Sunday, May 14, 2006

We need a real nuclear debate

Recent talk of a “debate on nuclear energy” by John Howard and Peter Costello and others raise the issue about how our democracy should handle this topic. In reality, there really is no debate. The public sees and hears a variety of opinions expressed by politicians and think tank consultants aired in newspapers and on television. Views can also be expressed via editorial comment (Age 30/4/06).

However, this is no debate. The dialogue is edited and controlled by media interests and public relations consultancies. The public can engage in a limited way by writing letter to editors or to politicians. The former has a slim chance of being published and the latter is just put onto a pile.

I
n the run up to the next election, the nuclear power issue may get some more airtime. However, if both the Coalition and the ALP under Kim Beasley have similar policies, Australian’s who don’t wish to embrace nuclear power, nuclear waste and expanded uranium exports can only express their views at the ballot box by voting for a minor party such as the Greens, who oppose the development and spread of nuclear power.

Unfortunately, as the Greens are unlikely to win government, this means Australia will be stuck with policies that may support the development of nuclear power, the storage of toxic nuclear waste, increased uranium exports, and anything else the major parties deem appropriate and curiously agree upon.

We need to have a genuine debate on whether Australia should embrace nuclear power or not. We need a debate in the federal parliament so we can see and hear what our politicians’ views are and what they are based on. We also need to see how they are representing their constituent’s views.

We need an independent scientific and social enquiry to assess the pros and cons of nuclear power based on factual information, not just opinions, which the Australian public can read and assess. This enquiry should take public submissions.

Then we need a referendum that asks Australian voters whether they support increased uranium exports, investment in nuclear power over renewable energy technologies, and whether they agree with Australian becoming a dumping ground for other country’s nuclear waste.

We need a proper public debate that is well informed, followed by genuine democratic process so that we all have input in determining how our energy needs are met for the future.

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6 comments:

Rod Adams said...

Peter:

The world is no longer controlled by the media companies that you describe that limit debate and filter letters to the editor. Your blog and thousands like it show how our new environment can enable real conversations about even the most controversial subjects.

Just think, you made a comment in Australia a few hours ago. I am sitting in my spare room office in Annapolis, MD and I "heard" your suggestion for a debate on a very important topic and am now responding.

I know that nuclear fission power has a huge role to play in current and future energy decisions. As a former nuclear submarine engineer officer, I can testify that fission power plants can do amazing things like produce power, heat, light, and even an atmosphere for people in a sealed environment that is moving around the ocean for months at a time.

Not only that, but the incredible energy density of uranium (thank you Australia) makes it possible for a very small quantity of material (roughly the mass of my slightly overweight body) to provide the necessary power to push a 9000 ton submarine for about 15 years!

I co-host and produce The Atomic Show podcast on The Podcast Network, a system that is owned by an Australian entrepreneur named Cameron Reilly. (One more part of the magic called the Internet.)

It would be a lot of fun to have you on the show as a guest so that we could hold our own little civil debate. I promise that my co-host and I do not shout anyone down and do not engage in the kinds of attention grabbing behaviors used by the traditional media.

I also write a blog called the Atomic Insights Blog and intend to link to your post calling for a debate. I hope that we can engage and educate each other about our concerns and share our accumulated knowledge so that people who read our blogs can become better informed and make their own decisions.

Nice talking with you.

Peter Campbell said...

Rod, thanks for your comment. Yes, I agree that blogs are a promising alternative to the mainstream media. My posting focuses on the problems with politicians pushing agendas with no meaningful consultation with the public, and pretending that this is somehow "democratic". It is a big issue here in Australia - the Howard government chose to wage war on Iraq on a false premise (WMD) - then changed its story "to supporting democracy" when it was proven there was no WMD.

My concerns with nuclear power are that there is no safe inter-generational means of disposing of the waste, the risks of catastrophe are high (like Chernobyl), and that abundant supplies of uranium can be quite easily diverted into weapons.

In addition, our consumption of electricity is very high and needs to be reduced - there is not nearly enough action on this (except for Europe).

Our house produces about 70% of the power we consume with panels on the roof. If all homes did this then we could drastically reduce power consumption and avoid using either fossil fuel or nuclear power stations.

Details are at Our House

I would be happy to talk on your show on this topic. Thanks for the invitation.

Rod Adams said...

Peter:

Congratulations on your solar home. Unfortunately, such a solution for my house would require some rather drastic tree trimming. In addition, there is no south facing section of my roof, the two angled sides face east and west. That significantly reduces the overall amount of solar insolation available for me to collect.

I have run some numbers and found that the additional heat burden on the house from the loss of the shade could cause the home to either require more air conditioning in the summer or be far less comfortable.

Complex issues like home energy consumption often involve trade offs.

My blog has contact information for me. Please get in touch so that we can arrange a time and date for the interview.

John K. Sutherland said...

Peter, Yes, we need a real nuclear debate. Rod is part of it and so am I. I have articles of a nuclear interest in Energypulse.net at the locations below:
http://www.energypulse.net/centers/author.cfm?at_id=283
http://www.energycentral.com/centers/knowledge/whitepapers/by_publisher.cfm?pid=23371
The main part of the site allows those both pro-nuclear and anti- to question my views and show that I am wrong. An informative site.

John K. Sutherland.

Dean said...

I live on the North bank of the Yukon River, in a town called Galena Alaska. We live off any road or power grid system. I would welcome seeing a debate on how we we can keep our home fires buring at -70 below weather with heating fuel prices at $3.71 cents and gasoline at $4.20 cents now.

Rod Adams said...

Dean:

You mean that the sun and wind are not sufficient for winter power in Alaska? I am shocked, shocked to learn of such a limitation.