This week, Flinders University academic Professor Haydon Manning put forward an intruiging proposal for the use of deliberative polling in South Australia as a mechanism to assist in the building of consensus on whether or not to move forward with further engagement in the nuclear fuel cycle.

As you can read here, deliberative polling is a process whereby a representative sample of citizens are engaged in a structured process of receiving information on an issue, and given the opportunity to ask questions and engage in discussion in small groups with the aid of professional facilitators. The citizens are polled on the way in and at the conclusion.

I was interviewed in this very interesting show (I am starting at about the 24 minute mark however I think the whole show is great) and, as I say, I am in favour of this proposal. Experience has shown me how well the nuclear issue performs in these types of environments. As  I also say in the show, I don’t know any advocates of nuclear power who would be disinclined to this: we want people to have these opportunities. To a great extent, it is all we ever want.

I was followed by Craig Wilkins of the Conservation Council of South Australia. Craig offered only highly conditional support for deliberative polling, with his support contingent on a matter of “how it was structured”. There is, globally, a small handful of people to whom I simply could not conscience giving a platform on this issue but aside from that, I would have no concerns whatsover about the inclusion of Australia’s main anti-nuclear commentators in a deliberative poll. I completely trust my fellow South Australians in such a setting and my experience bears out that the nuclear issue performs very well when people have a structured opportunity to engage and contemplate. Craig instead suggested diluting the issue back down from nuclear to a helicopter view of all economic opportunities. From what I have read, such a thing is simply contrary to the purpose or use of a deliberative poll where people are supposed to have the opportunity to look deeply at an issue, not superficially across many issues.

When asked about a referendum or plebiscite Craig stated support and that he thinks we need “as many opportunities as possible for the public to have a say in this, and so far they have not been engaged enough, because it is such a big decision… so as much polling, conversations, discussion is what I would welcome”.

To my ears, this is a direct contradiction to his highly conditional position on a dliuted deliberative poll. My expressed concern with plebiscite, much as those involved in the same-sex marriage discussion have identified, is that it is the antithesis of the deliberative poll approach: populist processes that are vulnerable to the worst excesses of misinformation, that easily overwhelm and subsume measured, respectful engagement and evidence based discussion.

There needs to be a reckoning here. If, time and time again, when citizens are given the opportunity to learn about the nuclear issue they tend to move favourably towards it, this is not a sign of flawed process; this is not a sign that anti-nuclear voices are being excludedIt is a sign that informed and engaged citizens will support nuclear.

It is a sign that, in democratic terms, some people are basically on the right side of an issue and some people basically are not.

I welcome the suggestion for a deliberative poll on this issue.

Here is the show:




  1. It is only one tool among many, not the whole job.

    Deliberative polling, IMHO, should work best when it is kept small, focussed and infrequent.

    There is nothing to be gained from discussing the whole of the Royal Commission’s brief and report with a bunch of folk who were grabbed at random off the street. There might be great value in discussing, say, waste storage methods and opportunities that may be applicable to radioactive medical waste which is currently stored in a thousand locations throughout our country.

    The format would enable a discussion of the issue, the alternatives, the costs and the downsides.

    Anything too broad will end up becoming an elective one-semester second year university subject, with assignments along the way and an exam at the end.

    1. The RC had broad terms of reference which have narrowed to a relatively discreet and readily defined concept for South Australia. I think it would work effectively in the deliberative polling setting.

      As for random people off the street, let’s have some mutual respect for our citizens. I am glad of the RC work. It will still required a measure of indicted consent from South Australia, or some very determined political action.

      1. Points noted. I don’t disagree regarding the need for tight focus and for sensibly selected panels.

        I note several comments below regarding Green Party intransigence. I’m in two minds there: traditional, locked-in fanatical Greens will always be resistant to persuasion on any subject. On the other hand, the Greens Party (a) is a broad church with a democratic philosophy and (b) has only about 10,000 members nationally. I haven’t given up hope that they will come around, however slowly, but despite noise that they generate, they are really small beer. The various environmental groups deserve to be treated individually, in hope that true leadership will take hold in one group and spread to the others.

        Regarding China, I imagine that they will choose to keep their used fuel rods for reprocessing on their own soil. They might be amenable to medium and high level repositories somewhere on the Kidman properties, once they have completed their purchase in the largest land deal since the sale of Alaska to USA by the Russians and the much earlier Louisiana Purchase by USA from France. Turn NIMBY into IMBY.

        1. Interesting that they had to excise the Kidman property (Anna Ck ) that is inside the Woomera zone. Must be a good place for spying as well as nuke waste disposal. No doubt we can just as easily pop over to China and buy a few million acres of their land. I half suspect we’ll end up getting Chinese gas reactors long before IFRs, MSRs etc.

  2. Listening to the audio as I type this. So far I haven’t dispelled my suspicion of an underlying agenda which is this …… should public money be spent to lure nuclear waste customers to SA?

    This seems to be at odds with a statement by Commissioner Scarce that nothing happens until foreign enterprises put up 100% of the cash. If that were so SA residents should just sit back and watch it all happen. The hot material gets whisked away to the remote outback and it won’t cost them anything.

    1. The tentative findings are clear that forward contracts would be required to fund action. Contracts for a relatively small amount of material will cover establishment costs.

  3. Populist sentiments have far too much influence in our national affairs already, sometimes tragically. The SA Royal Commission is the antithesis of bowing to them, while thoroughly hearing everybody and filtering out the misinformation. Deliberative polling seems to me in line with that.

    As you say: “populist processes ….. are vulnerable to the worst excesses of misinformation, that easily overwhelm and subsume measured, respectful engagement and evidence based discussion.” Quite so.

  4. Unfortunately, I had to return the book before I was finished, but Streetfight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution by Janette Sadik-Khan mentions, in passing, that the transportation department in NYC used a method that sounds similar to deliberative polling. During her tenure, Janette Sadik-Khan’s transportation department made enormous changes to quickly make NYC streets more pedestrian and bike friendly. For example, much or all of Broadway was completely closed to car traffic to make space for pedestrian and bike traffic. These changes succeeded in part because there was data supporting the benefites (similar to nuclear), but more important was the way she structured her public meetings. She found that the traditional public meeting started with a lecture component with government officials saying everything is going to be fine, but then the floor would be opened to questions and only the most ideological people would come up to the microphone. Out of fear of looking ill-informed in comparison to the ideologues most people who had questions would not approach the microphone. This leads to an inefficient result as the public does not get its questions or concerns answered. Also, the government or industry in this situation will not receive helpful suggestions from the public. Janette Sadik-khan found that by getting rid of the lecture and instead hosting a number of small group discussion at each meeting the transportation department was able to discuss concerns, answer questions, and receive helpful suggestion. After holding many meetings with this new structure the NYC Transportation Department was able to get buy-in from communities across NYC.

  5. If I recall an RC witness said a high level waste repository would cost a minimum $100m to set up. That’s without reprocessing. I suggest first there needs to be a foreign customer who is openly prepared to show the colour of their money. Then think about massaging the public. It could seriously backfire if SA starting making plans with no actual customers lined up.

    On a side note I wondered if the proposed Cape Hardy deepwater port could be used rather than urbanised Pt Adelaide. However the same folks who oppose the Kimba area intermediate level waste site don’t want it either. When the lights flicker due to lack of energy at least our backyards will be safe.

  6. I think John has a very good point. If SA could first find a willing (and if possible, signed-up) customer, then you can present the idea to the public that this will earn SA a significant amount of income and jobs. The issue of nuclear waste safety then becomes a secondary, rather than primary concern. We have excellent responses from the RC that support the safety issue, Then Craig Wilkins will be on the back foot.

    1. It is a matter of deciding, what is the cart, what is the horse? I assure ypu from my own research and the indications from the RC the willingness of countries to participate fully has been, overall, understated. How can they commit though before something is even legal? It would be nice. I’m just not sure it is possible.

  7. We’ve just had a thousand of our business people in China. I wonder if there was anyone who might have mentioned the word uranium or nuclear waste to any Chinese person. After all, they’ve got 32 reactors generating at present and 22 under construction. Their long term plan is for another 200 or so by 2050. With the free trade agreement now signed, there is an enormous opportunity for greater expansion of the nuclear fuel cycle in SA. Why, we might even convince the Chinese nuclear industry to help by putting up the necessary cash for a waste disposal site. I imagine we will sell/lease uranium or nuclear fuel to them once we stop this incessant talk talk talk about the issue and actually get into developing nuclear power etc. I remember talking about all of this in 1998. As James Lovelock said in 2007 when in SA. “it doesn’t make sense that Australia hasn’t already gone nuclear.” We need urgent bipartisanship from Labor and the Coalition to get this show on the road. Would you bloggers please get to your local members and hassle them. Yes, I’m p—-d off with this issue. And you would be too if you’d been speaking for nuclear for 18 years having converted anti to pro nuclear in 1981 while on teacher exchange in Canada.

    1. I get it!

      China is, I think, likely to participate in terms of running several options. They are also large enough to cope domestically if necessary. Others in the region are not positioned well on that front.

  8. All is not lost if the RC’s major recommendation fails to materialise in the medium term. There is relentless pressure for SA to improve grid reliability
    and to retire coal baseload plants in the eastern states.

    After a few years of things going backwards nuclear has to be considered, though perhaps not with SA as the pioneering state. My hunch is that nothing will happen until SMRs arrive around 2025 with things getting desperate (eg Tasmania power rationing) in the meantime.

  9. SA should very definitely be the pioneering state in any nuclear expansion in Australia. We’ve got about 30%of the known world’s uranium with Olympic Dam the biggest single deposit on the planet [about 22% world total]. And we have unquestionably, the world’s best high level nuclear waste disposal site in the Officer Basin, 300km or so west of OD.As noted in my piece written for the Adelaide Review in September 2009, we have the world’s biggest uranium deposit and the world’s best HLWaste site, juxtaposed in our SA western desert. Development of the full nuclear fuel cycle in SA, starting with a waste repository in the Officer Basin, is a no brainer. I’ve just sent that info along with a whole pile of other energy stuff to both Greg Hunt [energy minister] and Mark Butler [shadow energy minister].Among those materials were some facts about Invanpah [it’s going broke -and probably should be closed down] -Solandra already has gone broke. I’ve urged both to ditch any suggestion of solar thermal for Port Augusta or for anywhere else for that matter. Did you note Graham Lloyd’s piece in the WE Australian [16 -17/4]? “The bottom line is that the Alkimos Beach project in the new Lend Lease development will be subsidized to the tune of $45,000 each to potentially save 20% on their electricity bill.” That was funded in the last round of grants by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency. Abbott wanted to scrap it but Turnbull and Hunt have decided to keep it. It’s another example of fiscal irresponsibility, indeed stupidity that has plagued the world for the past 20 years and it’s why the world has spent [wasted] $1.1trillion on subsidies for the renewables for a return of 2.8% of its electricity and with no emissions reductions. The world has gone mad on the renewables and we’ve been sucked into them here in South Australia. The Australian government has wasted $30 billion on said subsidies. The renewables have been a scandalous wasteful folly around the world and here in SA at least, we should stop further development of them.

  10. Terry I think either or both of Challenger or Prominent Hill mines once depleted could be modified into geological repositories, That saves tens of millions on site development costs for roads, excavation and onsite facilities. Since they are inside Woomera Prohibited Area
    the landlord is the Department of Defence who handles security. Geologically that’s the Gawler Craton province not Officer Basin.

    The questions are… who’ll put up the money? Where are the signed up customers?

  11. A few points John. Prominent Hill I think is a thirty year+ mine and Challenger, also longer term operation though I’m not 100%sure about that. The world needs a disposal site well before then John. They’ve been stuffing around for 30 years and still haven’t got one. Gawler Craton rock is hard rock [metamorphic gneisses and probably granites]. Much harder to work than sediments like those of the Officer Basin which are mostly fine grained shales, mudstones, siltstones etc. And the sequence of sediments composing the basin is 5 km thick. Remember, Pangea Resources investigated the WA section of the OB over 20 years ago. My late brother was consulting geologist for Pangea. Investigation was done in response to the IAEA identifying the OB as probably the best of the only four suitable sites that they found after a worldwide search. The others were/are in China, Argentina and South Africa. If Kevin Scarce sticks with his recommendation for the High level waste disposal site and our politicians grow up and get bipartisanship [Labor and Coalition that is] for nuclear then we’ll start to get somewhere. Forget the Greens. They will never be persuaded by fact or reason to an acceptance of nuclear. On the issue of clean, abundant, emissions free electricity around the world, the Greens have been a confounded menace. They don’t bother with research, have a complete disregard for logic and are generally unwilling to engage in civil debate. When we finally legislate for nuclear, our govt must get to the IAEA, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission [Chairman Stephen Giles] World Nuclear Association the Chinese nuclear industry etc , get them to bring a delegation to SA to look at the Officer Basin site, talk to the government and local nuclear bodies and get the development of the site started. China, with a huge nuclear build planned by 2050 [200 additional reactors 22 of which are under construction right now] would be a likely/probable/certain contributer to the waste site perhaps the sole source of cash. I imagine we’ll be selling them uranium or leasing fuel assemblies eventually. We are in a very strong bargaining position with our biggest uranium reserves and our best waste disposal site. I reckon China would be very interested in guaranteed uranium supplies and a place to get rid of their high level waste. There won’t be much of that anyway once the IFR’s start coming on line in 10 -20 years.

  12. This is great.

    It reminds me of a deliberative poll on nuclear power which was conducted internally by the Dutch Green Party some years ago, right after the Fukushima incident. It was a small group of people, consisting of science oriented members of the Green Party.

    Surprisingly, the vote at the end of the session was a vote of 60% IN FAVOUR of (advanced)nuclear power!

    The write-up of the event and it’s conclusion is here: (in Dutch)

    Not so surprising perhaps, this result was buried and is never mentioned by the Green Party leadership. You can find no reference to this event or its the conclusion in any of the Green Party documentation on the Party standpoint on nuclear power. The Green Party remains – as it always has done – adamantly opposed to nuclear power in any form, and they remain fighting to close existing nuclear power plants prematurely.

    But what this poll has at least shown is that the more science oriented Green Party members are in fact pro nukes! Which, perhaps, is not so surprising at all.

  13. I wonder if demonstration projects are convincing the public that renewables will one day dominate or perhaps confirming suspicion that they won’t. Arena is funding a 20 Mwh lithium ion battery at an electrical substation on Yorke Peninsula
    From 248 Twh a year I conclude this battery holds less than 3 seconds national consumption though perhaps the aim is power smoothing rather than bulk storage.

    Arena haven’t yet said publicly if they will fund a solar tower thermal project at Pt Augusta.

    It was only a couple of years ago that Yorke Peninsula was to get the large Ceres wind farm, an underwater cable to Adelaide and a hay burning power station for backup. Fact is unstable priced gas and interstate coal power will do 60% of the heavy lifting in SA for the foreseeable future.

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