Royal Commission is not about nuclear power. It is another attempt to establish a waste-dump in South Australia.

South Australia’s broad-brush nuclear review is meant to sideline opponents, The Conversation, Peter Burdon 27 February 2015, Senior lecturer at University of Adelaide The draft terms of reference for South Australia’s planned Royal Commission on the nuclear industry, which are open for public consultation until the end of next week, are deliberately broad.

When announcing the commission last month, SA Premier Jay Weatherill said it would “explore the opportunities and risks of South Australia’s involvement in the mining, enrichment, energy and storage phases for the peaceful use of nuclear energy”.

The move caught many by surprise, not least federal opposition leader Bill Shorten, who – unlike his Labor colleague Weatherill – remains opposed to nuclear.

The announcement also generated huge amounts of free PR for the nuclear industry, as shown in the avalanche of media coverage that ensued – some deliberately balanced, some sceptical of the commission and its value, but much of it highly favourable, especially in the business press.

It is not hard to see why. As Naomi Klein contends, nuclear power is an industrial technology, organised in a corporate manner. And as psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton points out, no technology does more to underline humanity’s dominion over nature than our ability to split the atom.

The positive spin

Reflecting this hubris, the Australian Financial Review (AFR) has dedicated no fewer than 15 editorials and columns to favourable coverage of Weatherill’s plan. They have focused on the economics of nuclear power and SA’s uranium reserves, the safety of small modular nuclear reactors, the economic opportunities of waste management, and the possibility of an objective and non-politicised debate about the nuclear industry

Yet this narrow focus on finance and science (themselves live areas of debate) is wholly unsatisfactory for discussing the nuclear industry. Also relevant are history, ethics, politics, and the perspectives of people who will be directly affected by any decisions made. A Royal Commission (or a media debate, for that matter) that ignores these factors is insufficient…… all sounds rather unlikely and, as environmentalists such as Ian Lowe have noted, nuclear makes it more difficult to “move to the sort of sustainable, ecologically healthy future that should be our goal.”

The real motive

What the Royal Commission’s broad terms of reference really do is give Weatherill flexibility, while also diluting oppositional voices. The anti-nuclear movement is, relative to industry, very small and under-resourced. To what aspect of the inquiry ought they dedicate their energy? If one area is prioritised, do they concede another?

Some observers, among them Greens senator Scott Ludlam, contend that the long game for the government is another attempt to build a radioactive waste dump in the state’s outback. Set against the remote chances of Australia embracing nuclear power, or the unfavourable international economics of uranium enrichment, waste storage stands as more of a genuinely live possibility…..

Understood in this context, the Royal Commission is not about nuclear power. It is another attempt to establish a waste-dump in South Australia. Here we must consider history…………


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