Response to Flinders Uni academic’s articles on nuclear and uranium issues.
This webpage responds to some published comments by Flinders Uni academic Assoc. Prof. Haydon Manning which are inaccurate or otherwise problematic. Manning works in the School of Political and International Studies at Flinders and describes himself as a “competent generalist”.
The webpage has been created following discussions with a few Flinders Uni students about Manning’s lectures on nuclear/uranium issues – one complained that Manning’s behaviour was that of a salesman not a lecturer. Another reason for this webpage is that Assoc. Prof. Manning contributes to media debates on nuclear issues fairly frequently. Anyway this may be of some use to some Flinders Uni students … if no-one else.
Friends of the Earth, Australia
<MISREPRESENTATION AND SLOPPY ACADEMIC STANDARDS
Manning and O’Neil (M&O) write:
“With regard to Australia hosting an international nuclear waste repository, one of the more interesting arguments concerns the prospect of terrorist groups seeking to excavate nuclear waste buried in the middle of the country. The prospect of terrorists travelling to a remote location hundreds or thousands of kilometres inland, or attacking heavily guarded caskets as they travel to a desert repository, is identified as reason enough to oppose hosting an international waste facility (see Green 1997). Similarly, the fact that waste could remain an attractive source for terrorists for thousands of years also features as a key objection.”
Manning, Haydon and O’Neil, Andrew
Australia’s Nuclear Horizon: Moving Beyond the Drumbeat of Risk Inflation
Australian Journal of Political Science, 42:4, 563-578, 2007
The ‘Green 1997’ article referred to by M&O is mine − it is posted at <greenleft.org.au/1997/292/15877>. The article does not argue a case for or against Australia hosting an international nuclear waste repository − it doesn’t even address the topic. Likewise, the risk of waste remaining attractive source for terrorists for thousands of years does not “feature” as a “key objection” in my article, in fact it isn’t mentioned at all. M&O appear to be fabricating arguments. They ought to redress that misrepresentation, starting with a correction in the Australian Journal of Political Science.
M&O may be referring to a 1999 article
‘Australia ‘world’s best’ for international N-waste dump’
in which I quote Professor John Veevers, a fellow of the Australian Academy of Sciences and an academic in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Macquarie University, mentioning the risks of terrorism and vandalism but say nothing else about the issue myself. The risk of waste remaining attractive for terrorists for thousands of years does not “feature” as a “key objection” in Veever’s comments − M&O may be misrepresenting Veever’s mention of the “next 10 millennia’s vandals”.
M&O misrepresent me and/or Veevers and their academic standards are sloppy.
Australian Journal of Political Science editor Ian McAllister claims the problem in the M&O article is simply ‘typographical’ though he knows that that is not true.
M&O appear to be unaware that the risk of nuclear dumps being accessed for fissile/radioactive material is not just one of the “more interesting” arguments raised by nuclear critics, it is frequently acknowledged by nuclear advocates (and fence-sitters):
— e.g. George Stanford writes that integral fast reactor technology “relieves future generations of the responsibility to guard the plutonium mines, and of the risks of not guarding them adequately.”
Response to an Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) critique
— e.g. nuclear advocate and nuclear engineer Alan Parkinson has mentioned the risk of a proposed dump in Australia being accessed for materials for dirty radiation bombs.
<MISINFORMATION AND SLANDER
“Uranium usually occurs with other ores, notably copper and gold − and if it doesn’t then it has to be of very high grade to be worth the effort. True, the current high spot prices temporarily qualify this, but as supply increases over the next two decades it will only be the solo uranium mines with very high grade ore bodies that will survive.
“BHP’s mine in northern South Australia at Roxby Downs is a copper mine − that’s why BHP bought out Western Mining, primarily for the copper and gold (and other non-uranium mineral product). Roxby will soon become the biggest uranium mine in the world, but BHP would still be there even if there was not an ounce of uranium to be extracted.
“This is commonplace with uranium mining because uranium seems to like bobbing up with other valuable minerals! The point is the mining and separation of various minerals, all carbon intensive activities, would be happening anyway. How convenient to neglect this very obvious aspect of the equation and, in the process, trump up the charge that nuclear power is high on the carbon emitting front.”
‘Dogma and delusion over renewables’, Haydon Manning, 18 June 2007, <www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=5991>
UNSW academic Dr Mark Diesendorf, the subject of that accusation of convenient neglect, responded:
“On the basis of Haydon Manning’s article, I question his claims to be a “competent generalist” and to be striving to be objective. … His objection to the scientific evidence, that CO2 emissions from uranium mining and milling are increasing as uranium ore grade is decreasing, is a peculiar and illogical one. He claims, contrary to empirical evidence, that uranium “usually” occurs with other minerals, such as copper, and that the uranium is simply a byproduct.
“The truth, based on data from the OECD Red Book*, is that 9 of the top 10 uranium mines in the world are uranium-only mines. Roxby Downs is the exception, not the rule. …
“As Manning admits, he has no expertise in this field.”
* See also: http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf23.html
Manning didn’t correct his error or retract or apologise for the false accusation of convenient neglect.
Manning has been an enthusiastic supporter of ‘pebble bed’ nuclear reactors. A South African nuclear utility has been at the forefront of developing these reactors but the project has recently been postponed indefinitely. Unless the South African project is revived, that leaves only China developing pebble bed concepts. There’s not a lot to get enthusiastic about.
Oddly, Manning has also enthusiastically supported a book − Tom Blees’ ‘Prescription for the Planet’ − which is scathing about pebble bed reactors and argues that they should be banned (p.291, 365). Manning does not address the contradiction between his enthusiasm for pebble bed reactors and his enthusiasm for a book which argues that they should be banned.
‘Putting battlers before the greens’
Haydon Manning, June 02, 2009, The Australian
Manning writes: “Greenies opposed to nuclear power confront a huge challenge to debunk his [Blees’] detailed assessment of fast breeder reactors; they will have no choice but to take up the challenge of developing a critique – I doubt they will but it will be interesting to see the anti-nuclear crusaders grapple with this convincing account of so-called ‘generation four’ reactors.”
A critique of the proposed ‘integral fast reactors’ favoured by Blees is posted at https://nuclear.foe.org.au/power/
Manning writes (‘Dogma and delusion’): “Of particular interest is the so-called, “pebble bed modular” reactor. Contrary to Diesendorf’s view that no Generation 4 reactors exist today, a pebble bed modular is operating in China … This design is remarkable because it is claimed that meltdown is impossible.”
* Pebble bed reactors are variously described as Gen 3, Gen 3+, Gen 4, or failed Gen 2 technology.
* The reactor in China is a 10MW prototype. A 200 MW pebble bed plant is planned (I’m not sure if construction has begun).
* The indefinite postponement of the pebble bed project in South Africa resulted from economic factors as well as technical factors, some with safety consequences.
Manning says: “The fact is the theory underpinning a host of “Generation 4″ reactor designs is rarely read, I believe, by opponents of nuclear power.” (‘Dogma and delusion’) However there is a significant, readily-available body of informed, critical literature on generation 4 reactors. A couple of examples:
— Hirsch, Helmut, et al, April 2005, “Nuclear Reactor Hazards”, <www.greenpeace.org/international/press/reports/nuclearreactorhazards
— World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2009
— See also <www.ieer.org>, <www.oxfordresearchgroup.org.uk>, <www.energyscience.org.au>, etc.
Conversely, we know that Manning has enthusiastically absorbed some literature about pebble bed technology, and is equally enthusiastic about a book which argues that pebble bed technology should be banned, but there’s little evidence that he has read much else about fourth generation technology and no evidence that he has understood any of it.
Manning writes: “Against this background nuclear power blossoms as part of the answer to energy security.” (‘Dogma and delusion’) In fact, nuclear power has been stagnant for the past 15-20 years. It accounted for 16% of global electricity generation in 2005, 15% in 2006 and 14% in 2007. The global fleet of reactors is middle-aged and the industry will be kept busy just maintaining current output over the coming 20-30 years let alone expanding output. It is possible that there will be significant growth in the medium to long term but past projections have rarely been met and have usually been wildly optimistic. For example, the IAEA estimated in 1974 that in the year 2000, nuclear output would be 4,450 GW. Output in the year 2000 was 352 GW. The IAEA estimate was out by a factor of 12.6 or 1260%.
See: The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2009, www.bmu.de/english/nuclear_safety/downloads/doc/44832.php
Manning writes: “I believe many [Generation 4 reactors] will be built in the next two decades. (‘Dogma and delusion’)
— But even the World Nuclear Association states that: “Generation IV designs are still on the drawing board and will not be operational before 2020 at the earliest.” www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf08.html
— Probably later than 2020 according to the Uranium Information Centre: “Generation IV designs are still on the drawing board and will not be operational before 2020 at the earliest, probably later.”
— Most informed commentators believe that very few if any Gen 4 reactors will be deployed in the next 20 years. For example the Generation 4 International Forum website states that “commercial deployment of Gen-IV reactors is not foreseen before 2030 at the earliest, and all current activities involving Gen-IV designs are at the level of R&D.”
Manning writes: “As for reactor designs it is rather disingenuous to maintain so confidently that future science regarding reactor design and safety features (making meltdowns impossible and securing against “worst case” terrorist attack scenarios) is just theory and unlikely to contribute quickly enough to be a major player in forging less carbon intensive electricity generation.” (‘Dogma and delusion’) Manning is right that some nuclear critics sometimes make too little allowance for potential technological development. Is Manning’s supreme confidence any less disingenuous? His understanding of the debates over ‘meltdowns’ (presumably short-hand for reactor core damage accidents) appears to be:
Generation 4 − impossible
Generation 3 − “almost impossible” www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=4504
You won’t find terms like ‘probabilistic risk assessment’ in anything written by Manning.
Even nuclear industry representatives are sceptical about the hype surrounding ‘next generation’ reactors, one noting that: “We know that the paper-moderated, ink-cooled reactor is the safest of all. All kinds of unexpected problems may occur after a project has been launched.”
Likewise, the MIT Study states: “We do not believe there is a nuclear plant design that is totally risk free. In part, this is due to technical possibilities; in part due to workforce issues. Safe operation requires effective regulation, a management committed to safety, and a skilled work force.” http://web.mit.edu/nuclearpower
In addition to the waning fortunes of pebble bed reactors, the generation 3 reactor being built in Finland provides another sobering example − one which is ignored by Manning. The reactor is A$2.9 billion over budget, construction is 3.5 years behind schedule, and construction company Areva and Finnish utility TVO are locked in protracted dispute and arbitration over the project.
‘Rann needs to exorcise the nuclear ghosts’
Haydon Manning, 12 April 2006, The Advertiser
In this opinion piece, Manning promotes uranium enrichment in Australia without even a passing mention of two obvious problems:
1. Enrichment is a ‘sensitive’ nuclear technology which can produce both low-enriched uranium for reactors or highly-enriched uranium for nuclear weapons. Thus there have been repeated calls from the likes of G.W. Bush and the IAEA for a moratorium on the spread of enrichment technology and/or international control of enrichment. (See EnergyScience briefing paper 13 at www.energyscience.org.au/FS14%20GNEP.pdf.)
2. Manning says “we” could earn quadruple the price of uranium exports if “we” enriched it. (It’s not clear who “we” are. The three companies currently mining uranium in Australia are completely or majority foreign-owned.) The economic case for enrichment in Australia has been rejected by the likes of BHP Billiton and the Switkowski report. BHP Billiton’s submission to the Switkowski panel stated: “BHP Billiton believes that there is neither a commercial nor a non-proliferation case for it to become involved in front-end processing … Enrichment has massive barriers to entry … We do not believe that conversion and enrichment would be commercially viable in Australia. … The economics of any Australian conversion, enrichment or fabrication do not look positive, either individually or collectively.” www.energyscience.org.au/energyscience%20response.doc
Surely those proliferation and economic issues warrant at least a passing mention.
Manning writes: “If nuclear, along with other renewables (of which hydro is the only current option), can not replace the introduction of ever more coal burning power stations …” (‘Dogma and delusion’)
Nuclear and hydro are not the only options to new coal fired power plants as any ‘informed generalist’ would know. Nor is it true that hydro is the only currently available renewable energy source which can replace coal.
M&O state: “Terrorists with access to nuclear material are a concern. But it is truly a long bow to argue, as some environmental groups do, that Australian uranium would be a likely source for a “terrorist device”. Surely, terrorists may find equally keen “technicians” in states with weapons programs and their own fissile material sources.”
‘Smart moves’, Haydon Manning and Andrew O’Neil, 26/5/06, www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=4504
I’m not aware of anyone saying Australian uranium would be a “likely” source, but it is obviously a possible source. Civil nuclear materials and facilities are of great concern in relation to smuggling/terrorism because civil nuclear facilities greatly outnumber military facilities, the same applies for nuclear materials stockpiles, and because civil facilities generally have weaker security than military facilities. There are plenty of other reasons for concern − the frequency of detected incidents of smuggling … the huge volume of Australian-obligated nuclear materials (AONM) in circulation … Australia has zero capacity to independently monitor the flow of AONM … the IAEA is under-resourced and ill-equipped to deal with smuggling in any event, etc. Those issues are discussed in submissions by Friends of the Earth, posted at
M&O (AJPS) falsely state that “no nuclear reactor has ever been subjected to terrorist attack.” There is a history of nuclear terrorism that M&O appear to be unaware of, and a history of conventional military strikes on nuclear facilities that they also appear to be unaware of.
M&O (‘Smart moves’) state:
<“Does Australia risk undermining the Non-Proliferation Treaty if it sells uranium to a non-treaty member state such as India? A more appropriate question would be: Is the treaty itself worth preserving? The reality is the treaty is in terminal decline. This is due to a combination of bad faith among nuclear weapons states and the covert weapons programs of North Korea and Iran − North Korea actually attained a threshold nuclear capability while it was a member of the treaty.
“Today the treaty is little more than a political and legal fig leaf for a small group of states (such as Iran) that have no intention of complying with its provisions. Indeed, the treaty merely perpetuates the myth that nuclear proliferation can be prevented at a time when the international community should be exploring ways it can be managed through alternative arms control agreements.”
It’s disappointing that M&O don’t elaborate on their proposal for alternative agreements. In the above-mentioned article, M&O appear to want to replace the NPT with alternative agreements but in their AJPS article they appear to support the NPT and see alternative agreements as being supplementary.
Key questions are left unanswered, e.g. do M&O support the principle that non-NPT states or non-compliant NPT states should be precluded from civil nuclear trade?
M&O (AJPS) assert that Australia is a “responsible supplier of uranium”. However Australia sells uranium to:
* all of the ‘declared’ nuclear weapons states (USA, UK, China, France, Russia), none of which has fulfilled its disarmament obligations under the NPT;
* countries with a history of weapons-related research based on their civil nuclear programs (such as South Korea and Taiwan)
* countries blocking progress on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (e.g. the USA) and the proposed Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty.
No Australian government has ever invoked bilateral treaty provisions such as the right to refuse permission to separate Australian-obligated plutonium from spent fuel, even when that plutonium separation demonstrably leads to stockpiling and regional tensions (Japan / North-East Asia).
Australia’s uranium exports are shrouded in secrecy. Examples include the refusal to release:
* Country-by-country information on the separation and stockpiling of the plutonium produced from Australian uranium.
* ”Administrative arrangements”, which contain vital information about safeguards arrangements.
* Information on nuclear accounting discrepancies including the volumes of nuclear materials unaccounted for, countries involved and reasons given to explain discrepancies.
* The quantities of Australian uranium (and its byproducts) in each country are also kept confidential.
* Some, if not all, export agreements allow for further secrecy under the rubric of ”state secrets”.
M&O do not address the above-mentioned, substantive criticisms of safeguards.
More info on safeguards:
* Medical Association for Prevention of War www.mapw.org.au/nuclear-chain/safeguards
* Who’s Watching the Nuclear Watchdog? A Critique of the Australian Safeguards and Non-proliferation Office, briefing paper 19, www.energyscience.org.au/factsheets.html
* Non-Proliferation Policy Education Centre, Feb 2008, “Falling Behind: International Scrutiny of the Peaceful Atom”, www.npec-web.org.
* Nuclear Power Joint Fact Finding Dialogue, June 2007, “Final Report, Nuclear Power Joint Fact-Finding”, www.keystone.org/spp/energy07_nuclear.html
<AUSTRALIAN JOURNAL OF POLITICAL SCIENCE ARTICLE
Manning, Haydon and O’Neil, Andrew
Australia’s Nuclear Horizon: Moving Beyond the Drumbeat of Risk Inflation
Australian Journal of Political Science, 42:4, 563-578, 2007
See the earlier comments re M&O’s misrepresentation and sloppy academic standards.
M&O state: “Recent opinion polls indicate that Australians favouring the development of domestic nuclear power slightly outnumber those opposed. And a clear majority − especially in South Australia and the Northern Territory − support uranium exports to China.” M&O are cherry-picking opinion polls.
M&O talk up profits and jobs arising from uranium mining but provide no detail or context. Uranium accounts for about one-third of one percent of Australia’s export revenue and falls a very long way short of providing one-tenth of one percent of jobs in Australia.
M&O repeatedly mention the “anti-nuclear movement’s belief in population-wide consciousness shifts”. This is one part straw man, one part conspiracy theory. Leaving aside other aspects of that discussion, M&O conflate and confuse mundane discussion on energy conservation and efficiency with ‘population wide consciousness shifts’.
M&O attack the ‘moral absolutism’ of opponents of nuclear power. To a limited extent that is justified criticism but:
* They grossly overstate the level of moral absolutism in the anti-nuclear movement, and they ignore the moral absolutism of some nuclear advocates.
* They ignore the significant body of critical literature which addresses the debates in a cost-benefit, risk-benefit, comparative analysis framework.
M&O state that the Ranger Inquiry “gave the green light to uranium exports”. It didn’t.
M&O discuss the Ranger Inquiry’s comments on nuclear waste but ignore what the Inquiry obviously saw as the key problem: “The nuclear power industry is unintentionally contributing to an increased risk of nuclear war. This is the most serious hazard associated with the industry.”
M&O write: “Every nuclear weapons programs since and including the US Manhattan Project has been the product of dedicated military reactors, rather than an offshoot of civilian programs.” M&O are evidently unaware of … loads of things, e.g.: India’s program was based initially on the civil CIRUS research reactor; North Korea’s was based primarily on an ‘experimental power reactor’; a number of weapons programs have not been based on reactors at all but on enrichment technology ostensibly acquired for peaceful purposes, e.g. South Africa and Pakistan. More info including numerous case studies: https://nuclear.foe.org.au/power-weapons/
M&O state that “the core ingredients of weapons-grade fissile material (i.e. highly enriched uranium and plutonium) are scarce internationally …” Global stockpiles of weapons-usable (fuel grade or reactor grade) ‘civil’ plutonium would suffice to build over 160,000 nuclear weapons; stockpiles of separated ‘civil’ plutonium would suffice to build over 27,000 nuclear weapons. Paper on plutonium grades and nuclear weapons: https://nuclear.foe.org.au/power-weapons/
<M&O promote fuel leasing. Implicit in their plan is that a small number of countries (presumably including Australia) would host international deep geological repositories for high-level nuclear waste − yet that is not spelt out or discussed. For a different perspective on fuel leasing and related debates, see briefing paper #13 at www.energyscience.org.au
Patrick Moore is described by M&O as a “prominent” environmentalist and elsewhere (‘Smart moves’) Manning describes Moore as a “renowned” environmentalist. M&O know that Moore is paid by the Nuclear Energy Institute and they ought to state that fact.
M&O dispute Al Gore’s claim that “for 8 years in the White House, every weapons proliferation problem we dealt with was connected to a civilian reactor program”. To ‘prove’ their point M&O refer to two countries – Iran and North Korea – where ostensibly civilian reactor programs are very clearly of proliferation concern. Gore might also have India and Pakistan in mind, and a number of countries in the Middle East and north Africa, and north-east Asia.
(See country case studies https://nuclear.foe.org.au/power-weapons/#casestudies)
M&O write: “[T]he argument that Australian uranium exports for civilian programs will help release valuable fissile material for military development programs in nuclear weapons states is not very convincing.”
In some cases it is a weak argument that M&O are challenging, in some cases it is a strong argument. M&O ignore the important example of India. K. Subrahmanyam, former head of the India’s National Security Advisory Board, has stated: “Given India’s uranium ore crunch and the need to build up our minimum credible nuclear deterrent arsenal as fast as possible, it is to India’s advantage to categorize as many power reactors as possible as civilian ones to be refueled by imported uranium and conserve our native uranium fuel for weapons grade plutonium production.” (Times of India, 12/12/05.)
More from Manning, this time on the ‘Brave New Climate’ website (13 Jan 2010)
From nuclear sceptic to convert
Manning compares Australian uranium exports with Saudi Arabia’s oil exports. In response:
* The value of Saudi Arabia’s oil exports is 325 times greater than Australia’s uranium exports (which account for about one-fifth of global uranium demand). A better comparison would be with Australia’s cheese exports. Cheese and uranium have been in an ongoing tussle for export value supremacy in recent years. Cheese is winning. Back cheese.
* Uranium still accounts for just one third of one percent of Australian export revenue. Revenue would need to double for uranium to make it into the list of top 25 export earners. Australia could stitch up the entire global uranium market and it would barely scrape into the list of top 10 export earners.
* For the second (or third?) year in a row, the nuclear renaissance has gone backwards, with more reactor shutdowns than start-ups.
Manning claims that uranium and nuclear power are “the main game” on the carbon emission reduction front. In response:
* The International Energy Agency expects 63 percent of the world’s emissions reductions by 2030 will come from energy efficiency.
* A 2007 ABARE study estimated energy efficiency would directly account for 55 percent of Australia’s carbon abatement by 2050.
Manning promotes uranium sales to India. In response:
* If Australia supplied one quarter of India’s current demand, uranium exports would increase by just 2.4 percent or $24.5 million. Revenue from exports of all products to India would increase by 0.16 percent. Even if India’s nuclear power expansion plans are fully realised (23 reactors are operating or under construction, another 23 are planned), Australia’s uranium exports would increase by a modest 14 percent above current levels and exports of all products to India would increase by 0.9 percent.
* The Australian Uranium Association supports the policy of refusing to allow uranium exports to non-NPT countries including India – presumably because it has done calculations similar to those above.
* Leonard Weiss, a former staff director of the US Senate Subcommittee on Energy and Nuclear Proliferation, notes in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists that a concerted program of improved energy efficiency could substitute for all the nuclear power being planned in India between now and 2020.
* Uranium exports to India would undermine the fundamental principle of the global non-proliferation regime – the principle that only countries which have signed the NPT and are bound by its disarmament and non-proliferation commitments can engage in international trade for their nuclear power programs. True, that principle has taken a big kick in the guts with the US-India deal. Nevertheless, allowing Australian uranium exports to India would encourage other countries to pull out of the NPT, develop nuclear weapons, and do so on the expectation that uranium could still be procured from Australia.
Manning was asked to supply evidence for his claim that cancer rates for uranium miners are no higher for uranium miners. He supplied no evidence whatsoever.