The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation has been caught out trying to manipulate a web poll on its own web site.

On Friday Crikey noted that ANSTO had run a poll on its web page for the question “Should nuclear power be a part of Australia’s future energy mix?” which that day had votes “against it” running way ahead of support.

Thursday and Friday saw a big spike in traffic to the site, perhaps because nuclear opponents were drawing attention to it and urging people to vote. “I am against it” went further ahead.

But sometime over the weekend, someone at ANSTO changed the poll, removing “I’m against it” and replacing it with “It is one of the options”.

This prompted a flurry of emails to ANSTO this morning from enraged nuclear opponents angry that the outcome of the poll had been entirely reversed.

Crikey asked ANSTO’s media manager Sharon Kelly what had happened. According to Kelly, ANSTO’s web manager Peter Hindmarsh amended the poll without authorisation over the weekend because of the “Against It” vote spike. It has now been altered again, with “It is one of the options” replaced with “No”, rather closer in meaning to the original option, with an explanation of why it was changed.

Prior to Crikey’s call, Hindmarsh had responded to emails of protest about the change by saying he would “manually add your vote to the existing ‘no’ count, when I summarise at the end of the month.”

“This is a small but perfect example of the dishonesty that surrounds the ‘debate’ about nuclear power in Australia,” Greens spokesman on nuclear issues Senator Scott Ludlam said.

“ANSTO ran a popularity poll on their website, which they lost comprehensively. Instead of learning something, they decided to turn a ‘no’ into a ‘yes’. What a perfect symbol for the way the larger nuclear power debate is being run in Australia.”

I’m relatively agnostic about nuclear power. Ross Garnaut summed the issue up best in the Climate Change review last year when he noted that, given we don’t have a nuclear industry and it’ll take a massive investment in infrastructure and skills to get one going, we should concentrate on areas like renewables where we already have a developing industry. But there’s also a disingenuousness about many nuclear advocates on the issue. It’s ironic that many of them hail from the Right, which normally harbours deep suspicions of big government and supports privatisation of public utilities, despite the fact that nuclear power would require massive public funding and the re-entry of government into power generation, even when holdouts like the NSW and Queensland Governments are looking to exit the industry.

And dodgy web polls don’t exactly aid their cause.