Chasing the Norm

Australian academic and blogger on politics, international relations, and culture

Tag: Nuclear waste

Embrace the Waste!

Last night I gave a quick plug for Bob Hawke’s memoirs, citing his charm and larrikinism. Yet what is also refreshing in it is the strong sense of conviction and willingness to advocate for it that Hawke has presented his entire life. Starkly different from the managers style PM (Fraser, Howard, Rudd) and with a better sense of the public than Keating or Whitlam, Hawke brought a strong attachment to new ideas, tempered (and protected) by his desire for consensus and negotiation. It seems even at 80 little has changed:

FORMER prime minister Bob Hawke has called for Australia to assess a nuclear waste industry as a moral, financial and environmental response to climate change. Mr Hawke, speaking after the Australian-American Leadership Dialogue he attended as a participant, said: “This issue, frankly, seems to me to be straightforward in its obligations and benefits.”I have spoken to Aboriginal leaders and to people from the environmental movement and they are prepared to consider the proposition.”

With the nuclear power industry expanding rapidly around the world due to climate change and Australia supplying that industry with uranium exports for decades ahead, Mr Hawke said the issue arose from Australia’s global obligations. “There is a responsibility to deal with global warming and consider what role Australia should play,” Mr Hawke told The Australian. “Australia can make a significant difference to the safety of nuclear generation by agreeing to take waste from nuclear power stations. This would be an important contribution to safety and energy security. It would also become a strong source of national income for Australia that could be dedicated to our own environmental and water requirements. “The fact is that Australia has some of the geologically safest places in the world to act as a repository for nuclear waste.”

While there are still big debates to be had about Australia generating power via nuclear plants (I’m supportive though don’t think the economics work), what shouldn’t be contentious is Australia’s role as a provider of uranium. Australia has some of the strictest standards in the world when it comes to the supply of uranium (just look at the debate over selling it to India a democratic ally) and stands to benefit significantly from its mining. Whilst most don’t think you have to support nuclear power to prove your good faith on climate change (as Howard and Abbott charge), clearly the spread of nuclear power world wide benefit efforts against climate change. And yet this can’t or won’t fully happen until a solution for dealing with its waste is created. No other country can deal with it as safely and securely as we can. Those against are pretending that somehow the entire industry will be shut down, both here and overseas if waste can’t be safely stored. But even a flickering knowledge of history and the human condition would tell you that when people cant do something safely but want it, they will simply keep doing it unsafely. Likewise, those protesting about waste being in Australia are practicing a selfish and immoral NIMBY attitude that ensures the waste will be dumped on someone else, probably much less securely, and likely in a poorer country without our advantages or careful handling procedures. That or they use amusing but false scare tactics like in the image on the right. Unfortunately this policy has the support of the Greens and to a significant degree Labor as well (though incumbency & economics are seemingly softening their rejection of nuclear waste)

Australia has both the geological and political stability necessary to handle the task, the space to do so, and as a provider as Hawke notes, a degree of moral responsibility to take it. But this will not be done simply out of the good of our heart, but offers a very financially beneficial option for this country. We will be making money both selling it to other countries, and then having them pay to return the used leftovers to our shores, buried deep underground almost exactly where it came from. Many will complain of course, and the ideal for nuclear waste would of course be to simply put it in a rocket headed towards the sun. But whilst that is too expensive to contemplate, then burying it in Australia is by far the best option the globe has, and a very good deal for Australia. It is one of those rare area’s where our moral and fiscal interests coincide, and we should grab it with both hands.

Photo by flickr user Karen Eliot used under a creative commons licence