Military and terrorist attacks on nuclear plants

Nation-states haven’t launched any military attacks on operational nuclear power plants, or accidentally hit any operational nuclear power plants. There is however a history of conventional military strikes on ostensibly peaceful nuclear facilities in the Middle East, driven by proliferation fears.

Historical examples of military strikes on nuclear plants include the following:

  • In April 1979, Israeli agents in France planted a bomb that destroyed the Osiraq reactor’s first set of core structures while they were awaiting shipment to Iraq.
  • Israel’s destruction of a research reactor in Iraq in 1981
  • The US destruction of a research reactor in Iraq in 1991
  • Attempted military strikes by Iraq and Iran on each other’s nuclear facilities during the 1980-88 war
  • Iraq’s attempted missile strikes on Israel’s nuclear facilities in 1991
  • Israel’s bombing of a suspected nuclear plant in Syria in 2007.

Most of those attacks were directed at ‘research’ reactors capable of producing plutonium for weapons, while Iraq attacked the partially-built Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran in 1987.

Nuclear plants might also be targeted with the aim of widely dispersing radioactive material or, in the case of power reactors, disrupting electricity supply.

If and when nuclear-powered nations go to war, they will have to choose between shutting down their power reactors, or taking the risk of attacks potentially leading to widespread, large-scale dispersal of radioactive materials. Spent fuel stores, which typically contain enormous quantities of radioactive materials, may be more vulnerable than reactors as they are generally less well protected.

Richard Garwin poses these questions: “What happens with a failed state with a nuclear power system? Can the reactors be maintained safely? Will the world (under the IAEA and U.N. Security Council) move to guard nuclear installations against theft of weapon-usable material or sabotage, in the midst of chaos? Not likely.”

There are examples of IAEA safeguards being suspended in the event of war or domestic political turmoil, including Iraq in 1991, some African states, Yugoslavia, and most recently in Ukraine.

The Chernobyl Factor in the Ukraine Crisis

Bennett Ramberg, 14 April 2014

LOS ANGELES – Twenty-eight years after its Chernobyl nuclear plant exploded, Ukraine confronts a nuclear specter of a different kind: the possibility that the country’s reactors could become military targets in the event of a Russian invasion. Speaking at the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague in March, Andrii Deshchytsia, Ukraine’s acting foreign minister, cited the “potential threat to many nuclear facilities” should events deteriorate into open warfare.
Earlier in the month, Ihor Prokopchuk, Ukraine’s ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, circulated a letter to the organization’s board of governors warning that an invasion could bring a “threat of radiation contamination on the territory of Ukraine and the territory of neighboring states.” In Kyiv, Ukraine’s parliament responded by calling for international monitors to help protect the plants as the cash-strapped government attempts to boost its own efforts.
Are Ukraine’s concerns mere hyperbole – a “malicious slander,” as the Kremlin puts it – or should we take them seriously? For Ukraine’s government, the angst is real. Even Ukrainians born after 1986 understand what a Chernobyl-type disaster brought about by battle could look like.
History offers little guidance as to whether warring countries would avoid damaging nuclear sites. With the exception of the 1990’s Balkan conflict, wars have not been fought against or within countries with nuclear reactors. In the case of the Balkans, Serbian military jets overflew Slovenia’s Krško nuclear power plant in a threatening gesture early in the conflict, while radical Serbian nationalists called for attacks to release the radioactive contents.
Serbia itself later issued a plea to NATO not to bomb its large research reactor in Belgrade. Fortunately, the war ended with both reactors untouched.
While that case provides some assurance that military and political leaders will think twice about attacking nuclear reactors, the sheer scale of Ukraine’s nuclear enterprise calls for far greater global concern. Today, 15 aging plants provide 40% of Ukraine’s electricity. (Ukraine shut several reactors operating adjacent to the damaged Chernobyl reactor years ago.) Concentrated in four locations, Ukraine’s pressurized water reactors differ from the less stable Chernobyl RBMK design, yet still remain capable of releasing radioactive contents should safeguards fail.
Given that Russia, too, suffered serious consequences from the Chernobyl accident, it is to be hoped that the Kremlin would recoil at the idea of bombing the plants intentionally. But warfare is rife with accidents and human error, and such an event involving a nuclear plant could cause a meltdown.
A loss of off-site power, for example, could be an issue of serious concern. Although nuclear plants are copious producers of electricity, they also require electrical power from other sources to operate. Without incoming energy, cooling pumps will cease functioning and the flow of water that carries heat away from the reactor core – required even when the reactor is in shutdown mode – will stop.
To meet that risk, nuclear plants maintain large emergency diesel generators, which can operate for days – until their fuel runs out. The reactor meltdowns at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi power station in 2011 demonstrated what happens when primary and emergency operating power are cut.
Such vulnerabilities raise troubling questions in the event of a war. Fighting could disrupt off-site power plants or transmission lines servicing the reactor, and could also prevent diesel fuel from reaching the plant to replenish standby generators. Operators could abandon their posts should violence encroach.
Moreover, combatants could invade nuclear plants and threaten sabotage to release radioactive elements to intimidate their opponents. Others might take refuge there, creating a dangerous standoff. A failure of military command and control or the fog of war could bring plants under bombardment.
Serious radiological contamination could result in each of these scenarios. And, though no one stands to gain from a radioactive release, if war breaks out, we must anticipate the unexpected.
In Ukraine, nuclear emissions could exceed both Chernobyl and Fukushima. Wartime conditions would prevent emergency crews from getting to an affected plant to contain radiological releases should reactor containments fail. And, with government services shut down in the midst of fighting, civilians attempting to escape radioactive contamination would not know what to do or where to go to protect themselves.
Such risks might be one reason for Russian President Vladimir Putin to think twice about ordering a military invasion of Ukraine. But, should war come, combatants must do all they can to keep conflict away from the nuclear sites and the off-site power sources feeding them.
Plant operators should stockpile diesel fuel to keep emergency generators operating. They should perform review and maintenance of generators to ensure that they are set to go. In the event of fighting near reactors, the West should prepare to ferry forces to secure the plants and keep the generators operating; and, in the event of a meltdown, the West should rally both governments to initiate a cease-fire to deal with the disaster. Given the stakes, failure to prepare for the worst is not an option.

Proliferation and Security

Excerpt from a Nuclear Monitor article.

Tied to proliferation issues are security issues such as potential military strikes and cyber-attacks on nuclear plants, and the murder of nuclear scientists and others involved in Iran’s nuclear program.

Israel has repeatedly threatened to launch military strikes against Iran’s nuclear program.1

In addition to the Stuxnet cyber-attack on Iran’s enrichment program, there has been speculation that Bushehr was also targeted and that Stuxnet may have caused problems leading to the removal of fuel from the reactor in early 2011.2

The Bushehr plant (then under construction) sustained damage from numerous Iraqi bombing raids during the 1980−88 war.3,4

In September 2014, Iran arrested a Ukrainian man suspected of sabotaging the Bushehr plant. The suspect pretended to be an expert from Russia, the Iranian newspaper Hamshahri cited authorities as saying. The nature of the alleged sabotage was not disclosed.5

An explosion occurred inside the Arak reactor building in late 2013 according to Israeli sources. According to Israeli website Debkafile, Tehran did its utmost to conceal the blast. Debkafile speculated that the blast resulted from physical sabotage, a viral attack on computers, or the result of inferior steel materials that were unable to withstand intense pressure during testing.6

In March 2014, the deputy head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation, Asghar Zarean, accused “foreigners” of trying unsuccessfully to sabotage the Arak plant.7

Zarean said: “Several cases of industrial sabotage have been neutralized in the past few months before achieving the intended damage, including sabotage at a part of the IR-40 facility at Arak.”8

Arak is regarded as particularly vulnerable to attacks in its partially-built state, since attacks could damage or destroy the reactor and associated infrastructure without resulting in widespread radioactive contamination. Israel’s former chief of military intelligence, Amos Yadlin, who piloted one of the planes that bombed Iraq’s Osirak heavy-water reactor in 1981 before it was due to become operational, said: “Whoever considers attacking an active reactor is willing to invite another Chernobyl, and no one wants to do that.”9

In addition to the strike on Osirak in 1981, Israel destroyed a suspected reactor site in Syria in 2007 and has refused to rule out bombing Arak.10

In August 2012, saboteurs blew up power lines supplying Iran’s underground uranium enrichment plant near the city of Qom.11

In August 2014, Iran said it had shot down an Israeli drone that was heading for its uranium enrichment site near the town of Natanz.12

At least five people associated with Iran’s nuclear program have been murdered since 2007, including the deputy head of Iran’s uranium enrichment facility at Natanz (killed by a car bomb in 2012), the head of the country’s ballistic missile program, and the head of Iranian cyber warfare (who was shot dead).13-16

In 2012, Iran hanged a man it claimed was a Mossad agent over the killing of an Iranian nuclear scientist in 2010.17


  1. Associated Press, 25 Nov 2013, ‘Israeli leader Netanyahu condemns Iran nuclear deal as a ‘historic mistake’ and threatens to use military action if needed’,
  2. BBC, 26 Feb 2011, ‘Iran nuclear plans: Bushehr fuel to be unloaded’,
  3. Robert Tait, 25 Jan 2009, ‘Iran Makes First Test-Run of Bushehr Nuclear Reactor,’
  4. AP, 18 Nov 1987, ‘Iran says nuclear plant hit’, The Lewiston Journal,
  5. Vasudevan Sridharan, 7 Sept 2014, ‘Iran Arrests Ukrainian for ‘Sabotaging’ Bushehr Nuclear Plant’,
  1. Julian Kossoff, 4 Nov 2013, ‘Was Iran’s Arak Nuclear Reactor Hit by Saboteurs?’,
  2. Umid Niayesh, 17 March 2014, ‘Iran gives details of sabotage at IR-40 nuclear site’,
  3. Associated Press, 15 March 2014, ‘Iran says sabotage prevented at nuclear facility’,
  4. Julian Kossoff, 4 Nov 2013, ‘Was Iran’s Arak Nuclear Reactor Hit by Saboteurs?’,
  5. Simon Sturdee / AFP, 13 Nov 2013, ‘Iran’s Arak reactor: a second route to a nuclear bomb?’,
  7. Fredrik Dahl, 12 Sept 2014, ‘Iran wants U.N. atomic agency to condemn Israeli drone ‘aggression”,
  8. Patrick Cockburn, 6 Oct 2013, ‘Just who has been killing Iran’s nuclear scientists?’,
  9. 2 March 2014, ‘Obama pushes Israel to stop assassinations of Iran nuclear scientists – report’,
  10. 12 Jan 2012, ‘Iran’s history of nuclear incidents’,
  11. William Tobey, 12 January 2012, ‘Nuclear scientists as assassination targets’,
  12. 16 May 2012, ‘Iran hangs ‘Mossad agent’ for scientist killing’,

National Radioactive Waste Management Act

In 2005, the Howard Coalition government passed the appalling Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act despite opposition from the ALP and minor parties. In 2012, the ALP government – with Coalition support – passed the National Radioactive Waste Management Act which was a cut-and-paste job, almost as bad as the legislation it replaced.

Now (2018), the Coalition is in government again and spin-doctors like departmental bureaucrat Bruce Wilson say the National Radioactive Waste Management Act is ‘worlds best practice’. It isn’t.

A 2017 report by law student Amanda Ngo summarises the problems with the National Radioactive Waste Management Act 2012.

Undemocratic nuclear waste legislation should be dumped

Jim Green, 10 April 2017, Online Opinion,

A new report released by Friends of the Earth Australia points to serious problems with Commonwealth legislation governing the push to establish a national nuclear waste facility in South Australia. The report ‒ written by Monash University fifth-year law student Amanda Ngo ‒ concerns the National Radioactive Waste Management Act 2012 (NRWMA). Its release comes against the backdrop of the federal government’s targeting of a site near Hawker in SA’s Flinders Ranges for a national radioactive waste store and repository.

The NRWMA gives the federal government the power to extinguish rights and interests in land targeted for a radioactive waste facility. In so doing the relevant Minister must “take into account any relevant comments by persons with a right or interest in the land” but there is no requirement to secure consent -‘or to back off if consent is not forthcoming.

Aboriginal Traditional Owners, local communities, pastoralists, business owners, local councils and State/Territory Governments are all disadvantaged and disempowered by the NRWMA.

The NRWMA goes to particular lengths to disempower Traditional Owners ‒ in this case Adnyamathanha Traditional Owners from the Flinders Ranges. The nomination of a site for a radioactive waste facility is valid even if Aboriginal owners were not consulted and did not give consent. Federal Labor MPs complained long and loud about similar provisions in the Howard government’s legislation, describing it as ‘extreme’, ‘arrogant’, ‘draconian’, ‘sorry’, ‘sordid’, and ‘profoundly shameful’. At its 2007 national conference, Labor voted unanimously to repeal the legislation.

But it took five years for Labor Resources Minister Martin Ferguson to repeal the legislation, and Labor’s NRWMA isn’t much different to the legislation it replaced. It states that consultation should be conducted with Traditional Owners and consent should be secured ‒ but that the nomination of a site for a radioactive waste facility is valid even in the absence of consultation or consent.

The NRWMA has sections which nullify State or Territory laws that protect the archaeological or heritage values of land or objects, including those which relate to Indigenous traditions. The Act curtails the application of Commonwealth laws including the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984 and the Native Title Act 1993 in the important site-selection stage. The Native Title Act 1993 is expressly overridden in relation to land acquisition for a radioactive waste facility.

Adnyamathanha Traditional Owners have been clear in their opposition to the planned radioactive waste facility in the Flinders Ranges. “I call upon the Federal and State Governments to put an end to this volatile position that the Adnyamathanha people are facing,” said Adnyamathanha Traditional Owner Enice Marsh. “Native Title and the Aboriginal Heritage Act are not protecting our land. This needs a complete review or a Royal Commission. The Barndioota site in the Flinders Ranges must be struck off as a potential radioactive waste dump site and the National Radioactive Waste Management Act needs to be amended to give us the right to say ‘no’.”

Adnyamathanha Traditional Owner Regina McKenzie, who lives on Yappala Station near the proposed dump site, said: “The NRWMA is a political attack on Adnyamathanha women’s spiritual beliefs. The destruction of our culture and significant woman’s sites is a form of assimilation and thus breaches the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”

The NRWMA has been criticised in both Senate Inquiries and a Federal Court challenge to an earlier federal government attempt to impose a national radioactive waste facility at Muckaty in the Northern Territory.

The NRWMA also puts the federal government’s radioactive waste agenda above environmental protection as it seeks to curtail the application of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

Successive governments have taken baby-steps towards a fair, responsible approach to radioactive waste management. The NRWMA outlines a process for land-owners to volunteer land for a waste facility. That’s clearly an improvement on earlier, failed attempts to impose facilities on unwilling communities. But land-owners weren’t required to consult neighbours or local communities or councils before nominating their land. Thus the process led to acrimonious disputes at many of the nominated sites. The Flinders Ranges site was nominated by a formal Liberal Party politician and the nomination was accepted by the federal government despite overwhelming opposition from Traditional Owners, including those living near the proposed dump site.

Over the past year, the government has revised its process such that it will not accept any future nominations of land for a radioactive waste facility unless the applicant can demonstrate “broad community support”. Again, that’s a welcome step towards a consent-based process. But the government still holds a very big stick behind its back ‒ the NRWMA ‒ which allows it to override opposition from communities, councils and Traditional Owners.

A senior government official told a public meeting in Hawker, near the proposed dump site, that the NRWMA is based on ‘world’s best practice’. In fact, the legislation systematically disempowers local communities and Traditional Owners and weakens environmental protections. It needs to be radically amended or replaced with legislation that protects the environment and gives local communities and Traditional Owners the right to say ‘no’ to radioactive waste facilities.

The ALP’s racist, undemocratic National Radioactive Waste Management Act 2012

The Australian Labor Party voted against the Howard government’s 2005 Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act, with Labor parliamentarians describing it as “extreme”, “arrogant”, “draconian”, “sorry”, “sordid”, and “profoundly shameful”. At its 2007 national conference, Labor voted unanimously to repeal the legislation. Yet after the 2007 election, the Labor government passed legislation − the National Radioactive Waste Management Act (NRWMA) − which was almost as draconian and still permitted the imposition of a nuclear dump with no Aboriginal consultation or consent (to be precise, the nomination of a site was not invalidated by a failure to consult or secure consent).

Here’s some information about the NRWMA and the ALP’s duplicity and racism.

Half-truths and half-lives double community resolve to stop Muckaty nuclear dump

Media Release / March 13, 2012

The Beyond Nuclear Initiative (BNI) says radioactive waste management legislation passed this afternoon in the Senate is deeply flawed and will not slow down the campaign against the proposed Muckaty radioactive waste dump in the Northern Territory. The dump is earmarked for low and long-lived intermediate level waste, including spent fuel rods and decommissioned reactor parts from the Lucas Heights nuclear facility in Sydney.

The National Radioactive Waste Management Bill was introduced two years ago and is strongly opposed by the Northern Territory government, Traditional Owners and a growing number of trade unions and civil society groups.

Minister Ferguson’s legislation repeals three Department of Defence site nominations made by the Howard government ‒ Harts Range, Mt Everard and Fisher’s Ridge ‒ but preserves the highly contested Muckaty nomination.

Mitch, a spokesperson for Harts Range and Mt Everard said “It is almost seven years since the NT dump plan was announced. We are happy that Harts Range is now off the list but we support the Muckaty people to say no. This proposal is based on politics not science. This is a very sad day”.

Muckaty Traditional Owners have launched a federal court case against both the federal government and the Northern Land Council, which nominated the Muckaty site in 2007.

Muckaty Traditional Owner Penny Phillips said, “At the start Senator Nigel Scullion said ‘not on my watch’ will the waste dump happen. He should be fighting against it and look after people in the Territory. Its very confusing for us ‒ the Senators are meant to represent us. Do they care about Traditional Owners, do they care about people in the Barkly, the cattlemen? The government should come and see this country. We have been inviting them many times and they have ignored us”.

“The government should wait for the court case before passing this law. Traditional Owners say no to the waste dump. We have been fighting against this for years and we will keep fighting. We don’t want it in Muckaty or anywhere in the NT,” Ms Phillips added.

BNI coordinator Natalie Wasley said, “Passing this law before consulting with the affected community is putting the radioactive cart before the horse. The Minister has never visited Tennant Creek to talk with Traditional Owners or the broader community. The discussion about Muckaty should be had sitting on red dust, not the red carpet of the Senate”.

Ms Wasley concluded “BNI welcomes the passing of Senator Scott Ludlam’s amendment that international waste cannot be stored at the facility, however, the rest of the legislation is neither new nor good. It builds on the mistakes of the Howard era and lacks credibility and consent. There are still many hurdles for the government before a dump is up and running, and this proposal will be challenged every step of the way.”

Renewed call for Muckaty dump plan to be scrapped as ‘draconian’ nuclear waste legislation hits two-year mark.

March 13, 2014, Media release

Marking two years since passage of the National Radioactive Waste Management Act (NRWMA), Traditional Owners and supporters have renewed calls for the government to drop plans for locating the first national radioactive waste dump at Muckaty, 120km north of Tennant Creek in the NT.

Beyond Nuclear Initiative convenor Natalie Wasley said, “The National Radioactive Waste Management Act is draconian and gives the Minister absolute discretion in key aspects of radioactive waste management. It overrides any state or territory law that would ‘hinder’ the plan, and limits the application of environmental protection laws, Aboriginal heritage protection legislation, and appeal rights. It does not grant ‘procedural fairness’ in relation to the existing Muckaty nomination.”

“Radioactive waste management laws should require engagement with civil society stakeholders in line with international standards. Australia’s targeting of remote communities considered politicially expedient through application of draconian legislation like the NRWMA is an international embarrassment.”

Traditional Owner Penny Phillips said “We had very hurt feelings when the legislation passed the Senate two years ago. We had been saying no for a long time- my old aunty Bunny Nabarula cried her heart out. People are upset that the new government is pushing ahead, but we are not going to stop fighting. We want the government to put a full stop to the nomination.”

“If the Northern Land Council prepares another nomination on Muckaty then we will stand up to them again. This country is very important to us. We also want people to remember the transport accidents that have happened on the road and rail in the NT. If the waste travels a long way, then any of those areas could be affected.”

Ms Wasley added, “Muckaty is the only site currently under consideration but the community is not being left to fight the proposal themselves. The Public Health Association of Australia, the Australian Council of Trade Unions and other national groups are calling for the proposal to be dropped in favour of an independent Commission to examine all options radioactive waste management. A federal court trial challenging the site nomination will be heard throughout June.” added Ms Wasley.

Ms Phillips concluded “Minister MacFarlane said he will visit Tennant Creek and meet with us. It is time for him to see the country and learn why we are saying no. People are getting tired, especially the old people, but we all work together and we haven’t backed down, we are still strong against it and will keep going until the Muckaty plan is stopped.”

Below are responses to the 2010 tabling of the National Radioctive Waste Management Bill

Ferguson To Dump Nuclear Waste On ‘Soft Target’

Natalie Wasley, New Matilda, 24 Feb 2010

The Government wants to go ahead with its radioactive waste dump plans — and it’s no coincidence that those plans involve Aboriginal land far from marginal seats, writes Natalie Wasley

Federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson announced on Tuesday that he intends to pursue plans for a national radioactive waste repository at Muckaty, 120 kilometres north of Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory.

Ferguson’s media release asserted that he was restoring “fairness” to the difficult issue of managing Australia’s radioactive waste. Elements of the Minister’s announcement do just that — in particular, the repeal of the 2005-06 Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act, extraordinary legislation which permitted the imposition of a dump in the absence of any consultation with or consent from Traditional Owners.

However the Minister’s new legislation entrenches another unfair process which began under the Howard government. Section 11 of the National Radioactive Waste Management Bill 2010 provides the Minister with the power to override any and all State/Territory laws, which might in any way impede his nuclear waste dump plans. Ferguson said yesterday “Our new law will effectively have the same application as the previous government in respect of that area. In no way can we allow any state or territory government to get in the way of establishing a repository”.

Overall then, the Minister is pursing an approach with is scarcely less draconian than that of the Howard government.

Indeed, a reading of the Bill reveals that Ferguson also intends to override the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act and the Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984 in relation to site selection. Thus Ferguson is denying the Environment Minister any role in the site selection process.

Ferguson claims that Ngapa Traditional Owners support the nomination of the Muckaty site. He well knows that many Ngapa Traditional Owners oppose the dump — as well as numerous requests for meetings, he received a letter opposing the dump in May 2009 signed by 25 Ngapa Traditional Owners and 32 Traditional Owners from other Muckaty groups. When quizzed about the letter on ABC radio yesterday, Ferguson quickly changed the topic.

Ferguson is also well aware of the unanimous resolution passed by the NT Labor Conference in April 2008 which called on the Federal Government to exclude Muckaty on the grounds that the nomination “was not made with the full and informed consent of all Traditional Owners and affected people and as such does not comply with the Aboriginal Land Rights Act”.

And Ferguson knows that Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin among many others has acknowledged the distress and opposition of many Muckaty Traditional Owners.

As well, a joint ALP media release issued in 2007, from Senator Trish Crossin, Senator Kim Carr, Minister Peter Garrett and Minister Warren Snowdon said “Labor understands that many families in the area are strongly opposed to the waste dump idea, and that these families are concerned their rights have been ignored in the process”.

The nomination of the Muckaty site hinges on a contract signed between the Northern Land Council, Federal Government and Muckaty Land Trust, but requests to view this contract — requests made by Traditional Owners and by a Senate Committee dedicated to the issue — have been denied.

The Australian National Audit Office was approached to assess the validity of the “commercial in confidence” status of the contract, but merely referred the request to the Department, which replied that the NLC had requested it remain confidential.

If the negotiations are truly to be “open, transparent and accountable”, as the Rudd Government claims, the site selection study and site nomination deed must be available for independent scrutiny. If not, they will continue to be mistrusted by Traditional Owners and stakeholders who have been shut out of many stages of the process to date.

Traditional Owners opposed to the radioactive waste dump will continue fighting to keep their country clean — and they may prevail after yet another protracted struggle. Muckaty Traditional Owner Dianne Stokes has been speaking against the proposal since its inception and is determined to see it through. “We have been writing letters to the government body signed by the Traditional Owners. We have been asking for someone to come and sit with us so that we can talk to them face to face. We want to keep talking about it and continue to fight it until we are listened to. The big capital N‐O.”

Yesterday, while outlining his new dump process, Ferguson mentioned nuclear medicine repeatedly. But the practice of nuclear medicine in no way depends on securing a dump site — let alone the hotly contested Muckaty site — and it is simply scare-mongering for the Minister to suggest otherwise.

How should we handle the contentious issues surrounding nuclear waste? It’s easier said than done, but all we need is a little common sense. Firstly, as with the production of all other hazardous materials, it needs to be demonstrated that radioactive waste is not being produced unnecessarily. It is by no means clear that Australia needs to operate the research reactor at Lucas Heights — our sole reactor. Measured by radioactivity, the reactor (and in particular its spent nuclear fuel) is the source of well over 90 per cent of the waste in question. For its part, the Labor Party, when in opposition, was itself opposed to the construction of the new “OPAL” research reactor.

Secondly, all options for radioactive waste management need to be considered — not just the option of “remote” repositories (which are always more remote for some people than for others). This includes the option of ongoing storage at the Lucas Heights site, which is operated by the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation. ANSTO is the source of most of the waste and is host to most of Australia’s radioactive waste management expertise. All the relevant organisations have acknowledged that ongoing storage at Lucas Heights is a viable option — those organisations include ANSTO, the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency, the Australian Nuclear Association and even Ferguson’s own department.

Additionally, requiring ANSTO to store its own waste is the best — and perhaps the only — way of focussing the organisation’s collective mind on the importance of waste minimisation principles.

Thirdly, if a site selection process is required it ought to be based on scientific and environmental siting criteria, as well as on the principle of voluntarism — if a community gets a site like this, it should be because that community can see benefits in it. At the moment site selection is made for rather different reasons. In 2005, the Howard government chose the Northern Territory, and ruled out NSW, on purely political reasons.

When the federal Bureau of Resource Sciences conducted a national repository site selection study in the 1990s, informed by scientific, environmental and social criteria, the Muckaty site did not even make the short-list as a “suitable” site. The fact that Martin Ferguson now favours it isn’t about the site being genuinely suitable — it’s about Muckaty being seen as a politically soft target.

Nuclear waste dump likely for NT

Sara Everingham, February 23, 2010

MARK COLVIN: The Federal Government has announced plans to repeal legislation which could force the Northern Territory to accept a national nuclear waste dump.

But a dump is likely to be located there anyway. It looks increasingly likely that waste will be kept at a remote pastoral property on Aboriginal land north of Tennant Creek. It has been offered to the Federal Government as a possible site. But there’s debate about whether Aboriginal custodians have been properly consulted.

SARA EVERINGHAM: The Federal Government says low and medium level nuclear waste being reprocessed overseas has to be returned to Australia and a nuclear waste facility is needed to store it. The longstanding question has been where it will go. Muckaty Station, 120 kilometres north of Tennant Creek could be the site.

The Federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson.

MARTIN FERGUSON: The initial consideration will be for the site that has volunteered to be by the Northern Land Council on behalf of the Ngapa people.

SARA EVERINGHAM: In 2005 the Howard government introduced legislation that would override any Northern Territory law opposing a nuclear waste dump being established in the Northern Territory. It looked to the Northern Territory after South Australia won a High Court challenge against a federal government’s plan to build the facility there.

The former government nominated three sites on defence force land in the Northern Territory as possible locations. The Northern Land Council nominated another Muckaty Station on Aboriginal land.

Now Martin Ferguson says his Government plans to overturn that legislation.

MARTIN FERGUSON: I will introduce in its place a process which requires me as the Minister to actively engage to establish a purpose-built facility, having proper regard to the normal processes that exist in Australia, going to issue of heritage and environmental protection.

SARA EVERINGHAM: The bill rules out the three sites proposed by the previous government. That leaves Muckaty Station. The traditional owners at Muckaty Station offered a one and a half square kilometre patch of land for a one-off payment of $12 million.

In 2007 one of those traditional owners told the ABC they made the decision for their children’s future but 57 other traditional owners from the Muckaty Land Trust have signed a petition opposing its use as a nuclear waste dump.

Diane Stokes is one of them.

DIANE STOKES: I want to get the traditional owners together, talk about it and then maybe have a ceremony to show Martin Ferguson who we are, because he didn’t come when we asked him.

We’ve written him a letter to come, he never come towards us. He never came and faced us. He never came and talked to us. None of the people, not even the NLC came and talked to the traditional owners.

SARA EVERINGHAM: The Northern Land Council wasn’t available for an interview today. A spokesman says the council is still waiting to see the full detail of the legislation. In the past the council has said it has consulted with the relevant traditional owners within the Muckaty Land Trust.

Natalie Wasley from the Beyond Nuclear Initiative says all the traditional owners in the land trust have the right to be consulted.

NATALIE WASLEY: There’s a large number of traditional owners who have written to the Minister, the latest letter which was received by the Minister in the middle of 2009 has 57 signatures from traditional owners who have strong cultural connections to that area, expressing opposition to the proposal.

And this is a very important document because there’s a large number of people from the Ngapa group which is the group the Minister is purporting are all in support of this proposal. So it clearly does not have consent from all of the affected people.

SARA EVERINGHAM: Have you spoken to the traditional owners who have nominated their site?

NATALIE WASLEY: I haven’t spoken directly to those traditional owners. They have been mostly in discussion with the Northern Land Council but I have spent a number of years around Tennant Creek and speaking with people affected by this proposal and they have said they will sustain their opposition, they strongly believe they have a right to be speaking about this proposal.

SARA EVERINGHAM: The Muckaty nomination has also been criticised by Martin Ferguson’s own Labor colleagues. In opposition in 2007, Peter Garrett said the consultation process was a joke and that the project needed the full consent of communities.

Martin Ferguson says Muckaty Station will be subject to a full scientific and environmental assessment and most importantly, the approval of Muckaty’s traditional owners including those who don’t approve of the proposal.

MARTIN FERGUSON: Well I’ve indicated to the Northern Land Council that I’m prepared to meet with the traditional owners. It would then be a requirement for them through my department to have full and proper negotiations.

SARA EVERINGHAM: If Muckaty Station fails those tests, the Minister says he’ll call for other nominated sites around the country.

Central Land Council reponse to dump law

The Central Land Council (CLC) expressed “profound disappointment” that the Senate passed the National Radioactive Waste Management Bill on March 13, describing the legislation as “fundamentally flawed”.

CLC Director David Ross said: “This legislation retains many of the provisions that are in the old Act (Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act 2005). It seeks to find a politically expedient solution, shows contempt for state and Territory laws, and a disregard for decision making processes enshrined in the Land Rights Act.

“This legislation is shameful, it subverts processes under the Land Rights Act and is clearly designed to reach the outcome of a dump being located on Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory, whether that’s the best place for it or not.

“The passage of this legislation will further inflame the tensions and divisions amongst families in Tennant Creek, and cause great stress to many people in that region. The Minister should have acknowledged some time ago that the Muckaty nomination is highly contested, and he should have insisted on a thorough and proper consultation process as set out in the Land Rights Act.”


23 February 2010
Radioactive Waste Dump: Territory still the target
The Government has foreshadowed the introduction of legislation to repeal the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act, but left Muckaty Station outside Tenant Creek as the most likely target for the national radioactive waste dump.
“If Resources Minister Martin Ferguson is serious when he says, ‘there is no pre-determined site outcome’ and that he is putting in place proper processes for site selection, then he should scrap Muckaty and start from scratch, then we’ve got half a chance of an honest process,” said Greens spokesperson on nuclear issues Senator Scott Ludlam.
“The nomination of Muckaty Station as a site for the dump was only possible under the Radioactive Waste Management Amendment Act (2006) – which the ALP opposed, and described as ‘a major attack on the rights of Traditional Owners and an abuse of power’
“How can the Government continue to progress the nomination of Muckaty, while claiming to repeal the Act that made it possible?
“Muckaty has been contested from the start – this proposal promises to make the debate even more divisive,” Senator Ludlam said.

Nuclear waste likely to be dumped in NT

By Jano Gibson and Kirsty Nancarrow
February 23, 2010

Resources and Energy Minister Martin Ferguson has revealed Muckaty Station, about 120 kilometres north of Tennant Creek, as the location the Federal Government will pursue for a national radioactive waste repository.

“We will proceed firstly with the only voluntary site that we have, and that goes to the Ngapa land with respect to the Muckaty Station,” he told 105.7 ABC Darwin.

Mr Ferguson said several sites preferred by the Howard government would no longer be pursued.

“We have knocked out the three sites which were not volunteered by the community but were determined by politicians in Canberra,” he said.

This is “despite the fact that scientifically they actually stack up”.

Should environmental and scientific assessments fail at the Muckaty site, Mr Ferguson said the nuclear waste dump could be located elsewhere in Australia.

“I also have the capacity, if I assess that that is not a proper site, to then open up to a national voluntary site nomination process.”

Mr Ferguson said the Government would this week repeal Howard government legislation that would have enabled it to force the waste dump on the Northern Territory.

He said radioactive waste stored at the site would not be linked to Australia’s uranium exports, but to isotopes used in medical treatments.

Ownership disputed

He said the Muckaty site had been nominated by the Northern Land Council, however he acknowledged that some traditional owners were not in agreement.

“Clearly there are some differences in terms of the Muckaty Land Trust.”

He said before the site could be approved as a waste dump, the Northern Land Council would “have to prove that it’s been done in accordance with the law of the Northern Territory”.

He said a final decision on the dump site would still take a long time.

“If the science stacks up, and if it meets environmental approvals – but thirdly and more importantly, it obtains the necessary approval from the Ngapa people, through the Northern Land Council – then it will potentially be the appropriate site.”

Natalie Wasley from the Beyond Nuclear Initiative says the decision is extremely disappointing.

“There is an agreement that was made between the Northern Land Council, the Federal Government and some traditional owners of the land trust,” she said.

“This agreement has never been made public and there’s been a number of documents submitted by other traditional owners calling for the contract and the agreement to be made public so they can see what’s actually been agreed upon for their country.

“It’s a very contested nomination.”

A woman representing some traditional owners of the Muckaty Land Trust says she wants the Federal Resources Minister to visit her country before making decisions about a nuclear waste facility.

Dianne Stokes represents the area’s Miyilwayi traditional owners and says any past agreement with the Ngapa people is not valid.

“I want to get the traditional owners together, talk about it and maybe have a ceremony to show Martin Ferguson who we are, because he didn’t come when we asked him,” she said.

“We’ve written him a letter to come.

“He never came towards us, he never came and faced us, he never came and talked to us.

“None of the people, not even the NLC, came and talked to the traditional owners.”

‘Unilateral nomination’

The Greens Senator Scott Ludlum has asked whether Mr Ferguson actually read correspondence from traditional landowners who oppose the waste dump.

“The Muckaty nomination for a nuclear waste dump is heavily contested,” he said.

“It was at the time that it does not have the continued support of the Ngapa clan as the Minister’s press release wrongly states.

“And can the Minister outline what appeal rights will be available to people aggrieved by the Northern Land Council’s unilateral nomination of their land for this facility.”

The Territory Government says it may try to block the Federal Government if it attempts to establish a nuclear waste facility at Muckaty Station.

The Chief Minister, Paul Henderson, says he is pleased the Government intends to remove its legislation blocking the Territory’s environmental assesment processes.

But Mr Henderson says the Government should have considered other sites in Australia.

He says the Territory is preparted to get into a stoush and it could win if the science shows Muckaty is not the best location.

He says recent earthquakes in the area raise questions about the appropriateness of the site.


FEBRUARY 23, 2010

Federal resources minister Martin Ferguson’s announcement that he will pursue plans for a national nuclear waste dump at the Muckaty site, north of Tennant Creek in the NT, continues the shabby and unfair process set in train by the Howard government.

Mr Ferguson’s media release falsely claims that the nomination of the Muckaty site has the support of the Ngapa Traditional Owners. He well knows that many Ngapa Traditional Owners oppose the dump; for example he was sent a letter opposing the dump in May 2009 signed by by 25 Ngapa Traditional Owners and 32 Traditional Owners from other Muckaty groups.

Mr Ferguson is also well aware of the unanimous resolution passed by the NT Labor Conference in April 2008 which called on the federal government to exclude Muckaty on the grounds that the nomination “was not made with the full and informed consent of all Traditional Owners and affected people and as such does not comply with the Aboriginal Land Rights Act”.

Mr Ferguson should redress the glaring conflict of interest whereby Land Councils are meant to represent Traditional Owners yet stand to profit if they can persuade Traditional Owners to host a dump.

His comments linking the dump to nuclear medicine are disingeuous. The ongoing practice of nuclear medicine is in no way dependent on securing a dump site anywhere let alone pursuing the hotly-contested Muckaty nomination. Only 10-20% of the waste arises from nuclear medicine.

Mr Ferguson’s claims that it is low-level waste and that it will be safely buried are false. Measured by radioactivity, over 90% of the waste comes from the overseas reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel from Lucas Heights nuclear research reactors. This long-lived intermediate-level nuclear waste (LLILW) will be stored above ground adjacent to the dump site. This ‘interim’ above-ground storage could last for decades or centuries since the government has made no progress establishing a deep underground repository for LLILW.

Mr Ferguson’s handling of the issue has been highly secretive – a clear breach of Labor’s 2007 election promise to handle the issue in a transparent and accountable manner. He says he intends to consult after announcing a dump site. But that is not consultation – it is an insult.

None of the sites under consideration in the NT was short-listed when scientific and environmental criteria were used by the federal government’s Bureau of Resource Sciences to assess alternative sites around in Australia for a radioactive waste repository in the 1990s. The NT was selected on purely political grounds, just as NSW was excluded on purely political grounds.

Mr Ferguson should repeal the nomination of the Muckaty site and start from scratch with an inquiry into all the options available for managing Australia’s radioactive waste, including the option of ongoing storage at the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor site – the source of most of the waste and most of Australia’s radioactive waste management expertise. Mr Ferguson’s department, the Lucas Heights nuclear agency ANSTO, the regulator ARPANSA, and the Australian Nuclear Association have all said that waste can continue to be stored at Lucas Heights.

LUDLAM, Senator Scott, Western Australia

I move That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research (Senator Carr) to a question without notice asked by Senator Ludlam today relating to a nuclear waste dump.

I rise to take note of the answer that was given by the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Senator Carr, a short time ago on behalf of the Minister for Resources and Energy, Mr Martin Ferguson, who we are told will tomorrow introduce legislation, presumably into the House of Representatives, repealing the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act 2005 and the amendments to it that were passed in 2006. Both the original act and the amendments in 2006 were opposed by the Labor Party, who were in opposition at the time. I can remember their words well. I was working for Senator Siewert at the time and we were gobsmacked that the Howard government was moving with such speed to coercively land a radioactive waste dump, which is the responsibility of the entire country, on a series of politically vulnerable communities in the Northern Territory. I can remember very clearly the positions that were taken at the time by ALP senators in this place, who spoke with heart and conviction I believe on the absolutely unjust tactics that were being used against politically vulnerable communities in the Northern Territory. It is entirely the wrong way to go about dealing with some of the most intractable and most dangerous categories of waste that industrial society has ever produced.

It is profoundly sad to see how close Minister Carr could have come to getting it right with the announcement that we have seen today. The government has announced that it is opening the process up to take another look and to take nominations for other sites, and that is an acknowledgement that the former process was really going nowhere. But it leaves live the nomination of a site on Muckaty Station—an Aboriginal managed cattle station outside Tennant Creek—and that is absolutely unconscionable. It was based on a nomination that was flawed. It was based on legislation that members of the present government opposed when it was passed. They said that it ran ‘roughshod over affected Indigenous communities’ and that it was legislation ‘driven at the behest of one land council in the Northern Territory’ that effectively shut out traditional owners. The government thinks that it will somehow be able to let that nomination—which has been put forward under the 2006 amendments to the act—stand, built on that foundation that was condemned at the time by the Australian Greens, by the Democrats and by the Labor Party.

A little bit of history: I think it would really have helped if the minister had read the unanimous report that the Senate Environment, Communications and the Arts Legislation Committee produced at the end of 2008. Senator Birmingham, who is in the room at the moment, attended those hearings, and I am sure that it made as strong an impression on him and other senators as it did on me to hear the evidence from the people most closely affected at Muckaty—people with traditional responsibilities for the lands around Muckaty Station who gave clear and unambiguous evidence at the time that the nomination around that area was absolutely contested and not shared by the five families who make up the Muckaty Land Trust. I read one quote—and I wish the minister had read it or been in the room at the time that it was said—from Ms Marlene Bennett. She tendered this evidence to the committee in Alice Springs on 17 November 2008, and she travelled a long way to be there. She said:

I am also very disappointed in the NLC consultation process. The NLC is the Aboriginal people’s voice, and they failed to represent them.

She went on:

I think the consultation process was very flawed and that the time for trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes is past. Open and honest discussion should be happening involving all the right people, not just with certain elements of the people.

All they are asking for is inclusion and for the opportunity for their voice to be heard. When the committee visited Alice Springs—we have never been to Muckaty Station—it was the first time that those people had been invited to have their voice heard in this debate. I thought that was shameful at the time. They really appreciated the opportunity to do that and I hope that that same committee, or whichever committee the Senate chooses to refer the bill to when it is finally introduced into this place, will be given time to sit down with the people most intimately concerned rather than with bureaucrats sitting in offices thousands of kilometres away and making these decisions which have profound implications for the lives of people with responsibilities for culture and country a long way from this building.

Finally, I touch on the fact that there is no engineering or scientific reason why we prefer remote sites, for why we continually choose remote Aboriginal communities as repositories for this waste. We heard from Mr Bradley Smith from the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies, who said:

It would appear that politically the pragmatics seem to be that that is the only viable site at the moment that I am aware of for a Commonwealth facility.

Similarly, Mr Steven Mackintosh, from ANSTO, when asked ‘Why does Australia mainly look at remote sites?’ answered:

I believe it is for political reasons, Senator.

There is a lot more of this story yet to tell.

MAPW debunks medical need for Muckaty nuclear dump

Medical Association for Prevention of War
Media Release, 23/02/2010

MAPW today issued a statement expressing concern over today’s announcement by Energy Minister Martin Ferguson that the Australian Government will pursue Muckaty Station in the Northern Territory as the preferred site for a nuclear waste dump. MAPW President Dr Bill Williams said:

“Mr Ferguson is quoted as saying that the waste requiring storage in this dump is isotopes used in medical treatments. This dump is absolutely not needed for this purpose. MAPW believes that the safest current option for management of this toxic waste is likely to be continued storage at the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor.”

“The decision to store the waste on Aboriginal land at Muckaty station fails to meet world standards, either for scientific appraisal, or for community consultation.”

“The Minister has not fully assessed all options available for storage of the waste, including the costs, risks and benefits of continued storage at Lucas Heights,” Dr Williams said.

MAPW policy notes that nuclear waste is a long-lived and serious environmental hazard, and remains an unresolved problem in every place that has nuclear power or nuclear weapons. The policy also notes that that Indigenous Australians have already suffered from imposition of nuclear contamination through the British nuclear bomb tests at Maralinga.

Public Health Association of Australia



Decision to proceed with Muckaty Station Nuclear Waste Dump based on ideology not science

The Public Health Association of Australia today expressed its disappointment at the Commonwealth Government’s announcement to proceed with attempting to locate a national nuclear waste dump on Mukarty Station, a remote Aboriginal owned station in the Northern Territory.

“The decision to push ahead with a proposed nuclear waste dump on Muckaty Station in the Northern Territory goes against good health and environmental policy”, said PHAA environmental health spokesperson and NT Branch Secretary Clive Rosewarne.

“The ALP has produced an unsatisfactory outcome for all Northern Territorians but most especially those traditional owners of Muckaty station that have for the last 5 years expressed their opposition to having the facility placed on their land”.

“This decision defies the logic of best practice in radioactive waste management and is an abrogation of a clear promise by the ALP prior to the last election”.

There is no scientific imperative to force this dump on any NT community. The Bureau of Resource Sciences identified a region in SA, even the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation has stated that its waste could be stored on site at Lucas Heights. Therefore there is no need then to have a waste dump unless there is an intention to import waste from overseas. This is a political decision.

The Public Health Association in submissions to both the Howard and Rudd governments and in public evidence to a Senate inquiry called for the Commonwealth government not to proceed with attempting to force a nuclear waste dump on the Northern Territory.

In 2008 the Public Health Association, in a joint letter to the Prime Minister asked the Government to honour its pre-election commitment to repeal the Howard government’s Radioactive Waste Management Act. Today’s announcement by Minister Ferguson does not honour that promise, but rather attempts to wriggle out of it, by repealing one piece of legislation with another version focused solely on one community. This new proposal is slap in the face to all Territorians and most particularly Aboriginal Territorians with legitimate concerns for their community’s health.

“While the transportation and storage of radioactive waste pose a potential health threat, the experience of marginalisation and disempowerment felt by Aboriginal people because of the government’s approach may contribute to negative health outcomes that are stress related”.

“This process has placed Aboriginal people under incredible stress. Today’s announcement greatly increases that stress and sends a message to Aboriginal Australia that the nuclear industry in this country comes first. The Rudd government’s credibility on Aboriginal health and its commitment to closing the health gap must be questioned when on an issues with obvious health consequences they ride rough shod over clearly expressed local community opposition”, said Mr Rosewarne.

NT Government still opposed to dump

Debates – Eleventh Assembly, First Session – 02/16/2010 – Parliamentary Record No: 11
Topic Date: 02/23/2010
Question: Nuclear Waste Facility in Territory– Government Opposition
Question Date: 02/23/2010

Member: Mr TOLLNER

Today, your comrades in the federal parliament have said they will be repealing legislation which allowed the nuclear waste facility to be built in the Northern Territory. However, in the same breath, they are saying they are negotiating to build the facility at Muckaty Station and this, in fact, is their preferred site. It is a fact that your federal Labor comrades ran a completely deceptive and dishonest campaign and intended to place the facility in the Northern Territory the whole way through. Are you going to continue to oppose the facility coming here, or will you roll over, say one thing at election time, and do another.


Madam Speaker, it is patently clear that Territorians know the government’s position has been clear, consistent, and it continues today. We oppose the establishment of a nuclear waste facility at Muckaty Station. We oppose that, unlike the member of Fong Lim and Senator Scullion from the Northern Territory who support the establishment of a nuclear waste facility in the Northern Territory.

We will continue to oppose the establishment of that facility at Muckaty Station. The reason why we do oppose, and will continue to oppose, that facility is that it has not been through the same rigorous scientific process that occurred from 1992 to 2004 – a rigorous and scientific process that was established to look at sites around Australia. It is very clear to me that this whole process needs to be revisited and we need to begin again. Scientific criteria need to be established and agreed on for what the site should contain. Sites across Australia that comply with those scientific criteria should be volunteered or nominated for examination.

I have been very clear in the media today that the Australian government should be accepting nominations from other sites around Australia, not just considering Muckaty in isolation. The sites should be narrowed down until the best sites are discussed, full-blown environmental and scientific and heritage assessments should occur, and consultations should occur with the broader local community. And then, and only then, should a final decision be made.

We have been very clear, we have been very consistent, and we will continue to oppose the siting of a nuclear waste facility at Muckaty Station in the Northern Territory.

The Hon Martin Ferguson AM MP

23 Feb 2010



The Minister for Resources and Energy, Martin Ferguson AM MP, will this week introduce the National Radioactive Waste Management Bill 2010 to the Australian Parliament.

This honours our longstanding commitment to repeal the Howard Government’s Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act 2005.

The new legislation finally provides a proper process to establish a purpose-built facility for managing radioactive waste generated by Australia’s medical, industrial, agricultural, and research use of nuclear material.

Minister Ferguson said: “The Bill being introduced this week means that a site can no longer be automatically imposed on a community in any State or Territory.

“Firstly, the three sites selected by the Howard Government on Defence land in the Northern Territory have been ruled out, as we promised before the 2007 election.

“Secondly, there is no pre-determined site outcome – the new Bill requires any site to be volunteered by the landowners.

“Affected landowners and communities must also be consulted.

“Thirdly, the Bill restores procedural fairness rights that were stripped away by the Howard Government.

“Fourthly, the Bill ensures the selected site will go through full environmental, heritage and other approvals processes.”

The Bill contains provisions for two volunteer nomination processes.

The first allows a Land Council to volunteer Aboriginal land on behalf of Traditional Owners and the second provides for a nation-wide volunteer process.

The Bill also recognises that Ngapa land on Muckaty Station was a volunteer nomination by the Northern Land Council in 2007 and that the Commonwealth entered into a Site Nomination Deed in relation to that land.

The nomination has the continuing support of the Ngapa clan and the Full Council of the Northern Land Council.

The Deed has no termination date and the parties to it have the reasonable expectation that the Commonwealth will act in good faith and good spirit to implement the 2007 agreement.

For that reason, the new Bill allows the nomination of Ngapa land on Muckaty Station to stand and it will also allow the Land Council to nominate other Ngapa land if that is the wish of the Traditional Owners.

Minister Ferguson said: “Australia has been attempting to meet its international obligations to properly manage its own radioactive waste since 1988.

“It is about time we did so.”

Australia’s radioactive waste stockpile is presently stored at more than 100 less-than-ideal sites at Australian universities, hospitals, offices and laboratories, mostly in our capital cities.

While safe, this situation is not consistent with international best practice.

Australian research reactor waste is also presently stored in Scotland and France.

We have both contractual obligations and a moral responsibility to accept the return of our own waste for proper management by 2015-16.

Australia’s low and intermediate level radioactive waste is an unavoidable result of very many worthwhile activities including the screening and treatment of cancer and other diseases, as well as medical research.

Every year, around 500,000 Australians undergo medical procedures using radioisotopes produced by the research reactor at Lucas Heights.

ACF: Wasted opportunity: Minister gets it wrong on radioactive dump

23 Feb 2010,

Resources Minister Martin Ferguson’s intention to locate a radioactive waste dump at Muckaty in the Northern Territory continues the Howard Government’s approach to nuclear waste and is inconsistent with Labor promises and policy, the Australian Conservation Foundation said today.
Minister Ferguson today ruled out three of the four sites on his shortlist, leaving Muckaty, 120 kilometres north of Tennant Creek, as the only one he would pursue.
“By putting Muckaty in the frame and advancing a process based on secrecy Minister Ferguson has wasted an opportunity to fulfil federal Labor’s clear 2007 election promise,” said ACF nuclear campaigner Dave Sweeney.
“Anything less than full repeal of the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act and a site selection process that is open, transparent and consultative would be inconsistent with Labor’s 2007 election pledges and would continue the Howard Government approach to nuclear waste and Indigenous communities.
“Attempts to dump nuclear waste at Muckaty will be fiercely contested.
“Every state and territory in Australia has laws preventing the establishment of a nuclear waste dump so moves to open up a ‘national voluntary site nomination process’, where marginalised communities bid to host a nuclear dump, are not only ethically questionable but face serious legislative barriers.
“The carrot, stick and secrecy approach is no way to manage radioactive waste.
“It is time for a fresh start and an open and responsible process from the Federal Government,” he said.
ACF is urging the Federal Government to fulfil its promise to establish a “consensual process of site selection” based on “agreed scientific grounds for determining suitability” and “community consultation and support”.

Warren Mundine’s nuclear allegiances

Warren Mundine’s nuclear allegiances

Jim Green, Online Opinion, 11 April 2012,

Warren Mundine, a member and former National President of the ALP, and co-convener of the Australian Uranium Association’s Indigenous Dialogue Group, has been promoting the nuclear industry recently. Unfortunately he turns a blind eye to the industry’s crude racism, a problem that ought to be core business for the Indigenous Dialogue Group.

Mundine could have mentioned the legacy of uranium mining in the Wiluna region of WA; to pick one of many examples. Uranium exploration in the region in the 1980s left a legacy of pollution and contamination. Greatly elevated radiation levels have been recorded despite the area being ‘cleaned’ a decade ago. Even after the ‘clean up’, the site was left with rusting drums containing uranium ore. A sign reading “Danger − low level radiation ore exposed” was found lying face down in bushes.

In August 2000, coordinator of the Wiluna-based Marruwayura Aboriginal Corporation Steve Syred said that until 1993, 100−150 people were living three kilometres from the spot where high radiation levels were recorded. Syred told the Kalgoorlie Miner that the Aboriginal community had unsuccessfully resisted uranium exploration in the area in the early 1980s. Since then many people had lived in the area while the Ngangganawili Aboriginal Corporation was based near the contaminated site. Elders still hunted in the area.

Another example ignored by Mundine was in late March when the NSW government passed legislation that excluded uranium from provisions of the NSW Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983 thus stripping Aboriginal Land Councils of any say in uranium mining.

Yet another example ignored by Mundine was the 2011 amendments to the S.A. Roxby Downs Indenture Act 1982. This is the legislation that governs operations at the Olympic Dam uranium and copper mine and retains exemptions from the S.A. Aboriginal Heritage Act. Traditional Owners were not even consulted in the amendments or exemptions. The S.A. government’s spokesperson in Parliament said: “BHP were satisfied with the current arrangements and insisted on the continuation of these arrangements, and the government did not consult further than that.”

That disgraceful performance illustrates a broader pattern. Aboriginal land rights and heritage protections are feeble at the best of times. But the legal rights and protections are repeatedly stripped away whenever they get in the way of nuclear or mining interests. The Olympic Dam mine is largely exempt from the S.A. Aboriginal Heritage Act and any uranium mines in NSW are to be exempt from provisions of the NSW Aboriginal Land Rights Act. Likewise, sub-section 40(6) of the Commonwealth’s Aboriginal Land Rights Act exempts the Ranger uranium mine in the N.T. from the Act.

Mundine claims that Australia has “a legal framework to negotiate equitably with the traditional owners on whose land many uranium deposits are found”. That claim is disingenuous.

Native Title rights were extinguished with the stroke of a pen by the Howard government to seize land for a radioactive waste dump in South Australia. Aboriginal heritage laws and Aboriginal land rights are being trashed with the current push to dump in the Northern Territory. Federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson’s National Radioactive Waste Management Act overrides the Aboriginal Heritage Act, sidesteps the Aboriginal Land Rights Act, and allows for the imposition of a dump on Aboriginal land even in the absence of any consultation with or consent from Traditional Owners.

David Ross, Director of the Central Land Council, noted in a March 14 media release: “This legislation is shameful, it subverts processes under the [Aboriginal] Land Rights Act and is clearly designed to reach the outcome of a dump being located on Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory, whether that’s the best place for it or not. This legislation preserves the Muckaty nomination without acknowledging the dissent and conflict amongst the broader traditional owner group about the process and the so-called agreement. The passage of this legislation will further inflame the tensions and divisions amongst families in Tennant Creek, and cause great stress to many people in that region.”

A small number of Traditional Owners support the N.T. dump proposal. However most are opposed and the Northern Territory Government supports that opposition, key trade unions including the Australia Council of Trade Unions, church groups, medical and health organisations, and environmental groups. If push comes to shove, there will be a blockade at the site to prevent construction of the dump.

A pro bono legal team is assisting Traditional Owners with their legal challenge against the nomination of the Muckaty site. At a Federal Court hearing on March 27, a Commonwealth lawyer argued that the government’s legislation allows the nomination of a dump site to stand even if the evidence regarding traditional ownership is false.

These patterns are evident in other countries. North American Indigenous activist Winona LaDuke from the Anishinabe Nation told the Indigenous World Uranium Summit in 2006: “The greatest minds in the nuclear establishment have been searching for an answer to the radioactive waste problem for fifty years, and they’ve finally got one: haul it down a dirt road and dump it on an Indian reservation”.

Here in Australia the situation is scarcely any better than it was in the 1950s when the British were exploding nuclear bombs on Aboriginal land. Which brings us to another of Mundine’s blind spots. He could have mentioned the latest ‘clean up’ of the Maralinga nuclear test site, which was done on the cheap. Nuclear engineer and whistleblower Alan Parkinson said of the ‘clean-up’: “What was done at Maralinga was a cheap and nasty solution that wouldn’t be adopted on white-fellas land.”

Mundine’s claim to support Aboriginal empowerment is contradicted by his consistent failure to speak out when mining and nuclear interests and governments that support those interests disempower Aboriginal people.


Environmentalists respond to Warren Mundine’s attacks

1 Aug 2014, Indymedia…

Tony Abbott says he wants to make a ”new engagement” with indigenous people. But there’s nothing new about finding opportunists like Warren Mundine to provide political cover for a racist government. That tactic is tried and tested. Only the names change.


Mine deal allegations against Warren Mundine and Aboriginal corporation

July 11, 2014, Richard Baker and Nick McKenzie…

A company that was part-owned and directed by the federal government’s chief indigenous adviser, Warren Mundine, helped broker a highly questionable deal that gave a mining company access to an Aboriginal sacred site in outback Western Australia.


The sorry tale of Lake Disappointment, the missing mining millions and Warren Mundine

July 10, 2014, Richard Baker and Nick McKenzie…


Legal advice questioned controversial mining deal

July 15, 2014, Richard Baker and Nick McKenzie…


Questions over Warren Mundine’s involvement in mining deal

12 Jul 2014, Richard Baker and Nick McKenzie…


First principles owed to our first people

July 14, 2014, The Age – Editorial…


Cash, missing cars fail to spark criminal probe in to indigenous body

July 12, 2014, Richard Baker, Nick McKenzie…

Responses to the above Fairfax articles:


Jeff McMullen: Neoliberalism, market fundamentalism and the colonization of Aboriginal policy

by Colin Penter, March 14th, 2014…

The Australian journalist, writer and social justice campaigner Jeff McMullen has written two cogent and articulate critiques of the colonization of Aboriginal policy making in this country by the cancer of neo-liberalism (or what others call market fundamentalism).

One of Jeff McMullen’s articles The New Land Grab is available on line here (in The New Internationalist blog). The second piece is a book chapter titled Dispossession- Neoliberalism and the Struggle for Aboriginal Land and Rights in the 21st Century which appears in a new book In Black and White: Australians at the Cross Roads (edited by Rhonda Craven, Anthony Dillon & Nigel Parbury). This article is available here on Jeff McMullen’s own website

McMullen is scathing about the role played by influential Aboriginal leaders, such as Noel Pearson, Marcia Langton and Warren Mundine who have become influential advocates and brokers for neoliberal policies and have gathered adherents and supporters in both political parties and corporate Australia.


I don’t represent anyone but Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, says Warren Mundine

25 June 2014

Warren Mundine has confirmed what many First Nations leaders and community members suspected all along – he doesn’t represent anyone but the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott. The Chairman of the Indigenous …


Elders reject Warren Mundine’s attack on Green groups

Warren Mundine is a man driven by ideology whose Lore and Culture is dollar signs, according to two prominent Elders who were responding to Mr Mundine’s scathing attack on Green groups. In an opinion …

09 July 2014


Who says Mundine can represent us?

22 August 2013

Leaders react to Tony Abbott’s advisory council plans Reaction to Warren Mundine’s Garma address have been mixed with one leader declaring Mr Mundine was “on another planet” and “should not be up there …


Mundine my “kindred spirit” to fix plight of First Peoples, says Abbott

15 August 2013

Coalition leader, Tony Abbott believes he and Warren Mundine are kindred spirits seeking to improve the plight of Aboriginal people. Mr Abbott said there was a need to convert all the good thinking from …


Green groups hit back at Mundine

8 July 2014


Response to Warren Mundine, letter published in the Australian Financial Review

April 2012…

It’s time to stop radioactive racism

Globally the nuclear industry is in decline and has been for a long time. The price of uranium was briefly inflated along with false dreams of a nuclear renaissance, in reality the industry is waning. The Fukushima disaster reminded both communities and financial institutions that nuclear power is far too risky for life on this planet.

In Western Australia we have a very aggressive uranium exploration program, sponsored by the State Government, yet deeply opposed by the people. We have a strong history of resistance against uranium mines and a proud history of stopping these mines. In the 1970′s my elders fought against uranium mining at Yeelirrie. In the 1980′s people from the Western Desert marched down St Georges Terrace in the thousands against uranium mining on their lands and we are proud to say we’ve never had a uranium mine in WA. We are going to keep it that way.

Warren Mundine wrote to the Financial Review promoting the nuclear industry. He wants uranium mining, he wants nuclear power and he wants the international community to dispose of its nuclear waste here, all on our lands. Mr Mundine does not speak for us here in Western Australia and has no right to talk about what should or should not happen on our country.

Some of the communities who are being barraged by these wanna be miners have generations of knowledge about uranium ‘poison’. We know better than most, the dangers of uranium. We also have generations worth of experience in dealing with mining companies , of witnessing their broken promises and the deep enduring failures of government to protect our country and people.

We don’t need someone from the East Coast, from Canberra or Canada to tell us what we should or shouldn’t do. Uranium stays in the ground. We have a saying, “Wanti* Uranium, leave it in the ground!” (*leave it)

The nuclear industry across Australia takes it’s toll on Aboriginal communities; from the nuclear weapons testing in Maralinga and Monte Bello island, from the trial mines in Wiluna, Yeelirrie and Manyingee in WA, to the abandoned mines in the NT & Queensland at Rum Jungle and Alligator River and Mary Kathleen, the existing mines at Ranger and Beverley and Roxby Downs in SA. The defeated proposed waste dump in South Australia now proposed for Muckaty Station in the NT. This industry preys on remote Aboriginal communities keeping everything out of sight and out of mind.

Across Australia there has never been a uranium mine that has not leaked radioactive mine waste into the environment, this industry has been tried and consistently failed.

The risk to our lands, to life itself far outweigh the measly rewards, the few jobs on offer, the State government royalties. It is not worth the long term damage to our country and to our water.

These mines will only last for 10 years or 20 years but as custodians we have thousands of years of waste. Long after this State government is a memory, long after the mining companies have gone broke we will be living with the radioactive legacy of their greedy short term ambitions. I and the people of West Australian Nuclear Free Alliance will not sell future generations short.

Kado Muir is the Chairperson of the West Australia Nuclear Free Alliance, he is a Ngalia man and a custodian for Yeelirrie – one of the uranium deposits under exploration by BHP Billiton.

Michael Shellenberger’s pro-nuclear lobby group ‘Environmental Progress’

Michael Shellenberger ‒ President of ‘Environmental Progress’, Ecomodernist, Time Magazine ‘Hero of the Environment’, Blatant Liar, Dangerous Idiot.

In this webpage:

Questions Michael Shellenberger won’t answer, blatant lies he refuses to correct

Here’s a list of questions sent repeatedly to Shellenberger in 2018. He has not responded. Questions 1 and 4-8 refer to falsehoods that Shellenberger refuses to correct. Questions 2,3 and 9 refer to some of his unhinged and conspiratorial attacks on NGOs.

  1. You state “One of FOE-Greenpeace’s biggest lies about nuclear energy is that it leads to weapons.”[1] Leaving aside the point that the connections between civil and military nuclear programs are well understood[2] ‒ and a number of the connections are openly acknowledged by nuclear industry bodies and supporters[3] ‒ can you cite any FOE statements about nuclear power/weapons connections which could reasonably be described as “lies”?
  2. You assert that FOE “oppose cheap and abundant energy”.[4] Do you have any evidence to justify that statement?
  3. You assert that the anti-nuclear movement has a “long history of Malthusian anti-humanism aimed at preventing “overpopulation” and “overconsumption” by keeping poor countries poor.”[5] Can you provide any evidence in support of that statement that doesn’t date from the 1960s or early 1970s?
  4. In an ‘investigative piece’ aimed squarely at FOE and Greenpeace, you list three groups which you claim have accepted donations “from fossil fuel … investors”[1]. However FOE and Greenpeace aren’t included in the list of three groups. Do you have any evidence of FOE or Greenpeace receiving donations from fossil fuel investors, other than the 1969 donation to FOE that you frequently cite?
  5. You assert that donors and board members of FOE “are the ones who win the government contracts to build solar and wind farms, burn dirty “renewable” biomass, and import natural gas from the United States and Russia.”[1] Do you have any evidence to support that statement?
  6. You insinuate in a newspaper article that FOE accepts funding from natural gas companies.[6] Elsewhere, your group asserts that FOE is “fossil fuel-funded”.[7] Do you have any evidence to support those claims?
  7. You assert[1] that FOE keeps its donors secret and in support of that claim you cite an article that doesn’t even mention FOE.[5] Do you have any evidence to support the claim?
  8. You claim that FOE has hundreds of millions of dollars in its bank and stock accounts.[8] Do you have any evidence to support that statement?
  9. You assert that FOE’s “agenda has never been to protect humankind but rather to punish us for our supposed transgressions.”[1] Do you have any evidence to support that statement?


  1. Michael Shellenberger, 16 Oct 2017, ‘Enemies of the Earth: Unmasking the Dirty War Against Clean Energy in South Korea by Friends of the Earth (FOE) and Greenpeace’,
  2. Nuclear Monitor #804, 28 May 2015, ‘The myth of the peaceful atom’,
  3. Nuclear Monitor #850, ‘Nuclear power, weapons and ‘national security”, 7 Sept 2017,
  4. Michael Shellenberger, Mark Nelson, Madi Czerwinski, Michael Light, John Lindberg, and Minshu Deng / Environmental Progress, Aug 2017, ‘The High Cost of Fear: Understanding the Costs and Causes of South Korea’s Proposed Nuclear Energy Phase-Out’,
  5. Michael Shellenberger, 25 July 2017, ‘Greenpeace’s Dirty War on Clean Energy, Part I: South Korean Version’,
  6. Michael Shellenberger, July 2017, ‘Why the World Needs South Korea’s Nuclear’,
  8. Michael Shellenberger, Mark Nelson, Madi Czerwinski, Michael Light, John Lindberg, and Minshu Deng / Environmental Progress, Aug 2017, ‘The High Cost of Fear: Understanding the Costs and Causes of South Korea’s Proposed Nuclear Energy Phase-Out’,

Is there a future for ‘pro-nuclear environmentalism’?

Jim Green, 30 Oct 2017, RenewEconomy

For a longer version of this article please click here.

Michael Shellenberger is visiting Australia this week. He has been a prominent environmentalist (of sorts) since he co-authored the 2004 essay, The Death of Environmentalism. These days, as the President of the California-based ‘Environmental Progress’ lobby group, he is stridently pro-nuclear, hostile towards renewable energy and hostile towards the environment movement.

Shellenberger is visiting to speak at the International Mining and Resources Conference in Melbourne. His visit was promoted by Graham Lloyd in The Australian in September. Shellenberger is “one of the world’s leading new-generation environmental thinkers” according to The Australian, and if the newspaper is any guide he is here to promote his message that wind and solar have failed, that they are doubling the cost of electricity, and that “all existing renewable technologies do is make the electricity system chaotic and provide greenwash for fossil fuels.”

Trawling through Environmental Progress literature, one of their recurring themes is the falsehood that “every time nuclear plants close they are replaced almost entirely by fossil fuels”. South Korea, for example, plans to reduce reliance on coal and nuclear under recently-elected President Moon Jae-in, and to boost reliance on gas and renewables. But Shellenberger and Environmental Progress ignore those plans and concoct their own scare-story in which coal and gas replace nuclear power, electricity prices soar, thousands die from increased air pollution, and greenhouse emissions increase.

Fake scientists and radiation quackery

Environmental Progress’ UK director John Lindberg is described as an “expert on radiation” on the lobby group’s website. In fact, he has no scientific qualifications. Likewise, a South Korean article falsely claims that Shellenberger is a scientist and that article is reposted, without correction, on the Environmental Progress website.

Shellenberger says that at a recent talk in Berlin: “Many Germans simply could not believe how few people died and will die from the Chernobyl accident (under 200) and that nobody died or will die from the meltdowns at Fukushima. How could it be that everything we were told is not only wrong, but often the opposite of the truth?”

There’s a simple reason that Germans didn’t believe Shellenberger’s claims about Chernobyl and Fukushima ‒ they are false.

Shellenberger claims that “under 200” people have died and will die from the Chernobyl disaster, but in fact the lowest of the estimates of the Chernobyl cancer death toll is the World Health Organization’s estimate of “up to 9,000 excess cancer deaths” in the most contaminated parts of the former Soviet Union. And of course there are higher estimates for the death toll across Europe.

Shellenberger claims that the Fukushima meltdowns “killed precisely no one” and that “nobody died or will die from the meltdowns at Fukushima”. An Environmental Progress report has this to say about Fukushima: “[T]he science is unequivocal: nobody has gotten sick much less died from the radiation that escaped from three meltdowns followed by three hydrogen gas explosions. And there will be no increase in cancer rates.”

In support of those assertions, Environmental Progress cites a World Health Organization report that directly contradicts the lobby group’s claims. The WHO report concluded that for people in the most contaminated areas in Fukushima Prefecture, the estimated increased risk for all solid cancers will be around 4% in females exposed as infants; a 6% increased risk of breast cancer for females exposed as infants; a 7% increased risk of leukaemia for males exposed as infants; and for thyroid cancer among females exposed as infants, an increased risk of up to 70% (from a 0.75% lifetime risk up to 1.25%).

Applying a linear-no threshold (LNT) risk factor to the estimated collective radiation dose from Fukushima fallout gives an estimated long-term cancer death toll of around 5,000 people. Nuclear lobbyists are quick to point out that LNT may overestimate risks from low dose and low dose-rate exposure ‒ but LNT may also underestimate the risks according to expert bodies such as the US National Academy of Sciences’ Committee on the Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation.

Attacking environment groups

Shellenberger reduces the complexities of environmental opposition to nuclear power to the claim that in the 1960s, an “influential group of conservationists within Sierra Club feared that cheap, abundant electricity from nuclear would result in overpopulation and resource depletion” and therefore decided to campaign against nuclear power.

If such views had any currency in the 1960s, they certainly don’t now. Yet Environmental Progress asserts that Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth (FOE) “oppose cheap and abundant energy” and Shellenberger asserts that “the FOE-Greenpeace agenda has never been to protect humankind but rather to punish us for our supposed transgressions.” And Shellenberger suggests that such views are still current by asserting that the anti-nuclear movement has a “long history of Malthusian anti-humanism aimed at preventing “overpopulation” and “overconsumption” by keeping poor countries poor.”

In an ‘investigative piece‘ ‒ titled ‘Enemies of the Earth: Unmasking the Dirty War Against Clean Energy in South Korea by Friends of the Earth (FOE) and Greenpeace’ ‒ Shellenberger lists three groups which he claims have accepted donations “from fossil fuel and renewable energy investors, as well as others who stand to benefit from killing nuclear plants”. FOE and Greenpeace don’t feature among the three groups even though the ‘investigative piece’ is aimed squarely at them.

Undeterred by his failure to present any evidence of FOE and Greenpeace accepting fossil fuel funding (they don’t), Shellenberger asserts that the donors and board members of FOE and Greenpeace “are the ones who win the government contracts to build solar and wind farms, burn dirty “renewable” biomass, and import natural gas from the United States and Russia.” Really? Where’s the evidence? There’s none in Shellenberger’s ‘investigative piece’.

In an article for a South Korean newspaper, Shellenberger states: “Should we be surprised that natural gas companies fund many of the anti-nuclear groups that spread misinformation about nuclear? The anti-nuclear group Friends of the Earth ‒ which has representatives in South Korea ‒ received its initial funding from a wealthy oil man …” He fails to note that the donation was in 1969! And he fails to substantiate his false insinuation that FOE accepts funding from natural gas companies, or his false claim that natural gas companies fund “many of the anti-nuclear groups”.

Shellenberger’s ‘investigative piece‘ falsely claims that FOE keeps its donors secret, and in support of that falsehood he cites an article that doesn’t even mention FOE. Environmental Progress falsely claims that FOE has hundreds of millions of dollars in its bank and stock accounts.

Shellenberger claims that the “greatest coup” of FOE and Greenpeace in South Korea was an “Hollywood-style anti-nuclear disaster movie” which was released last year and has been watched by millions, mostly on Netflix. But FOE and Greenpeace had nothing to do with the production of the movie!

In light of all the above falsehoods, it seems a bit rich for Shellenberger to accuse anti-nuclear groups of being “flagrantly dishonest”. For good measure, he accuses anti-nuclear groups of being “corrupt” ‒ without a shred of evidence.

Environmental Progress has an annual budget of US$1.5 million, Shellenberger claims, and he asks how Environmental Progress “can possibly succeed against the anti-nuclear Goliath with 500 times the resources.” An anti-nuclear Goliath with 500 times their budget of US$1.5 million, or US$750 million in annual expenditure on anti-nuclear campaigns? Shellenberger claims that Greenpeace has annual income of US$400 million to finance its work in 55 nations ‒ but he doesn’t note that only a small fraction of that funding is directed to anti-nuclear campaigns. FOE’s worldwide budget is US$12 million according to Environmental Progress ‒ but only a small fraction is directed to anti-nuclear campaigns.

A future for pro-nuclear environmentalism?

The nuclear power industry is having one of its worst ever years. Environmental Progress is warning about nuclear power’s “rapidly accelerating crisis” and other pro-nuclear lobbyists have noted that “the industry is on life support in the United States and other developed economies“.

The biggest disaster for the nuclear industry this year has been the bankruptcy filing of Westinghouse and the decision to abandon two partially-built reactors in the US after at least A$11.5 billion was spent on the project. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg:

  • there has been a sharp down-turnin China’s nuclear program in the past two years;
  • Swiss voters supported a nuclear phase-out referendum;
  • South Korea’s new government will haltplans to build new nuclear power plants;
  • Taiwan’s Cabinet has reiteratedthe government’s resolve to phase out nuclear power by 2025;
  • Japan’s industry has been decimated by the Fukushima disaster;
  • India’s nuclear industry keeps promising the world and delivering very little;
  • France’s nuclear industry is in its “worst situation ever” according to a former EDF director and it faces crippling debts;
  • the UK’s nuclear power program faces “something of a crisis” according to an industry lobbyist(the estimated cost of the only two reactors under construction is A$40.4 billion ‒ and cost estimates have risen five-fold);
  • all of Germany’s reactors will be closed by the end of 2022 and all of Belgium’s will be closed by the end of 2025;
  • and last but not least, a High Court judgement in South Africa in April ruled that much of the country’s nuclear new-build program is without legal foundation, and there is little likelihood that the program will be revived given that it is shrouded in corruption scandals.

Industries tied to nuclear power are struggling. “It has never been a worse time for uranium miners”, said Alexander Molyneux from Paladin Energy in October 2016. He should know ‒ Perth-based Paladin was put into administration in July this year. Here in Australia, BHP produces uranium as a by-product of its giant copper mine at Olympic Dam in SA; Heathgate Resources operates the small Four Mile mine in SA; and Rio Tinto has finished mining uranium at Ranger in the NT and is processing remaining stockpiles before getting to work on a half-billion dollar rehabilitation.

Prices for uranium conversion (converting uranium to uranium hexafluoride) have been in freefall in recent years and the price for uranium hexafluoride has been in freefall. The price for uranium enrichment (increasing the ratio of uranium-235 to uranium-238) was at an all-time low last year and has fallen further this year.

The only nuclear industry that is booming is nuclear decommissioning ‒ the World Nuclear Association anticipates US$111 billion (A$145 billion) worth of decommissioning projects to 2035.

How much longer will the nuclear lobbyists keep flogging the dead nuclear horse? Perhaps not too much longer. It’s worth keeping in mind that nuclear lobbyists ‒ especially the self-styled ‘pro-nuclear environmentalists’ ‒ are few in number. David Roberts summed up the situation in 2013, when Robert Stone’s ‘Pandora’s Promise‘ propaganda film was launched:

“There is no budding environmentalist movement for nukes. Ever since I started paying attention to “nuclear renaissance” stories about a decade ago, there’s always been this credulous, excitable bit about how enviros are starting to come around. The roster of enviros in this purportedly burgeoning movement: Stewart Brand, the Breakthrough Boys, and “Greenpeace cofounder Patrick Moore,” who has been a paid shill for industry for decades (it sounds like the Pandora folks were wise enough to leave him out). More recently George Monbiot and Mark Lynas have been added to the list.

“This handful of converts is always cited with the implication that it’s the leading edge of a vast shift, and yet … it’s always the same handful. … In the movie, Shellenberger says, “I have a sense that this is a beautiful thing … the beginning of a movement.” I fear he has once again mistaken the contents of his navel for the zeitgeist.”

—- Dr Jim Green edits the Nuclear Monitor newsletter and is the national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth Australia.

Nuclear lobbyist Michael Shellenberger learns to love the bomb, goes down a rabbit hole

Jim Green, 6 September 2018, ‘Nuclear lobbyist Michael Shellenberger learns to love the bomb, goes down a rabbit hole’, Nuclear Monitor #865,

In 2015, Nuclear Monitor published a detailed critique of the many ways nuclear industry insiders and lobbyists trivialize and deny the connections between nuclear power (and the broader nuclear fuel cycle) and nuclear weapons proliferation.1

Since then, the arguments have been turned upside down with prominent industry insiders and lobbyists openly acknowledging power-weapons connections. This remarkable about-turn has clear origins in the crisis facing nuclear power and the perceived need to secure increased subsidies to prevent reactors closing and to build new ones.2

One thread of the new sales pitch ‒ one which doesn’t fundamentally contradict long-standing denials of power-weapons connections ‒ has been a ratcheting up of the argument that countries with a thriving nuclear export industry, (necessarily) underpinned by a thriving domestic nuclear industry, are best placed to influence which countries can or can’t pursue weapons.3

Another thread of the new sales pitch ‒ and this really is new ‒ is to openly link to nuclear power to weapons, to celebrate the connections and to use them to lobby for greater subsidies for nuclear power.2 The US Nuclear Energy Institute, for example, tried in mid-2017 to convince politicians in Washington that if the AP1000 reactor construction projects in South Carolina and Georgia weren’t completed, it would stunt development of the nation’s nuclear weapons complex.4

The Nuclear Energy Institute paper wasn’t publicly released. But in the second half of 2017, numerous nuclear insiders and lobbyists openly acknowledged power-weapons connections and called for additional subsidies for nuclear power. The most important of these initiatives was a paper by the Energy Futures Initiative ‒ a creation of Ernest Moniz, who served as energy secretary under President Barack Obama.5

Even the uranium industry has jumped on the bandwagon, with two US companies warning that reliance on foreign sources threatens national security and lodging a petition with the Department of Commerce calling for US utilities to be required to purchase a minimum 25% of their requirements from domestic mines.6

Decades of deceit have been thrown overboard with the new sales pitch linking nuclear power and weapons. However there are still some hold-outs.7 Ted Norhaus, a self-styled ‘pro-nuclear environmentalist’, argues that to conflate nuclear power with nuclear weapons is “extremely misleading” because they involve different physics, different technologies and different institutions.8

Ben Heard ‒ a nuclear lobbyist in Australia whose ‘Bright New World’ lobby group accepts secret corporate donations9,10 ‒ attacked the Australian Conservation Foundation for its failure to acknowledge the “obvious distinction” between nuclear power and weapons and for “co-opting disarmament … toward their ideological campaigns against peaceful science and technology”.11

Heard wrote in December 2017: “Peace is furthered when a nation embraces nuclear power, because it makes that nation empirically less likely to embark on a nuclear weapons program. That is the finding of a 2017 study published in the peer-reviewed journal International Security.”11 In fact, that non-statistically significant finding sat alongside a contrary, statistically significant finding in the International Security journal article: the annual probability of starting a nuclear weapons program is more than twice as high in countries with an operating power reactor or one under construction.12

Until recently, another nuclear lobbyist continuing to deny power-weapons connections was Michael Shellenberger from the ‘Environmental Progress’ pro-nuclear lobby group in the US. He told an IAEA conference last year that “nuclear energy prevents the spread of nuclear weapons”.13 And he claimed last year that “one of FOE-Greenpeace’s biggest lies about nuclear energy is that it leads to weapons” and that there is an “inverse relationship between energy and weapons”.14 He concluded that article by asserting that “nuclear is our only source of energy with a transcendent moral purpose, to lift all humans out of poverty, reverse humankind’s negative environmental impact, and guarantee peace.”14

One of Shellenberger’s bright ideas was to launch a campaign to garner international support for the construction of nuclear power reactors in North Korea.15 That would ‒ somehow, magically ‒ curtail or end North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. This “atoms for peace” initiative would be, in Shellenberger’s words, “one of the best means of creating peace with North Korea”.14 No matter that his “new framework” is much the same as the old 1994 Agreed Framework, which was a complete failure.16

Shellenberger’s backflip

In two articles published in August, Shellenberger has done a 180-degree backflip on the power-weapons connections.17,18

“[N]ational security, having a weapons option, is often the most important factor in a state pursuing peaceful nuclear energy”, Shellenberger now believes.19

A recent analysis from Environmental Progress finds that of the 26 nations that are building or are committed to build nuclear power plants, 23 have nuclear weapons, had weapons, or have shown interest in acquiring weapons.20 “While those 23 nations clearly have motives other than national security for pursuing nuclear energy,” Shellenberger writes, “gaining weapons latency appears to be the difference-maker. The flip side also appears true: nations that lack a need for weapons latency often decide not to build nuclear power plants … Recently, Vietnam and South Africa, neither of which face a significant security threat, decided against building nuclear plants …”17

Here is the break-down of the 26 countries that are building or are committed to build nuclear power plants:17

  • Thirteen nations had a weapons program, or have shown interest in acquiring a weapon: Argentina, Armenia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Egypt, Iran, Japan, Romania, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, UAE.
  • Seven nations have weapons (France, US, Britain, China, Russia, India and Pakistan), two had weapons as part of the Soviet Union (Ukraine and Belarus), and one (Slovakia) was part of a nation (Czechoslovakia) that sought a weapon.
  • Poland, Hungary, and Finland are the only three nations (of the 26) for which Environmental Progress could find no evidence of “weapons latency” as a motivation.

Shellenberger points to research by Fuhrmann and Tkach which found that 31 nations had the capacity to enrich uranium or reprocess plutonium, and that 71% of them created that capacity to give themselves weapons latency.21

Current patterns connecting the pursuit of power and weapons stretch back across the 60 years of civilian nuclear power. Shellenberger notes that “at least 20 nations sought nuclear power at least in part to give themselves the option of creating a nuclear weapon” ‒ Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Egypt, France, Italy, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Japan, Libya, Norway, Romania, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, West Germany, Yugoslavia.17

Nuclear weapons ‒ a force for peace?

So far, so good. The pursuit of nuclear power and weapons are often linked. That’s a powerful reason to eschew nuclear power, to strengthen the safeguards system, to tighten export controls, to restrict the spread of enrichment and reprocessing, and so on. But Shellenberger has a very different take on the issues.

Discussing the Fuhrmann and Tkach article (and studiously avoiding a vast body of contrary literature), Shellenberger writes:17

“What was the relationship between nuclear latency and military conflict? It was negative. “Nuclear latency appears to provide states with deterrence-related benefits,” they [Fuhrmann and Tkach] concluded, “that are distinct from actively pursuing nuclear bombs.”

“Why might this be? Arriving at an ultimate cause is difficult if not impossible, the authors note. But one obvious possibility is that the “latent nuclear powers may be able to deter conflict by (implicitly) threatening to ‘go nuclear’ following an attack.” …

“After over 60 years of national security driving nuclear power into the international system, we can now add “preventing war” to the list of nuclear energy’s superior characteristics. …

“As a lifelong peace activist and pro-nuclear environmentalist, I almost fell out of my chair when I discovered the paper by Fuhrmann and Tkach. All that most nations will need to deter military threats is nuclear power ‒ a bomb isn’t even required? Why in the world, I wondered, is this fact not being promoted as one of nuclear powers many benefits?

“The answer is that the nuclear industry and scientific community have tried, since Atoms for Peace began 65 years ago, to downplay any connection between the two ‒ and for an understandable reason: they don’t want the public to associate nuclear power plants with nuclear war.

“But in seeking to deny the connection between nuclear power and nuclear weapons, the nuclear community today finds itself in the increasingly untenable position of having to deny these real world connections ‒ of motivations and means ‒ between the two. Worse, in denying the connection between energy and weapons, the nuclear community reinforces the widespread belief that nuclear weapons have made the world a more dangerous place when the opposite is the case. …

“In the real world, nuclear weapons have only been used to end or prevent war — a remarkable record for the world’s most dangerous objects.

“Nuclear energy, without a doubt, is spreading and will continue to spread around the world, largely with national security as a motivation. The question is whether the nuclear industry will, alongside anti-nuclear activists, persist in stigmatizing weapons latency as a nuclear power “bug” rather than tout it as the epochal, peace-making feature it is.”

Shellenberger asks why the deterrent effect of nuclear power isn’t being promoted as one of its many benefits. A better answer to the one he offers is that the premise is nonsense. Nuclear weapons can have a deterrent effect ‒ in a uniquely dangerous and potentially uniquely counterproductive manner ‒ but any correlation between latent nuclear weapons capabilities and reduced military conflict is just that, correlation not causation.

In a second article, Shellenberger offers the contrarian wisdom that “nuclear weapons make us peaceful”.18 He writes:

“The widespread assumption is that the more nations have nuclear weapons, the more dangerous the world will be. But is that really the case? … [I]t is impossible not to be struck by these facts:

  • No nation with a nuclear weapon has ever been invaded by another nation.
  • The number of deaths in battle worldwide [per 100,000 of world population] has declined 95 percent in the 70 years since the invention and spread of nuclear weapons;
  • The number of Indian and Pakistani civilian and security forces deaths in two disputed territories declined 95 percent after Pakistan’s first nuclear weapons test in 1998. …

“The division of the world into nuclear-armed and unarmed nations has long been arbitrary and unfair. Nuclear-armed nations, except for France, hypocritically punished India for decades with trade sanctions for acquiring a weapon. …

“[A] world without nuclear weapons would be a world where relatively weak nations ‒ like France and Britain before World War II and North Korea and Iran today ‒ are deprived the only power on Earth capable of preventing a military invasion by a more powerful adversary. Who are we to deny weak nations the nuclear weapons they need for self-defense? The answer should by now be clear: hypocritical, short-sighted, and imperialistic.”

So Iran should be encouraged to develop nuclear weapons ‒ or perhaps Iran should be gifted nuclear weapons by an enlightened weapons state. Shellenberger cites long-term nuclear weapons proliferation enthusiast Kenneth Waltz, who claims that the “decades-long Middle East nuclear crisis … will end only when a balance of military power is restored”.18 Dictators Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi ought to have acquired nuclear weapons, according to Shellenberger, not least because they were killed and their regimes overthrown after they gave up the pursuit of nuclear weapons.18 Shellenberger cites a German academic who argues that a nuclear-armed Germany “would stabilize NATO and the security of the Western World”.18,22 We “should be glad that North Korea acquired the bomb” according to Shellenberger.18 And on it goes ‒ his enthusiasm for nuclear weapons proliferation knows no bounds.

What to make of Shellenberger’s conversion?

No doubt there will be more acknowledgements of power-weapons connections by nuclear industry insiders and lobbyists. As Shellenberger notes, the nuclear ‘community’ today finds itself in an increasingly untenable position denying the connections.17

What to make of Shellenberger’s advocacy of nuclear weapons proliferation? There is a degree of domestic support for nuclear weapons programs in weapons states … but few people support generalized nuclear weapons proliferation and few would swallow Shellenberger’s arguments including his call to shred the non-proliferation and disarmament system and to encourage weapons proliferation.

Understanding of the power-weapons connections, combined with opposition to nuclear weapons, is one of the motivations driving opposition to nuclear power. According to Shellenberger, the only two US states forcing the closure of nuclear plants, California and New York, also had the strongest nuclear disarmament movements.17

There is some concern that claims that the civil nuclear industry is an important (or even necessary) underpinning of a weapons program will be successfully used to secure additional subsidies for troubled nuclear power programs (e.g. in the US, France and the UK). After all, nuclear insiders and lobbyists wouldn’t abandon their decades-long deceit about power-weapons connections if not for the possibility that their new argument will gain traction, among politicians if not the public.

The growing acknowledgement ‒ and public understanding ‒ of power-weapons connections might have consequences for nuclear power newcomer countries such as Saudi Arabia. Assuming that the starting point is opposition to a Saudi nuclear weapons program, heightened sensitivity might constrain nuclear exporters who would otherwise export to Saudi Arabia with minimalist safeguards and no serious attempt to check the regime’s weapons ambitions. Or it might not lead to that outcome … as things stand, numerous nuclear exporters are scrambling for a share of the Saudi nuclear power program regardless of proliferation concerns.

More generally, a growing understanding of power-weapons connections might lead to a strengthening of the safeguards system along with other measures to firewall nuclear power from weapons. But again, that’s hypothetical and it is at best some way down the track ‒ there is no momentum in that direction.

And another hypothetical arising from the growing awareness about power-weapons connections: proliferation risks might be (and ought to be) factored in as a significant negative in comparative assessments of power generation options.

‘Shellenberger has gone down a rabbit hole’

As for Shellenberger, Nuclear Monitor has previously exposed the litany of falsehoods in his writings on nuclear and energy issues.16 In his most recent articles he exposes himself as an intellectual lightweight prepared to swing from one extreme of a debate to the other if that’s what it takes to build the case for additional subsidies for nuclear power.

A dangerous intellectual lightweight. Responding to Shellenberger’s more-the-merrier attitude towards nuclear weapons proliferation, pro-nuclear commentator Dan Yurman puts it bluntly: “Here’s the problem. The more nations have nuclear weapons, the more dangerous the world will be. Sooner or later some tin pot dictator or religious zealot, is likely to push a button and send us all to eternity.”23

Shellenberger’s about-turn on power-weapons connections provoked a hostile response from Yurman:23

“Shellenberger has crossed a red line for the global commercial nuclear industry, which has done everything in its power to avoid having the public conflate nuclear weapons with commercial nuclear energy. Worse, he’s given opponents of nuclear energy, like Greenpeace, a ready-made tool to attack the industry. …

“In the end he may have painted himself into a corner. Not only has he alienated some of his supporters on the commercial nuclear side of the house, but he also has energized the nonproliferation establishment, within governments and among NGOs, offering them a rich opportunity promote critical reviews of the risks of expanding nuclear energy as a solution to the challenge of climate change. …

“Shellenberger has gone down a rabbit hole with his two essays promoting the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Given all the great things he has done to promote commercial nuclear energy, it is a perplexing and disturbing development.

“It’s ok to be contrarian, but I fear he will pay a price for it with reduced support from some of his current supporters and he will face critical reviews from detractors of these essays. In the end public support and perception of the safety of nuclear energy may be diminished by these essays since they will lead to increased conflating of commercial nuclear energy with nuclear weapons. The fatal attraction of the power of nuclear weapons has lured another victim. It’s an ill-fated step backwards.”


  1. Nuclear Monitor #804, 28 May 2015, ‘The myth of the peaceful atom’,
  2. Nuclear Monitor #850, 7 Sept 2017, ‘Nuclear power, weapons and ‘national security”,
  3. Nuclear Monitor #850, ‘Does the US need a strong nuclear industry to prevent proliferation abroad?’,
  4. Amy Harder, 16 June 2017, ‘Nuclear scramble on tax credits’,
  5. Energy Futures Initiative, 2017, ‘The U.S. Nuclear Energy Enterprise: A Key National Security Enabler’,,
  6. Nuclear Monitor #857, 14 Feb 2018, ‘2017 in review: Uranium is best left in the ground’,
  7. Nuclear Monitor #858, ”Pro-nuclear environmentalists’ in denial about power/weapons connections’,
  8. Ted Norhaus, 14 May 2017, ‘Time to stop confusing nuclear weapons with nuclear power’,
  9. Friends of the Earth, ‘Ben Heard and the fake environment group ‘Bright New World’ that accepts secret corporate donations’,
  11. Ben Heard, 12 Dec 2017, ‘Australian Conservation Foundation leverages peace prize against peaceful technology’,
  12. Nicholas L. Miller, 2017, ‘Why Nuclear Energy Programs Rarely Lead to Proliferation’, International Security 42, No. 2, pp.40-77,, Appendix:
  13. Michael Shellenberger, 30 Oct 2017, ‘Saving Power in Danger: Michael Shellenberger Keynote Address to IAEA’,
  14. Michael Shellenberger, 16 Oct 2017, ‘Enemies of the Earth: Unmasking the Dirty War Against Clean Energy in South Korea by Friends of the Earth (FOE) and Greenpeace’,
  15. 1 June 2017, ‘US-Korea Letter’,
  16. Nuclear Monitor #853, 30 Oct 2017, ‘Exposing the misinformation of Michael Shellenberger and ‘Environmental Progress”,
  17. Michael Shellenberger, 29 Aug 2018, ‘For Nations Seeking Nuclear Energy, The Option To Build A Weapon Remains A Feature Not A Bug’,
  18. Michael Shellenberger, 6 Aug 2018, ‘Who Are We To Deny Weak Nations The Nuclear Weapons They Need For Self-Defense?’,
  19. Michael Shellenberger, 28 Aug 2018, ‘How Nations Go Nuclear: An Interview With M.I.T.’s Vipin Narang’,
  20. Environmental Progress, 2018, Nations Building Nuclear ‒ Proliferation Analysis,
  21. Matthew Fuhrmann and Benjamin Tkach, 8 Jan 2015, ‘Almost nuclear: Introducing the Nuclear Latency dataset’, Conflict Management and Peace Science,,
  22. Christian Hacke, 6 Aug 2018, ‘As America Becomes Isolationist Under Trump, Germany Should Pursue Nuclear Weapons for Self-Defense’,
  23. Dan Yurman, 30 Aug 2018, ‘The Fatal Attraction of Nuclear Weapons Lures Another Victim’,

‘Almost Trumpian in its incoherence’: Critical responses to Michael Shellenberger’s promotion of nuclear weapons proliferation

Jim Green, 6 September 2018, ”Almost Trumpian in its incoherence’: Critical responses to Michael Shellenberger’s promotion of nuclear weapons proliferation’, Nuclear Monitor #865,

Ironically, one of the most thorough critiques of Michael Shellenberger’s dangerous advocacy of nuclear weapons proliferation1,2 was written by Environmental Progress attorney Frank Jablonski and published on the Environmental Progress website.3 Shellenberger is founder and president of Environmental Progress.

Jablonski writes:3

“From Shellenberger’s article2 you would conclude that, for any “weak nation”, or for the “poor or weak” persons within such nations, things are bound to improve with acquisition of nuclear weapons. So, for humanitarian reasons, the imperialistic nations and hypocritical people standing in the way of that acquisition should get out of the way. No. The article’s contentions are falsified by … logical untenability, things it got wrong, and things it left out. While Shellenberger’s willingness to take controversial positions has often been valuable, a “contrarian” view is not always right just because it is contrarian.”

Jablonski draws a parallel with NRA pro-guns propaganda:3

“The article seems to presume that if the nuclear non-proliferation framework is eliminated, nuclear capabilities will be quickly equalized through some kind of dystopian Oprah episode in which “YOU get a weapon, YOU get a weapon, EVERYBODY gets a weapon!!!”. The resulting equalization of capabilities will lead to peace, kind of in the vein of the NRA slogan that “an armed (international) society is a polite society”.

“This is, quite obviously, not how proliferation develops. Allowing ready access to nuclear weapons likely spreads them first to relatively strong nations that are already feeling international pressure, likely because of disturbing human rights records, hegemonic ambitions, or both. It may be hypocritical to try to deny nuclear weapons to autocracies that aspire to them, but these nations themselves can be “imperialist”, i.e., aspiring hegemons seeking to dominate their neighbors.

“By introducing the possibility that a neighboring nation may seek nuclear weapons, making such weapons broadly available disadvantages nations that prefer to spend their resources on development instead of militarization. There are good reasons for nations not to want to be pressured into a nuclear arms race with aspiring hegemons. …

“Forcing the weakest nations to compete for nuclear weapons to keep up with stronger and more aggressive neighbors is a recipe for harming the “poor and weak”, not helping them.”

On deterrence, Jablonski writes: “the fact that deterrence works in some circumstances does not mean that removing barriers to acquisition of nuclear weapons will result in generalized deterrence and stability”.3

As for Shellenberger’s attack on the “hypocritical, short-sighted, and imperialistic” who would “deny weak nations the nuclear weapons they need for self-defense”2, Jablonski writes:

“Who are these “hypocritical imperialists” that want to deny nuclear weapons to “weak nations”? I suggest that they include a lot of people who don’t want autocrats to get nuclear weapons, who don’t want nations forced into regional nuclear arms races, who want nuclear technology directed towards human welfare, and who want no-one, ever again, to die in a nuclear war.”3

‘Almost Trumpian in its incoherence’

Sam Seitz, a student at Georgetown’s Walsh School of Foreign Service, takes issue with Shellenberger’s claims that no nuclear powers have been invaded (“a pretty misleading statistic” and “wrong”); that battle deaths worldwide have declined by 95% (“fails to prove that nuclear weapons are responsible for this trend … as we are frequently reminded, correlation and causation are not equivalent”); that Indian and Pakistani deaths in two disputed territories declined sharply after Pakistan’s first nuclear weapons test in 1998 (“doesn’t account for non-nuclear factors like the role of outside mediation and domestic politics”); and that Nazi Germany invaded France because the French lacked a credible deterrent (“makes very little sense and conflates several things … also silly”).4

Seitz attempts to decipher one of Shellenberger’s indecipherable arguments:

“Shellenberger then argues that nuclear weapons moderate state behavior because “History shows that when countries acquire the bomb, they feel increasingly vulnerable.” (quote from Waltz) This makes absolutely no sense. Either nukes ensure existential security, preventing great power intervention, or they make countries more vulnerable, but to argue that nukes simultaneously make countries more and less vulnerable is almost Trumpian in its incoherence. And sure, maybe nuclear weapons promote foreign policy moderation, but that isn’t the same thing as internal moderation: The Cultural Revolution occurred after China had nuclear weapons, after all.”

Seitz points to another problem:

“Shellenberger presumably is only advocating for American acceptance of proliferation. After all, forcing other countries to go along with Washington is the exact kind of interference and American bullying he seems to so despise. But not every country will agree. Israel has struck nascent nuclear programs on several occasions, for example, and the Soviets almost launched an attack on the Chinese nuclear program. So, even if nuclear weapons make conflict less likely, attempting to acquire nuclear weapons actually tends to precipitate conflict as potential adversaries try desperately to stop a proliferator before it is too late. This is, after all, the reason the U.S. and its coalition partners invaded Iraq.”

Shellenberger points to the same problem, asking whether latency could “also be a threat to peace?” and noting Israeli and US threats to take pre-emptive action against Iran.1 He doesn’t offer an answer or explore the issue further. He might ‒ but doesn’t ‒ explore scenarios such as multiple simultaneous Chernobyl- or Fukushima-scale catastrophes deliberately inflicted by warring nation-states.

Friendly fire

Even those who Shellenberger cites approvingly in support of his arguments differ with him on fundamental points. He describes Vipin Narang as an “up-and-coming star in the field of nuclear peace and security studies”, but Narang doesn’t share his sanguine view about nuclear weapons security.5 According to Narang:5

“Pakistan may be one or two senior radicalized officers from having a threat to, or breakdown of, command and control. We assume there will be continuity in government, and regular transitions. The trouble is chaos or irregular leadership transitions, and uncertainty about the control of nuclear weapons in the state. Kim Jong Un has signaled that he has sole authority over nuclear weapons. But when he flew Air China to Singapore to meet with Trump, what if there had been rumor the plane had been shot down en route? What is his command and control? What if he feared being shot down and put in place a “dead hand” procedure which means, “If I’m shot down, you fire a nuclear ICBM at New York?” Rumors can go viral and there have been no way for those in Pyongyang to reach Kim, and they may have assumed the worst. These are the kinds of things that scare me.”

Asked by Shellenberger if it is the case that the more nuclear weapons states there are, the better, Narang responded:5

“Nuclear weapons do deter. I understand why weak nations want them. They do provide deterrence against invasion. They do provide existential protection. The question is are there some states, with certain regime types or civil-military relations, where the risks outweigh the perceived deterrence benefits?

“But states like North Korea, Pakistan, and Egypt have potentially more volatile domestic political situations than, for example Japan or Germany or India. And even India is very opaque about its management and security procedures and the US has been concerned about lax oversight even there ‒ and even the US itself is not immune to the risks of accidents, having had quite a few snafus of its own recently.

“So even in the most stable of states, the risk of accidents is real. Add to that mix the potential for violent domestic upheaval and one has to question whether having nuclear weapons possessed by a state at risk of coup or revolution is a good thing. You start getting into a world where more countries have them, there’s simply more systemic risk.”


    1. Michael Shellenberger, 29 Aug 2018, ‘For Nations Seeking Nuclear Energy, The Option To Build A Weapon Remains A Feature Not A Bug’,
    2. Michael Shellenberger, 6 Aug 2018, ‘Who Are We To Deny Weak Nations The Nuclear Weapons They Need For Self-Defense?’,
    3. Frank Jablonski, 24 Aug 2018, ‘Shellenberger Is Wrong About Proliferation’,
    4. Sam Seitz, 6 Aug 2018, ‘The Nonproliferation Regime Exists for a Reason, Let’s Not Tear it Up’,
    5. Michael Shellenberger, 28 Aug 2018, ‘How Nations Go Nuclear: An Interview With M.I.T.’s Vipin Narang’,

Nuclear power’s weapons link: Cause to limit, not boost exports

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

By Victor Gilinsky and Henry Sokolski, September 20, 2018

The criticism that supporters of US nuclear exports have found most difficult to counter has been that their wares give an importing country a big leg up on getting a bomb. For decades the exporters’ response has been to pretend this was not so. Now comes Michael Shellenberger, a prominent nuclear power advocate, who casts all this aside. Yes, he writes, there is a strong link between nuclear electricity and weapons, and in fact most countries that built nuclear power plants did so with weapons at least partly in mind. But this is not so much a confession as a sales pitch. He thinks the weapons potential of nuclear power plants actually prevents war—the weapons shadow cast by nuclear plants itself deters enemies—and that this attribute should be exploited as a sales advantage by US nuclear exporters.

Shellenberger’s assessment of the nuclear power-weapons link is important rhetorically because it comes from the nuclear side of the house. He has been celebrated by the nuclear industry and the conservative press as one of the new breed, “pro-technology,” environmental activists who joined the nuclear ranks and are not afraid to do battle with their colleagues over nuclear power. So, his admission about the closeness of civilian and military nuclear technology—realistically what lawyers call a declaration against interest—carries a certain weight and may convince people who have up to now resisted the notion.

But Shellenberger goes on. He was always a bit unrestrained in his advocacy of nuclear power, and in speaking of nuclear weapons he surpasses himself. In an earlier piece, he presents an anecdotal case on why nuclear weapons were a cure-all for world conflict.

He said if only “weak” France had nuclear weapons in 1940 then “strong” Germany would not have attacked. But what if Germany was the one with the bomb?

He also points to India and Pakistan: They had three large wars before they armed themselves with nuclear weapons but none afterwards, only “border skirmishes” with relatively low casualties. And if such conflicts got out of hand and led to nuclear weapon use, well, not to worry—Shellenberger cites an academic “expert” who claims that the nuclear conflict would surely be contained at the “tactical” level. In truth, of course, no one has any idea.

That the presence of nuclear weapons has reduced the frequency of war is an arguable proposition. But one only has to consider the experience of the Cuban Missile Crisis to realize it comes at the price of gambling on nuclear war. Most people have forgotten about them, but our nuclear forces are still on alert, and their use is not ruled out. The “experts” speak of deployment for deterrence only, but deterrence is predicated on use in certain circumstances.

All these inescapable uncertainties apparently got swept away in Shellenberger’s mind by the “Eureka” moment he describes in the latest article: Based on a paper by a couple of political science professors, he asserts that a nuclear power program itself provides a significant level of “deterrence-related” benefits — “a bomb isn’t even required.” He says that when he thought of this, he almost fell off his chair. Why, he wondered, was this fact “not being promoted as one of nuclear power’s many benefits?”

One reason is that it’s a ridiculous proposal based on half-baked ideas.

But there is a serious side to this too. Unfortunately, his views, foolish as they are, are not so different from primitive views privately held in high official and semi-official nuclear circles. It is useful to bring them out of hiding, and we have to thank Shellenberger for that.

Take the Bush Administration’s 2005 nuclear deal with India. It tore a gaping hole in the Non-Proliferation Treaty and yet was described as promoting nonproliferation. Is there anyone so foolish as to believe that hypocrisy? Or to doubt that India’s interest in the arrangement was mainly fortifying its nuclear weapons? And wasn’t the notion of supporting India as a strategic foil to China at the core of US interest?

Consider also the current administration’s efforts to negotiate a nuclear agreement with Saudi Arabia to facilitate nuclear exports to that country. One doesn’t even have to speculate about the Saudis’ interest in bombs—the Crown Prince famously made that clear. And from the US side, it is also clear that a reason to put nuclear technology in the hands of the Saudis is to frighten Iran.

The immediate nuclear issue now is what controls, if any, our government should impose on the proposed US-Saudi nuclear cooperative agreement. The sensible course from the security point of view, which Secretary of State Pompeo has publicly backed, is to make sure Saudi Arabia will not have the capacity to produce nuclear explosives—a controlling condition called the gold standard. But the Saudis are pushing back on that—for obvious reasons—and their supporters in the administration would like to relax the export controls that would apply, in part to get the business but also to have another stick to shake at Iran.

We should have none of this. It has been settled US policy for decades that we don’t want more countries with nuclear weapons or countries threatening to make them. Where we haven’t been consistent in applying that policy regarding nuclear power exports, we need to make corrections, not by exporting more, but less.