The commentariat is convinced that John Howard’s campaign around
nuclear energy is, in large part, another wedge issue in the making.
Yet, as Crikey has discussed previously, there has been a world-wide PR
campaign by nuclear industry front organisations to position the
industry as an answer to global warming. Like other conservative
politicians around the world – Bush and Blair in particular – John
Howard is merely picking up on the campaign to do what he’d probably
want to do anyway. No doubt there is a bit of a hope that it might also
be a wedge issue although the the recent experience of the leftist
think tank, The Australia Institute, and the environmental group,
Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), suggest the issue has some reverse
swing attached to it.

The Australia
Institute (TAI) put out a media release and report on Tuesday this week
canvassing options for possible nuclear power station sites. No doubt TAI was
being both a tad ironic, and demonstrating yet again, that it’s a bit faster off
the mark than the ALP in seizing progressive ideas and working out how to
popularise them. But yesterday the TAI was forced to put out a clarification. In
an email to members TAI Executive Director, Clive Hamilton, said:

“Some of our
members have expressed concern about TAI’s recent intervention in the debate
about nuclear energy, so I would like to take the opportunity to clarify our
position. We are not advocating nuclear power … However, the nuclear power
issue has been put firmly on the agenda by the Prime Minister. We don’t believe
the Government wants an honest debate about nuclear power, one in which the
reality of power plants in particular locations is considered. In naming
potential sites our objective was to point out that we cannot have a nuclear
industry without locating nuclear power plants somewhere”.

The WWF, on the other
hand, has seemed to be embracing nuclear energy as a possible answer to global
warming, thanks to a front page article in the Oz and some stirring by other
green groups pointing out that WWF head, Greg Bourne, has a background in the oil
industry.

The reactions to
both organisations demonstrate – if it ever needed to be demonstrated again –
the humourlessness and tin ears of many environmental groups and their members.
But
humourless or tin-eared, the irony is that TAI has identified (and the ALP has
followed) one of the great scare campaigns of the next decade – the risk that
you might get a nuclear power plant near you some time soon. Moreover, with
successive governments’ neglect of scientific and technical education, it might
even be staffed by guest workers from India, the former Soviet republics plus
the odd group of Brits, French and Yanks and anyone else with experience,
including possibly even refugees from Iran.

The scare campaign
might get even better when someone takes the time to look at what is set out in the existing
legislation governing matters nuclear. It’s not your state or local
government but the Feds who would decide where and how it goes (a point I must
confess I was unaware of until Graham Morris kindly brought it to my attention
when we were both at a seminar in Melbourne last year).

So, if the greens
and the progressives can’t even discuss the issue without causing controversy,
roll on the next election. No more yellow or red arrows darting towards Australia
from Asia but, instead, lots of little maps with mushroom clouds marking
potential sites. That would make the wedge the mother of all
wedgies.

Peter Fray

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