South Australia

SA Royal Commission: Who wants to be a nuclear billionaire?

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Noel Wauchope navigates the complex web of ambiguity behind submissions to South Australia's Nuclear Fuel Chain Royal Commission.

SOME PROMOTERS of nuclear industry expansion have very altruistic motivations.

Just who are the people who want South Australia to be a nuclear industry hub? The submissions to the Royal Commission give some indications, though it is not easy to work this out. 

The Commission's website publishes submissions but in a confusing way. Their numbering of submissions is meaningless, as they will bundle several from one source together, counting them as just one.

In other cases, all four of a person's submissions appear separately and some are omitted altogether. (I, for example, sent in four separate submissions on the four separate topics, but only two were published.)

If the numbers are confusing, the names are even more so. Organisations and companies are listed alphabetically; individuals are also listed alphabetically but in order of the person's first name, making it hard to find a particular person' s submission.

I have therefore chosen to number the submissions according to each person or organisation whose submission or submissions are published, coming up with 173 submitting, of which 94 are in favour of nuclear development. The 79 that are not in favour come from a variety of sources and express a variety of arguments — about environment, Aboriginal rights, health, economics, safety, terrorism, weapons proliferation risks and the preference for renewable energy. 

The pro-nuclear submissions, on the whole, come from interested parties where a commercial or career motive can be discerned: that is sometimes clearly shown, but sometimes not apparent. There are also some pro-nuclear submissions that are quite cautious about promoting development and a few who are inclined towards sitting on the fence.

Of the 94 pro nuclear submissions published, 46 come from companies or organisations connected with the nuclear industry. But who knows how many nuclear companies really did send in submissions, given publication was not mandatory, due to “commercial in confidence”?

What most interested me was the number of individuals (48), rather than companies, who argued for nuclear development. (See list with links to submissions below.) I wondered what topics interested them and what was their background, and this is what I found:

Their most favoured topic, as with the organisations, was Issues Paper 3, "Electricity Generation” — though some wrote on other topics too.

Their backgrounds? Twenty of these 48 individuals are now, or were formerly, employed in a nuclear or nuclear-related company, government or university department. In some cases they state this clearly, in other cases it is not apparent. While most of these are strongly in favour of expanding nuclear developments in South Australia, some are cautious about this. Dr Ian Duncan, who has a long history of involvement in the uranium industry, is quite ambivalent about it.

Then there are the two career politicians, Senator Sean Edwards and MP Tom Kenyon, who have hitched their political future to the nuclear star. 

There are also nuclear publicists who are not necessarily engineers or involved in the nuclear industry but who have become well known for their pro-nuclear articles or lobbying. There are only four listed names that could be described as pro nuclear publicists: Peter BoltonAlexander FiedagGeoff Russell and Oscar Archer.

The remaining 22 don't seem to have any connection with the industry, and are not always 100 per cent in support of it. For example, Tom Geiser wants expansion of uranium mining, but not any other part of the nuclear fuel chain. Professor David Bowman, from the University of Tasmania’s School of Biological Sciences, puts a complicated pro-nuclear argument about not remediating radioactive areas and instead spending funds on biodiversity protection. James Brown is unsure and worries about the lack of a skilled nuclear workforce. 

Still, the majority of the pro-nuclear submissions enthuse about new nuclear reactors — Generation IV, small modular reactors and liquid fluoride thorium reactors.

When you add those individual submissions to the 46 from nuclear-related organisations, it looks as if the overwhelming support for new nuclear reactors comes from interested parties: nuclear related companies, or individuals connected to the industry, who seek profit or career advancement.

However, you really have to delve into these submissions. I came to one that was directed at "Electricity Generation" from one Alexander Fiedag. Who is Alexander Fiedag and does he really exist? I couldn't find him anywhere, not even in his own submission, where he is not listed as the writer. In fact, Alexander Fiedag's submission is written by 18 people, though it appears on the Commission website as having being submitted by one person. 

Those 18 people include some very well-known nuclear publicists: Stewart Brand, Barry Brook, Mark Lynas, Ted Nordhaus, Michael Shellenberger and Robert Stone. Most have no employment connection with the nuclear industry, and in fact are described as environmentalists. The remaining 12 writers have a variety of non-nuclear backgrounds and most have a strong interest in environment. What brought them all to prepare a joint submission? What do they have in common? Well, it might be the Breakthrough Institute, of which 11 are members and most are senior fellows and, or, are on the board.

Their submission is called "An Ecomodernist Manifesto" — 32 pages of beautifully high-sounding sentiments about humanity and environment, which could have been written by Pope Francis. It's not until page 21 that nuclear power is even mentioned. What they want is a "new generation of nuclear technologies". The paper then quickly returns to its "altruistic" and "ethical" theme:

"We write this document out of deep love and emotional connection to the natural world."

There is no further discussion of nuclear power.

This is the Breakthrough Institute (BI) in action. In past years, BI was notorious for its attacks on Al Gore and climate scientists. It has a long history of trying to discredit renewable energy, in particular, attacking Germany's Energiewende policy.

More recently, BI has discovered climate change, as that has become a useful tactic in their long-running promotion of new nuclear technology. In 2015, BI has also discovered the Anthropocene, again using this as an argument for no real action on climate change, and for the promotion of nuclear power.


If you visit the Breakthrough Institute's website, you will see a whole lot of fresh young faces, all apparently enthusiastic about the environment. BI offers optimism, hope and idealism but unfortunately, along with doing nothing to slow global carbon emissions and everything to slow renewable energy development. 

BI's seemingly humanist and ecological message has much appeal in this worrisome world. So, the promoters of new nuclear reactors for South Australia certainly include idealistic and altruistic people — some of whom have bought BI's message. 

List of pro-nuclear development submissions by individuals:

Henry-Askin, Dr George BereznaiChristopher Camarsh, Goran CenicIan DuncanJohn Emerson, Dayne EckermannBrian Flew and Ivan MayStephen Grano, Richard Gun and Philip Crouch, Geoff HudsonPeter JansTimothy-LukeJeremy OakesAlan ParkinsonJohn ReynoldsRoger Smart, Pamela SykesMalcolm WeddRichard Yeeles

Read more by Noel Wauchope at and

You can follow Noel on Twitter @ChristinaMac1.

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