Bob Carr – Nobody’s really interested in the nuclear option

Bob Carr, 7 Oct 2021, The Australian,
Australians may be open to nuclear power, as evidenced by Tuesday’s Newspoll. But nuclear is not open for them.
Globally the industry is moribund. “The dream that failed,” says The Economist magazine, concluding it needs government money for life support.
In 2010 one enthusiast predicted within 10 years fourth-generation reactors and small modular reactors would be commonplace, including in Australia. None exists, here or abroad.
More damning, the industry lacks a single example in a Western country of a new power plant being built remotely on time and budget. According to the World Nuclear Industry Status Report, 94 plants were to come on line across the next decade but 98 get decommissioned. Yet 48 of those to be built are to be in China. Remove them and that leaves 46 coming online and – stubborn fact – 98 being decommissioned in the rest of the world.
In 2019, for the first time, renewable sources, excluding hydro, generated more power than nuclear.
In Australia nuclear attracts not the remotest investor interest. If nuclear were an option a merchant bank or superannuation fund might be manoeuvring to own the space. They might have formed a consortium with a miner and a construction company or two, with a brace of lobbyists at work. It’s not happening.
The contrast with the surge to renewables is stark. Andrew Forrest and Mike Cannon-Brookes are prepared to put their own funds into a vast solar farm in the Northern Territory and Forrest to make a huge commitment to hydrogen. There is no single investor with a comparable zest for nuclear power, either high net worth individual or institution.
Ziggy Switkowski produced a report on nuclear power for John Howard in 2007. It was to be the foundation of Australian nuclear power, a decades-long dream. Even with a partiality for the industry Switkowski could only conclude nuclear power, at double the price of coal and gas, would require a price on carbon – and even additional government subsidy.
Three prime ministers – Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull, Scott Morrison – have not reopened the debate. For his part, by becoming chair of Crown in August, Switkowski seems to demonstrate more confidence in gaming-based tourism than the commercial potential of the nuclear fuel cycle.
I argued a pro-nuclear case within the Labor Party and scorned what I saw as the left phobia against the nuclear option. Like British scientist James Lovelock I thought coal more destructive and nuclear the bridge to the era of renewables.
But it’s now clear nuclear is lumbering, subject to breakdowns and cripplingly expensive. New renewable sources such as wind and solar increased by 184 gigawatts last year while nuclear grew by only 2.4GW. The number of active reactors has barely changed since the 1980s.
France was the poster child. But no new reactor has been connected to its grid since 1999. It closed its pressurised water reactor in 1991 and followed by terminating two fast breeder reactors and a small heavy-water reactor.
Poor reliability plagues the fleet. On any day at least four plants are at zero output because of technical failures. The average per plant is a month per year at zero production. But investment in upgrades faces competition from renewables and tough new EU energy efficiency standards.
Not even Scandinavian efficiency can provide a happy pro-nuclear narrative. Finland became the first country in western Europe to order a new nuclear reactor since 1988 but it’s running 13 years late, plagued with management and quality control issues, bankruptcies and investor withdrawals.
Who could have the faintest confidence that Australia could throw up a nuclear reactor with more panache – exceeding with efficiency not only the Finns but the British with their delays and cost blowouts and the Americans with their construction disasters in Georgia and South Carolina?
Doing big complex projects is hardly an Australian competitive edge. Think of the 50 years opining about a second Sydney airport, or – killer fact – the fumbling with submarines.
Where is the shire council putting up its hand to host a nuclear power plant? Harder to find than a sponsor for a high-temperature toxic waste incinerator.
Nobody in the Hunter Valley has urged nuclear for the Liddell site, even on the footprint of this coal-fired power plant scheduled to close. And not even invoking the prospect of a small modular reactor that 10 years back was the vanguard of the nuclear renaissance. About to be planted across the Indonesian archipelago and the rest of Asia, we were promised. Today they exist only on the Rolls-Royce drawing boards they have adorned since the 1970s.
Nuclear enthusiasts and fellow travellers like me once said of solar it’s the greatest future source of power and always will be. Solar investors may aim that rhetorical dart at small modular reactors and, indeed, the nuclear sector as its energy share, for years stagnant, proceeds to go backwards.
Bob Carr is the longest-serving premier of NSW and a former Australian foreign minister.

Nuclear submarines for Australia?

FoE petition to stop nuclear subs

IPAN petition


AUKUS nuclear subs and Tomahawk cruise missiles in a ‘Defence Federal Election’ (David Noonan, Sept. 2021)


Nuclear good, batteries bad: Morrison’s subs deal is thin edge of wedge

Jim Green, RenewEconomy, 17 September 2021

In 2019, a federal government-dominated parliamentary committee released a report on nuclear power titled ‘Not without your approval’. The report emphasised that nuclear power would not be pursued without community support.

But now, the government has secretly decided that Australia will acquire nuclear submarines, with or without your approval, and any consultation will be tokenistic. This is the DAD ‒ Decide, Announce, Defend ‒ approach which is the antithesis of good government. We only need to go back to the 2016 decision to purchase French-designed submarines to see how poor decisions can be made even when tens of billions of taxpayers’ dollars are at stake.

Rex Patrick ‒ a South Australian Senator and former submariner ‒ said: “The main question about @ScottMorrisonMP’s nuclear sub announcement is simple. Why should we expect his Ministers and Defence bureaucrats to do any better with this deal than their previous procurement disasters? No grounds for confidence there.”

Despite the government’s secrecy and obstinacy, the plan for nuclear subs could easily collapse for any number of reasons including economics (eight nuclear subs will cost north of A$100 billion, and decommissioning and waste management could cost just as much), the availability of comparable or superior options, and public and political opposition.


Because the internal discussions and international negotiations have been secret, we have no way of knowing whether alternative options have been properly considered. These include the options of building fewer submarines (or none at all), and advanced lithium-ion battery technology.

The Coalition’s attitude towards batteries for energy storage has been hostile and ignorant, and there’s no reason to believe that consideration of advanced battery submarine propulsion has been any more adult.

A majority of Coalition MPs support repeal of federal laws banning nuclear power even though it is vastly more expensive than renewables ‒ and significantly more expensive than renewables plus backup stored power.

Put this all together in the mind of Defence Minister Peter Dutton and it’s a culture war: nuclear good, batteries bad, own the libs.

Simplistic, ideological thinking appears to go beyond the Coalition culture warriors. I’m told by the author of a book on Australian submarines that “there’s a phenomenon I refer to as “nuclear zealotry” which seems to be alive and well in parts of the Australian submarine community”.

Nuclear power

All countries operating nuclear submarines ‒ the five ‘declared’ weapons states plus India ‒ have both nuclear power and weapons. Then Defence Minister Christopher Pyne noted that in 2019 that Australia would be the only country in the world with nuclear submarines but no domestic nuclear industry to back them up. Hence the earlier preference for non-nuclear subs.

Building a domestic nuclear industry to support nuclear submarines would be astronomically expensive and problematic in other respects.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison insisted that the nuclear submarine proposal won’t translate into a push for nuclear power plants in Australia. But within hours of the AUKUS announcement, the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) called for the repeal of laws banning nuclear power in Australia ‒ laws which might need to be amended to accommodate nuclear subs.

“Now that Australia is acquiring nuclear submarines which use small reactors, there is no reason why Australia should not be considering SMRs [small modular reactors] for civilian use,” the MCA said, adding that SMRs “will provide some of the cheapest zero emission 24/7 power available.”

Even by the standards of the pro-coal, pro-nuclear, anti-renewables MCA, that’s a grotesque lie. Power from SMRs would be far more expensive than that from conventional nuclear ‒ which is far more expensive than renewables. Hence the paucity of investment in SMRs and the insistence of would-be developers that taxpayers should shoulder the risk.

The far-right culture warriors will argue that it is absurd to pursue submarine reactors but not land-based reactors for power generation. They will argue that it is absurd to pursue military reactors but not civil reactors.

Sane Coalition MPs understand that nuclear power is hopelessly uneconomic and a political non-starter. Their patience and resilience will be tested as the nuclear culture wars drag on and on.

Nuclear weapons

Does the government secretly want to bring Australia closer to a nuclear weapons capability via a nuclear submarine program? Does that partly explain why the Morrison government refuses to sign the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and has actively undermined the Treaty at every step? (In the late 1960s, John Gorton’s government actively pursued a nuclear power program and Gorton later acknowledged a hidden weapons agenda. Gorton opposed Australia signing the UN’s Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.)

Nuclear submarines would certainly bring Australia closer to a nuclear weapons capability, whether or not that is part of the plan. At a minimum, staff trained for a nuclear submarine program could later find themselves working on a weapons program.

The northern suburbs of Adelaide would become Australia’s second hub of nuclear expertise along with the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation’s research reactor site south of Sydney. (ANSTO’s predecessor, the Australian Atomic Energy Commission, was heavily involved in the push for nuclear weapons in the 1960s.)

Will the Morrison government insist on some degree of technology transfer as part of the submarine negotiations, such that Australia develops some degree of nuclear reactor manufacturing capability? That will be a test of the government’s true intentions, but of course the negotiations will be conducted in secret and the rest of us can only speculate.

Will Australia’s pursuit of nuclear subs encourage other countries to do the same? Will Indonesia take steps to move closer to a nuclear weapons capability as Australia deliberately or inadvertently does the same? If so, Indonesia will likely seek to acquire nuclear subs or nuclear power or both.

Uranium enrichment

Most nuclear subs use highly-enriched uranium (HEU) fuel. The use of HEU fuel in nuclear subs is a huge problem, accounting for a majority of the non-weapons use of HEU.

So, will Australia insist on the use of low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel ‒ which is still problematic since it presumes the existence and operation of enrichment plants, but is preferable since LEU cannot be used directly in weapons? If so, what are the implications for submarine performance, reactor lifespan and refuelling requirements, etc.? Or will we contribute to the proliferation of HEU?

There will be another push for uranium enrichment in Australia. In the mid-2000s, then Prime Minister John Howard likened uranium enrichment to value-adding to the wool industry ‒ an absurd comparison since enrichment provides a direct pathway to fissile material for weapons, in the form of HEU.

Australia’s involvement in enrichment R&D began in 1965 with the ‘Whistle Project‘ in the basement of Building 21 at Lucas Heights. Those in the know were supposed to whistle as they walked past Building 21 and say nothing about the enrichment work.

The government claims that the pursuit of nuclear-powered subs won’t undermine the UN’s Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). But a decade ago, Australia colluded with the US to take a sledgehammer to the NPT by allowing nuclear trade with (and uranium sales to) India, a violation of the NPT principle of prohibiting nuclear trade with non-NPT states.

And even if the NPT is not further weakened by the pursuit of nuclear-powered subs, immense damage can be and often is done within the framework of the NPT. The proliferation of HEU is a case in point.

Nuclear waste

The government has been silent about disposal of the high-level and intermediate-level nuclear waste generated by a nuclear submarine program.

No country in the world has a repository for high-level nuclear waste. The only deep underground nuclear waste repository in the world ‒ the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in the US, for disposal of long-lived intermediate-level nuclear waste ‒ was shut down from 2014 to 2017 following a chemical explosion in a waste barrel, with costs estimated at $2 billion.

Waste from a nuclear submarine program would be dumped on Aboriginal land, as is the case with the federal government’s current plan to dump Australia’s nuclear waste at Kimba in SA despite the unanimous opposition of Barngarla Traditional Owners.

It speaks volumes about the crude racism of the federal and SA Coalition governments that they are prepared to ignore unanimous Aboriginal opposition to a nuclear dump. The federal government even fought to exclude Traditional Owners from a so-called ‘community survey’. SA Labor’s policy is that Traditional Owners should have a right of veto over any proposed nuclear facility including a nuclear waste dump.

The high-level and long-lived intermediate-level nuclear waste generated by nuclear submarines would cost many billions of dollars to dispose of, based on cost estimates overseas.

For example, the cost estimate for a high-level nuclear waste repository in France is A$40 billion. The US government estimates that to build a high-level nuclear waste repository and operate it for 150 years would cost A$130 billion. The South Australian Nuclear Fuel Royal Commission estimated a cost of A$145 billion over 120 years for construction, operation and decommissioning of a high-level nuclear waste repository.

It is highly unlikely that the government has considered these massive long-term costs in its secret deliberations. Submarine decommissioning is also likely to be an expensive and potentially dangerous nightmare for future generations to grapple with.

Dr. Jim Green is the national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth Australia.

Nuclear powered submarines for Australia

Comments by Dr. Jim Green

National nuclear campaigner, Friends of the Earth Australia, 0417 318368

16 September 2021

Following secret deliberations, the Morrison government has announced that Australia will acquire nuclear-powered submarines.


Because the process has been entirely secret, we have no way of knowing whether alternative options have been properly considered. These include the options of building fewer submarines (or none at all), and advanced lithium-ion battery technology to power submarines (South Korea’s choice after 30 months of comprehensive evaluation).

Weapons / security

Nuclear powered submarines typically use highly-enriched uranium (HEU) fuel. This would undermine global efforts to phase out the use of HEU because of WMD proliferation and security concerns.

The Nobel Peace Prize-winning International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons notes: “Military nuclear reactors in Australia would present a clear nuclear weapons proliferation risk and become potential sites for nuclear accidents and radiological contamination long into the future.”

The government wants to build nuclear submarines in suburban Adelaide. Does that put a target on our back? Is it prudent to build nuclear submarines in a city of 1.3 million people? What alternative locations have been considered, if any?

Does the government secretly want to bring Australia closer to a nuclear weapons capability with a nuclear submarine program? Do such deliberations explain why the Morrison government refuses to sign the UN’s Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and has actively undermined the Treaty at every step? (In the late 1960s, John Gorton’s government actively pursued a nuclear power program and Gorton later acknowledged a hidden weapons agenda. Gorton actively opposed Australia signing the UN’s Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.)

Broader nuclear industry?

Then Defence Minister Christopher Pyne noted that in 2019 that Australia would be the only country in the world with nuclear submarines but no domestic nuclear industry to back them up.

All countries operating nuclear submarines (the five ‘declared’ weapons states plus India) have both nuclear power and weapons.

Building a domestic nuclear industry to support nuclear submarines would be astronomically expensive and problematic in other respects. Nuclear power is vastly more expensive than renewables ‒ and significantly more expensive than renewables plus backup stored power (batteries, pumped hydro storage, etc.)

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese says that Labor support for nuclear submarines is conditional on there being no requirement for a domestic civil nuclear industry (among other conditions).

Nuclear waste

The government has been silent about disposal of the high-level and intermediate-level nuclear waste generated by a nuclear submarine program.

No country in the world has a repository for high-level nuclear waste. The only deep underground nuclear waste repository in the world ‒ the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in the US, for disposal of long-lived intermediate-level nuclear waste ‒ was shut down from 2014 to 2017 following a chemical explosion in a waste barrel, with costs estimated at $2 billion (clean-up, lost income etc).

Waste from a nuclear submarine program would be dumped on Aboriginal land, as is the case with the federal government’s current plan to dump Australia’s nuclear waste at Kimba in SA despite the unanimous opposition of Barngarla Traditional Owners. It speaks volumes about the crude racism of the federal and SA Coalition governments that they are prepared to ignore unanimous Aboriginal opposition to a nuclear dump. The federal government even fought to exclude Traditional Owners from a so-called ‘community survey’. SA Labor’s policy is that Traditional Owners should have a right of veto over any proposed nuclear facility including a nuclear waste dump.


The high-level and long-lived intermediate-level nuclear waste generated by nuclear submarines would cost tens of billions of dollars to dispose of, based on cost estimates overseas. For example, the cost estimate for a high-level repository in France is A$40 billion. The US government estimates that to build a high-level nuclear waste repository and operate it for 150 years would cost A$130 billion. The South Australian Nuclear Fuel Royal Commission estimated a cost of A$145 billion over 120 years for construction, operation and decommissioning of a high-level nuclear waste repository.

It is highly unlikely that the government has considered these massive long-term costs in its secret deliberations.


A 2019, a federal government-dominated parliamentary committee released a report on nuclear power titled ‘Not without your approval’. The report emphasised that nuclear power would not be pursued without community support.

But now, the federal government has secretly decided that Australia will acquire nuclear submarines and any consultation will likely be tokenistic. This is the DAD ‒ Decide, Announce, Defend ‒ approach which is the antithesis of good government.

Despite the government’s secrecy and obstinacy, the plan for nuclear submarines could easily collapse for any number of reasons ‒ economics, the availability of superior options, public and political opposition etc.

Premier Marshall should stand up for our State: Reject the federal Liberal’s unlawful, unfair, unsafe and unnecessary nuclear waste dump plan for SA

David Noonan, July 2021

Premier Stephen Marshall must stand up for South Australia’s interests and push back on federal Liberal government imposition of an unlawful nuclear waste dump in our State.

The Premier has a duty to respect and uphold the law in SA that prohibits the import, transport, storage and disposal of nuclear waste in our State. 

The NUCLEAR WASTE STORAGE FACILITY (PROHIBITION) ACT 2000 was passed by the SA Parliament under the leadership of Liberal Premier John Olsen and strengthened by Labor Premier Mike Rann:

  • The objects of this Act are to protect the health, safety and welfare of the people of South Australia and to protect the environment in which they live by prohibiting the establishment of certain nuclear waste storage facilities in this State.

As Premier you should give all South Australian’s a Say and take action to instigate a required public inquiry into the impacts of a nuclear waste storage facility on the environmental and socio-economic wellbeing of this State. 


  • If a licence, exemption or other authority to construct or operate a nuclear waste storage facility in this State is granted under a law of the Commonwealth, the Environment, Resources and Development Committee of Parliament must inquire into, consider and report on the likely impact of that facility on the environment and socio-economic wellbeing of this State.

The Port of Whyalla is targeted for shipments of ANSTO nuclear fuel waste and communities along proposed nuclear waste transport routes across our State all have a right to have a Say.

Nuclear waste dumping is a Human Rights issue for our fellow Indigenous South Australian’s. As Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Stephen Marshall should support the Barngarla People’s right to say No to nuclear waste storage on their country:

  • The “United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People” (2007) Article 29 calls on States “to ensure that no storage or disposal of hazardous material shall take place in the lands or territories of indigenous peoples without their free prior and informed consent.”

The federal Liberal government proposes to ship and truck nuclear waste across SA into indefinite above ground storage in a fancy shed at Napandee on Eyre Peninsula – without any capacity or even a plan for its eventual permanent disposal.

SA’s clean green reputation, and our prime agricultural lands and farming communities, deserve better than untenable imposition of toxic nuclear wastes in a shoddy reckless federal plan to park and dump wastes that require isolation from the environment for 10,000 years.

95 per cent of Intermediate Level Waste (ILW) in Australia are owned by Commonwealth government agencies, the vast majority is produced and held at ANSTO’s Lucas Heights reactor facility in Sydney – where it should stay in secure extended storage.

  • The federal Budget provided $60 million for further decades of extended storage capacity for ILW at ANSTO Lucas Heights, building onto the operation of existing stores to 2026.
  • In 2015 a separate Interim Waste Store for ANSTO nuclear fuel waste was built at Lucas Heights with a design capacity for 40 years. This store received a shipment of reprocessed nuclear fuel waste from France in 2015 and is intended to now receive a shipment from the UK in 2022, and is safety rated to 2055.
  • The CEO of the federal nuclear regulator ARPANSA stated in evidence to a Senate Inquiry in 2020: “Waste can be safely stored at Lucas Heights for decades to come.”

The federal Liberal government proposes to bring all these nuclear wastes to SA, along with decades of ANSTO’s further proposed nuclear waste production and future shipments of ANSTO reprocessed nuclear waste from France.

Premier – Stand up for our State!

By David Noonan, a Voice of the No Dump Alliance

For updates: see Adelaide group Don’t Dump on SA

No Radioactive Waste Facility for Kimba District


Please Sign: the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) sign on letter to federal Minister Pitt

Sign the open letter to Keith Pitt: Don’t dump radioactive waste facility on regional communities (

Support the Barngarla People:

Barngarla: Help us Have a Say on Kimba” to fund a legal challenge (judicial review)

Fundraiser by Barngarla People : Barngarla: Help us Have a Say on Kimba (

The Barngarla People are the Traditional Custodians over much of the Eyre Peninsula, including the proposed site for a National Radioactive Waste Management Facility (NRWMF) in South Australia.

Despite being Native Title Holders, we never received the right to vote in the official ballot, used to assess broad community support. 

The Barngarla People do not support the building of an NRWMF at Kimba and deserve to have our voice heard by the Federal Government.

Help Us Protect Country:

We need your support to continue fighting to protect this land and the local community.

see Traditional owners can challenge nuclear waste dump on Country | NITV ( 23 June

EPBC Review – media release

Nuclear status quo in federal environmental law review

Mineral Policy Institute and Friends of the Earth Australia

Media Release ‒ 20 July 2020

National and state environment groups have given a cautious welcome to the continuation of long-standing protections against nuclear risks in the current statutory review of the Environmental Protection Biodiversity Conservation Act – Australia’s federal environmental laws. The interim report released today has stated that the Commonwealth should maintain the capacity to intervene in uranium mining and made no recommendation to change existing prohibitions on nuclear activities, including domestic nuclear power.

Civil society groups made a joint submission to the EPBC review calling for the retention of the long standing ban on nuclear power and continuing federal oversight of uranium mining. The EPBC review committee’s interim report has flagged an intention to continue both protections despite lobbying from the Mineral Council of Australia to weaken these.

However, environment groups are concerned about a possible weakening of uranium mining regulations flagged in the interim report. Associate Professor Gavin Mudd, Chair of the Mineral Policy Institute, said: “The interim report proposes the further devolution of uranium mining regulation to states and territories, coupled to the establishment of ‘National Environmental Standards’. An obvious risk is that the standards will be weak, enforcement will be deficient as is already the case, and devolution will weaken the already inadequate oversight of uranium mining.”

“Uranium mining is different to other types of mining. Australia’s uranium mining sector has been dominated by license breaches, accidents, spills and a persistent failure to rehabilitate as promised. The last thing we need is a weakening of regulations and oversight. Apart from SA and NT every state and territory have a ban or prohibition on uranium mining. It is unsafe and unpopular and needs greater scrutiny, not less,” Assoc. Prof. Mudd said.

The Review’s interim report makes no recommendation to repeal the long-standing prohibition on domestic nuclear power. “Nuclear power is expensive, dangerous and unpopular,” said Dr Jim Green, national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth Australia. “The prohibition in the EPBC Act reflects this. Nuclear is thirsty, produces high level nuclear waste for which there are no safe storage options and produces materials that can be diverted into nuclear weapons. It is a profound security and safety risk. And nuclear power is absurdly expensive.”

“Recent comments from the current Environment Minister and Opposition Leader show a clear bipartisan rejection of nuclear power. There is broad opposition among civil society as shown through a joint statement by over 60 organisations representing millions of Australians. Given the lack of social license for nuclear power in Australia we welcome the continuation of this prudent prohibition,” Dr Green said.

Following the Australian uranium-fuelled Fukushima nuclear disaster the UN Secretary General called for all uranium producing countries to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of the industry. Groups have called on the Morrison government to now hold an independent review of the uranium sector.

NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro’s nuclear falsehoods

Correcting the nuclear falsehoods of NSW Deputy Premier and Nationals leader John Barilaro. Mr. Barilaro has been repeatedly provided with factual information so there is no excuse for his ignorance.

March 2020

Contact: Jim Green, FoE Australia national nuclear campaigner,

Mr. Barilaro: Nuclear power is “probably the cheapest cost to the average Australian household”.


* Nationals Senator Matt Canavan acknowledges that nuclear power is “very expensive”.

* Industry insiders and lobbyists freely acknowledge that nuclear power is suffering from an economic crisis that could prove to be terminal.

* Nuclear power is in decline worldwide and a growing number of countries are phasing out nuclear power including Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Belgium, Taiwan and South Korea.

* Laws banning nuclear power have saved Australia from the huge costs associated with failed and failing reactor projects in Europe and North America, such as the twin-reactor project in South Carolina that was abandoned in 2017 after the expenditure of at least A$13.4 billion, bankrupting Westinghouse. That expensive fiasco could so easily have been replicated in NSW if not for the prudent legal ban.

* There are many other examples of shocking nuclear costs and cost overruns, including:

‒ The cost of the two reactors under construction in the US state of Georgia has doubled and now stands at A$20.4‒22.6 billion per reactor.

‒ The cost of the only reactor under construction in France has nearly quadrupled and now stands at A$20.0 billion. It is 10 years behind schedule.

‒ The cost of the only reactor under construction in Finland has nearly quadrupled and now stands at A$17.7 billion. It is 10 years behind schedule.

‒ The cost of the four reactors under construction in the United Arab Emirates has increased from A$7.5 billion per reactor to A$10‒12 billion per reactor.

‒ The cost of the only two reactors under construction in the UK has increased to A$25.9 billion per reactor. A decade ago, the estimated cost was just A$4 billion. The UK National Audit Office estimates that taxpayer subsidies for the project will amount to A$58 billion.

Mr. Barilaro: “As I write this piece, a further 50 nuclear reactors are being built globally (450 reactors currently operate in 31 counties) including in Finland, France, the UK, China and Canada.”


* The number of power reactors under construction has fallen steadily from 68 in 2013 to 49 as of Feb. 2020.

* As noted above, reactors under construction in Finland, France and the UK have been subject to catastrophic cost overruns.

* There has only been one reactor construction start in China in the past three years. The number of reactors under construction in China has fallen from 20 in 2017 to 10 now. Renewables generate twice as much electricity in China as nuclear power.

* No reactors are being built in Canada.

Mr. Barilaro on small modular reactors (SMRs): “Given their size and efficiency, their waste is minimal (new advancements in technology continues to address the waste issue)”.


* SMRs would produce more nuclear waste per unit of energy produced compared to large reactors.

* A 2016 European Commission document states: “Due to the loss of economies of scale, the decommissioning and waste management unit costs of SMR will probably be higher than those of a large reactor (some analyses state that between two and three times higher).”

* Mr. Barilaro’s “new advancements” (‘Generation IV’ concepts) have failed spectacularly and have clearly worsened nuclear waste management problems (see p.42-43 of our joint submission to the NSW inquiry).

Mr. Barilaro: “The compact nature of SMRs means they need close to only 5 per cent of the nuclear fuel required for large conventional reactors.”

Fact: As the South Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission report noted: “SMRs have lower thermal efficiency than large reactors, which generally translates to higher fuel consumption and spent fuel volumes over the life of a reactor.”

Mr. Barilaro: SMRs are “becoming very affordable”.


* Every independent economic assessment finds that electricity from SMRs will be more expensive than that from large reactors.

* SMRs will inevitably suffer from diseconomies of scale: a 250 MW SMR will generate 25% as much power as a 1,000 MW reactor  but it will require more than 25% of the material inputs and staffing, and a number of other costs including waste management and decommissioning will be proportionally higher.

* A December 2019 report by CSIRO and the Australian Energy Market Operator concluded that wind and solar power, including two to six hours of storage, is two to three times cheaper than power from small reactors per unit of energy produced. Nuclear lobbyists dispute the construction costs that underpin this estimate but, in fact, they are a neat fit with real-world construction costs (as opposed to self-serving industry speculation). Indeed the CSIRO/AEMO estimate is lower than the average cost of small-reactor projects in China, Russia and Argentina.

* SMRs in China, Russia and Argentina are, respectively, 2, 4 and 23 times over-budget. None could be described as “very affordable”.

Mr. Barilaro: SMRs “are now on the horizon”.


* A handful of SMRs are under construction (half of them to power fossil fuel mining operations in the Arctic, the South China Sea and elsewhere).

* Private sector investment has been pitiful and the main game is to find governments reckless enough to bet billions of taxpayer dollars on high-risk projects. SMRs under construction are all being built by government agencies.

* The prevailing scepticism is evident in a 2017 Lloyd’s Register report based on the insights of almost 600 professionals and experts from utilities, distributors, operators and equipment manufacturers. They predict that SMRs have a “low likelihood of eventual take-up, and will have a minimal impact when they do arrive”.

* Likewise, a 2014 report produced by Nuclear Energy Insider, drawing on interviews with more than 50 “leading specialists and decision makers”, noted a “pervasive sense of pessimism” regarding SMRs.

Mr. Barilaro: SMRs are “not as water hungry as traditional nuclear power plants, because they use air or sand to cool the core.”


* SMRs will likely use as much water per unit of energy produced compared to large reactors ‒ possibly more due to lower thermal efficiencies. Nuclear power, large or small, is incredibly thirsty: a typical large reactor consumes 35‒65 million litres of water per day. Gas cooling creates its own set of problems and inefficiencies, leading to higher costs ‒ that is why a very large majority of reactors are water-cooled.

* Sand to cool a reactor core? Perhaps he means sodium ‒ which has caused a number of fires in fast neutron reactors. Sand has only been used as a desperate measure in the event of major accidents, e.g. Chernobyl.

Mr. Barilaro: “We want to see investment in renewables but we know it’s not giving us the baseload.”

Fact: Some renewables provide baseload (e.g. hydro, bioenergy, geothermal) and intermittent renewables coupled to storage are effectively baseload. (Our supplementary submission to the NSW inquiry lists relevant literature.)

Mr. Barilaro: Nuclear power has “zero emissions”

Fact: The claim is false.

Mr. Barilaro: “The vast majority of us are not aware of the technological changes the industry has gone through for the past 45 years.”

* The ‘advanced’ nuclear power sector is dystopian because of its contribution to carbon emissions, troublesome nuclear waste legacies, and weapons proliferation.

* The ‘advanced’ nuclear power sector isn’t advancing. Many ‘advanced’ reactor projects are promoted ‒ there are lists of them, even lists of lists ‒ but meaningful funding, from governments and industry alike, is lacking.

Mr. Barilaro: “Last year, I attended and spoke at a global seminar in the US on the next generation of nuclear energy systems”.


* Not everything said at nuclear industry conferences turns out to be true!

* Westinghouse said in 2006 that it could build an AP1000 reactor for as little as A$2 billion but the actual cost of AP1000 reactors under construction in the US state of Georgia is 10 times higher.

* EDF said it could build an EPR reactor in the UK for A$4 billion but the cost of the two EPR reactors now under construction in the UK is A$25.9 billion per reactor, a more than six-fold increase.

Mr. Barilaro: “While Australia’s future energy issues continue to go round in circles, the world is moving forward.”


* Nuclear power is in decline worldwide and continues its downhill slide from its historic peak of 17.6% of global electricity generation in 1996 to 10.1% now.

* Renewable electricity generation has doubled over the past decade and now accounts for over 26% of global electricity generation.

Mr. Barilaro: SMRs “can be buried to withstand almost any physical or natural disaster.”


* SMRs will be subject to the same risks as large reactors.

* Burying reactors below-grade would add a new set of problems as identified by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission:

“Potential fire and explosion hazards: below-grade facilities present unique challenges, such as smoke/fire behavior; life safety; design and operation of the HVAC [heating, ventilating, and air conditioning] system and removal of waste water.

“Potential flooding hazards: below-grade reactors and subsystems raise concerns with regard to hurricane storm surges, tsunami run-up and water infiltration into structures.

“Limited access for conducting inspections of pressure vessels and components that are crucial for containing radiation, such as welds, steam generators, bolted connections and valves.”

Mr. Barilaro: “Rolls-Royce is currently leading a consortium to build SMRs and install them in former nuclear sites in the United Kingdom. The company plans to build between 10 and 15 of these stations by 2029.”


* Rolls-Royce sharply reduced its small-reactor investment to “a handful of salaries” in 2018 and is threatening to abandon its R&D altogether unless the British government agrees to an outrageous set of demands and subsidies.

* There are disturbing connections between small reactor projects and nuclear weapons proliferation. Rolls-Royce provides one example: part of the company’s sales pitch to the British government includes the argument that a civil small-reactor industry in the UK “would relieve the Ministry of Defence of the burden of developing and retaining skills and capability” for its weapons program.

Mr. Barilaro: SMRs “can be mass-produced in an off-site factory, shipped to locations, and then assembled.”

Fact: No SMRs are being produced in an off-site factory. No such factories are being built.

Mr. Barilaro: “If we can mine uranium, we can embrace nuclear as tomorrow’s solution to deal with the climate change crisis of today.”


* Uranium’s contribution to Australia’s economy is negligible (0.2% of export revenue, 0.01% of employment).

* NSW has no economic uranium deposits as the NSW Parliamentary inquiry acknowledged.

* A 2018 analysis by Australian economist Prof. John Quiggin concludes that it would be “virtually impossible” to get a nuclear power reactor operating in Australia before 2040. More years would elapse before nuclear power has generated as much as energy as was expended in the construction of the reactor. Thus it would be a quarter-century or more before nuclear power could even begin to reduce greenhouse emissions in Australia (and then only assuming that nuclear power displaced fossil fuels).

Mr. Barilaro: “This is going to test those who claim to be focusing and worried about the climate change emergency. If it is an emergency we need urgent and immediate actions. … Small modular reactors will provide exactly that.”


* SMRs are at an early developmental stage. They are not a short-term proposition.

* In 2019, the Climate Council ‒ comprising Australia’s leading climate scientists ‒ issued a policy statement concluding that nuclear power plants “are not appropriate for Australia – and probably never will be”. The statement continued: “Nuclear power stations are highly controversial, can’t be built under existing law in any Australian state or territory, are a more expensive source of power than renewable energy, and present significant challenges in terms of the storage and transport of nuclear waste, and use of water”.

Premier must stand up to Barilaro on nuclear power

Sydney Morning Herald editorial, 11 March 2020

Deputy Premier John Barilaro has issued another ultimatum to the NSW government, this time over his obsession with starting a nuclear industry, but it is high time Premier Gladys Berejiklian called his bluff. Mr Barilaro is demanding that cabinet endorse a report by an upper house parliamentary committee backed by One Nation which recommends lifting the ban on uranium mining and nuclear power generation that has been in place since 1986. If cabinet refuses, he is threatening that he and perhaps the whole National Party will go their own way and vote in favour of a bill to that effect. The Herald reported on Monday that some cabinet ministers who oppose nuclear power are threatening to respond by quitting if Ms Berejiklian caves in.

The question of whether NSW can or should develop a nuclear industry is complicated. In theory, mining uranium could earn money and nuclear power generation could help reduce emissions. In fact, both face huge practical problems.

Of course, the Northern Territory and South Australia already mine uranium. But there is little reason for NSW to follow them now because, quite apart from concerns over waste storage, safety and proliferation, the business case is very weak. As the upper house report says, the state does not have any proven commercial deposits of uranium and, since the Fukushima disaster in Japan, the global market for uranium has been depressed. The conservative government in Western Australia ended its ban on uranium mining in 2010 but no new mines have opened.

Similarly, the prospects are also poor for nuclear power generation here any time soon. Nuclear reactors are very expensive and would take decades to build. By most reckonings, they cannot compete on cost with renewables – backed up by battery storage – or pumped hydro. Private companies will not build them without subsidies from taxpayers.

Given those practical issues, it is hard to understand why Mr Barilaro has joined One Nation’s crusade for nuclear power. Cynics would argue that his main goal is shielding the coal industry by delaying other more immediate and practical forms of action to reduce carbon emissions. And for Mr Barilaro, it might be a political winner. He might steal One Nation’s thunder and win the support of older regional voters and radio shock jocks who have a vendetta against those they see as renewables-loving green hippies.

But Mr Barilaro’s nuclear adventure risks doing damage to the government including a repeat of what happened to the Howard government in 2007 when it campaigned on nuclear power. The ALP pointed out that because plants require enormous amounts of water, they would have to be located on the coast. That went down like a lead balloon with voters and that was before Fukushima.

With a two-seat majority, Ms Berejiklian is more than usually dependent on her Coalition partner. Over the past year, Mr Barilaro has been able to extract some questionable concessions from her on water policy and regional jobs in the energy sector.

But she must not allow policy on such an important issue to be driven by a minority of Nationals MPs and the whims of One Nation backbenchers. As Premier, it should be Ms Berejiklian who sets the priorities of the state’s energy policy.

This is a good chance for Ms Berejiklian to stamp her authority on the government. Mr Barilaro has backed down in the past. He knows how much he and his party need to be in government. His bark is often worse than his bite.

Letter to SA Liberal MPs 2020

Friends of the Earth letter to all SA Liberal MPs

18 February 2020

We are writing to recommend an urgent rethink of the SA Government’s positioning regarding the proposed National Radioactive Waste Management Facility (NRWMF) near Kimba, for the following reasons:

It is unconscionable for the SA Government to be supporting a facility that is unanimously opposed by the Barngarla Traditional Owners.

The federal government excluded Barngarla Traditional Owners from the ‘community ballot’ held last year and even went so far as to contest a court case initiated by Traditional Owners regarding their exclusion.

The Barngarla Determination Aboriginal Corporation initiated a separate, confidential postal ballot, conducted by Australian Election Company. This resulted in 100% of respondents voting ‘no’ to the proposed nuclear facility. Not one Barngarla Traditional Owner supported the nuclear facility.

The Barngarla Determination Aboriginal Corporation (BDAC) wrote to the Federal Government stating:

This unanimous “No” vote demonstrates that there is absolutely no support at all within the Barngarla community for the NRWMF. BDAC has requested that given the first people for the area unanimously have voted against the proposed facility that the Minister should immediately determine that there is not broad community support for the project. In light of this total rejection of the NRWMF by the Barngarla people, it is BDAC’s responsibility to continue to give voice to the profound concerns Barngarla traditional owners have regarding the NRWMF, and to take whatever steps are necessary to oppose the NRWMF being located on Barngarla Country.”

The SA Labor Party argues that traditional owners should have a right of veto over nuclear projects given the sad and sorry history of the nuclear industry in SA, stretching back to the British atomic bomb tests. Deputy Leader of the Opposition Susan Close says that SA Labor is “utterly opposed” to the “appalling” process which led to the recent announcement regarding the Kimba site. Compare that to the Federal Government, whose mind-set seems not to have advanced from the ‘Aboriginal natives shall not be counted’ clause in the Constitution Act 1900. As Barngarla Traditional Owner Jeanne Miller says, Aboriginal people with no voting power are put back 50 years, “again classed as flora and fauna.”

The SA Government should support Barngarla Traditional Owners in their current struggle.

To do otherwise would be unconscionable and would inevitably result in a strong, sustained negative reaction from South Australian citizens and voters for years to come.

To support the nuclear facility despite the unanimous opposition of Barngarla Traditional Owners would be to drag South Australia back into the 18th century.

Kimba is a community divided

Former federal resources minister Matt Canavan previously said in Parliament that 65% support would meet the Government’s requirement for ‘broad community support’. Ironically, he qualified that statement by noting that other factors would need to be taken into account including the views of traditional owners. In 2016, the Department’s Principal Advisor Bruce Wilson said the Minister would need “at least that [65%], if not more” before proceeding with a siting decision.

But only 54.8% of eligible voters supported the proposed nuclear facility in the Kimba ballot held last year, well short of the 65% benchmark. If the results of the Barngarla ballot are combined with the government-initiated ballot, the overall level of support falls to just 43.8% of eligible voters (452/824 for the Kimba ballot, and 0/209 for the Barngarla ballot).

Kimba and Eyre Peninsula residents opposed to the proposed nuclear facility are determined to keep fighting. Barngarla Traditional Owners are determined to keep fighting. Environmentalists, trade unions, medical and public health groups, church and faith groups, and many other South Australians are determined to keep fighting.

Only 4% of South Australia is arable land. It is of deep concern that a nuclear waste facility in the area could be allowed to jeopardise the agricultural industry. Indeed the proposal to site a nuclear waste repository and store in Kimba is a clear breach of the National Health and Medical Research Council’s Code of Practice for Near-Surface Disposal of Radioactive Waste in Australia, which states that “the site for the facility should be located in a region which has no known significant natural resources, including potentially valuable mineral deposits, and which has little or no potential for agriculture or outdoor recreational use”.

The Federal Government’s claim that 45 jobs will be created is a cruel hoax. It is wildly inconsistent with comparable facilities overseas.[1] It assumes that Australian workers are at least 10 times less productive than workers at comparable facilities overseas.[2] Successive Federal Governments have claimed there would be zero, six or 15 jobs. Then the number magically tripled last year to 45 jobs ‒ just as the $10 million bribe was tripled to $30 million.

This is a statewide issue that will not go away

South Australians have greater ambitions for our state than to be someone else’s nuclear waste dump. This has been proven time and time again:

  • In 2004, after a six-year battle, the Howard government abandoned plans for a national nuclear waste dump near Woomera.
  • In 2016, the plan to import intermediate- and high-level nuclear waste from around the world was abandoned in the face of public and political opposition.
  • Last year, the Federal Government abandoned plans for a national nuclear waste facility near Hawker in the Flinders Ranges in the face of fierce opposition from the local community including Adnyamathanha Traditional Owners.

Each of those successful campaigns began from a standing start. Momentum was built and sustained until the proposal was abandoned. Momentum will continue to build until the Federal Government abandons its latest proposal to establish a national nuclear waste dump and store in SA. Surely it would be in the best interests, and is the responsibility of, the SA Liberal Government to support South Australians rather than falling in line behind the Federal Government.

A March 2015 survey commissioned by the Advertiser found just 15.7% support for a nuclear waste dump. A 2018 poll found just 35% support for a ‘national nuclear and radioactive waste dump in outback SA’ and 55% opposition. Those strongly opposed to a nuclear and radioactive waste dump in the 2018 poll outnumbered those strongly in support by a factor of three (41:14).

Long-lived intermediate level waste would be stored in SA ad infinitum

The Federal Government repeatedly refers to a facility for ‘low-level waste’. Yet the Government itself has acknowledged that, measured by volume, 30% of the waste is long-lived intermediate-level waste (LLILW). Measured by radioactivity ‒ a far more important criterion than volume ‒ well over 90% of the waste is LLILW.

This LLILW is destined for ‘interim’ above-ground storage at Kimba pending the establishment of a deep underground repository somewhere else. No site has been found for deep underground disposal of the LLILW. Indeed the Government has not even begun a site selection process, nor does it have any plans to initiate a site selection process. Overseas experience is not promising. Countless plans for deep underground nuclear waste repositories have been abandoned, sometimes after the expenditure of many millions or in some cases billions of dollars. The only operating deep underground disposal site in the world − the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico – was closed for three years after a chemical explosion in February 2014, with costs amounting to approx. A$3 billion.

The claim that LLILW would be removed from ‘interim’ storage at Kimba after around 30 years is implausible and deceitful. The federal regulator ARPANSA has repeatedly noted that the LLILW could be stored above-ground “for more than a century”[3] ‒ but no such acknowledgement has ever been made by the Federal Government.

LLILW would remain stored above ground in SA ad infinitum ‒ a clearly unacceptable situation.  An overwhelming majority of the LLILW is currently stored at the Lucas Heights site, 30 kms south of Sydney, operated by the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO). There is no reason to move LLILW from Lucas Heights for storage in SA. Australia’s nuclear expertise in concentrated at Lucas Heights ‒ not in Kimba. Security at ANSTO’s facility is vastly superior than would apply at a store in Kimba. According to Matt Canavan, 93% of the (low-and intermediate-level) waste destined for a nuclear waste ‘facility’ is currently stored at Lucas Heights.

South Australia’s Nuclear Waste Facility (Prohibition) Act 2000 ‒ an initiative of the Olsen Liberal Government ‒ was legislated specifically to prevent the imposition of intermediate-level nuclear waste facilities. The Marshall Liberal Government should honour that legacy and use all available legal and political initiatives to put a stop to the absurd proposal to move LLILW from above-ground storage at Lucas Heights to above-ground storage at Kimba.


South Australians are greatly indebted to Steven Marshall, Rob Lucas and other Liberal Party members for your strong role in putting an end to the ill-considered scheme to turn SA into the world’s high-level nuclear waste dump. We are indebted to you for continuing the transition to a low-carbon, renewable energy-based energy sector in SA.

We would enthusiastically welcome a repositioning regarding Canberra’s latest plan to dump nuclear waste in SA.

The Federal Government may have the legal power to impose a nuclear waste facility, but history has repeatedly shown that a sustained, concerted campaign can and will succeed.


[1] The Australia Institute, 2018, ‘Down in the dumps, Economics of a national radioactive waste management facility’,


[3] See section 4 in the submission posted at

Bird deaths at Olympic Dam

Evaporation ponds at BHP’s Olympic Dam mine are killing hundreds of birds

Hundreds of birds are dying each year after mistaking Olympic Dam’s evaporation ponds for wetlands. Environment campaigners want the miner to stop using them.

Clare Peddie, Science Reporter, The Advertiser

July 10, 2019

Conservationists want BHP to stop using evaporation ponds at Olympic Dam that kill hundreds of birds, including threatened species.

They want BHP to cancel plans for a new pond and phase out 146ha of existing ponds, which are used for the disposal of acidic waste water.

It’s the second time in a month that concerns raised by conservationists have threatened to block a major infrastructure project.

In June, Birdlife Australia said the planned electricity interconnector between SA and NSW would destroy remaining habitat for the critically endangered black-eared miner bird.

Scientist and environment campaigner David Noonan says it’s shocking that birds are drowned, choked or scalded by BHP’s highly acidic, toxic wastewater.

“They see this as a wetland in an arid region as they’re travelling through,” he said. “They’re typically poisoned by contact, they die on site or they’re poisoned and die later.”

BHP found 224 dead birds during weekly monitoring in the 2017-18 financial year and that included 39 banded stilts, a vulnerable species in SA.

The number of dead birds found annually has hardly changed since 2011-12, when the banded stilt, red-necked avocet, whiskered tern, grey teal, black swan, hoary-headed grebe, little pied cormorant and silver gull were affected.

A BHP spokesman said methods to deter them such as wiring, gas guns and flashing lights haven’t worked but the company continues to explore new deterrent options.

“Extensive monitoring of birdlife in the Roxby Downs region shows the vast majority of birds visiting the area go to water sources other than Olympic Dam’s tailings and evaporation facilities,” he said.

“Notably, the average number of birds observed at Olympic Dam has remained relatively low for the past several years, and short-term increases have been linked to environmental conditions such as heavy rainfall rather than …new facilities.”

Plans for a huge open cut mine that were shelved in 2012 would have required a phase-out of evaporation ponds, but BHP says that condition is no longer relevant or applicable to current growth and expansion of the underground mine.

BHP is preparing to make a submission to both state and federal governments for a sixth evaporation pond.

A separate submission on a the new tailings storage facility – about the size of the Adelaide CBD and ten storeys high – has already been made, triggering an Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act referral, as in the case of the endangered bird in the path of the interconnector.

Civil society statement opposing nuclear power in Australia

Civil Society Statement on Domestic Nuclear Power

Submission to the Standing Committee on Environment and Energy Inquiry into Nuclear Energy in Australia

September 2019

Our nation faces urgent energy challenges. Against a backdrop of increasing climate impacts and scientific evidence the need for a clean and renewable energy transition is clear and irrefutable. All levels of government need to actively facilitate and manage Australia’s accelerated transition from reliance on fossil fuels to low carbon electricity generation.

The transition to clean, safe, renewable energy should also re-power the national economy. The development and commercialisation of manufacturing, infrastructure and new energy thinking is already generating employment and opportunity. This should be grown to provide skilled and sustainable jobs and economic activity, particularly in regional Australia. 

There should be no debate about the need for this energy transition, or that it is already occurring. However, choices and decisions are needed to make sure that the transition best meets the interests of workers, affected communities and the broader Australian society.

Against this context the federal government has initiated an Inquiry into whether domestic nuclear power has a role in this necessary energy transition. 

Our organisations, representing a diverse cross section of the Australian community, strongly maintain that nuclear power has no role to play in Australia’s energy future.

Nuclear power is a dangerous distraction from real movement on the pressing energy decisions and climate actions we need. We maintain this for a range of factors, including:

  • Waste: Nuclear reactors produce long-lived radioactive wastes that pose a direct human and environmental threat for many thousands of years and impose a profound inter-generational burden. Radioactive waste management is costly, complex, contested and unresolved, globally and in the current Australian context. Nuclear power cannot be considered a clean source of energy given its intractable legacy of nuclear waste.
  • Water: Nuclear power is a thirsty industry that consumes large volumes of water, from uranium mining and processing through to reactor cooling. Australia is a dry nation where water is an important resource and supply is often uncertain.
  • Time: Nuclear power is a slow response to a pressing problem. Nuclear reactors are slow to build and license. Globally, reactors routinely take ten years or more to construct and time over-runs are common. Construction and commercialisation of nuclear reactors in Australia would be further delayed by the lack of nuclear engineers, a specialised workforce, and a licensing, regulatory and insurance framework.
  • Cost: Nuclear power is highly capital intensive and a very expensive way to produce electricity. The 2016 South Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission concluded nuclear power was not economically viable. The controversial Hinkley reactors being constructed in the UK will cost more than $35 billion and lock in high cost power for consumers for decades. Cost estimates of other reactors under construction in Europe and the US range from $17 billion upwards and all are many billions of dollars over-budget and many years behind schedule. Renewable energy is simply the cheapest form of new generation electricity as the CSIRO and the Australian Energy Market Operator concluded in their December 2018 report.
  • Security: Nuclear power plants have been described as pre-deployed terrorist targets and pose a major security threat. This in turn would likely see an increase in policing and security operations and costs and a commensurate impact on civil liberties and public access to information. Other nations in our region may view Australian nuclear aspirations with suspicion and concern given that many aspects of the technology and knowledge base are the same as those required for nuclear weapons. On many levels nuclear is a power source that undermines confidence.
  • Inflexible or unproven: Existing nuclear reactors are highly centralised and inflexible generators of electricity. They lack capacity to respond to changes in demand and usage, are slow to deploy and not well suited to modern energy grids or markets. Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) are not in commercial production or use and remain unproven and uncertain. This is no basis for a national energy policy.
  • Safety: All human made systems fail. When nuclear power fails it does so on a massive scale. The human, environmental and economic costs of nuclear accidents like Chernobyl and Fukushima have been massive and continue. Decommissioning and cleaning up old reactors and nuclear sites, even in the absence of any accidents, is technically challenging and very costly.
  • Unlawful and unpopular: Nuclear power and nuclear reactors are prohibited under existing federal, state and territory laws. The nuclear sector is highly contested and does not enjoy broad political, stakeholder or community support. A 2015 IPSOS poll found that support among Australians for solar power (78‒87%) and wind power (72%) is far higher than support for coal (23%) and nuclear (26%).
  • Disproportionate impacts: The nuclear industry has a history of adverse impacts on Aboriginal communities, lands and waters. This began in the 1950s with British atomic testing and continues today with uranium mining and proposed nuclear waste dumps. These problems would be magnified if Australia ever advanced domestic nuclear power.
  • Better alternatives: If Australia’s energy future was solely a choice between coal and nuclear then a nuclear debate would be needed. But it is not. Our nation has extensive renewable energy options and resources and Australians have shown clear support for increased use of renewable and genuinely clean energy sources.

The path ahead:

Australia can do better than fuel higher carbon emissions and unnecessary radioactive risk.

We need to embrace the fastest growing global energy sector and become a driver of clean energy thinking and technology and a world leader in renewable energy technology.

We can grow the jobs of the future here today. This will provide a just transition for energy sector workers, their families and communities and the certainty to ensure vibrant regional economies and secure sustainable and skilled jobs into the future.

Renewable energy is affordable, low risk, clean and popular. Nuclear is simply not.

Our shared energy future is renewable, not radioactive.



Environment groups

Australian Conservation Foundation

Arid Lands Environment Centre

Conservation Council SA

Conservation Council WA

Environment Centre NT

Environment Victoria

Environs Kimberley

Friends of the Earth Australia

Gene Ethics Network

Greenpeace Australia Pacific

Mineral Policy Institute

National Toxics Network

Nature Conservation Council NSW

Queensland Conservation Council

Wilderness Society

Trade unions

Australian Council of Trade Unions

Tasmanian Unions

Unions ACT

Unions WA

Unions SA

Unions NT

United Voice

Victorian Trades Hall Council

Australian Education Union

Australian Manufacturing Workers Union

Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation

Australian Services Union

Communication Workers Union

Electrical Trades Union

Independent Education Union (Vic – Tas)

Maritime Union of Australia

National Union of Workers

United Firefighters Union

Indigenous groups

Australian Nuclear Free Alliance

Gundjehmi Aboriginal Corporation

No Dump Alliance

Health groups

Doctors for Environment Australia

Medical Association for the Prevention of War

Public Health Association of Australia

Faith groups

Uniting Church of Australia (Vic – Tas)

Sisters of Mercy

Jesuit Social Services

Josephite (SA) Reconciliation Circle

Climate / renewable / anti-nuclear / peace groups


Australian Youth Climate Coalition

Beyond Nuclear Initiative

Beyond Zero Emissions

Climate Action Monaro

Climate Action Newcastle

Climate Change Balmain-Rozelle

Darebin Climate Action Now

Green Institute

Hornsby Shire Climate Action

Independent and Peaceful Australia Network

Lithgow Environment Group

Madden Sainsbury Foundation

Nuclear Free NSW

Parramatta Climate Action Network

Renew (Alternative Technology Association)

Ryde Gladesville Climate Change Action Group

Smart Energy Council

Sustainable Energy Now (WA)

Sutherland Shire Environment Centre

Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom

Film review: ‘The New Fire’ and the old Gen IV rhetoric

Jim Green, Nuclear Monitor #866, 24 Sept 2018,

The New Fire is a pro-nuclear propaganda film directed and produced by musician and film-maker David Schumacher. It’s similar in some respects to the 2013 film Pandora’s Promise.1,2 The New Fire premiere was held in October 2017 and it can be streamed online from 18 October 2018.

Promotional material claims that the film lacked “a supportive grant” (and celebrity endorsements and the backing of a major NGO) but the end-credits list numerous financial contributors: Berk Foundation, Isdell Foundation, Steven & Michele Kirsch Foundation, Rachel Pritzker, Roland Pritzker, Ray Rothrock, and Eric Uhrhane.

The film includes interviews with around 30 people (an overwhelming majority of them male) interspersed with footage of interviewees walking into buildings, and interviewees smiling. The musical underlay is a tedious drone ‒ a disappointment given Schumacher’s musical background. A highlight is hearing Eric Meyer ‒ an opera singer turned pro-nuclear activist ‒ bursting into song at various locations around the COP21 climate conference in Paris in December 2015, while he and his colleagues handed out free copies of the pro-nuclear book Climate Gamble.

Interviewees are mostly aging but the film’s main message is that young entrepreneurs may save the planet and its inhabitants with their Generation IV reactor projects. The film’s website states: “David Schumacher’s film focuses on how the generation facing the most severe impact of climate change is fighting back with ingenuity and hope. The New Fire tells a provocative and startlingly positive story about a planet in crisis and the young heroes who are trying to save it.”3

Schumacher writes (in the press kit): “These brilliant young people – some of the most gifted engineers of their generation, who in all likelihood could have cashed in for a fortune by doing something else – believe deeply that nuclear power could play a key role in saving the planet. And they are acting on that conviction. They did the research. They raised the money. They used cutting edge computer technology to perfect their designs. They are the new face of nuclear power, and to me, the newest and most unlikely climate heroes.”

These climate heroes are contrasted with anti-nuclear environmentalists. One interviewee says that “people of our generation are the first ones that have the opportunity to look at nuclear power without all the emotional baggage that previous generations have felt.” Another argues that anti-nuclear environmentalists are “very good, decent, smart people” but the “organizational DNA … that they have inherited is strongly anti-nuclear.” Another argues that environmental organizations “have been using nuclear power as a whipping boy for decades to raise funds”. Another interviewee attributes opposition to nuclear power to an “irrational fear of the unknown” (which surely poses a problem for the exotic Generation IV concepts promoted in the film) and another says that “once people sort of understand what’s going on with nuclear, they are much more open to it”.

The film trots out the usual anti-renewables tropes and falsehoods: 100% renewables is “just a fantasy”, renewables can contribute up to 20% of power supply and the remainder must be baseload: fossil fuels or nuclear power.

In rural Senegal, solar power has brought many benefits but places like Senegalese capital Dakar, with a population of one million, need electricity whether the sun is shining or not. A Senegalese man interviewed in the film states: “Many places in Africa definitely need a low cost, reliable, carbon neutral power plant that provides electricity 24/7. Nuclear offers one of the best options we have to do that kind of baseload.” The film doesn’t explain how a 1,000 MW nuclear plant would fit into Senegal’s electricity grid, which has a total installed capacity of 633 MW.4 The ‘microreactors’ featured in The New Fire might help … if they existed.

Accidents such as those at Fukushima and Chernobyl get in the news because they are “so unusual” according to interviewee Ken Caldeira. And they get in the news, he might have added, because of the estimated death tolls (in the thousands for Fukushima5, ranging to tens of thousands for Chernobyl6), the costs (around US$700 billion for Chernobyl7, and US$192 billion (and counting) for Fukushima8), the evacuation of 160,000 people after the Fukushima disaster and the permanent relocation of over 350,000 people after the Chernobyl disaster.9

“Most people understand that it’s impossible for a nuclear power plant to literally explode in the sense of an atomic explosion”, an interviewee states. And most people understand that chemical and steam explosions at Chernobyl and Fukushima spread radionuclides over vast distances. The interviewee wants to change the name of nuclear power plants to avoid any conflation between nuclear power and weapons. Evidently he didn’t get the memo that the potential to use nuclear power plants (and related facilities) to produce weapons is fast becoming one of the industry’s key marketing points.

Conspicuously absent from the film’s list of interviewees is pro-nuclear lobbyist Michael Shellenberger. We’ve taken Shellenberger to task for his litany of falsehoods on nuclear and energy issues10 and his bizarre conversion into an advocate of worldwide nuclear weapons proliferation.11 But a recent article by Shellenberger on Generation IV nuclear technology is informative and insightful ‒ and directly at odds with the propaganda in The New Fire.1

So, let’s compare the Generation IV commentary in The New Fire with that in Shellenberger’s recent article.

Transatomic Power’s molten salt reactor concept

The film spends most of its time promoting Generation IV reactor projects including Transatomic Power’s molten salt reactor (MSR) concept. [Note: Transatomic abandoned its molten salt R&D shortly after this film review was written – and before the film was publicly launched!]

Scott Nolan from venture capital firm Founders Fund says that Transatomic satisfies his four concerns about nuclear power: safety, waste, cost, proliferation. And he’s right ‒ Transatomic’s MSRs are faultless on all four counts, because they don’t exist. It’s doubtful whether they would satisfy any of the four criteria if they did actually exist.

Shellenberger quotes Admiral Hyman Rickover, who played a leading role in the development of nuclear-powered and armed submarines and aircraft carriers in the US: “Any plant you haven’t built yet is always more efficient than the one you have built. This is obvious. They are all efficient when you haven’t done anything on them, in the talking stage. Then they are all efficient, they are all cheap. They are all easy to build, and none have any problems.”

Shellenberger goes on to say:12

“The radical innovation fantasy rests upon design essentialism and reactor reductionism. We conflate the 2-D design with a 3-D design which we conflate with actual building plans which we conflate with a test reactor which we conflate with a full-sized power plant.

“These unconscious conflations blind us to the many, inevitable, and sometimes catastrophic “unknowns” that only become apparent through the building and operating of a real world plant. They can be small, like the need for a midget welder, or massive, like the manufacturing failures of the AP1000.

“Some of the biggest unknowns have to do with radically altering the existing nuclear workforce, supply chain, and regulations. Such wholesale transformations of the actually existing nuclear industry are, literally and figuratively, outside the frame of alternative designs.

“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face,” a wise man once said. The debacles with the AP1000 and EPR are just the latest episodes of nuclear reactor designers getting punched in the face by reality.

Shellenberger comments on MSR technology:12

“New designs often solve one problem while creating new ones. For example, a test reactor at Oak Ridge National Laboratory used chemical salts with uranium fuel dissolved within, instead of water surrounding solid uranium fuel. “The distinctive advantage of such a reactor was that it avoided the expensive process of fabricating fuel elements, moderator, control rods, and other high-precision core components,” noted Hewlett and Holl.

“In the eyes of many nuclear scientists and engineers these advantages made the homogeneous reactor potentially the most promising of all types under study, but once again the experiment did not reveal how the tricky problems of handling a highly radioactive and corrosive fluid were to be resolved.”

In The New Fire, Mark Massie from Transatomic promotes a “simpler approach that gives you safety through physics, and there’s no way to break physics”. True, you can’t break physics, but highly radioactive and corrosive fluids in MSRs could break and rust pipes and other machinery.

Leslie Dewan from Transatomic trots out the silliest advantage attributed to MSRs: that they are meltdown-proof. Of course they are meltdown-proof ‒ and not just in the sense that they don’t exist. The fuel is liquid. You can’t melt liquids. MSR liquid fuel is susceptible to dispersion in the event of steam explosions or chemical explosions or fire, perhaps more so than solid fuels.

Michael Short from MIT says in the film that over the next 2‒3 years they should have preliminary answers as to whether the materials in Transatomic MSRs are going to survive the problems of corrosion and radiation resistance. In other words, they are working on the problems ‒ but there’s no guarantee of progress let alone success.

Dewan claims that Transatomic took an earlier MSR design from Oak Ridge and “we were able to make it 20 times as power dense, much more compact, orders of magnitude cheaper, and so we are commercializing our design for a new type of reactor that can consume existing stockpiles of nuclear waste.”

Likewise, Jessica Lovering from the Breakthrough Institute says: “Waste is a concern for a lot of people. For a lot of people it’s their first concern about nuclear power. But what’s really amazing about it is that most of what we call nuclear waste could actually be used again for fuel. And if you use it again for fuel, you don’t have to store it for tens of thousands of years. With these advanced reactors you can close the fuel cycle, you can start using up spent fuel, recycling it, turning it into new fuel over and over again.”

But in fact, prototype MSRs and fast neutron reactors produce troublesome waste streams (even more so than conventional light-water reactors) and they don’t obviate the need for deep geological repositories. A recent article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists ‒ co-authored by a former chair of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission ‒ states that “molten salt reactors and sodium-cooled fast reactors – due to the unusual chemical compositions of their fuels – will actually exacerbate spent fuel storage and disposal issues.”13 It also raises proliferation concerns about ‘integral fast reactor’ and MSR technology: “Pyroprocessing and fluoride volatility-reductive extraction systems optimized for spent fuel treatment can – through minor changes to the chemical conditions – also extract plutonium (or uranium 233 bred from thorium).”

Near the end of the film, it states: “Transatomic encountered challenges with its original design, and is now moving forward with an updated reactor that uses uranium fuel.” Transatomic’s claim that its ‘Waste-Annihilating Molten-Salt Reactor’ could “generate up to 75 times more electricity per ton of mined uranium than a light-water reactor” was severely downgraded to “more than twice” after calculation errors were discovered. And the company now says that a reactor based on the current design would not use waste as fuel and thus would “not reduce existing stockpiles of spent nuclear fuel”.14,15

So much for all the waste-to-fuel rhetoric scattered throughout The New Fire.

Michael Short from MIT claims MSRs will cost a “couple of billion dollars” and Dewan claims they will be “orders of magnitude cheaper” than the Oak Ridge experimental MSR. In their imaginations, perhaps. Shellenberger notes that “in the popular media and among policymakers, there has remained a widespread faith that what will make nuclear power cheaper is not greater experience but rather greater novelty. How else to explain the excitement for reactor designs invented by teenagers in their garages and famous software developers [Bill Gates / TerraPower] with zero experience whatsoever building or operating a nuclear plant?”12

Shellenberger continues:12

“Rather than address the public’s fears, nuclear industry leaders, scientists, and engineers have for decades repeatedly retreated to their comfort zone: reactor design innovation. Designers say the problem isn’t that innovation has been too radical, but that it hasn’t been radical enough. If only the coolant were different, the reactors smaller, and the building methods less conventional, they insist, nuclear plants would be easier and cheaper to build.

“Unfortunately, the historical record is clear: the more radical the design, the higher the cost. This is true not only with the dominant water-cooled designs but also with the more exotic designs ‒ and particularly sodium-cooled ones.”

Oklo’s sodium-cooled fast neutron microreactor

The New Fire promotes Oklo’s sodium-cooled fast neutron microreactor concept, and TerraPower’s sodium-cooled fast neutron ‘traveling wave’ reactor (TerraPower is also exploring a molten chloride fast reactor concept).

Oklo co-founder Jacob DeWitte says: “There’s this huge, awesome opportunity in off-grid markets, where they need power and they are relying on diesel generators … We were talking to some of these communities and we realized they use diesel because it’s the most energy dense fuel they know of. And I was like, man, nuclear power’s two million times as energy dense … And they were like, ‘Wait, are you serious, can you build a reactor that would be at that size?’ And I said, ‘Sure’.”

Which is all well and good apart from the claim that Oklo could build such a reactor: the company has a myriad of economic, technological and regulatory hurdles to overcome. The film claims that Oklo “has begun submission of its reactor’s license application to the [US] Nuclear Regulatory Commission” but according to the NRC, Oklo is a “pre-applicant” that has gone no further than to notify the NRC of its intention to “engage in regulatory interactions”.16

There’s lots of rhetoric in the film about small reactors that “you can role … off the assembly line like Boeings”, factory-fabricated reactors that “can look a lot like Ikea furniture”, economies of scale once there is a mass market for small reactors, and mass-produced reactors leading to “a big transition to clean energy globally”. But first you would need to invest billions to set up the infrastructure to mass produce reactors ‒ and no-one has any intention of making that investment. And there’s no mass market for small reactors ‒ there is scarcely any market at all.17


TerraPower is one step ahead of Transatomic and Oklo ‒ it has some serious funding. But it’s still a long way off ‒ Nick Touran from TerraPower says in the film that tests will “take years” and the company is investing in a project with “really long horizons … [it] may take a very long time”.

TerraPower’s sodium-cooled fast neutron reactor remains a paper reactor. Shellenberger writes:12

“In 2008, The New Yorker profiled Nathan Myhrvold, a former Microsoft executive, on his plans to re-invent nuclear power with Bill Gates. Nuclear scientist Edward “Teller had this idea way back when that you could make a very safe, passive nuclear reactor,” Myhrvold explained. “No moving parts. Proliferation-resistant. Dead simple.”

“Gates and Myhrvold started a company, Terrapower, that will break ground next year in China on a test reactor. “TerraPower’s engineers,” wrote a reporter recently, will “find out if their design really works.”

“And yet the history of nuclear power suggests we should have more modest expectations. While a nuclear reactor “experiment often produced valuable clues,” Hewlett and Holl wrote, “it almost never revealed a clear pathway to success.” …

“For example, in 1951, a reactor in Idaho used sodium rather than water to cool the uranium ‒ like Terrapower’s design proposes to do. “The facility verified scientific principles,” Hewlett and Holl noted, but “did not address the host of extraordinary difficult engineering problems.” …

“Why do so many entrepreneurs, journalists, and policy analysts get the basic economics of nuclear power so terribly wrong? In part, everybody’s confusing nuclear reactor designs with real world nuclear plants. Consider how frequently advocates of novel nuclear designs use the future or even present tense to describe qualities and behaviors of reactors when they should be using future conditional tense.

“Terrapower’s reactor, an IEEE Spectrum reporter noted “will be able to use depleted uranium … the heat will be absorbed by a looping stream of liquid sodium … Terrapower’s reactor stays cool”.

“Given that such “reactors” do not actually exist as real world machines, and only exist as computer-aided designs, it is misleading to claim that Terrapower’s reactor “will” be able to do anything. The appropriate verbs for that sentence are “might,” “may,” and “could.” …

“Myhrvold expressed great confidence that he had proven that Terrapower’s nuclear plant could run on nuclear waste at a low cost. How could he be so sure? He had modeled it. “Lowell and I had a month-long, no-holds-barred nuclear-physics battle. He didn’t believe waste would work. It turns out it does.” Myhrvold grinned. “He concedes it now.”

“Rickover was unsparing in his judgement of this kind of thinking. “I believe this confusion stems from a failure to distinguish between the academic and the practical,” he wrote. “The academic-reactor designer is a dilettante. He has not had to assume any real responsibility in connection with his projects. He is free to luxuriate in elegant ideas, the practical shortcomings of which can be relegated to the category of ‘mere technical details.'””


  1. Nuclear Monitor #764, ‘Pandora’s Promise’ Propaganda, 28 June 2013,
  2. Nuclear Monitor #773, ‘Pandora’s Propaganda’, 21 Nov 2013,
  5. Ian Fairlie, 2 April 2014, ‘New UNSCEAR Report on Fukushima: Collective Doses’,
  6. 24 April 2014, ‘The Chernobyl Death Toll’, Nuclear Monitor #785,
  7. Jonathan Samet and Joann Seo, 2016, ‘The Financial Costs of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Disaster: A Review of the Literature’,
  8. Nuclear Monitor #836, 16 Dec 2016, ‘The economic impacts of the Fukushima disaster’,
  9. World Health Organization, 13 April 2016, ‘World Health Organization report explains the health impacts of the world’s worst-ever civil nuclear accident’,
  10. Nuclear Monitor #853, 30 Oct 2017, ‘Exposing the misinformation of Michael Shellenberger and ‘Environmental Progress”,
  11. Nuclear Monitor #865, 6 Sept 2018, ‘Nuclear lobbyist Michael Shellenberger learns to love the bomb, goes down a rabbit hole’,
  12. Michael Shellenberger, 18 July 2018, ‘If Radical Innovation Makes Nuclear Power Expensive, Why Do We Think It Will Make Nuclear Cheap?’,
  13. Lindsay Krall and Allison Macfarlane, 2018, ‘Burning waste or playing with fire? Waste management considerations for non-traditional reactors’, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 74:5, pp.326-334,
  14. James Temple, 24 Feb 2017, ‘Nuclear Energy Startup Transatomic Backtracks on Key Promises’,
  15. Nuclear Monitor #849, 25 Aug 2017, ‘James Hansen’s Generation IV nuclear fallacies and fantasies’,
  16. NRC, ‘Advanced Reactors (non-LWR designs)’,, accessed 16 Sept 2018
  17. Nuclear Monitor #800, 19 March 2015, ‘Small modular reactors: a chicken-and-egg situation’,