Howard government confirms "secret nuclear power committee"

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

An internal government committee has been created to look at Australia's nuclear energy role. The Federal Government has admitted it has set up a "secret committee" to examine the economics and science of nuclear power. During a Senate estimates committee, the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet's deputy secretary, Duncan Lewis confirmed that the committee had been formed following statements by US President George W Bush to create a global nuclear energy partnership. He told the Senate estimates that the committee would effectively try to develop an Australian perspective on the American proposal.

Labor Opposition environment spokesman, Anthony Albanese, says the information has not been made public because of the sensitivity of the issue. "This hasn't been announced, the work's been done behind-the-scenes because the Government knows that this is indeed a very dangerous path for Australia to go on," he said.

Greens Senator Christine Milne said that the establishment of a secret committee to look at nuclear power was deeply troubling: "Prime Minister John Howard says he wants a full public debate on whether Australia should adopt nuclear power, yet his government has set up a secret committee to examine the matter," Senator Milne said.

"The latest evidence about climate change supports the Greens' position that nuclear power is no solution to climate change, as the government claims. As well as being dangerous it is too slow to mobilise," Senator Milne said in a media release.

Democrats Leader Lyn Allison says it is extraordinary that the Government did not make the details of the committee public. "It's very clear... that we're looking here at a very secret, narrow and possibly a biased inquiry," she said. "If that's where it is going, in fact we'll be moving as soon as we can to establish a Senate inquiry into this, we think it needs to be open, it needs to be public." Senator Allison said in a media release that Howard's push for nuclear power "is greed and glow in the dark politics..."

"The Government has no plan for power generation into the future that doesn't add to greenhouse emissions or produce intractable waste. The enrichment process is energy-intensive and Australia is already the world's highest per capita greenhouse gas emitter. We cannot afford another energy guzzling industry, especially when this government has abandoned renewable energy," she said. "Enriching uranium concentrates the isotopes making the uranium more hazardous, more polluting, and makes Australia a greater target for nuclear terrorism."

Senator Milne said on the Democrats website: "Australians want leadership on this issue, not knee jerk reactions to what George Bush thinks is a good idea. They want a debate that isn't set up to merely justify selling enriched uranium and nuclear power."

Anthony Albanese says John Howard's push for a nuclear energy debate would become "Australia's nightmare." Mr Albanese said Mr Howard's views were retrospective and not in Australia's best interests: "This is classic John Howard whether it be the GST, whether it be the extreme industrial relations agenda, or whether it be this nuclear fantasy which will become Australia's nightmare – John Howard always returns to the past," Mr Albanese said in a News Limited article.

"For John Howard to say that there hasn't been a debate on nuclear energy would suggest that he went to sleep in the 50s and he's just woken up." Mr Albanese said the dangers and costs of nuclear energy outweighed the energy benefits. "The problems of cost, safety, waste disposals and nuclear proliferation in the climate of terrorism are more acute today than they've ever been."

Nuclear power sites for east coast?

Meanwhile a new study by the Australia Institute has identified several areas on Australia's east coast, where nuclear power plants could be built if the Howard Government decide to take the nuclear energy path. The Australia Institute say they have consulted experts who say that the plant will need to be located on the coast, near transmission lines and be near a major centre with good rail and port access.

The institute's Dr Clive Hamilton said the area south of Wollongong, the central coast of New South Wales, the Sunshine Coast and other areas in Queensland and Victoria would be ideal. "You can't have a nuclear industry without specifying where the nuclear power plants are likely to be," he said. "We're really taking up the Prime Minister's challenge to have a debate about nuclear power in Australia. We want to make it an honest debate and to start talking about where you would put the nuclear power plants if they were to be built."

Dr Hamilton suggests the nuclear debate barely touched the surface. "Wherever a nuclear power plant is built in Australia, some people aren't going to like it, that's just an inevitability," he said. "I think if we're going to have a serious nuclear debate rather than just a false debate then we need to start to talk about the reality of building nuclear power plants which, in the end, comes down to location."


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This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.