Media Opinion

Nuclear lobby manipulates ABC's 7.30

By | | comments |
7.30's report on nuclear energy displayed an enormous amount of bias (Screenshot via YouTube)

An ABC report on nuclear energy presented a one-sided viewpoint, dominated by the pro-nuclear lobby, writes Noel Wauchope.

ON 4 APRIL, on ABC's 7.30, regional affairs reporter Jane Norman presented a sort of debate on nuclear power for Australia. An accompanying article was also published on 2 April as a debate about ‘a generational divide’.

The show was quite gripping, with excellent visual snippets of Australia's history of nuclear issues and promotional visualisation of the industry's proposed new small modular reactors (SMRs).

The essence of this debate seemed to be that old people are inclined to oppose nuclear power, but young people see it as a new and valuable way to reduce carbon emissions and counter global heating.

In discussing the pros and cons of nuclear power, Norman, herself relatively young, mentioned some recent opinion polls in which public opinion was split, with younger Australians being more supportive of nuclear.

In opposition to nuclear, elderly Indigenous Aunty Sue Haseldine gave an intensely personal history, passionately setting out her concern for the environment and for the children of the future. We learned, as the programme went on, that older generations had been influenced by the history of past atomic tests in Australia and by past accidents overseas, and had developed a distrust of nuclear power.

And, presently, the Liberal Coalition Opposition, led by Peter Dutton, is putting nuclear ‘at the centre of its energy policy’.

Moving on to those supporting nuclear power, Jane Norman interviewed the enthusiastic Helen Cook.

Cook is deeply involved in the pro-nuclear lobby as principal of GNE Advisory, whose website states:

‘Helen is recognised as a nuclear law expert by the International Atomic Energy Agency [and] the former Chair of the World Nuclear Association’s Law Working Group...’

She is definitely a nuclear promoter and a favoured speaker for the industry, along with luminaries such as Michael Shellenberger, Zion Lights and Dr Adi Paterson. She said that she had had trouble overseas trying to explain Australia's ban against nuclear power, but now, back in Australia, did not find negative attitudes towards it.

We then heard very limited support from the Grattan Institute's Tony Wood. He was clear that at present the economics for nuclear power are “terrible”, but said that SMRs could be an option for the future. (BHP, a big uranium miner, is a big backer of the Grattan Institute.)

The programme reinforced the message for small nuclear power, showing attractive graphics of SMRs prominently marked with text: ‘Reliable, cost-effective, clean and safe.’

Then came Mark Ho, nuclear engineer and president of the Australian Nuclear Association, on the need to overturn legislation banning nuclear. Construction of SMRs would take from three to five years.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says that a country could go from considering nuclear energy to having nuclear energy in its power grid in ten to 15 years.

Associate Professor Edward Obbard, the head of nuclear engineering at UNSW, was the final pro-nuclear expert. He explained that there is, among young people, very little opposition to AUKUS nuclear submarines. Younger generations regard climate change as the greatest threat, so nuclear could be one of the solutions. Obbard sees it as a moral case — an environmentally low-impact way to decarbonise.

Helen Cook has interesting insights. She says that Australia has expertise in nuclear power — a questionable claim when it is based on just the staff of one small research reactor. She argues that the USA, Japan and Ukraine have experienced severe nuclear accidents yet have pledged to treble their nuclear energy production by 2050. One does wonder why.

This is problematic, as all three countries are burdened with nuclear waste and the industry now promises reactors that might “eat the waste” (itself a dodgy claim). The UK Government now admits that the nuclear weapons industry is the real reason for civil nuclear reactors. Cook's case for nuclear power for Australia seems to boil down to "if others are doing this, so should we".

So, we have on one side a little old (very articulate and eloquent) Indigenous lady, who probably does not have a university degree, let alone a big job in the industry, versus four “highly qualified” prestigious members of the pro-nuclear lobby.

I wrote to 7.30, suggesting a bit of genuine balance in this debate. I suggested as speakers the very well-informed Jim Green of the international Nuclear Consulting Group and Friends of the Earth Australia's Dr Helen Caldicott or Dave Sweeney of the Australian Conservation Foundation. But I now reflect that they might be a bit much for the ABC.

The ABC might consider interviewing former nuclear supporters such as Ziggy Switkowski, Alan Finkel, or some more neutral experts like economist Professor John Quiggin or Jeremy Cooper.

Anyway, it's the same old problem of false balance that has plagued the ABC in the past. 

And there's another dimension now. The programme depicted Aunty Sue Haseldine as an admirable person with genuine concern and emotion. But she hasn't got the facts, the new young expert technical facts that appeal to today's young people.

But 7.30 didn't really present the facts. Gee-whiz SMRs are not new and young. They were tried out in the 1940s to 1960s but turned out to be uneconomic, time-consuming, gave poor performance and produced toxic wastes.

The programme glossed over important issues such as waste problems, genuine study of the probable delays before SMRs could be operational, safety issues, risks of terrorism and weapons proliferation.

The ABC has a pretty noble history of tackling tough issues. And so does Sarah Ferguson, presenter of 7.30. I think it let us down this time and hope it will rectify this.

Read more by Noel Wauchope at and

Related Articles

Support independent journalism Subscribe to IA.

Recent articles by Noel Wauchope
Nuclear lobby manipulates ABC's 7.30

An ABC report on nuclear energy presented a one-sided viewpoint, dominated by the ...  
Why we cannot trust the International Atomic Energy Agency

The head of the world's atomic energy watchdog has been understating the dangers of ...  
Talking nuclear and 'the smoke and mirrors game of shadows'

Noel Wauchope tests the 'nuclear' facts in an interview between former CEO of ...  
Join the conversation
comments powered by Disqus

Support Fearless Journalism

If you got something from this article, please consider making a one-off donation to support fearless journalism.

Single Donation


Support IAIndependent Australia

Subscribe to IA and investigate Australia today.

Close Subscribe Donate