Energy Opinion

Talking nuclear and 'the smoke and mirrors game of shadows'

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The restarting of nuclear power plants, once decommissioned, has rarely been tried (Image by Gretchen Mahan | Flickr)

Noel Wauchope tests the "nuclear" facts in an interview between former CEO of Australia's Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANTSO), Dr Adrian (Adi) Paterson, and pro-nuclear enthusiast and Sky News host Chris Kenny.

PATERSON: It isn't completely sorted out in Germany. There are still people trying to stop the [nuclear] restarts, who are in different parts of the political structure there.

Fact check

The German Government maintains its policy of closing down all nuclear reactors. It is only "some people" who are trying to stop the policy. Even Paterson is forced to admit that the German shutdown will continue.

PATERSON: I'm still doubtful whether they will actually switch on an appliance.

CHRIS KENNY: When it comes to the science and the engineering, if they've started to decommission these nuclear power plants, is it very difficult to reverse that situation?... Have they gone too far down the decommissioning path?

(Paterson avoids the question. It entails many factors, including that Germany has paid massive compensation to nuclear companies. There are legal and regulatory hurdles. We're still in the dark about the technical problems of restarting them. It has rarely been done — Japan's experience illustrates the problems, including technical. His answer digresses to an odd attack on the USA's nuclear regulators.)

Fact check

The regulators rescinded the approval that would have let South Florida nuclear reactors operate for a total of 80 years. It was based on concerns about flooding risks – in view of growing climate change – and the safety factors of ageing reactor parts.

PATERSON: Then you see a country like France transforming itself by agreeing to build a whole raft of new plants... It's a contrast of two different models — one which is really serious about doing something and others where it is a kind of smoke and mirrors game of shadows.

Fact check

Well, there aren't really many facts to check here. Yes, France's President Emmanuel Macron is promising to develop a fleet of new nuclear reactors. But this is in the context of France's nuclear company having to be fully nationalised because it is an economic basket case and having awful troubles, not knowing what to do with its accumulating radioactive trash.

(Chris Kenny waxes ecstatically about France as the ''energy saviour of Europe" – ''so wise'' – and regrets that ''Australia is making no progress". That's Paterson's cue to go on with his dream for Australia...)

PATERSON: To convert our uranium... enrich it... fabricate fuel... and we would add ten times the value of the $608 million that we currently get every year from selling it — so we could turn that into  $6 billion.

Fact check

Globally, nuclear power is just not economic. It needs massive subsidies from governments. 

PATERSON: We're living in a weird situation where the history of nuclear is much more important than the future that it could provide for us.

CHRIS KENNY: It is madness.

Fact check

Well, there are no facts here to test as such, but I would suggest that history is important.

Nuclear power's history of comparatively rare – but drastic – accidents, alongside safety issues and continuing waste problems (coupled with economic failure), should surely be a consideration in future planning.

Adi Paterson's wonderful nuclear dream completely ignores those historic and continuing problems and seems strangely incongruent with the current situation of danger to nuclear reactors in the Ukraine war situation. Not a mention of terrorism risk, or of nuclear weapons proliferation.

And modern renewable energy technologies are just ignored by Paterson, brushed off as"a kind of smoke and mirrors game of shadows".

Read more by Noel Wauchope at and and follow her on Twitter @ChristinaMac1.

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