Nuclear and renewables in the name of national interest

Australia retains one of the most coal dependent electricity supplies in the world. How can proponents of renewables and nuclear power respectively get out of our trenches and pull together for the national interest in a responsible path for decarbonisation?

Some time ago I wrote for ABC’s Environment Blog that Renewable versus nuclear is the wrong battle. With the review of Australia’s Renewable Energy Target taking up so much air time, it’s important to reflect on how far Australia has come with renewables and decarbonisation and think about where we should go next. Renewables versus nuclear may be the wrong battle, but what might the right one look like?

Much of the current commentary on the Renewable Energy Target resembles trench warfare between two fundamentally opposing sides. What we know about trench warfare is it’s a lot easier to spend all day shooting at each other if you have completely de-legitimised the opposing point of view and the evidence supporting it.

To this observer and commentator it seems that both the naysayers and boosters of renewable energy each have a lot to answer for.

“What can I do?” I have three things for you!

One of the questions I am happiest to be asked, and I am asked it a lot, is “What can I do to help?”.

Being able to answer that efficiently and effectively is one of the reasons I started this blog over three years ago.

Upon reflection, I suggest actions pretty rarely. That’s because I don’t want to waste people’s time, I don’t want to burn people out and … I want you to respond when I do ask!

Today, I have two important actions for the Australian readers and a third for all readers. Here they are.

  1. Respond to the gazettal from the Department of Industry in relation to siting a low/intermediate level waste repository

Currently, the Federal Department of Industry has released a notification of intent to open the process of siting a low/intermediate level waste repository to a nation-wide, voluntary process. This notification is open to feedback and the feedback really does matter. So, if you support the notion of a bottom-up, voluntary process where land with clear title can be brought forward for consideration in hosting this facility then please, follow the link and say so.

As I have argued this year both in on-line print and on radio, a facility such as this is both essential and safe. That being the case, I believe a bottom-up, voluntary process is absolutely the correct way to proceed. It provides the opportunity to do this right, with realistic reflections on the need for the facility, the negligible hazard it represents and the serious opportunity is may represent for a region, without the encumbrances of real-or-perceived imposition by Government.

Please consider, Australia is a nuclear nation. We have been for the long time. We have one of the world’s most important research and medical reactors. Our inability, thus far, to licence and operate a LLW/ILW repository, something that is a non-issue in about 30+ countries is a major gap in our maturity as a nuclear nation and it must be resolved. This is a strong step in the right direction so please, tell the Department. They need it on the record. This process closes on 11 November 2014, so set some time aside and make sure you do it.

2. Respond to the Energy Green Paper

The Energy Green Paper has been released and you can make a submission. Now, the paper is not a tub-thumping march toward nuclear energy in Australia. Nor is it a total cop-out on the nuclear topic, as was the case in the work done by the previous Labor Government. There are important signals of intent in relation to the removal of arbitrary legislative barriers for uranium mining and nuclear energy, and the discussion of nuclear energy is fair and shows that the informed pro-nuclear voice has been heard.

Don’t let the opportunity pass. Make a submission that supports these directions. It’s clear, to me at least, that these potential changes are more about a desire to improve regulation across the board, and less (if at all) about unshackling nuclear for its decarbonisation potential. But the result is the same.

Please, if submitting, do so in the format that is called for, and refer directly to the questions asked by the submission tool to which you wish to respond. You don’t need to respond to every question. Your responses can be short and to the point. Often that will be preferred. Make it easy for the people at the other end. Green Paper processes are not the time for essays and dissertations; they are generally not appreciated and don’t really help. Save your energy!

This process closes on 4 November 2014 so again, set some time aside and make sure it happens.

Update: Here is an example submission. Brief, clear, to the point, and the author chose not to address every question. The author is also energy writer Martin Nicholson. Feel free to use this as an idea of how to respond. It really won’t take much time.

Example response

3. Sign up to Energy for Humanity!

Many of you will have noted the arrival on the scene of Energy for Humanity. This new organisation is the first global, civil, independent organisation for the promotion of nuclear power for environmental and humanitarian reasons. It is the product of Robert Stone (Director of Pandora’s Promise) and Kirsty Gogan (CEO) with philanthropist Daniel Aegerter. I am delighted to have been invited to join the advisory committee of the organisation, a role I have accepted.

EfH in many ways represents exactly what I would have created if I thought I could, except better than I could have done it J. It’s an organisation so many of us can support with our hearts, our time and our wallets when the need arises. I had the honour of meeting Irene and Simon Aegerter yesterday. I remarked that I feel like I have a home again. I have been in the wilderness for years since I felt no option but to withdraw my support for the ENGOs that had been with me since my early twenties. No longer. EfH puts humanity back in to the middle of environmentalism, where it belongs. It has joined the dots on how we can create and preserve the greatest possible version of both Earth and humanity, with our inextricably linked futures, in the 21st century. It is eco-modernism, taking up the climate fight with the brains and compassion that environmentalism seemed unable to muster.

So, visit and sign-up to be a part of it. A few years ago now I called for pro-nuclear to stop being an opinion and start being a movement. Energy for Humanity brings that reality within reach, let’s get on board and make it happen!

One last thing: share this page! Movements need numbers on actions, and that needs networks to pull together.



“We should swap coal with nuclear”: Radio interview on 2UE with Brian Carlton

172-ROUND_BrianC_2013Please enjoy this radio interview from 26 November 2013 with Brian Carlton. Considering this was Sydney radio at drive, Brian and producers gave me a very long slot for which I am grateful and impressed. Listen, enjoy, a few of my reflections come afterwards.

What I liked, respected and appreciated about Brian and his approach (beyond the fact that he seems far better informed than average in media) is that I suspect he is less concerned about the messages from climate science than I am… but far too intelligent to pretend it isn’t real. He also represents the pragmatic point of view that something will be done about this whether we believe it or not, so we oughta make sure we do the smart thing. I believe, based on this interaction, that Brian Carlton is sincere.

I also believe there is a substantial body of Australians who fit this approximate mould. We all share this democracy and we have to get along and make good decisions together. In my experience to date, serious and altogether reasonable doubts about the solutions we are being sold are often masked in the high volume ugliness and stupidity of the denial of climate change science itself. The pragmatic, promethean environmentalists who present the face of both climate urgency, and embrace of a high energy future with nuclear, provide a critical bridge in the politics of climate change and energy.

I think, politically and environmentally speaking, Brian Carlton might sit just a little on the other side than me. What matters though is that he seems prepared to meet me in the middle.

Like what you see here? Please subscribe to the blog, Like Decarbonise SA on Facebook and follow @BenThinkClimate on Twitter. Read more about the potential for nuclear power in Australia at Zero Carbon Options

How can community support for the nuclear option be achieved? The Video

Thanks to an international collaboration with the Calgary-based and very talented Andy Jaremko, my recent presentation and slideshow from the ATSE Nuclear Power For Australia? conference has been turned into this professional and highly shareable video. I hope everyone enjoys both the content and the outstanding work Andy has done making this video. It’s a wonderful example of what we can do when we pool our talents. A big shout out to everyone who has been helping out in that way, recently and previously. These are the actions that are making pro-nuclear environmentalism a movement to be reckoned with.

On that note, ticket sales for Pandora’s Promise continue. Click the buttons to the right for sales in your capital city. Adelaide and Melbourne, I’ll see you there.

Like what you see here? Please subscribe to the blog, Like Decarbonise SA on Facebook and follow BenThinkClimate on Twitter. Read more about the potential for nuclear power in Australia at Zero Carbon Options

Is role change scarier than climate change? A web chat with Greens Leader, Senator Christine Milne

Can life-long environmentalists change position on nuclear power? Or is the fear of change too strong, such that caring people will pursue flawed policy to avoid the process?

On Monday I was an invited participant for a Google Hangout with Senator Christine Milne, Leader of the Australian Greens. My sincere thanks to Ben Cubby, Environment Editor for Fairfax, for putting my name forward for this, and to Fairfax for running a great session and making this footage available.

The chat lasted just over an hour. With assistance of reader Mark Bolton (thanks Mark), I have prepared an edit to condense the nuclear discussion. Enjoy the clip. I offer some brief reflection afterwards, and a few telling infographics.

Q: When is modern coal cleaner than modern nuclear?

A: In the weird world of international carbon markets.

This year, new Clean Development Mechanism rules were approved that allow “more efficient supercritical and ultra supercritical coal plants built in developing countries to obtain carbon credits. So theoretically, a coal-fired power plant in Europe could be “offset” by carbon credits not through renewable energy, but through another carbon-burning coal power plant in India”. (with thanks to Think Progress blog for that passage)

Meanwhile, from Australia’s Clean Energy Regulator:

That day in December: the story of nuclear prohibition in Australia

Few people either in Australia or around the world realise that nuclear power is legally prohibited in Australia, despite us being the largest exporter of uranium in the world. This is how it happened.

Climate change expert: Australia will go nuclear by 2030

A University of Adelaide scientist believes it is inevitable that Australia will become a user of the world’s most advanced nuclear power technology, if the country is serious about cutting carbon emissions.

A short Mission Statement for DSA?

While reading an amazing book, Radiation and Reason, I came across a passage that beautifully summed up the reality of the interface between the public and politics in trying to get a decent response to climate change using nuclear power.

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