Time To Call Them Out

We were all recently reminded by Greens federal senator Ludlam of the dual nature of uranium: it can be made into energy or into weapons. Safeguarding Australian uranium from destructive purposes should unquestionably be a priority, but whether knowingly or through ignorance, conflating the two uses is still what it has always been: an agenda.

Rather, we can let the facts speak: civilian nuclear power is the only industry which has achieved substantial nuclear disarmament. After the Soviet Union fell, an arrangement was reached to dilute twenty thousand bombs worth of weapons-grade uranium and use it as fuel in US reactors. The Megatons to Megawatts program provided 10% of the country’s electricity for two decades – without contributing to climate change or air pollution.

Disarmament and responsible used fuel stewardship are worthy pursuits, and far from abandoning it, the nuclear industry clearly needs to be well-regulated and supported in order to achieve them. Likewise, the irresponsibly exaggerated agitation regarding “dirty bombs” is explored methodically by an actual expert in this article. Management of by-products – including the senator’s ill-defined toxicants, poisons and carcinogens – has to date been exemplary.

For anti-nuclear thought leaders such as the senator, the agenda is emotive rather than emotional. Perpetuation of the conflation of peaceful power with weapons and singular dread of “nuclear waste” crucially hinge on an absence of clear, impartial education. Experts and authorities are to be shunned and suspected. It is also an unscientific treatment of a fundamentally scientific subject: the senator proudly relies primarily on one source, the non-peer reviewed World Nuclear Industry Status Report. Moreover, it’s way past the hour to call them out for every time they neglect to credit nuclear power for its proven climate contribution.

NPPs

The senator’s position is of course immutable; an uncompromising rejection of nuclear energy, unchanged from the 1970s, is demanded by his party and his supporters. Well, most of them – if Essential Vision’s most recent poll is any indication, every fourth Green voter either supports or has no opinion on uranium exports. Twelve percent of them would like to see emissions-free nuclear energy being produced in Australia, and almost a fifth of the remaining Green voters appear unconvinced of the repeated narrative of nuclear disasters*, exceptional radiation danger, and the oversell of “100% renewable energy”. I heartily encourage these voters to come out of the closet and engage their peers and leaders on the issues. There’s nothing to fear.

 

Clarification:
Notwithstanding the perspective on non-proliferation and radiological dispersion devices provided in the linked article at Nuclear Diner, it was not this article’s intent to suggest that responsible management of used fuel from civilian power reactors provides associated safeguards against the nefarious use of unrelated radiation sources. The security and proper disposal of such materials, notably salts of radiocesium used in dignostic procedures, is a separate subject under rigorous study, and should be supported. I thank Dr Glenn Carlson for his assistance here.

Point One-Oh

Here is one of my favourite screen grabs from Pandora’s Promise: Mr Stone standing at the foot of a used nuclear fuel dry cask with his dosimeter reading 0.10 μSv/hour.

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Australian average natural background radiation is generally higher than this.

I visited the nearby historic Jupiter Creek gold diggings with my children, and packed my own dosimeter. The major hazard – falling into a mine shaft – was well mitigated by sturdy fencing.

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At the lip of the 1888 Costean shaft.

Without spectroscopy facilities, I must assume radon in the area is sufficiently elevated due to the deep shafts and disturbed rock. The point is that the diggings will not be closed to the public on account of radiation hazard. Therefore, when a potentially transformative economic opportunity – the responsible stewardship of foreign used nuclear fuel for use in efficient next-generation fast reactors – is opposed by traditional nuclear rejectors, what is the actual objection? What is their justification for seeking to lead the public against their perception of the hazard, no matter the magnitude of forsaken opportunity?

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Artist’s rendition of secure interim dry cask storage from the proposal.

Obviously, such a facility, once established, would not be freely accessible like the old mine is, and would be operated within strict guidelines under the authority of our capable regulators. (If tours, including school children, can be arranged, then so much the better.) Is this due to greater danger? No, of course not. But just like fences around old mine shafts, we know how to mitigate the hazard presented by the irradiated material within the thick concrete-and-steel casks. We know how to manage this “nuclear waste” while it waits to be recycled for clean, emissions-free energy.

We know, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

 

 

My Secret Valley

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The house of my childhood. Half hand-built of riverstone by my father. Some trees are gone, while many have grown. It sits at the foot of a hillside property in a quiet valley in the Adelaide Hills, merely a few minutes drive from our major highway.

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One of the myriad paths I would set out on, filling my young days with exploration. It parallels a creek. The road is seldom used. Trees, clean air and calm.

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The creek is clear, flowing sedately. Insects flit across and above its surface.

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The water sustains a sheltered lushness.

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There are open, shallow, undisturbed and accessible spots like this all along this creek. This was a ford but local vehicles use a bridge further up now.

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Tadpoles. Frogs are always a good sign. This creek had trouble with effluent some years ago but I think residents are now taking great care.

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Back across the road, in what might have originally been a quarry. A short trail ramps upwards to meet nearly impenetrable scrub and the back of the property at which I lived. I climbed this countless times.

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The discreet power supply infrastructure. The valley regards stobbie poles merely as something to grow on.

My childhood was intertwined with the ecosystems of this valley. Countless adventures and day-long exploration let me experience it all – and it, me. It instilled in me a preconscious environmental awareness, which now as an adult and a father is balanced by an appreciation of the structure and services of the advanced industrial society that enabled my idyllic youth. It’s from this perspective that I embraced Ecomodernism when I found it.

The concern that this new environmentalism will dictate a wholesale movement of people to cities, divorced from nature, borders on disingenuous; there is no prescription in clearly stating the demonstrated ecological benefits of concentrated populations which save nature by default. There is no sharp city-nature delineation, and there will always – increasingly – be secret valleys which remain uneconomical for development yet valuable to conservation efforts.

If, after these years of study and consultation, I felt that any of this could be endangered by the potential expansion of the nuclear energy fuel cycle in South Australia, I wouldn’t be an advocate. The opportunities before us offer an assurance of a broader horizon for my children, while I make every effort now to provide to them as much of the unrestricted nature as I took for granted. And with the uncertainties of climate disruption we will need concentrated, plentiful energy with which to reliably ensure the needs of this state are covered: water, air conditioning, clean transportation, and responsible usage of our natural resources.

I’ll gladly consider alternatives to Ecomodernism, especially ones which republish every criticism. Similarly, I’ll take claims about alternative energy sources seriously, but I’ll demand the same high standard of evidence that modern nuclear energy meets. My childhood was ineffably fortunate, but even in such a location would have instead been hardship without the underpinnings of reliable energy. Is it up to us to improve upon that, or disrupt it? I choose the former and reject the latter.