Labor veers towards the nuclear option

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The SA Nuclear Royal Commission, the ALP's postponement of its National Conference nuclear debate and the machinations of the Nuclear For Climate Declaration could herald Australia's deeper involvement in the nuclear industry, writes Noel Wauchope.

According to astrologists, there can be a confluence of planets, or a conjunction of planets that means all sorts of consequences for human society.

I am not given to superstition, but right now, I am noticing a confluence of events in nuclear policy that might indeed have consequences for human society, particularly in Australia.

These are the three events that coincide, but they are related to each other. 

1. July 24: Closing date for Stage One submissions to SA Royal Commission on the Nuclear Fuel Cycle...

... on the subject of 'Storage and Disposal of Nuclear Wastes' (for South Australia)

We can be confident that the global nuclear lobby will have put in wonderful submissions proposing South Australia to lead the world in inviting in nuclear wastes and setting up the (as yet non-existent) "Generation IV" nuclear reactors.

2. July 24: ALP's National Conference begins in Melbourne

There was a plan to hold a vigourous debate on reversing the party's anti-nuclear policy. Australia is contractually bound to take back the very small amounts of wastes that originated from the Lucas Heights research nuclear reactor. That is being used as a "foot in the door" for expanding our uranium industry and taking back more radioactive wastes, plus getting the promised (geewhiz!) Gen IV reactors.

In a last ditch move to avoid a possible uproar about this, Labor’s pro-nuclear push has pulled back from this plan. For the moment only, one suspects.

3. Signing of the Nuclear For Climate Declaration

This was done by Australia's Rob Parker, President of the Australian Nuclear Association, in Paris. 

Admittedly, this happened over a month earlier. However, the nuclear lobby is right now working hard on lobbying the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), with this Declaration.

Australia's hard-working and poorly funded anti-nuclear movement is currently concentrating on the South Australian Royal Commission. The Commission is looking increasingly like an arm of the global nuclear lobby. Because of its inadequacies, especially on nuclear wastes (set out very thoroughly here by South Australian Dennis Matthews) and its all too strong connections with the nuclear industry, this is a Royal Commission that might well sink without trace.

To a certain extent, I see this Royal Commission as a distraction from the other two events, which have much greater significance for Australia and for the world.

However, Gary Gray, the ALP's shadow resources minister, is very clear on the importance of the Royal Commission as very much connected to Federal nuclear policy — even though the Commission pretends that it is only about the State of South Australia.

Quoted in The Australian, (18/07/15), Gray explained:

“... it was better to wait for the report of the Royal Commission."

Meanwhile, Gray and other nuclear proponents will also have time to work on making Labor parliamentarians “more sympathetic" to nukes.

Gray, speaking on ABC Radio:

"I think this is a good Royal Commission and I am hopeful that the Inquiry will produce decisions and a direction that's beneficial for nuclear industries." 

In this discussion, it was clear that the pro-nuclear enthusiasts in the Labor Party regard the Royal Commission as "setting the template" for nuclear policy in Australia.

In the same radio interview, Rob Parker talked about the Nuclear For Climate Declaration.

The most important aim of this campaign is to get the UNFCCC to 

"... recognise nuclear energy as a low-carbon energy option, and to include it in its climate funding mechanisms, as is the case for all other low-carbon energy sources."

Here we see how this ties in with the South Australian Royal Commission.

When Commissioner Rear Admiral Kevin Scarce talks about the possibilities for bringing the whole nuclear fuel chain to South Australia, he never gives any information on the economics of it. There is no actual budget for the Commission's own operations, let alone for the enterprise of setting up a nuclear waste disposal system. The economics aspect is just not part of the Royal Commission's brief. 

As I have written before, Oscar Archer described a scheme whereby foreign companies would pay for setting up South Australia's nuclear waste repository, with Australia's "ironclad commitment" to develop a fleet of integral fast reactors. But that might not be enough. It is pretty clear that the global nuclear industry is hanging on the hope that nuclear power will receive government funding when and if it is recognised by the UNFCCC as a clean energy source, apparently essential for combatting global warming. 

Certainly, Gary Gray and Rob Parker connected all three events. Gray and the other nuclear enthusiasts will continue to push for pro-nuclear changes to policyAccording to Beyond Nuclear, the policy changes they want include facilitating:

  • the importation, storage and disposal of international nuclear waste; and
  • all aspects of the nuclear industry except domestic nuclear power (that is uranium enrichment/fuel fabrication/reprocessing/waste conditioning).

Many Labor heavies, over the years, have promoted the nuclear industry, including Bob Hawke, Martin Ferguson and Bob Carr. There are, without a doubt, others now in Parliament. In particular, there are the Labor Senators from South Australia who recently voted for South Australian Labor's pro-nuclear policy, and against the decision of the party membership and recent statements made by Labor leader Bill Shorten, reaffirming Labor's opposition to nuclear development.

At this stage, Labor appears to be holding firm to its policy.

At the Labor Conference, Gray and co. will not oppose a motion to continue Labor’s present policy which states:

Labor will: 

 ● prohibit the establishment of nuclear power plants and all other stages of the nuclear fuel cycle in Australia.


But, as the confluence of planets portends strange things for humanity, so July 24's confluence of the Royal Commission and its focus on nuclear waste importation, the ALP's National Conference postponement of  its nuclear debate, and the machinations of the Nuclear For Climate Declaration may portend big changes in Australia's involvement in the nuclear industry.

Read more by Noel Wauchope at and

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