Paul Howes’ howlers

Correcting some howlers by Australian Workers’ Union national secretary Paul Howes – who resigned from the AWU in 2014.

Paul Howes’ u-propaganda is radioactive

Jim Green, 19 Aug 2009,

I knew Australian Workers Union national secretary Paul Howes during his activist days in Sydney — he knew nothing about uranium mining or nuclear power then, and it seems nothing has changed. His speech to the Sydney Institute last night comprised a string of howlers and detracts from informed debate.

Howes falsely claimed that nuclear power is undergoing a “renaissance”. In fact, nuclear power has been stagnant for the past 15 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.

Howes promoted nuclear power as a low-carbon energy source, but even the Switkowski report found that six nuclear power reactors would reduce Australia’s emissions by just 4% if they displaced coal-fired plants or just 2% if they displaced gas. Energy efficiency and conservation measures can generate much greater reductions, much more quickly and at a tiny fraction of the cost of nuclear power.

Howes stated that Australia’s share of the world’s uranium market is “greater than Saudi Arabia’s share in the planet’s oil”. However, 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). Even if factoring in a growth in demand and a sustained, high price for uranium, the comparison with Saudi Arabian oil exports would still miss the mark by a couple of orders of magnitude. 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 — and it tastes much better and can’t be used to produce weapons of mass destruction.

Howes provides a figure on the uranium resource at Olympic Dam which differs from BHP Billiton’s figure by an order of magnitude.

Howes claimed that the cost of nuclear power “is not significantly higher than current coal power generation”. But the Victorian Department of Infrastructure, the Energy Supply Association of Australia and the National Generators Forum all put the cost of nuclear power at 1.7 to 2.3 times the cost of power from coal plants.

Howes noted that Finland is building its fifth nuclear plant. He might also have noted that it 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.

Howes pointed to new reactors being built in Europe. However, the 146 reactors operating in the EU is well down from the 177 reactors operating in 1989. Four reactors are under construction in the EU but dozens of reactors are ageing and are expected to go offline in the coming decade.

Howes detailed the findings of the Lenzen report without noting that it was funded by the industry-funded Australian Uranium Association.

Howes said that “international agreements, technology and the development of 4th Generation fusion reactors will lower … proliferation risks.”

However, Kevin Rudd has repeatedly warned about the “fracturing” of the nuclear non-proliferation regime. All existing and proposed nuclear fuel cycles pose WMD proliferation risks. Five of the ten countries to have produced nuclear weapons did so under cover of a ‘peaceful’ nuclear program.

Fusion power has yet to generate a single watt of useful electricity but it has already contributed to proliferation problems, e.g. in the 1980s when Iraq took advantage of an IAEA fusion training program to further its covert nuclear weapons program.

Howes referred approvingly to a nuclear waste dump in the Champagne region of France. In fact, it was revealed in 2006 that the nuclear dump had been contaminating groundwater — albeit at low levels — for 10 years as a result of a cracked waste storage container.

Howes falsely claimed that there have been millions of movements of nuclear materials and nuclear waste “with no accidents affecting people”. To give one example, Angela Merkel (now the German Chancellor) suspended nuclear waste shipments in Germany in 1997 after elevated radiation emissions and exposures.

Howes falsely claimed that a high-level nuclear waste repository project is underway in the USA. In fact, the Yucca Mountain project was a $10 billion fiasco which was 23 years behind schedule when President Obama permanently abandoned the project earlier this year. There is not a single repository for high-level nuclear waste anywhere in the world.

Howes proposed a domestic uranium enrichment industry without noting that BHP Billiton and the Switkowski report have unequivocally rejected that proposal on economic grounds, and without noting that the Howard and Rudd governments have been actively engaged in and supportive of international initiatives to stop the spread of enrichment technology because of its WMD proliferation potential.

Howes approvingly cites a claim that there are no credible nuclear-free scenarios for reducing greenhouse emissions. In fact, there are dozens of detailed reports which do just that.

Regurgitating industry propaganda might go down well at the Sydney Institute but it is no substitute for informed debate.

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

Paul Howes’ response

AWU National Secretary Paul Howes writes: Re. “Paul Howes’ u-propaganda is radioactive” (Wednesday, item 4).…

Friends of the Earth spokesman Dr Jim Green in Crikey this week repeatedly claimed I have lied about the benefits of a domestic nuclear power industry and questioned my qualifications for speaking out on this subject.

Whilst it is true that I left school in Year 9, unlike Dr Jim I do believe working people and their representatives have a right to speak out on matters of public importance and it shouldn’t be left solely in the hands of the academic elite.

Dr Jim has an ultra leftist belief system that does not allow him to change his position on issues, despite the world manifestly changing around him.

This is despite the urgent need to address climate change. Despite the need for the world to grow its energy resources to secure rising standards of living. Despite the fact that the UK, Sweden, Italy and many other countries have said in the last 18 months that they are or want to be nuclear powered countries.

Unlike JM Keynes, people like Dr Jim don’t change their minds when new facts change the circumstances. That’s ideology. Here are some facts for Dr Jim:

  • Just about every scenario, forecast and projection of future world electricity demand foresees an increase in demand for nuclear power, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
  • Demand for electricity will continue to grow in response to world economic growth, energy security concerns and climate change challenges.
  • The world will need to make use of all its energy resources  — clean coal, oil and gas, renewables, nuclear.

To quote Ivo De Boer, Secretary of the IPCC; “I have never seen a credible scenario for reducing emissions that did not include nuclear energy”.

Response to Howes’ response

Dr Jim Green, national nuclear/energy campaigner with Friends of the Earth, writes:…

AWU secretary Paul Howes takes me to task (Friday, comments) for pointing out that many of his statements to the Sydney Institute about uranium mining and nuclear power were demonstrably false. But Howes does not challenge a single point of fact in my original Crikey piece. Instead he offers ridiculous ad hominen and straw man attacks.

Howes claims that I accused him of repeatedly lying. I did no such thing. I said he appears to know next to nothing about uranium mining and nuclear power and provided considerable evidence in support of that view  — evidence which Howes does not challenge. Howes says that, unlike me, he believes “working people and their representatives have a right to speak out on matters of public importance”. Needless to say, I never suggested otherwise.

Howes falsely claims that “Just about every scenario, forecast and projection of future world electricity demand foresees an increase in demand for nuclear power”. But my original Crikey piece provided a web-link to many reports which map out clean energy futures without recourse to nuclear power.

Howes accuses me of having an “ultra leftist belief system”. This contrasts with Howes  — he gave up social justice and environmental activism to become, in his words, a “committed democrat”. Which led him naturally to the right-wing of the NSW Labor machine!

Labor Signs Up To The Arms Race

By Jim Green, 5 Dec 2011,

Paul Howes might think the Cold War is over but the nuclear arms race hasn’t slowed. South Asia is a nuclear minefield and Labor’s decision to sell uranium to India makes it more dangerous, writes Jim Green

Paul Howes dropped out of left-wing socialist party politics and left-wing activism just over a decade ago, claiming to have had an epiphany and to have been reborn as a “committed democrat”. Stirring stuff. He headed straight to Sussex St, to the right wing of the NSW Labor machine — committed democrats one and all.

In fact Howes said at the time that he saw a choice between activism and pursuing a career and he chose the latter. Fair enough, but spare us the Martin Luther King democracy speech. From Sussex St of all places! I gave up left-wing party politics because of burn-out but I manage to avoid the temptation to dress up that mundane reality as a tale of biblical redemption.

Later I saw Howes at a meeting to build support for the Mirarr traditional owners’ campaign against uranium mining at Jabiluka; he was representing Unions NSW. He had another epiphany on his first day at work for the union he now heads, the pro-uranium Australian Workers Union (AWU): suddenly it was OK to trash Aboriginal land rights and Aboriginal land in order to mine uranium, and to trash Kakadu National Park and the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary and anything else, and to sell uranium to dictatorships, nuclear weapons states and anyone else, with or without safeguards.

I pointed out in 2008 that most of his pro-nuclear-power comments at a Sydney Institute talk were demonstrably false. Howes appeared to justify his ignorance on his lack of schooling: “Whilst it is true that I left school in Year 9, unlike Dr Jim I do believe working people and their representatives have a right to speak out on matters of public importance and it shouldn’t be left solely in the hands of the academic elite,” said. He didn’t attempt to defend a single one of the points I’d taken issue with.

Of all the idiotic, asinine contributions to Labor’s faux-debate on uranium sales to India, Howes trumped the lot with his assertion that “The Cold War is over and it’s time for Labor to embrace that fact”.

Since the end of the Cold War the existing weapons states have been busily “modernising” their nuclear arsenals:

  • Pakistan and North Korea joined the nuclear weapons club by testing nuclear bombs for the first time.
  • France, India, the US and Russia have also tested weapons.
  • The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty remains in limbo, with the culprits including India and some of Australia’s existing uranium customers.
  • Pakistan has spread weapons technology (originally stolen from a European consortium) to Iran, North Korea, Libya and probably elsewhere.
  • The tradition of bombing nuclear plants in the Middle East is alive and well with strikes on nuclear plants in Iraq in 1991 and 2003 and Israel’s attack on a suspected secret reactor in Syria in 2007.
  • South Korea (one of Australia’s uranium customers) ‘fessed up to a secret nuclear weapons research program.
  • Japan continues to separate and stockpile obscene amounts of plutonium (some of it produced from Australian uranium).
  • The International Atomic Energy Agency still doesn’t have reliable “core” funding even for its basic inspection program let alone a rigorous safeguards program; and so on.

No point trying to explain any of that to Howes — as an AWU member said of him, he’s quicker to send than to receive. And he deals in Bob Katter-like revelations (“the Cold War is over”) and straw-man inanities (“working people have a right to speak out”; “Indians have a right to power”) rather than conventional, logical argument. All the better to paper over the breadth and depth of his ignorance and indifference.

The Labor conference heard all the usual furphies from Right faction delegates:

  • We should sell uranium to India because it is democratic (and to China and Russia and the United Arab Emirates because they aren’t).
  • We should sell to India because it hasn’t exported nuclear weapons technology (though it has, and we should sell to China and Russia and the US and France because they have too).
  • The bilateral safeguards agreement will ensure peaceful use of Australian uranium (though it won’t and can’t — Australia has no capacity or authority to independently monitor uranium exports).
  • The Labor Party respects and supports the Non-Proliferation Treaty (but should undermine and weaken it by selling uranium to non-NPT states).
  • India is a responsible nuclear weapons power (even as it expands its weapons arsenal and its missile capabilities). And so on.

As expected, the vote went along factional lines with the Right narrowly defeating the Left and overturning Labor’s policy of opposition to uranium sales to countries refusing to sign the NPT.

A reliable source — well, a journo — tells me Kevin Rudd is filthy with Prime Minister Gillard’s uranium decision and thinks India ought to have been forced to make some concessions in return for uranium sales, such as ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. If so, Rudd ought to say so publicly.

The push to open up nuclear trade with India began with the US government of George W. Bush in 2005, leading to the US-India nuclear cooperation agreement three years later. The politics were neatly summed up by Mian and Ramana in Arms Control Today: “Recruiting India may help reduce the immediate costs to the United States of exercising its military, political, and economic power to limit the growth of China as a possible rival … India is seen as a major prize, and support for its military buildup and its nuclear complex seems to be the price the Bush administration is willing to pay. This goal is, it seems, to be pursued regardless of how it will spur the spiral of distrust, political tension, and dangerous, costly, and wasteful military preparedness between the United States and China, between China and India, and between India and Pakistan.”

The US-India agreement contains no requirement for India to curb its weapons program. The consequences have been predictable. Pakistan is citing the US-India agreement to justify its intransigent attitude towards a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty. China is using the precedent of the US-India agreement to justify plans to sell more reactors to Pakistan.

Both India and Pakistan continue to develop nuclear-capable missiles; both are expanding their capacity to produce fissile material; both refuse to sign or ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty; both are estimated to have increased the size of their weapons arsenals by 25-35 per cent over the past year alone.

US cables released by Wikileaks warn of the potential for incidents such as the Mumbai terror attacks to escalate into warfare and for warfare to escalate into nuclear warfare. Scientists warn that a “limited” nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan could cause catastrophic climate change in addition to the direct impacts. Wikileaks cables reveal Kevin Rudd privately urging the US to ignore its NPT disarmament obligations and to maintain a ”reliable” and ”credible” nuclear arsenal, and to be prepared to use force against China.

South Asia is a dangerous nuclear minefield. All the more so in the wake of the US-India agreement, and all the more so in the wake of Labor’s decision to sell uranium to India with no conditions which would curb its weapons program or de-escalate the South Asian nuclear arms race. It is spineless, cringeworthy sycophancy which puts Australia to shame and makes the world a more dangerous place.