[Opposing the then ALP federal goverment's Three Mine Uranium Policy in 1991 , my daughter Rachael on my back.]
Led by Prime Minister John Howard, a growing chorus of Coalition and Labor Party politicians are urging a turn to nuclear power as the “solution” to greenhouse-gas driven climate change. They are attempting to force open the door to more uranium mining and nuclear power production in Australia.
Climate change is one of the biggest threats to the survival of humanity and the planet, but the nuclear “cure” would be as bad as the disease.
Myth: Nuclear power is “greenhouse free”.
Fact: Huge amounts of energy are needed to construct nuclear power plants and produce nuclear fuel, generating substantial greenhouse gases.
Myth: Nuclear power would reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Fact 1: To replace fossil-fuel generated electricity with nuclear power would require a five-fold increase in the number of nuclear reactors, but would reduce global greenhouse emissions by only 5-10% — nowhere near the 60% reduction required to stabilise atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases. Meanwhile, the extra 1760 reactors required would produce 2.6 million tonnes of high-level nuclear waste over a 50-year lifespan.
Fact 2: While emissions per unit of energy from nuclear power are about one-third of those from large gas-fired electricity plants, this comparative benefit of nuclear power is negated as higher-grade uranium ores are depleted and lower-grade ores are mined. All higher-grade ore will be depleted in 50 years at the current rate of usage.
Fact 3: There are many viable alternatives - geo-thermal, wind, solar and tidal power - that generate considerably less greenhouse emissions per unit energy than nuclear power. Renewable energy, mostly hydroelectricity, already supplies 19% of world electricity, compared to nuclear at 16%.
Myth: Nuclear power is safe.
Fact 1: An expansion of nuclear power would inevitably lead to the proliferation of nuclear weapons. The “peaceful” nuclear power and research sectors have produced enough fissile material to build more than 110,000 nuclear weapons. Of the 60 countries that have built nuclear power or research reactors, around 25 are known to have used their “peaceful” nuclear facilities for covert weapons research and/or production. Claims that the international safeguards system prevents misuse of “peaceful” nuclear facilities and materials are grossly overstated.
Fact 2: With nuclear reactors comes the constant danger of catastrophic accidents, due to mechanical failures and human error. The 1986 Chernobyl accident caused an additional 200,000 deaths in Russia, the Ukraine and Belarus between 1990-2004. Since then, industry deregulation and privatisation have allowed corporations to cut corners on safety regulations and adequate staffing, increasing the chance of accidents.
Myth: Nuclear waste can now be safely stored.
Fact 1: There is still no safe storage system for nuclear waste. Not a single repository exists for the disposal of high-level radioactive waste, which is produced at an annual rate of about 10,000 tonnes worldwide. Technologies exist to encapsulate or immobilise radionuclides, but encapsulated radioactive waste remains a public health and environmental threat that will last for millennia.
Fact 2: Reprocessing spent reactor fuel is polluting, and most of the uranium and plutonium arising from reprocessing is simply stockpiled with no plans for its use.
Given the massive human and environmental risks, why is nuclear power even being considered?
The renewed push for nuclear power is being driven by greed – by the huge mining corporations’ search for ever-greater profits.
Australia has 30% of the world’s proven uranium ore reserves. With the global demand for uranium increasing, the market price for uranium has tripled in the last two years.
Between 1981-96, Australia exported an average of 3400 tonnes of uranium oxide concentrates annually. In 2004-05, exports increased to 11,215 tonnes per year. This earned the mining companies $475 million.
The number of mining companies prospecting for uranium reserves in Australia has increased from five in 2003 to more than 70 today.
The ALP must oppose the nuclear push.
The ALP’s current policy recognises that uranium mining presents “unprecedented hazards and risks” and advocates “no new uranium mines”. This prevents the development of some of the biggest uranium deposits in states with Labor governments.
But the pressure is building on Labor to change its policy at its 2007 national conference, and a growing number of ALP leaders are indicating that they are happy to do the mining corporations’ bidding. Martin Ferguson, shadow minister for primary industry, and South Australian Premier Mike Rann are leading the charge.
Uranium mining and nuclear power can be stopped – we’ve done it before. The only serious proposal to build a nuclear power plant in Australia — at Jervis Bay in NSW in the late 1960s — was defeated by public and political opposition. In the late 1990s, the proposed development of Jabiluka mine in the Northern Territory was halted by a concerted national and international campaign.
We call on all members of the ALP to ensure that their party does not capitulate to the mining corporations greed, and to demand that Labor close the door forever on uranium mining and nuclear power in Australia.
The Socialist Alliance joins with all those campaigning for a nuclear-free future and real solutions to climate change. We call for:
• No nuclear power plants.
• No new nuclear reactors and the immediate closure of the HIFAR reactor.
• Closure of the Ranger, Roxby Downs and Beverley uranium mines, and no new mines.
• No dumping of nuclear waste: waste producers must manage their own waste in secure, monitored facilities at their own expense.
• No new coal-fired power stations.
• More investment in clean, safe technologies and renewable energy infrastructure.
• Establishment of an industry-funded 10% renewable energy target by 2010.• Full public ownership of all energy/electricity industries.