Save the Earth. Go nuclear
Afew Saturdays ago I met one of my neighbours for the first time. He’s the father of one of my son’s playmates – we all live around the same little inner-city playground – and though I’d met his wife and child a million times, the two of us had never crossed paths. We stood around making small talk while the kids ambled around the swings, and the conversation turned to commuting and cars. My neighbour mentioned that he had a 90-minute drive to and from work.
When I asked him where he worked that required such a long drive, I caught a brief anxious flicker in his eyes as he answered my question: ‘Lucas Heights’, he said.
For those not familiar with it, Lucas Heights is the outer-Sydney suburb that is also home to Australia’s one and only nuclear reactor. We don’t get any power from it – it’s pretty much used solely for medical research – but it is a huge source of controversy. Thanks to a combination of junk science, environmental journalism that consists largely of checking the fax machine for the latest Greenpeace press release, and naked political opportunism, in many peoples’ minds, Lucas Heights is simply a Chernobyl waiting to happen.
No wonder my neighbour was nervous about telling a stranger where he worked.
This anti-nuclear attitude is bad for Australia on several levels. For one thing, the same environmentalists and commentators who scream bloody murder over John Howard’s refusal to sign the Kyoto treaty are the same people who want to deny Australia a source of power that produces virtually nothing in the form of so-called greenhouse gasses.
For another, Australia has the planet’s greatest wealth of uranium, and is just about to become the world’s biggest exporter of the stuff. This may be great for our balance of trade, but it is also an indicator of how we are being left behind in the race to develop safe nuclear energy. Today 17 per cent of the world’s electricity comes from nuclear power that flows from 435 reactors in 33 countries – and a further 42 reactors are under construction or on order.
What is behind this refusal to develop nuclear energy, which even Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore has famously described as ‘clean’? Part of the problem is that along with uranium, we are also blessed with enormous coal reserves – another great Australian export – which means that there isn’t much imperative to develop some other way to light our houses.
But more than that is the sustained campaign by environmentalists to wreck the future of the nuclear industry here, even as nations like France and Canada stake their future on atomic energy. As Brian Martin, a radical-left professor at the University of Woollongong put it in a paper entitled, ‘Education and the Environmental Movement’, ‘Several factors made nuclear power a prime target for opposition. The rise of the environmental movement meant that the existence of any environmental impacts of a technology made it vulnerable to attack.
Nuclear power was particularly vulnerable because it was not yet entrenched, as was, for example, the automobile. Therefore nuclear power could be opposed outright, as well as regulated to make it safer.’
Meanwhile in the schools, Martin writes that, ‘the anti-nuclear power movement has put some effort into institutions for formal education, by talking to school classes, putting on occasional adult education courses and encouraging academics to study and research the issues.’ While Prof. Martin was writing in support of the campaign against nuclear energy, he also quietly gave the game away: at its core, the environmental movement is about opposing new technologies, no matter what they are, or how much they could improve the lot of humanity. It’s an anti-progress agenda that American television journalist John Stossel, himself a famous campaigner against junk science, calls the BANANA syndrome: ‘Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone’.
And it doesn’t matter if they have to stoop to a little brainwashing to do it. Martin and others are explicit about the need to get to kids early on in life to make sure they are indoctrinated with the anti-nuclear message (if you can’t win a debate with grownups, after all, why not try with children?) One teachers’ guide distributed in South Australia encourages English assignments such as, ‘Students imagine they are living near Chernobyl at the time of the nuclear disaster. They write a diary covering the week before and the week after the disaster’, and, ‘Students write a story describing a typical day in their life – without sunlight’.
Not a word about Chernobyl’s cardboard-and-duct-tape containment systems, just nuclear nightmares. It’s a 21st Century version of how Cold War geopolitics were taught in the 1980s: just scare the pants off the kiddies with a bunch of apocalyptic nuclear war flicks like The Day After and hope enough of them go home and pester mum and dad to vote left.
Of course, not all environmentalists are opposed to nuclear power, though failing to hew to the anti-atomic precepts of the green church is a pretty fast route to excommunication. The aforementioned Patrick Moore, who says that on the nuclear question, ‘activists have abandoned science in favour of sensationalism’, has started his
own group, Greenspirit, which bridges the gap between environmentalism and technology. On his website (www.greenspirit.com), Moore – who has been branded an ‘eco-traitor’ for his efforts – proclaims that responsible forestry is the way to save trees, and that genetic engineering can help poor farmers.
But while Moore may not see a conflict between human progress, saving the planet, and making a buck all at the same time, the environmental movement in Australia is mired in a decades-old fantasy world where giant wind farms or solar arrays will save the day.
In the meantime, with oil prices spiking and much of the rest of the world cleaning up their own backyards by using our uranium, isn’t it about time we re-opened the nuclear discussion – minus