Just one week prior to ATSE’s ground-breaking conference, Nuclear Energy for Australia? the Federal Energy Minister Gary Gray has made his strongest calls yet for an open debate and discussion of nuclear power as an energy option for Australia. Speaking at the Australian Uranium and Rare Earths Conference in Perth, the Minister was clear that the discussion of nuclear power was a matter of both national opportunities and international responsibilities.
These statements reinforce the huge value of this two day conference featuring high calibre local and international speakers covering a full range of relevant discussions, with ample opportunities for discussion and questions, and a reception hosted by the NSW State Government. The very competitive pricing for such an outstanding event is a credit to ATSE. I urge leaders in business, government and academia, as well as interested members of the community, to take advantage of what may prove to be a watershed event in Australia’s energy pathway.
My own responsibility to the event is to address the question How can community support for the nuclear option be achieved? Here, I provide you with a teaser from the paper submitted to the conference, as well as a couple of slides from my presentation.
I look forward to reporting back after the conference!
How can community support for the nuclear option be achieved?
Director, ThinkClimate Consulting
The idea of achieving community support for nuclear power in Australia is often met with responses like “don’t bother trying, it can’t be done”. This is fatalistic, often self-serving and incorrect. We can achieve community support for the nuclear option. It may be challenging and some of the steps may seem counter-intuitive. It is a question of an informed, determined effort, at sufficient scale, designed to respond to community concern rather than satisfy expert opinion.
As a former opponent of nuclear power I have now spoken in favour of nuclear power in front of over two thousand Australians. In this process I have learned many lessons that may guide a process for achieving community support. Before embarking on such a process, it is useful to consider how Australians relate to nuclear power right now.
How do Australians relate to nuclear power?
- 1. Australians are not anti-nuclear
Australians are not, on the whole, anti-nuclear. This is a major and common misconception. Polling from October 2012 suggest 39% of Australians support Australia developing nuclear power plants for the generation of electricity, with 41% opposing this proposition and 21% undecided. A 2012 debate in Sydney polled the 1,000 attendees before and after. A nearly even three way split For/Against/Undecided moved to 51% For, 31% Against and 16% Undecided. There is a solid base of support for nuclear power in Australia, and the opportunity to hear the case for nuclear only bolsters this support.
I have addressed a remarkable variety of forums. The anti-nuclear hardcore has reared its head on a few isolated occasions at best. To the extent that anti-nuclear activism is tied to the broader environmental non-governmental organisations (ENGOs), it is arguably large, influential and well-funded. But ENGOs address a broad range of concerns, many of which I share. The specific anti-nuclear hardcore represents only a portion of this broad movement, which is itself only a portion of Australia. The unconditional opposition to nuclear energy by seemingly all ENGOs has been subject to open criticism from some ENGO supporters.
Pandering the idea that Australians are anti-nuclear will deliver the wrong approach. The very question this paper is seeking to answer may be slightly misplaced. Rather than asking how community nuclear support can be achieved, we also need to ask how community nuclear support can be activated. To a significant degree the support already exists.