Dr Dennis Jensen ended a short and illustrious career with the liberal party this week when he was dumped by WA preselectors for the safe liberal seat of Tangney. The former physicist and defence analyst is best known for being a vociferous advocate for the Joint Strike Fighter project; and as the backbencher who has claimed “credit” for kick-starting the nuclear debate in Australia last year.

For those of us who witnessed the spectacle of Dr Jensen speaking at the Australia’s Future Energy Debate conference in Melbourne on Wednesday, there’s some irony in the fact that the man who came across as by far the most zealous nuclear ideologue at an otherwise well balanced Energy talk-fest is having his political life cut short.

And that’s saying something, considering other speakers on the day included ANSTO CEO Ian Smith and anti nuclear ALP MP Anthony Albanese. Ian Smith came across as positively sensible alongside Jensen, admitting that nuclear can only ever result in minimal greenhouse emission reductions. Albanese advocated the fast roll out of carbon trading schemes nationally, and waved the flag for solar, proclaiming “The sun is shining on a solar industry”.

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Given Dennis Jensen must have already known he’d been dumped by WA party colleagues, perhaps his performance on the podium was akin to a job interview, with ANSTO’s CEO just meters away.

He headed his tirade with a claim that an expanded nuclear industry in Australia is now “inevitable”. He then proceeded to attempt to malign wind and solar.

Solar is deeply “problematic”, said Jensen. “Not enough power is generated… They are only around about 20% efficient… Solar cells rely on the use of silicon but there is not enough silicon.” Jensen neglected to mention the recent Sliver technology developed at ANU that reduces the costs of using silicon by up to ten times.

On wind he asked “How do we know we will have enough wind? How do we store the wind power? Wind turbines are environmentally unfriendly and unattractive”.

Clearly his rather more sophisticated audience understood these renewable energy options a little better, as sniggers were heard breaking out across the conference floor. Unfazed, Dr Jensen ended his tirade with the claim that while coal causes 400 deaths per year, nuclear only causes 30 deaths per terawatt year.

Perhaps he should have also tried his oft repeated line about your partner in bed at night giving you twice the radioactive dose you would get from background radiation from a nuclear power station…

But the big question now is what next for Dr Jensen? Could the nuclear industry afford to pay him to roll out these kind of views on a regular basis?

James Norman is a Melbourne journalist, author and Greenpeace Australia Pacific Communications officer. Thanks also to Helen Oakey.

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