This post is co-authored with Dr Oscar Archer of The Actinide Age

Mark Parnell MLC  has engaged in what appears to be openly deceptive conduct, attempting a last-minute derailing of the nuclear Citizen’s Jury by claiming fresh “revelations” of conflict of interest- when Hansard records prove he received this information over three months ago.

Yesterday, radio show AM Adelaide ran a story alleging a conflict of interest relating to the economic study commissioned by the South Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission, specifically that two of the seven authors are connected to a non-profit organisation called Arius.

This led to the demand by Member of the Legislative Council (MLC) Mark Parnell (Greens) that the Citizen’s Jury considering these matters be halted just two days before the jury is due to report to the State Government, and that everything that has occurred to date is now “tainted” . Parnell stated:

Revelations on ABC Radio’s AM program this morning show that the consultants engaged by Royal Commissioner Kevin Scarce, to advise on the viability of a nuclear waste dump, included both the President and Vice-President of ARIUS – the Association for Regional & International Underground Storage – a nuclear industry lobby group promoting nuclear waste dumps.

These “revelations”, however, are nothing of the sort. The connection between MCM and Arius was raised by ABC News on 26 July of this year. The issue was then raised, face-to-face to Mark Parnell MLC the very next day during a hearing the Joint Committee on Findings of the Nuclear Royal Commission, as captured in the official Hansard transcript. The authorship of the report itself has been in the public domain for over eight months. 

Which begs the following questions:

  •         If this information taints the Citizen’s Jury, why did Parnell not raise the matter before the jury process began and 350 South Australians donated four days of their time in good faith?
  •         Why did he claim this information as “revelations” in a media release two days prior to the findings of the Citizen’s Jury when he was alerted three months earlier?

The timing strongly suggests certain stakeholders are making a final attempt to derail a process. Perhaps they have made the call that it might otherwise deliver the “wrong” outcome. These stakeholders have been involved in the process itself from the beginning, variously seeking to steer, guide, protest, commentate on and discredit. What they have never, ever done is indicate they would accept any outcome other than their own.

We are openly, proudly on-the-record supporters of nuclear technology, chiefly as an essential part of a strong and proven response to climate change. We are also both openly and proudly on the record as critics of the nuclear industry where we see such criticism is warranted. Neither of us fully endorses every outcome of the Royal Commission. One of us (Ben) is recently on the record outlining some of the limitations we see in the investigations to date. We also note and respect the clear message from nearly all traditional owner groups in South Australia that there is no consent to proceed on their lands. We have been active from the beginning to shine a light on pathways that make no such imposition on remote lands.

Above all we have chosen to place trust in this process and in the people of South Australia to engage and be involved in this issue. While we have voiced concern from time to time, we have mostly watched in quiet dismay as certain stakeholders accepted positions of influence within the process and then used these positions to game the system.

We have been pretty quiet on this. That doesn’t mean we haven’t been paying attention.

Here we present a timeline of key events leading to this week’s carefully timed and confected demand for a halt to the Citizen’s Jury. In issuing this timeline we wish to emphasise that anti-nuclear stakeholders:

  • have been involved and engaged in every step of this process
  • have accepted positions and opportunities for influence in this process
  • have simultaneously acted to disrupt and undermine this process
  • have never committed to accepting an outcome from this process

When these stakeholders are so overwhelmingly critical of a consultation effort, from beginning to end, never expressing a word of hope in a beneficial outcome, we would expect them to put their money where their mouth is and refuse to engage. Engaging instead, so thoroughly and insidiously as they have – from myriad written submissions to seats on panels and committees – goes far further than unmistakable tacit approval of the process: it is intervention. Instead of engaging with any of the relevant expertise and scientific knowledge – past their cherry-picked quotes – their intervention seeks purely to control the outcome. This last attempt by these stakeholders to occupy some sort of moral high ground in the closing days of the process is nothing short of farce.

While no level of impartiality is good enough for anti-nuclear stakeholders, they hold themselves to only one, simple rule – “No Nuclear” – and all other principles appear expendable.

2015

  • 8 February 2015: Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission (NFCRC) announced by Premier Weatherill
  • 9 February 2015: Professor Barry Brook announces on radio that he will accept any outcome of the Royal Commission. Dave Sweeney, nuclear free campaigner from Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), declines to make any such commitment.
  • 16 February 2015 to 13 March 2015: Terms of Reference for NFCRC for public consultation and release.
  • 16 February 2015: Conservation Council of South Australia (CCSA) makes a submission to the Terms of Reference for the NFCRC. Note that the terms of reference “…need to consider whether and how this ‘social licence to operate’ could be obtained”. Also emphasised that “…the Royal Commission seeks expert advice from a variety of sources, and across the spectrum of opinion”.
  • 26 February 2015: CCSA commission Jim Green of Friends of the Earth (FoE) to produce an issues paper on all aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle.
  • 12 March 2015: CCSA attempts to raise $42,000 to pay for a “ferocious campaigner” in response to the Royal Commission announcement.
  • 1 April 2015: Prior to the commencement of the Royal Commission, anti-nuclear organisations led by CCSA filmed an event on why further engagement in the nuclear fuel cycle “makes no sense” for South Australia.
  • 1 April 2015. Professor Ian Lowe, former head of the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), tells audience, erroneously, that a fast reactor can explode in the manner of a nuclear bomb.
  • 1 April 2015: Craig Wilkins, CCSA, likens the interest of South Australians in economic benefits to footballers charging for a keg of beer, and tells his audience to just think “Monorail” (a reference to the Simpsons) when economic benefits are touted. At this time South Australia has the highest unemployment rate in the nation.
  • 17 April 2015: Professor Ian Lowe is appointed to the expert panel for the Royal Commission along with Professor Barry Brook, former director-general of ASNO John Carlson, South Australian Chief Scientist Leanna Read and UK-based nuclear expert Dr. Tim Stone. This panel would later be demonised by anti-nuclear commentators as biased
  • 8 May 2015: Issues papers commissioned by CCSA and authored by Jim Green are provided to the general public on CCSA’s website.
  • 16 June 2015: CCSA commissioned a report by Mark Diesendorf titled “100% Renewable electricity for South Australia” that discusses nuclear options for SA exclusively in the negative. The press release shows unmistakable absence of proof-reading or expert review with reference to telecommunication services by Optus.
  • 10 July 2015: Mark Parnell MLC publicly urges Facebook followers to visit an online Advertiser opinion poll regarding nuclear power and used fuel storage and vote “no” to both, implying that the “pro-nuke lobby” will be the only stakeholders heard otherwise. Later he thanks his followers for skewing the results.
  • July 2015: CCSA commissioned UK-based anti-nuclear campaigner Jean McSorley to write a submission on behalf of CCSA, FoE and ACF to the NFCRC.
  • 14 September 2015: The Royal Commission takes evidence from Professor Mark Diesendorf, renewables activist, author of a campaign manual including how to combat nuclear energy as a solution to climate change. Dr Diesendorf is also an anti-fluoride campaigner.
  • 23 September 2015: The Royal Commission takes evidence from Professor John Quiggin, ardent nuclear critic.
  • 1 October 2015: The Royal Commission takes evidence from Mr  Arjun Makhijani, nuclear critic and author of Carbon Free and Nuclear Free
  • 8 October 2015: Jim Green, Friends of the Earth, provides input to the consultants report on nuclear power projections to the Royal Commission.
  • 15 October 2015: Dan Gilchrist, The Australia Institute, provides a submission on the model proposed by Jacobs MCM to investigate waste storage. At this time Glichrist indicates they are “broadly supportive of the assumptions being made by Jacobs Engineering et al. regarding the economic analysis for waste storage facilities”.
  • 19 October 2015: Philip White, Friends of the Earth Adelaide, provides a submission on the consultants reports for public discussion from the Royal Commission. They comment on the Jacobs MCM proposal and analysis.
  • 27 October 2015: The Royal Commission takes evidence from lifelong anti-nuclear campaigner Dr Helen Caldicott.
  • 17 November 2015: The Royal Commission takes evidence from Mr Ed Lyman, anti-nuclear campaigner from Union of Concerned Scientists.
  • December 2015: Dr Jim Green and Dr Philip White are commissioned by CCSA to write a critique of the NFCRC process shortly before findings are released. It criticises the expert advisory panel for bias towards pro nuclear (citing Brook, Stone and Carlson as examples), but acknowledges that John Carlson was recommended by anti-nuclear groups (p.9) and makes no mention of other members (Chief Scientist Leanna Read and for head of ACF Ian Lowe)

2016

  • 9 February 2016: Jacobs MCM releases public consultation version of Radioactive Waste Storage and Disposal Facilities in South Australia – Quantitative Cost Analysis and Business Case. All seven authors are listed.
  • February 11 2016: The Australia Institute publicly releases a “report” critiquing the submission of Senator Sean Edwards, five days prior to the public release of draft findings of the Royal Commission. The lead author, unqualified with no relevant background, discloses the following about the review process: “I didn’t have formal reviewers. I got some friends to read it to make sure it was readable. There was no input about technical or other detail”.
  • March 22 2016: The Australia Institute releases criticism of the economics report for the Royal Commission. This report was bought and paid for by the Conservation Council of South Australia.
  • 15 April 2016: Craig Wilkins of CCSA and one of the authors (Heard) are asked publicly (on radio) if they would support a Citizen’s Jury. Heard replies in the affirmative. Wilkins’ states only that it is contingent on “how it is structured”. CCSA will later join the Stakeholder Reference Group for the Citizen’s Jury, suggest witnesses and influence the structure of the process.
  • 20 April 2016: Jacobs MCM final report released: Radioactive Waste Storage and Disposal Facilities in South Australia – Quantitative Cost Analysis and Business Case All seven authors are listed.
  • 24 May 2016: A Joint Committee of the South Australian Parliament is formed to review the Findings of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission (JCNFCRC). Greens MLC Mark Parnell joins the committee. Fifty-six submissions are made including from notable anti-nuclear stakeholders:
    • Mark Diesendorf
    • Medical Association for the Prevention of War
    • Mothers for a Sustainable South Australia (MOSSA)
    • Friends of the Earth/Australian Conservation Foundation/CCSA (joint submission)
    • Noel Wauchope
  • 29 June 2016: Craig Wilkins (CCSA) and Cat Beaton present to the joint committee on the findings of the NFCRC. Wilkins notes in his opening remarks that Treasury should look over the analysis undertaken by Jacobs. Mr Wilkins noted that they commissioned the Australia Institute to look at the economics; “Digging for Answers” (page 82 PDF).
  • 30 June 2016: David Noonan publishes a document (Nuclear Port Brief) added to the No Dump Alliance website that omits key contextual information on the impacts of a spill of nuclear waste in the sea. It is noted that this report publishes “alarming information hidden in the 320 pages of the Nuclear Royal Commission Report”. This was exposed on the 24 August 2016 by SACOME in their presentation to the JCNFCRC. The document is still on the No Dumps Alliance website despite this expose.

 

inaccurate-information

  • 6 July 2016: David Noonan, independent environmental campaigner and former ACF anti-nuclear campaigner, presents to the JCNFCRC
  • 26 July 2016: ABC News runs a story regarding the connection between consultants MCM and not-for-profit Arius, with Dave Sweeney of ACF openly questioning the impartiality of the economics.
  • 27 July 2016: Jim Green (FoE) and David Sweeney (ACF) are invited to testify to the Joint Committee on Findings of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission. Jim Green refers directly the link between Dr David McCombie (co-author of Jacobs MCM) and Arius, in the presence of Mark Parnell MLC.
  • 18 August 2016: CCSA, FoE and No Dump Alliance are invited to the Stakeholder Reference Group (SRG) to provide stakeholder input to Citizens Jury Two (No Dump Alliance was replaced by MOSSA). The SRG’s role was to identify speakers and witnesses for the jury, provide advice to DemocracyCo about how witnesses present to jurors, and build understanding and awareness of the jury process in the wider community.
  • 16 September 2016: The SRG provide Democracy Co with witness lists for the citizens jury.
  • September 2016: Mark Parnell joins a tax-payer funded fact-finding mission to Europe and the United States as part of his role in the Joint Committee. He announces this in a t-shirt displaying “No Way for SA” and shows a tea-towel with the same statement, co-opting the official promotional brand logo for the state of South Australia.
  • September 2016: Mark Parnell announces via video that he will meet with the radical group “Maison de Resistance” in France who are illegally occupying a site. The following day, this group blockaded the visit by the South Australian delegation
  • 20 September 2016: SRG members (MOSSA and SA Unions) asked to exclude ANSTO (Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation), CSIRO (Australia’s peak scientific body) and SA Health from nominating 3 representatives each to appear before the jurors in the speed dialogue session. The motion was carried and these stakeholders were unable to nominate any representatives.
  • 15 October 2016: A National Day of Action Against Nuclear Waste Dumps is held in Adelaide CBD, between days 1-2 and 3-4 of the Citizens Jury. The event is promoted by Friends of the Earth and CCSA, who are active on the Stakeholder Reference Group for the Citizen’s Jury
  • 29-30 October: Days 3-4 of Citizens Jury. Witnesses presenting to jurors include anti-nuclear campaigner Dave Sweeney (ACF), nuclear free campaigner Jim Green (Friends of the Earth), Richard Dennis (The Australia Institute), Emeritus Prof. Barbara Pocock (MOSSA), Greens MLC Mark Parnell, Dr Ian Farlie (International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War), Dr Margaret Beavis (President, Medical Association for the Prevention of War), Dr Robert Hall (SA convener, Medial Association for the Prevention of War), anti-nuclear 100% renewable advocate Mark Diesendorf.
  • 3 November 2016: AM Adelaide runs a story featuring information about the authorship of Jacobs MCM study, two days prior to final Citizen Jury meetings. At this time the authorship has been in the public domain for just short of 8 months. This connection was previously reported on 26 July 2016 and declared to Mark Parnell MLC on 27 July 2016.
  • 3 November 2016: Mark Parnell MLC calls for an immediate halt to the Citizens Jury claiming the process is now “tainted” by “revelations”. The Citizens Jury is due to report to the state government in two days time.

16 comments

  1. The perception of Arius as a lobby group is weird. Dr Charles McCombie is by any measure a world expert on geological disposal, with extensive background in Swiss NAGRA. Arius’ key objective is to explore ways of providing shared radioactive waste management approaches and facilities, in particular storage and disposal facilities for smaller users. Membership is open and comprises countries with small nuclear programs as well as industrial organisations with relevant interests.
    In mid 2003 Arius initiated the SAPIERR Pilot Project for European Regional Repositories, which obtained European Commission approval.
    – a lobby group??

  2. Thanks for this article, Ben. It was painful to read. I can only imagine how painful it must have been for you to write and, worse, to experience first hand.

    Fair fights, academic honesty and democratic decision-making, it seems, are not in the lexicons of those on the No side, it seems.

    Sometimes I wonder at the latitude that some university-employed people receive. UNSW’s relationship with Dr Diesendorf is only one case in point.

  3. I think a fair criticism is that the RC gave more weight to the views of a few consultants than that of hundreds of outside submissions. In my own submission following the interim report I pointed out some numerical problems but what the insiders said stayed in the final report. So much for the idea of the wisdom of crowds.

    Frankly I’m puzzled that the idea of a foreign waste repository ended up as the central recommendation. Politically it seems like a hiding to nothing, then again it may have kept the ball rolling. My view is that Australia must get nuclear electricity and anything that comes later is a bonus. Recent events seem to vindicate that. If Parnell is saying in general terms the consultants hijacked the direction of the RC he might have a point.

  4. Thankyou Ben, for making a chronology of the anti-nuke’s efforts. The full extent of their behind-the-scenes antics is unnerving, but not unexpected, and typical of their methods.

    They are indignant about the debate, particularly the Citizen’s Jury, not because of its potential for failure, but because of its potential for success.

    We will all have to wear the outcome, but the pro-nuclear position is achieved with facts and reason, the anti-nuclear position rests on theology, repetitious propaganda and fabrications.

    Every piece of anti-nuke spin needs to be questioned immediately in the same public forum that it was presented, otherwise it can easily be taken as fact. As individuals, many of us are frustrated by the lack of facility to do this.
    (From experience, the reply to Emails is mostly no reply.)

    My biggest problem is with the action quoted below. Can you give details on how this occurred? Who carried the motion?

    ” 20 September 2016: SRG members (MOSSA and SA Unions) asked to exclude ANSTO (Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation), CSIRO (Australia’s peak scientific body) and SA Health from nominating 3 representatives each to appear before the jurors in the speed dialogue session. The motion was carried and these stakeholders were unable to nominate any representatives.”

  5. Thanks Ben and Oscar for this comprehensive history of the submissions – presumable from both sides.

    What scientific evidence did the nay-sayers present to the Commission to support their views?
    It is easy to say “we just don’t want it ” but this doesn’t rule out the advantages and opportunities that could come to South Australia or all Australia should they go ahead with this nuclear opportunity.

  6. Er, great post and I get what you mean but it doesn’t “beg the question” about anything – begging the question means to assume your premise in your conclusion. I think you main “raises the question” or “demands the question” but otherwise your use of the phrase “beg the question” is erroneous (though alas all too common) – sorry for the bit of pedantry

  7. Bravo Ben. Your gloves are off – this was long overdue and it’s good to see. Aggressive engagement can provide the mainstream media with a conflict and contention narrative of the kind that draws eyeballs. Or, in more current terms, is clickbait. I sincerely hope you’re prepared to follow this battle wherever it leads, and to put it forward wherever you see an opportunity. Can you enlist others to assist? It’s time to raise a s**tstorm!

    One thing that’s both a strength and a weakness is that it’s a polarised position – correct or wrong, us or them, nothing in between. Strengths: easy to understand and fits with our psychological preferences for the easy answer and becoming a member of a strongly cohesive group. (I’m thinking of ‘isms’ of all sorts, including religions of every stripe) The weakness I see is that it’s too easy to make just one thing ‘the’ silver bullet ‘answer to all our prayers’ instead of just one possibility that’s really important to try.

    Think of the latter as evolution in action. Life adapts by trying all the available pathways and ruthlessly discarding what doesn’t survive contact with the real world. Isms of all sorts can’t do that and remain true to their narratives.

    I think you know how to keep the discussion going and keep it nuanced. Go for it!

    1. Andrew is exactly right. It would be tragic if those seeking to make their case by way of sincere, sober and informed argument were to be subverted by those like Parnell whose stock in trade is deception and hysteria.
      I encourage everyone here to contact their local MP and the Premier and encourage them to be aware of the cynical tactic of misinformation, lies and fear-mongering by the antis when the South Australian State Cabinet deliberates on the jury’s findings.

  8. Thanks.
    I wasn’t aware that ANSTO, CSIRO and SA Health were barred from nominating representatives to appear before the jurors.
    Now that I know, I wonder if members of those organisations felt unjustly rebuked (even “slighted” or “humiliated”) by YSN’s CJ process.
    Would it be reasonable to assume that was the reason why so few individuals (employees) from these organisations chose to participate in the public debate ?
    Maybe WiN Australia should be added to that list ?
    What other factors may have caused knowledgeable folk to abstain from participating ?

  9. Haven’t had much time to reply, Ben, but thank you for keeping up the fact-checking.

    Appreciate it.

    Cheers, Ange.

    ________________________________

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