Other than paid columnists, who has had the most opinion pieces published in Australian newspapers in the past 40 years?

Retired academic and strident nuclear advocate Professor Leslie Kemeny wins by a country mile. And good luck to him — he’s nothing if not persistent. A rough calculation suggests he has had more than 200 opinion pieces published, dating from the mid-1970s if not earlier.

The remarkable thing is that it’s pretty much the same opinion piece every time. His standard article:

  •  nearly always contains an appeal to “informed realism” as a reason to expand the nuclear industry;
  •  often refers to unnamed “international experts” who are purportedly “appalled” or “bemused” at Australia’s failure to expand the nuclear industry (recently, “the world” was “bemused” that Australia had not yet developed nuclear power);
  •  there’s usually a reference to the “pseudo-science” or “coercive utopianism” or “hidden socio-political agendas” of critics of the nuclear industry or supporters of “renewable energy” (a term that always appears in quotation marks for reasons unexplained); and
  •  expansion of the nuclear industry is often presented as being “inevitable” (though Kemeny of all people would know otherwise — he has witnessed the demise of plans in Australia for nuclear power, uranium enrichment, an international nuclear repository, etc.).

Kemeny is fond of sweeping claims, including many that do not stand to scrutiny. For example, he could not possibly produce evidence to support his claim that: “Most energy experts now believe that the only effective solution to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change is the global acceptance of nuclear power technology.”

Nuclear expansion is always portrayed as a pathway to wealth and prosperity and these assertions are unencumbered by any connection with reality. Kemeny writes that exporting uranium without first enriching it “is just plain dumb”, yet the Switkowski Report, BHP Billiton and others have argued that an enrichment industry in Australia would be an economic white elephant.

There are numerous factual errors; for example, a recent opinion piece claims that “about 60” countries have embraced nuclear power, nearly twice the true figure. Kemeny claims that the Chernobyl death toll is 56, but a 2005 study by the World Health Organisation and the International Atomic Energy Agency estimated 9000 deaths and other scientific studies estimate a death toll in the tens of thousands.

Many of Kemeny’s “facts” could be described as outliers; for example, he gives a figure of five kilograms of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour of nuclear power, yet the 2006 Switkowski Report put the figure 12 times higher. Some of his “facts” are, on closer inspection, circular and self-evident; for example, he seems impressed that every country importing uranium from Australia operates nuclear power reactors. Every last one of them — whoever would’ve thunk it?

Twenty-five years ago, Kemeny had already published dozens and dozens of newspaper articles, and they were subjected to critical analysis by Professor Brian Martin, who was then teaching in the science faculty at the Australian National University.

Martin concluded his analysis: “In quite a number of ways, Kemeny in his public advocacy of nuclear power does not fit the image of the objective, trustworthy expert: he addresses only some of the issues and seldom replies to anti-nuclear arguments; he presents large amounts of irrelevant material; he is subject to inaccuracy, and on occasion fails to acknowledge his mistakes; he continually denigrates opponents; he speaks from a position representing a potential conflict of interest; and his expertise is mostly irrelevant to the issues, or of doubtful quality.”

Kemeny threatened to sue and claimed that legal counsel had suggested a five-figure sum for damages. There was no apology and no legal action.

Kemeny sometimes lets fly with a conspiracy theory (it’s much the same conspiracy theory as Ian Plimer’s — two men of the same generation and social cohort). Kemeny writes: “Radical green activism and global terrorism can form dangerous, even deadly, alliances. The ‘coercive utopianism’ of radical greens, their avid desire for media publicity and their hidden socio-political agendas can produce societal outcomes that are sometimes violent and ugly.”

Where he gets such barking-mad ideas from is anyone’s guess. Political demagogue Lyndon LaRouche makes similar comments: “This utterly depraved, dionysian cult-formation found its echoed, more violent expression in late 1980s Germany, where the anti-nuclear, fascist rioting reached near to the level of outright civil war …”

Kemeny believes the anti-nuclear movement is “supported by immense funds from affluent right-wing interests” and that it should be “recognised for what it is — anti-working-class activism aimed at maintaining the last “status quo” for a fortunate minority”.

Again, there are echoes of comments made by LaRouche about the “anti-blue collar, anti-industrial, anti-nuclear power, and green traits of that increasingly influential, ‘white-collar baby-boomer’ portion of the population”.

Which leads to the question — have Kemeny and LaRouche been seen in the same room together? If so, it proves they are in cahoots. If not, they’re likely one and the same person. Now there’s a conspiracy theory!

Clive Hamilton’s comments in Crikey about Ian Plimer also seem apt for Kemeny: “The emergence of the environment and peace movements in the 1970s challenged the benefits of nuclear technology, the power of the military-industrial complex and the claims of science to neutrality and benevolence … The criticism of the hitherto unquestioned place of science and technology destabilised the power and privilege of the scientific elite.”

Hence a cohort of disgruntled, elderly, and sometimes conspiratorial nuclear scientists.