Monday, March 05, 2007

Howard's Nuclear Future - Reeks of Cronyism, Hypocrisy and Misinformation

MARCH 5, 2007: The controversial appointment of high profile nuclear-power proponent, Ziggy Switkowski - to head Australia's nuclear research body (ANSTO) has been widely criticised. Dr Switkowski's report to Prim Minister Howard late last year proposed a scenario of 25 Australian nuclear reactors. Critcs say "due process had been thrown out the window in the nuclear debate".

“We are talking about the world’s most hazardous energy source, yet the Government process to investigate whether Australia should adopt it has not been independent, not rigorous, not transparent, not robust. It is simply not good enough,” said ACF nuclear campaigner Dave Sweeney.

Meanwhile, John Howard's push for dozens of Australian nuclear reactors and his relationship with nuclear reactor proponents - Ron Walker and friends - highlights the cronyism and hypocrisy of a nuclear power push in Australia...
The Federal Opposition has criticised the Government's appointment of Ziggy Switkowski as chairman of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO). Science Minister Julie Bishop says Switkowski is the ideal choice to head ANSTO, as Australia considers nuclear power as an alternative to coal.

Labor's Kim Carr is critical of Switkowski's ANSTO appointment, saying: "his recent report for the Prime Minister lends weight to the view that he will be pursuing an agenda by this Government, for this Government, to impose nuclear power upon Australia."

With the Prime Minister's push for nuclear reactors, and his dubious relationship with nuclear-reactor proponent Ron Walker, the subject of intense scrutiny, the nuclear power hypocrisy deserves to be put under the microscope.

Howard admitted last week that Liberal powerbroker Ron Walker was setting up a nuclear energy company around the same time he announced the taskforce, headed by former Telstra chief Switkowski. Mr Walker and fellow businessmen Robert Champion de Crespigny and Hugh Morgan registered Australian Nuclear Energy Pty Ltd on June 1 last year, five days before Mr Howard set up his prime ministerial taskforce. ANE was forced to deny newspaper reports that it was planning to build Australia's first nuclear power station in either Victoria or South Australia.

ANE issued a statement saying it was a "private company established to examine potential commercial responses to future energy needs" and denied it had proposed to build nuclear power plants.

Greens' nuclear spokesperson, Senator Christine Milne, said Howard and Rudd need to be straight with the community about uranium mining, exports, nuclear reactors and waste dumps and the discussions they are having with party backers, pollsters, the mining industry and nuclear proponents.

"It is no wonder Australians are confused about how Australia is suddenly in the grip of a major nuclear push when overwhelmingly the community opposes it. Conflicts of interest, hypocrisy, and cronyism are rife. Transparency of process and freedom of information are the cornerstones of democracy. They are sadly lacking in Australia right now," Senator Milne said.

The federal opposition says the new chairman of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) has been appointed to follow the government's agenda. "Whatever Mr Ziggy Switkowski's considerable professional qualifications, this will be seen as a highly controversial appointment," Labor's science spokesman Kim Carr said.

Despite scientists and the community objections, Switkowski's report proposed that nuclear-power would offset climate change because it would be clean and cost competitive in its own right.

Labor's Energy spokesman Chris Evans says Mr Howard is pushing an agenda. "It's clear that the Prime Minister is encouraging people to go down the path of nuclear energy," he said. "The Howard Government's plan to take us down the nuclear path is much more advanced than people thought."

The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) says Switkowski's appointment represents a conflict of interest. ACF's Dave Sweeney said Switkowski's appointment showed that due process had been thrown out the window in the nuclear debate currently raging in the country. Mr Sweeney said the appointment highlighted the Government's quest to push nuclear energy, especially when the Government had not yet responded to Dr Switkowski's nuclear inquiry report.

"We are talking about the world's most hazardous energy source, yet the government process to investigate whether Australia should adopt it has not been independent, not rigorous, not transparent, not robust," he said. "It is simply not good enough."

Mr Sweeney said the Prime Minister's haste towards a nuclear program had seen an unashamedly pro-nuclear Mr Howard hand-pick a taskforce to examine domestic nuclear power and then appoint as taskforce chairman a man who was on the board of Australia's largest nuclear agency.

He said the taskforce delivered a "one-eyed pro-nuclear report" that lacked detail on costing and siting, failed to address the two key issues of nuclear safeguards and radioactive waste, and was widely criticised. "Before the dust settles on this report, before the Government has even formally responded to this report, its chief author is promoted and put in charge of its implementation," Mr Sweeney said. "Mr Switkowski has a clear conflict of interest. "

Labor called Dr Switkowski a "pawn for the Government". But Dr Switkowski said his experience heading up the nuclear power study would be an advantage in his new position. "ANSTO itself, I think, is well progressed in its thinking around all aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle," Dr Switkowski said on ABC radio. "The fact that I now return as chairman will lead to a situation where the board will continue to be, I think, conversant with and in some cases quite expert in the areas of ANSTO, which is what you would want."

Meanwhile, John Howard himself told Parliament last week that: "I might remind the leader of the Opposition that the laws of the Commonwealth and the state as they now stand, prohibit any nuclear power generation in Australia..."

The Premier of Victoria, Steve Bracks, said he would hold a plebiscite if the Federal Government tried to override state laws and build a plant in Victoria. "There's no safe way of storing radioactive waste, No. 1," he said. "No. 2, the general safety of the plan is questionable, and No. 3, the economics are just not there." The South Australian Premier, Mike Rann, said no reactor would be contemplated while he was premier.

Labor's environment spokesman, Peter Garrett, said he was surprised the plans to build a plant were so advanced. "Australians are very clear that they don't want nuclear energy and nuclear power in this country."

The Wilderness Society spokeswoman Imogen Zethoven said any Australian nuclear plan must be stopped. "If we just went blindly down this path of producing nuclear power we would just end up with this massive waste problem which would become Australia's biggest waste problem ever and for an extremely long time."

The 'debate' continues...


Suburban homes uninsured against nuclear accidents || NT Uranium Mine Danger: Heavy rains pose radioactive risk to Kakadu


ABC News
Media Release - Senator Milne
The Age
News Ltd
Ziggy’s promotion a process meltdown - ACF
WA Business News
Govt to nuclear company - ABC PM
Howard's nuclear plan 'more advanced' - ABC News
Sydney Morning Herald
Businessmen deny nuclear proposal - SMH

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