many ended their lives in the streets both at night and during the day; and many others who died in their houses were only known to be dead because the neighbours smelled their decaying bodies. Dead bodies filled every corner.
Such was the multitude of corpses brought to the churches every day and almost every hour that there was not enough consecrated ground to give them burial, especially since they wanted to bury each person in the family grave, according to the old custom. Although the cemeteries were full they were forced to dig huge trenches, where they buried the bodies by hundreds. Here they stowed them away like bales in the hold of a ship and covered them with a little earth, until the whole trench was full.” Eyewitness to History

Isolation and stigma was the fate of the medieval plague sufferers . “…Such fear and fanciful notions took possession of the living that almost all of them adopted the same cruel policy, which was entirely to avoid the sick and everything belonging to them”

A common feature of Ebola epidemics is stigma. Sufferers and survivors are often stigmatised by the community, and so too are hospital workers. In past outbreaks, some survivors were not welcomed back into their community, some were unable to find work, and some were abandoned by their partners. In the Ugandan outbreak of 2000/2001, the possessions and homes of some survivors were burned

Religious beliefs played a role in the Black Plague. The disease was seen as a punishment from God. Some people went around whipping themselves – in the hopes that this would prevent the plague punishment. “Others took the lead in persecuting strangers and minorities as well as those unfortunates who were perceived as witches. As though there was not enough death ready at hand, innocent people were slaughtered because somebody had to be blamed. Medieval medicine was not equal to the challenge of preventing or curing the plague, so there was a ready market for magic and superstition.”

In some parts of West Africa, there is a belief that simply saying “Ebola” aloud makes the disease appear. Many West Africans see Ebola as a “curse” rather than a medical illness ….As many of the locals believe that Ebola is spiritual, there is widespread scepticism about Western-trained medical professionals. Some believe that doctors are killing Ebola patients once they are taken to the hospital or that Ebola is a punishment for sexual promiscuity
“West Africa has been deemed by the UN as one of the poorest areas in the world. Superstitions run rampant in this region, as the old practices of witchcraft, Voodoo, juju and marabou, brought about through old traditions and culture and the practicing native spiritual mediums of the area. Superstitious beliefs and fears run so strongly that the simplest things, such as a spot on the road that has caused an accident will send many scrambling to slaughter sheep and goats to keep the evil ghosts and spirits away……Throughout Africa, especially in the West African region, the majority of residents believe wholeheartedly in witchcraft. Witches are seen as entities that roam the area, having an amazing effect…..The superstitious beliefs of the area solely exist due to the fear that is behind the unknown. If something happens to a family member, is it because of the evil spirits, witches and Voodoo?”

The World Health Organisation and Obama have recognised that the prevailing paradigm of free market answers, and ‘technical fixes’ cannot work to beat the Ebola epidemic.
This epidemic is very different in nature from the other recent epidemics that have been in the news – SARS and influenza. The “developed” world did develop strategies to address those disease threats, and “developed” populations have become fairly comfortable about the effectiveness of those strategies.

The Ebola epidemic does make for a pretty dramatic and scary news story. That’s because Ebola is a particularly nasty disease, and because it’s spreading very fast in in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. However, the reality of the Ebola disease is that it is not really much of a threat to rich developed countries. Ebola is not transmitted by air – inhalation, and not by a vector such as the mosquito. Ebola is transmitted by contact with human body secretions. Transmission of any of the five strains of the Ebola virus happens where people live in crowded and insanitary conditions, where hospitals lack infection control, and where infection surveillance is non existent.

So – in the relatively clean and sanitary developed world, with its modern hospitals, the Western world need not fear Ebola as much as those other recent potential epidemics.

When the news of the latest Ebola outbreak came out, I feared that the Western world would approach this problem in the same way as it approaches health problems in general. The strategy is to get a pharmaceutical fix – a vaccine, and/or a cure – a free market economy strategy. This could not work in Western Africa, for two reasons:
1. With the rapid spread of Ebola, these fixes would come too late – thousands of deaths too late.
2. The pharmaceutical companies owe it to their shareholders to not invest $millions in developing drugs unless they are pretty sure of getting those $millions back, plus some – and who would pay for this development?

So – the prevailing paradigm of free market solutions and chemical fixes is not the solution, even though vaccines and drug treatments might play some role.
Since the first recognised outbreak of Ebola disease, in Zaire in 1976, there have been over 40 outbreaks – in Sudan, Gabon, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo. These were contained gradually, – the Western world did not worry too much about them – no need for a global strategy.

This time – with the disease spreading to great numbers of people, this time, Ebola is a global crisis that must be addressed by an international effort. What sort of international effort? It won’t work to just throw money to pharmaceutical corporations This time – what is needed is collective action – a public interest solution – with people “on the ground” setting up clean hospitals with proper infection controls, especially for staff protection, setting up efficient surveillance systems, and developing community understanding and education.

By August 24 the 2014 more than 120 health workers had died from the current Ebola outbreak. It is understandable that health workers are reluctant to join the courageous charity teams that now struggle to treat the patients.“It’s despair on all fronts,” said Plyler, an American doctor who led the Liberian disaster response efforts for the international relief organization Samaritan’s Purse.

It has to be a huge and rapid effort to improve conditions for these impoverished West African communities. That is not something that the rich world has bothered about before, in relation to so many diseases of poor communities. HIV AIDS, TB, malaria, yellow fever dengue fever, polio – these diseases continue to take their toll in Africa, South America, Asia with many thousands of deaths, and the “developed world” remains complacent.
The Ebola epidemic raises problems beyond the medical – the potential wipeout of national economies, conflict at borders, even the spectre of the Ebola virus as a weapon of terrorism.
While several non government agencies, notably Medecins Sans Frontieres are working in West Africa, government help is essential. Cuba and China are joining in the USA campaign. The Australian government is so keen to send people to Ukraine and Iraq – but what about West Africa ?

Shameful honouring of Japanese Prime Minister Abe

While in Canberra, Australia’s Senate was in turmoil over Tony Abbott’s second attempt to carry out his central policy of “axing the carbon tax” – where was Tony Abbott?

Why, Tony was at an iron ore mine in the Pilbara, Western Australia, , fawning over visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. “You can indeed see that Japan and Australia is in a mutually idealistic, complementary relationship,” fawned Tony.

I had already been feeling more than a little nauseated by the reception given by the Abbott government, with Abe starring at a joint sitting of Parliament, being feted by both sides of politics. That couldn’t have happened in America, nor in South Korea. Nor,of course, in China, or in several Asian nations.

Tony Abbott and the Australian parliament seem to be oblivious of this. Is there some kind of collective amnesia in Australia? Though it is a long time ago, the facts remain about Japanese atrocities in World War 2, and of Japan’s inadequate or non-existent apologies for these, as well as lack of reparations. What has made this situation worse, has been the record of Shinzo Abe’s attempts to minimise or deny these atrocities.

America and Korea are still very much aware of the issue of Japan’s wartime sex slaves – the “comfort women” They are still waiting for the actions demanded by the USA government in 2007 – United States House of Representatives House Resolution 121 which demands that the Japanese government apologise to former comfort women and include curriculum about them in Japanese schools, citing 1921 International Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Women and Children.

Japan has never properly acknowledged its abduction, rape and sexual enslavement of tens of thousands of women during World War II. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has gone further than just not acknowledging this. Abe led moves to keep this out of history books, in the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform. On Abe;s homepage, he questioned that the Comfort Women were coerced (this page was subsequently removed) Japan did make a partial apology in 1993, but Abe is re-examining the study that was the basis of the apology. He is continuing his efforts to deny that Japan’s wartime government and military established and ran the brothel system, and that the women were forced into the system against their will. All this at the same time as newly revealed hundreds of official documents provide clear evidence.

From 1932 to 1945 up to 200,000 women, from Korea, Japan and the Dutch East Indies, were enslaved by the The Japanese Imperial Army. These women and girls, some only 12 years old, were abducted, in some cases, bought from their impoverished parents, and taken to ‘comfort stations’ throughout the Pacific, and kept for months on end as sex slaves.

The war crimes of the Japanese Imperial army occurred in many Asian countries during the 1930s and 1940s but predominantly in China. The Japanese slaughtered as many as 30 million Filipinos, Malays, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Indonesians and Burmese, at least 23 million of them ethnic Chinese. Confessions of war criminals set out a grim picture: “The crimes include killing, arresting, enslaving and poisoning the Chinese people, raping Chinese women, manufacturing biological weapons, releasing poison gas, destroying towns and villages and expelling peaceful inhabitants”.

Since the 1950s the Japanese government has made a number of apologies. However, Prime Minister Abe has been criticised recently in a report Japan-U.S. Relations: Issues for Congress , for downplaying the seriousness of this history. The report pointed out “comments and actions on controversial historical issues by Prime Minister Abe and his Cabinet have raised concern that Tokyo could upset regional relations in ways that hurt U.S. interests.”

Shinzo Abe recently and very publicly visited the Yasukuni shrine, which honours Japan’s war dead soldiers, and includes the graves of several A class war criminals. The U.S. State Department was not pleased – “the United States is disappointed that Japan’s leadership has taken an action that will exacerbate tensions with Japan’s neighbours” Of course, China, Korea and several Asian neighbouring countries were not pleased either.

Japan’s treatment of prisoners of war was barbaric. The largest and worst treated group was the Chinese – their soldiers were killed literally by many thousands – by shooting, buried alive baynoetting, beheading, medical experimentation, and other methods. .Chinese civilians were murdered in even greater numbers. Chinese. American, Australian, British, Canadian, Dutch, Indian and Filipino POWs were starved, brutalized, and used for forced labour.

For decades, U.S. soldiers who were held captive by Imperial Japan during World War 2 have sought official apologies and compensation from the Japanese government for their treatment.
It is therefore understandable that Shinzo Abe is not welcomed to the US Congress, and the National Assembly of South Korea.

But what of the 20,000 Australian soldiers taken prisoner by the Japanese in 1942? Many were taken from Singapore and Java to various locations in Burma and Thailand. 12 000 worked on the Burma-Thailand Death Railway. “Australian soldiers were forced to move two cubic metres of earth, regardless of their level of health, size, or physical capabilities. They were given no tools and were usually without shoes or clothes, other than underpants, swimming trunks or handmade loin cloths.” As well as enduring the dreadful living conditions, poor food, diseases, tropical ulcers, and the relentless 24 hour work shifts, they were cruelly treated.- they “were hit anywhere and everywhere – in the groin, on ulcers and wounds, broken bones, faces, necks, backs……The Japanese guards often punished the sick and injured as a deterrent to falling ill in the first place….2646 died of starvation, disease, exhaustion, and brutality”

Some Australians are not happy with Tony Abbott’s government’s sycophantic attitude to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Addressing the Parliament on the visit of Abe, Tony Abbott admired the skill and the sense of honour of Japanese submariners. RSL president Rear Admiral Ken Doolan said that many RSL soldiers would not agree, and would say that some Japanese forces in WW2 did not behave with honour.

I am appalled that the Australian government is oblivious to the international reputation of Shinzo Abe as one who would sweep all that history under the carpet. His attitude is in contrast to that of Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has very publicly recognised the German atrocities – “we have an everlasting responsibility for the crimes of national-socialism, for the victims of World War II, and above all, for the Holocaust,”

Australia’s international relations are not served well by the way that Abbott has cosied up to Shinzo Abe. For a start, we might consider Australia’s largest trading partner, China. Trade Minister Andrew Robb Mr Robb, speaking on Sky News’s Australian Agenda on July 14 assured us that Australia’s new special relationship with Japan is not affecting our relationship with China. Yet on 9th July, China’s official newsagency described Abbott’s praise of Japanese forces in World War 2 as “appalling” and “insensible” and “under a moral bottom line.”

As Australia gears up to buy Japanese defence equipment and technology, and as Shinzo Abe addresses Parliament on moving our two countries closer to a strategic defence alliance, we might wonder about the wisdom of aligning Australia militarily with Japan.

One champion of the water, Australian swimmer Dawn Fraser was ecstatic to meet Prime Minister Abe – “it was a great honour…. He’s a lovely prime minister”.
I’m not sure that those other great swimmers, the whales, would agree.


Strange timing to suggest a LEGO nuclear future for Australia

By 2022, could Australia have many “Lego-like” small nuclear reactors in operation, dotted about the nation?

This is being proposed now, not just by the long-term fervent believers in Small Modular Reactors (SMRs), but in formal submissions to the coming Energy White Paper. Last month, the Department of Industry’s submission to the Energy White Paper pitched Small Modular Reactors as an energy solution for isolated areas in Australia, where there is no access to the electricity grid. The Energy Policy Institute of Australia (EPI) agrees ‘suggesting small modular reactors (SMRs) as being particularly suitable for use in mines and towns in remote locations in many parts of Australia.’
The BHP-funded Grattan Institute’s submission envisages a string of these little nuclear reactors, connected to the grid, along Australia’s Eastern coast.
Keith Orchison reports on the Grattan Institute submission: “The Abbott government is being told that now is the time to flick the switch to “technology neutral,” opening the way for nuclear options”. Orchison described the advantages of SMRs as”Lego-like”

But their timing is strange, and the worst thing is to get ahead of the market

In 2014 it is becoming clear that Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) are not likely to become an operational reality for many decades, and perhaps never.
America was the pioneer of small reactor design in the 1970s. Again recently, Westinghouse and Babcock and Wilcox have been the leaders in designing and developing SMRs. But in 2014 the bottom has fallen out of these projects.

Danny Roderick, President and CEO of Westinghouse, announcing the closure of the SMR plan, said that “it was not the deployment of the technology that posed the biggest problem – it was that there were no customers”. “The worst thing to do is get ahead of the market,” he added.

Babcock and Wilcox ‘s CEO Jim Ferland warned (31/3/14) that B & W are cutting back on their expenditure on SMRs, despite the fact that they received up to $225 million in loan grants from the USA government, for the SMR development in Charlotte. Taxpayer associations are concerned, as are the U.S. House and Senate committees. The Charlotte Business Journal reports that:
” B&W has been unable to find an investor or investor group to take on a 70 percent to 80 percent share of its joint venture to develop a 180-megawatt reactor to produce electricity… The eventual market for the reactor… appears weaker than initially projected”.

So – in USA the outlook for small nuclear reactors is poor.

But then there is China, isn’t there?
The proponents of small thorium nuclear reactors have had a field day, with numerous media articles, such as Chinese going for broke on thorium nuclear power, China to accelerate thorium reactor development. All of these news reports seem to have been derived from an initial article by Stephen Chen in the South China Morning Post – Chinese scientists urged to develop new thorium nuclear reactors by 2024. It should be noted that nowhere in this article does Chen mention “small” reactors. However, Australian proponents of “small” reactors welcomed this article, as the Thorium Small Nuclear Reactor is the top favourite type proposed for Australia, from all 15 possible small designs

So – we’re being told that China is racing ahead in the scramble to get these wonderful SMRs. In fact, China has been very much encouraged and helped into this by USA’s Department of Energy. Understandable – seeing that for China it is a government project, with no required expectation of it being commercially viable.
In their enthusiasm for China’s thorium nuclear project, writers neglected to mention the sobering points that Stephen Chen made in his South China Morning Post article. I think that a few of these points deserve repeating:
“Researchers working on the project said they were under unprecedented ‘war-like’ pressure to succeed and some of the technical challenges they faced were difficult, if not impossible to solve ”
“opposition from sections of the Chinese public ”
“technical difficulties – the molten salt produces highly corrosive chemicals that could damage the reactor”.”The power plant would also have to operate at extremely high temperatures, raising concerns about safety. In addition, researchers have limited knowledge of how to use thorium.”
“engineering difficulties…The thorium reactors would need years, if not decades, to overcome the corrosion issue” “These projects are beautiful to scientists, but nightmarish to engineers,”
Who else is trying to design and develop small nuclear reactors?

In the UK there has been a determined push for Thorium fuelled reactors, and for the Power Reactor Innovative Small Module (PRISM). Secret talks are going on between GE-Hitachi and the Nuclear Decommissioning Agency, about using PRISMS to deal with plutonium wastes
However the UK government and science authorities still conclude that deep burial, not reprocessing, is the best eventual solution for nuclear wastes.

Other small nuclear reactor plans in India and South Africa have foundered.

Then there are Bill Gates and Sir Richard Branson. They have the advantage of plenty of money with which to try out a commercial experiment. Gates has signed loan guarantees to Toshiba of $8 billion to work with Terra Power,on Gates’ thorium-fuelled Travelling Wave Reactor

The zeal of Gates and Branson could be misplaced. Australia’s SMR enthusiasts discount the known problems of SMRs. Some brief reminders from the September 2013 report, from USA’s Institute for Energy and Environmental Research:
Economics:” $90 billion manufacturing order book could be required for mass production of SMRs …the industry’s forecast of relatively inexpensive individual SMRs is predicated on major orders and assembly line production.”
“SMRs will lose the economies of scale of large reactors.”
“SMRs could reduce some safety risks but also create new ones”.
“It breaks, you bought it: no thought is evident on how to handle SMR recalls”.
Not a Proliferation Solution. “The use of enriched uranium or plutonium in thorium fuel has proliferation implications“.
Not a waste Solution “The fission of thorium creates long-lived fission products like technetium-99 (half-life over 200,000 years).”
Ongoing Technical Problems.
All this has been overlooked by the promoters of SMRs to Australia. Perhaps they’re banking on Australia to be the saviour that brings that desperately needed $90 billion manufacturing order.

Keith Orchison is upbeat about “the advent of small modular reactors.”

“These units, the argument goes, are very well suited to Australian conditions. Strategically located, SMRs of 25 to 300 megawatts can enhance supply security and improve the overall resilience of the grid….The case for SMRs also rests on their use being a much lower investment risk because of their lower capital costs, the relative speed with which they can be installed and the fact that their capacity can be readily increased, Lego-like, on an established site…SMRs could be in operation by around 2022,”

So – the SMRs could (?eventually) line up along the East Coast, connected to the grid. Or they could go to remote inland sites. Then there is that other agenda – a foot in the door for the bigger nuclear power industry. Ben Heard‘s pro nuclear site Decarbonise SA sets out the steps from an SMR start to uranium enrichment and the full nuclear cycle. More secretively, Dr John White works on the long range plan ranging from thorium fuelled reactors, to Australia as importer of radioactive wastes

There are ructions in the global nuclear industry. Westinghouse is getting out of uneconomic Small Modular Reactors, and getting in to a lucrative new area – decommissioning nuclear reactors. Big Nuclear has its own problems – uneconomic in USA, super-expensive in UK, Japan in a sort of nuclear paralysis, Finland with its long-delayed, over-budget Olkiluoto nuclear reactor. There’s a bewildering array of nuclear technology companies, from USA, Japan, Russia, France, China, South Korea – all jostling for markets. They have spent up big in development, promotion and lobbying, over many years. They, and Australia’s uranium industry, are not going to give up now, and hand over the market to the Small Modular Reactor, the undeveloped, untested, new kid on the block.

Still, Big Nuclear might like it, if a scientifically illiterate government such as Australia’s, might be persuaded to let that expensive new kid in. It could be a foot in the door for the whole nuclear fuel cycle, and another foot in the door for the USA nuclear weapons system. Even Westinghouse might be pleased, if Australia did buy into SMRs – it might facilitate their plans for empire in that quaintly termed industry “nuclear decommissioning” (so much nicer a phrase than “radioactive trash dumping”).

Robert Stone and “Pandora’s Promise”

Robert  Stone and “Pandora’s Promise”

The film’s Australian premiere was shown in Melbourne on October 8th, with director Robert Stone answering questions afterwards.

I found myself  liking Robert Stone , for his enthusiasm, and sincere concern about climate change.

I found myself disliking the film, for its sins of omission, and manipulative way of discrediting anti nuclear  people.

“Pandora’s Promise” presents as a documentary about climate change and nuclear power.  It is very stylishly made and interesting, story on the theme that climate change is an urgent danger, and that nuclear power is the major solution to this. It is a very, very good soft sell for the nuclear industry

“Pandora’s Promise” uses the voices of people, mainly from the nuclear power lobby,The Breakthrough Institute, to present its argument.  Mark Lynas, Michael Shellenberger, Gwyneth Craven, Stewart Brand, Richard Rhodes all portray themselves as former anti nuclear activists who have now seen the light, and are pro nuclear.

The film certainly highlights  the reality of climate change, the health hazards of the coal industry, and the need for action on climate change.  Indeed, that’s the background and stated reason for its main premise – that premise being –  the world should now urgently adopt nuclear power.

Continue reading Robert Stone and “Pandora’s Promise”