When I started this site, I had an early goal of speaking to 1,000 people about nuclear power.

Next Tuesday evening in Sydney, I will be speaking to about that number at the Intelligence Squared Debate, speaking in favour of the proposition “We’ve seen the energy future and its nuclear”.

I strongly encourage Sydney-siders to get along to this event, it should be extremely stimulating, and I am really looking forward to taking some questions from the audience.

The very next day I’m on a plane to San Francisco to participate in the Breakthrough Dialogue 2012, which has the brilliant theme “Overcoming Wicked Problems”. As well as a specific session called The Future of Nuclear: Can next generation reactor designs overcome public fears of atomic energy? presented by Tom Blees, there should be a great deal of discussion among several of the great folks on my Who get it? list who will also be attending. It’s a brilliant opportunity to see how the Australian situation is comparing to the wider world, and bring back new ideas, contacts and energy for the local effort. I’m honoured and quite humbled to have been invited.

I’m then taking the chance to visit some friends for a couple of weeks, and I’ll be delivering an online unit for Adelaide Univerisity during some of this period, so you can expect the blog to be quiet for a few weeks. If you use Twitter, I will be punching out a few Tweets from the conference and my impressions of California in general. I’ll look forward to giving you a full wrap up on my return.

Here are the speakers for the Intelligence Squared debate.



  • Michael Angwin is Chief Executive of the Australian Uranium Association. He has been responsible for establishing the Association, its decision-making processes, its agenda and its advocacy approach. Angwin’s interest is in research-based advocacy, clarifying knowledge of the nuclear fuel cycle, and on the need for the uranium industry to make known its best practice credentials. He has been a senior executive at the Business Council of Australia and in the Commonwealth and Victorian public services, Rio Tinto’s Chief Employee Relations Adviser and the principal of a consulting business. He is the co-author of several books on industrial relations reform and the author of many published articles and of many public addresses.
  • Ben Heard is Founder of ThinkClimate Consulting and Decarbonise SA and provides lectures in climate change to Adelaide University. Formerly opposed to nuclear power, he now considers it an essential technology. He holds a Masters of Corporate Environmental and Sustainability Management, and has presented to audiences across Australia. Ben is widely published in press and online. His climate change work was published for the 2011 ANZRAI Conference.
  • Professor Daniela Stehlik is Professor of Sociology and was recently Foundation Director of The Northern Institute at Charles Darwin University, Northern Territory. She is an Adjunct Professor at James Cook University (Cairns) and the Australian National University (Canberra). She was Program Director for the projectUnderstanding the Formation of Attitudes to Nuclear Power in Australia for the National Academies Forum in 2009.


  • Dominique La Fontaine is Vice President, Communications and External Affairs with REpower Australia, one of Australia’s leading wind power companies and part of global wind energy corporation Suzlon. She is an authority on the opportunities and risks presented by climate change, clean energy and sustainability. Her previous roles include the founding CEO of the Clean Energy Council, CEO of the Australian Wind Energy Association, and Principal – Climate Change with consulting engineers pitt&sherry. Dominique has a Bachelor of Applied Science (Environmental Assessment and Land Use Policy) and is a Board member of the New Zealand Wind Energy Association.
  • Ian Lowe AO FTSE is Emeritus Professor of science, technology and society at Griffith University and President of the Australian Conservation Foundation. His physics doctoral research was funded by the UK Atomic Energy Authority. He directed Australia’s Commission for the Future in 1988 and chaired the advisory council that produced the first independent report on the state of the Australian environment in 1996. Among many advisory roles, he is a member of the Radiation Health and Safety Advisory Council and the Queensland Sustainable Energy Advisory Council.
  • Dr Fumihiko Yoshida is Deputy Director of the Editorial board of Japan’s major daily newspaper Asahi Shimbun. He is a co-writer of the recent Asahi Shimbun editorial series, Seeking a Society Without Nuclear Power. Graduating in American History from the University of Tokyo in 1980, he became a reporter for The Asahi Shimbun, Japan’s leading national newspaper, in its Foreign, Science and Economic News sections. He served as the paper’s Washington correspondent and later was appointed Chief of its Brussels News Bureau. He was a Master of Science in Foreign Service Fellow at Georgetown University in 1984-85 and obtained his PhD in international public policy from Osaka University in 2007. Dr Yoshida has been a lecturer at the graduate school of Princeton University, and this year has been a visiting professor at Chuo University’s graduate school. He has written a number of books, including Human Security Strategy and Nuclear America – from Truman to Obama.


  1. Interesting list of opponents. Is this an Oxford debate, will you be expected to respond to the points your opponents make? I would guess that Ms LaFontaine will claim that wind and solar can do the heavy lifting, Ian Lowe we know his arguments (red herrings and strawmen the lot of them) while Dr Yoshida will focus on Fukushima.

    1. Just trying to recall. We get 9 minutes each, and from memory there is not then the 2-3 minutes extra to respond to other points raised. I think there is a high level of audience participation. No doubt that provides logical avenues for responding to opposing arguments.

      Your reading of the opponents is about mine too.

    2. Odd to have to argue against La Fontaine when I am openly supportive of the positive impact wind has had in SA, clear that it has a huge scope for growth, just honest about what it CAN’T do. Stupid position where renewables and nuclear argue against each other, and fossil fuel just watches and laughs.

  2. 573 certified deaths were due to evacuation-related stress at Fukushima. Zero due to radiation. February 4, 2012

    “Japanese authorities recognize 573 deaths related to Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Catastrophe
    As reported by the Yomiuri Shimbun:
    “A total of 573 deaths have been certified as “disaster-related” by 13 municipalities affected by the crisis at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant….
    A disaster-related death certificate is issued when a death is not directly caused by a tragedy, but by fatigue or the aggravation of a chronic disease due to the disaster. ….””

    ZERO deaths were caused by radiation. 573 deaths were caused by the evacuation that was forced by officials. The people who died were evacuated from such things as intensive care. They might have survived if the evacuation had not taken place. Fukushima’s natural background radiation is still higher than the radiation from the reactor leak. Fukushima’s natural background radiation plus the radiation from the reactor leak is still less than the natural background radiation here in Illinois. Natural background radiation varies greatly from place to place. Our background radiation is around 350 milli rem/year.
    “milli” means “.001”
    350 milli rem/year means 0.350 rem/year
    1 rem = 10 millisievert
    People living in Ramsar, Iran have a background radiation of 10 to 20 rems/year and report no ill effects.

    1. It is Dr Yoshida’s paper who were responsible for this survey, so I am expecting this to be drawn on very directly. The debating setting is very challenging for such things. How to address it fairly without appearing insensitive and losing the audience on emotion? I don’t have the benefit of a comments thread where things can be slowly picked apart. That’s our challenge I guess.

  3. Most of the emotion is about radiation, “waste” and terrorists stealing from reactors. See http://clearnuclear.blogspot.com/
    Radiation: see above: the articles by Alex Gabbard. Coal contains uranium.
    “Waste” There is no such thing. Recycle.
    Terrorists: Would have 2 seconds to live if they got close enough to the reactor vessel to take fuel out. [Inside the containment building.]

    1. Those are the main emotional touch points, I agree. I’ve got the recycle action well covered, radiation, well, I need not worry about whether that will come up.

    2. In a massive dose of irony the only known terrorist attack was on the French Superphenix reactor during construction, committed by Chaim Nissim who was an elected politician for the Swiss Green Party. He sourced a RPG-7 (rocket launcher) from Carlos the jackal (prolific assasin) and fired it at the containment dome. Luckily his aim was very poor. Thus, the only terrorist attack on a reactor was by a future member of the Swiss Greens Party.
      Sabotage rather than theft is what would be most likely, as Interpol has a monopoly on “buyers” of black market nuclear material it’s pretty much a non-event. It can be stolen from unsecured military installations (which has been done), but they need a buyer, which are Interpol agents. The terrorist argument is a furfy policing is good in this area, and security onsite can always be “beefed up”.

      1. In case anyone else had assumed, like me, that this was a joke, it isn’t. So basically if we can convince the Greens to leave them alone, everything should be sweet.

        It’s a weird world.

            1. I’ve done it myself! Why just this morning I called in an airstrike on my firstborn.

              No wait, hang on.

  4. This smells like an ambush to me where all but one of the other speakers will gang up. I suspect the renewables boosters will quickly read the room then demonise those opposed to bigger targets and subsidies. The fact Adelaide’s power prices will soon be 32c per kwh when I believe they were 18c a couple of years ago will be lost in the green glow. Like being robbed and feeling good about it.

    I agree with tag teaming the Breakthrough Institute. They are one of the few groups arguing that carbon offsets are illusory. The relevance being that we are supposed to buy many billions worth of them overseas if carbon pricing holds up to 2015. Even earlier (2013) the EU is supposed to be have a rethink about offsets but may lose their nerve unless people like the Institute speak out.

    1. Look, it’s going to be really tough, and always is in this type of setting which facts are not easily checked and references are not required. I’m going for underdog status, but last time none other than James Hansen came away failing to persuade in this setting! We will do our best.

      I have a perfectly high degree of comfort with offsetting… as a SHORT TERM STRATEGY. There is heaps of good to be done through these means, but the way it is written into Australia’s plans, as a key feature right up to 2050, is just completely stupid on a purely mathematical basis: with most of the offsets coming from the developing world, there simply will not be enough to go around.

  5. Will you be allowed visual aids? If not a powerpoint screen, then maybe a few handheld items?

    Nuclear’s enormous density and waste volume advantage over coal could be illustrated by holding up a pencil-eraser-sized imitation of a single fuel pellet, followed by attempting (and failing) to lift 20 50kg sacks of coal (or other similarly heavy-looking and readily available object). Would take about 20secs of your 9min allowance (and probably get some laughs too)….

    (Not to mention the CO2, of course. The CO2 from burning that amount of coal would cover an entire football pitch to a depth of 28cm at NTP, if my sums are right.)

    1. Ahah! Good question! This is a “no slides” situation, just us and the audience! But yeah, the cool thing about uranium is that I can fit the visual aid in my pocket!!! Nice idea…

  6. I wonder whether a simple catch-phrase would be useful, something along the lines of “If you’re anti-nuclear, you’re pro-coal”.

    1. It makes more sense to say “If you’re anti-nuclear, you’re pro-gas”. Because gas brings in royalties for government, my version of the message explains why governments treat antinuclear citizens as more equal than others.

  7. Ben for a Sydney audience I expect some will express enthusiasm for gas based trigen in new developments such as the Barangaroo urban precinct. That’s the same trigen Isobel Redmond wants for SA with the slight problem that Sydney will take even more Cooper Basin natgas if NSW coal seam gas fails to increase. I question what will happen in 20 years time when eastern Australia has been fracked to the max but gas is prohibitively expensive. All these whizzbag trigen units will become white elephants.

    Some are pushing for future Hunter Valley baseload plants eg Bayswater B to be gas fired. Same problems if the gas price doubles in a decade. Meanwhile back in SA it seems BHPB will announce a postponement of the OD expansion, the State’s biggest project. I guess 32c household electricity starting next week is not a good sign.

  8. Hi Ben,
    Good luck in Sydney. It seems we’ll both be there at the same time. I’ll be recording my third Ockham’s Razor talk on July 4th at the ABC studios, Ultimo. I’ll be highlighting the essential safety of handling nuclear waste and explaining why South Australia should accept all/some [decreasing in total as IFR’s come on stream] of the world’s nuclear waste for final safe removal from the environment forever. And it will be worth $billions to us. I guess it’ll go to air later in the year. I’ll be addressing Adelaide and Gawler Rotary clubs in mid September as well and using all three of my Ockham’s Razor talks as the basis for my speech. I started all of this pro-nuclear stuff when I was 60 years old. I’m 74 today so it’s been a hell of a ride. But Ben, we’re getting there, so keep up the good work.

  9. Ian Lowe had a piece published on the drum today (link: http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/4093160.html ).

    For somebody with a cv such as Ian Lowe, it’s a pretty dire situation. The same old story, often spouted but never backed up with numbers.

    9 minutes certainly won’t be enough to tear such furphies to shreds once everybody has been dragged down to his level, but good luck all the same Ben!

  10. Just looked at the iq2oz.com website May I congratulate the team of Angwin, Heard and Stehlik on the results:
    Pre-debate poll Post-debate poll
    For: 35.12% 51.4%
    Undecided: 34.25% 16.8%
    Against: 30.62% 31.6%

    From a fairly even split to an absolute majority, with more than half the undecideds deciding to support the motion! That surely says something about the quality and conviction of the pro arguments, and seems like a great return on the efforts invested.

    I’m really looking forward to watching the video when it becomes available.

    Thank you Ben for all your hard work. Bet you’re glad to have *that* ordeal behind you…


    1. Thanks Simon! The event was fantastic, and you can watch it on ABC Big Ideas, hopefully this week. It was exceptionally well organised and a lot of fun, but certainly it had a big build up and I was happy to have it behind me (all the more for the landslide victory!)


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