Saturday, October 20, 2007

One question for Martin Ferguson

I read in The Melbourne Times last week about Martin Ferguson's aggressive tactics at a recent Darebin climate change forum, and his disparagement of the low numbers attending. It's a pity, because I don't mind the former unionist and political street-fighter who's always up for a rhetorical punch-up. Unfortunately, on the issue of uranium and climate change, Martin Ferguson is just plain wrong.

Despite unconvincing assertions to the contrary, he's long been pro-nuclear, and is even singled out for special mention by Ian Lowe in Reaction Time, the latest Quarterly Essay, which thoroughly debunks nuclear energy as a solution to future energy demands and climate change (see especially page 67).

I particularly remember a forum on uranium mining held at Northcote Town Hall back in June 2006, where Ferguson's main line seemed to be that, regardless of any change to Labor's three-mines policy (now history following the ditching of this limit at the ALP's national conference in April this year), Australia would be the biggest producer/exporter of uranium by 2013 anyway. As if that were somehow a licence to throw out consideration of a policy change to phase out uranium mining and make the world a safer place.

Some of my recent reading has now coalesced around an ALP policy that would eschew the use of nuclear power in Australia, but allow nuclear risk to be exported around the world to countries subject to insufficient nuclear safeguards, accidents, terrorism and the uncertainties of their own geo-political squabbles.

First, there's the eloquent science of Reaction Time making plain the risks of a nuclear 'solution' to climate change that is uneconomic, slow and dangerous in contrast with a diversity of safe, renewable and timely alternatives. Unlike Martin Ferguson, Lowe dodges none of the issues and, as one who supported nuclear energy early in his scientific career, is prepared to take the nuclear lobby's best shot and show it falling drastically short.

Next is Cormac McCarthy's 2007 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Road. Anyone who has not read the book might question the inclusion of fiction to support the anti-nuclear cause. But the novel's imagining of a post-apocalypse America shows the truth of a suggested but unacknowledged nuclear war, drawn out over the alternately debased and heroic lives of the last survivors of an irrevocably damaged planet. McCarthy's profound imagining should be shared by everyone who makes decisions that literally affect the fate of the earth.

Bringing McCarthy's imagining firmly back to reality, however, is a real-life scenario of how the nuclear dominoes might actually begin to fall.

The ABC News website reports that four senior officers have recently been fired from the USAF following the prohibited transfer in August of six nuclear-armed cruise missiles on the wing of a B-52 bomber flying between bases across America.

No doubt each of the missiles far exceeded the explosive power of the A-bombs detonated at Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of the Second World War, yet the missiles were flown over America's domestic rooftops uncontrolled by clearly fallible procedures. More alarming still was the news that permission to handle nuclear weapons was withdrawn from 65 USAF personnel. How many actually have permission, and what is shown by the scope for error that entails?

Yet Martin Ferguson thinks it's OK to export uranium that will be enriched by the same processes that can be carried further to produce weapons-grade material. It's OK to provide uranium for energy purposes that might allow the diversion of part of a country's total stores of the radioactive ore to weapons programs. It's OK to poison the world with nuclear waste that, once released, can't be put back in its atomic bottle. Martin, as one of your Batman constituents, I'm asking you why it's OK.

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Comments are most welcome on any of the posts at Northcote Independent. I encourage feedback - positive or negative. Feel free to disagree, but remember that posts are moderated to ensure they are on the topic and in the spirit of open debate, as outlined in my editorial policy.