Biased pro nuclear research at Adelaide’s University College London (UCL)

Professors slam UCL Australia’s nuclear and shale gas research by  on November 18, 2013 

  • Two biggest donors are uranium and shale gas producers

• Academics say this makes idea research was independent “laughable”

Senior professors have spoken out against University College London (UCL) Australia’s pro-nuclear, pro-shale gas research, claiming that strong industry ties make the idea it is independent “laughable”.

UCL’s Adelaide-based campus released one green paper calling for Australia to acquire nuclear submarines and another advocating the use of shale gas in the country. Of its two biggest sponsors, one mines uranium – needed to fuel nuclear submarines – and the other produces shale gas.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, UCL professors told London Student: “The idea that research favouring nuclear submarines and shale gas extraction could possibly be independent (taking into account relevant alternatives) is laughable – UCL Australia has not produced a single piece of research on sustainable, greener, or alternative energies.”

“A university should not only be academically independent and impartial but also be seen to be so. In these matters UCL’s academic integrity is in jeopardy.”

In August UCL Australia released a 34-page green paper aimed at establishing that nuclear-powered submarines were “do-able” for Australia.

Its author, Professor Stefaan Simons, told a conference earlier this month that Australia “cannot afford” to have only conventional diesel-electric submarines in its future naval fleet and called on its government to lease nuclear submarines from the United States.

His paper also discussed the need for a repository to dispose of “radioactive waste streams”. One of the UCL professors condemned this as “a mining operation in reverse, under land sacred to the native aboriginal Australians”.

Simons is the director of UCL Australia’s International Energy Policy Institute (IEPI), but also its BHP Billiton chair of energy policy – a position named after and sponsored by the giant energy company who happen to produce uranium at the Olympic Dam mining centre in Australia.

BHP Billiton donated $10m in 2011 to help establish the IEPI and another UCL institute in London. It also funds scholarships at UCL Australia worth $96,750 each. In addition, UCL has a position in London called the ‘BHP Billiton chair in sustainable global resources’.

London Student can also reveal that, as of 30 September, UCL owned 41,139 shares in BHP Billiton PLC – worth nearly £750,000. One of the UCL professors commented: “UCL’s holding of these shares in this same mining company further highlights the corruption of academic values under former provost Malcolm Grant. It remains to be seen if the new provost will try to rectify these and other injuries to UCL’s reputation.”

Simons denied these ties with BHP Billiton had influenced his paper’s findings. He said that “no BHP Billiton funds were used for this research. BHP Billiton was not involved in the research, was not consulted with during the drafting of the green paper and was not advised of the release of the paper, nor given a copy of the paper.”

He also claimed that of the $10m donated by the energy giant to UCL, only “a minor part of [it] was donated to the IEPI”.

A BHP Billiton spokesperson denied it could influence research, but said “we take an interest in what the PhD students are studying and we want to make ourselves available to them, if it’s useful, but we do not direct the areas of research”.

In another tie to the nuclear industry, one of UCL Australia’s affiliates is the World Nuclear Association, a body “representing the people and organisations of the global nuclear profession”.

Last month, the IEPI released another green paper, whose self-proclaimed purpose was to answer the question: “If Australia wants its own shale gas revolution, what needs to happen?”

It claimed that Australia “clearly” needed more gas and that “the role of shale gas is potentially huge”.

One of UCL Australia’s other big donors, Santos Limited, happen to be the country’s first commercial shale gas producer – a fact the report even notes.

A founding partner, Santos donated $10m to help establish the campus and currently funds scholarships as part of a $3m programme “to help UCL develop resources and energy expertise”. A Santos representative sits on UCL Australia’s advisory board and just under two weeks ago, David Knox, its CEO, was invited there to give a talk on “the future of gas”.

Again, UCL Australia denied these ties influenced its research. Michaela Mocikova, their research and development manager, said: “No one impacts on the university’s academic independence.”..

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