The spin
flying around the decision to open up uranium exports to China, and the foreshadowing of a large
expansion/free for all in Australian uranium mining, is of Cyclone Larry
proportions. And like Larry, we might expect it bodes nothing but ill. Consider
the following questions not being asked:

With 1,500
coal, oil, and gas power stations in China, and only 45 nuclear stations, why
would we treat these sales as some sort of Chinese anti-greenhouse solution?
Especially when the Chinese are not offering any plans for replacing one form
of power with the other. Currently supplying over 62% of their power, recent
reports have China planning increases of close to 10% in annual coal extraction
over the next five years. While China plans to rapidly increase its
nuclear power supply, this will largely be in tandem with, not instead of, coal
power. Under current plans at best 5% of Chinese power will come from nuclear
plants in 2020, as opposed to 1% at present.


What is
going to happen to the waste from Australian uranium? Storing spent fuel safely
for thousands of years is a major expense. Further it transfers a very long
term cost to future generations for our energy use today. Newsweek reported in
February that China presently has no policy for dealing
with its projected increase in nuclear waste, expected to be almost 3,900 tonnes
in 2010. Will the Chinese be willing to pay enough to do this safely?
Alternatively, will Australia store the waste? Where and at what profit?

We are told
strict controls will be adhered to, but how credible is this when, on the one hand
we have an authoritarian and corrupt regime presiding over a corrupt and wild
west development at any price economy, and on the other have the government
that gave you the oversight of the Australian Wheat Board and the “I didn’t
know” ad nauseam excuses?

China is a
nuclear power with unresolved issues in the North Pacific and powerful
conflicts of interest with the United States. It also lays claim to the only
fully Chinese democracy in the world, Taiwan. Even if our Foreign Minister has
all but repudiated the ANZUS alliance with regard to Taiwan, if a nuclear exchange occurred in
the North Pacific wouldn’t the (literal) fallout worry us?

So
shouldn’t we ask – if Australian uranium is not used to manufacture weapons,
won’t it free up other Chinese uranium for the same use? This question was put
to Premier Wen at a press conference on 3 April but he astutely evaded it. Pig
Iron Bob Menzies’ provision of Australian iron ore to the Japanese war machine
got a re-run with the AWB donations to Hussein – is Yellow Cake Johnny to be the
leitmotiv of our next triumph of greed over national interest?

While
nuclear power can be seen as a partial alternative to greenhouse gas-producing
fossil fuels it is in no sense a green solution. Rather in metaphor, it’s closer
to substituting alcohol for tobacco, both are harmful, even potentially deadly,
but in different ways. From a rational, whole earth and its population, point
of view, as opposed to one seen through
the lens of profitable corporations and a single-minded determination to
maintain and extend “our way of life”, nuclear should be a last, not first,
resort. What then are the reasons for it being pushed as a first resort
solution and why? Could the answer just be money?

Overall,
stripped of its spin, the government’s policy seems driven by a view that is
about (as usual) looking after major corporations, and is in accord with its
default vision of the Australian economy – one that sees it as principally a
quarry surrounded by service industries, with a cabal of finance capital taking
profits off the top. There is nothing green or moral about this policy, cyclone
levels of spin notwithstanding.

Peter Fray

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