The world may be grappling with the problem of how to safely bury nuclear waste, but the PM has been getting in plenty of practice burying the nuclear issue during the break.

The final report of the uranium mining, processing and nuclear energy review was handed down on that most auspicious of big news days, 28 December.

The timing is interesting. Up until this point the PM’s been happy to discuss the issue quite openly. That’s served a few purposes – to paint the government as taking some form of action on the climate change issue, to promote infighting among political opponents, and to placate the big diggers in the resources sector.

So having gone on record as being avowedly pro-nuclear and chosen a task force membership that was highly likely to deliver the answer the PM was looking for anyway, why let it sink in the news story Bermuda triangle of the Christmas to New Year gap?

When the government seeks to justify future decisions relating to nuclear power, Ziggy’s report will be the gospel from which it reads – the nuts and bolts of the case in the affirmative. As such, the less fanfare and thus controversy generated by its release the better, in terms of its perceived legitimacy. When the days of sun, sandcastles and barbecues come to an end and our traffic-choked thoroughfares once again deliver a captive audience to breakfast radio, nuclear critics will have to work all the harder to raise old news.

Overall, it will be interesting to see how the issue plays out in an election year. The resurgence of nuclear power has been as rapid as the political development of the climate change issue that ultimately facilitated it. Yet the resurgence remains a fragile one. The cloak and dagger surrounding the recent trucking of nuclear waste from the Lucas Heights facility in Sydney illustrates the degree of latent public sensitivity surrounding the issue.

The international situation doesn’t much help in terms of perceptions – last year was the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, and there is an awful lot of archival footage; Britain and the US, among others, are still struggling to deal with seemingly intractable waste management issues; and the current Iranian impasse supports the oft forwarded argument of an inextricable nexus between power generation and weapons proliferation.

At home, the recent news that the rocket launcher columns didn’t tally during army stocktake also hasn’t helped matters, since the launchers in question were to be used in a plan to attack the Lucas Heights facility.

Thus for a government using the nuclear option as much as a political tool as a matter of practical policy, it’s important to know when to proclaim loudly and when to keep the volume low.

Peter Fray

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