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Wednesday, 21 September 2011
Page: 6726

Senator MILNE (TasmaniaDeputy Leader of the Australian Greens) (17:03): I rise today to congratulate Senator Ludlam on bringing this matter of public importance to the Senate, because very few Australians would be aware that there is a very high-level meeting on nuclear safety and security to be held tomorrow, 22 September, at the United Nations headquarters in response to a call by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, following the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. I am delighted that we have this opportunity to discuss the UN report. I congratulate, again, Senator Ludlam for tabling the report that will be discussed at that high-level meeting. I would urge senators to read the report and consider it.

Interestingly, earlier this year, on 18 April, the Secretary-General of the United Nations called for a global rethink of nuclear energy and safety. After the Fukushima disaster, people around the world began to really think about the implications of a major nuclear disaster. I note that, in recent days, the former Japanese Prime Minister came out saying that he sought advice in the early days after the disaster of what it would take if Tokyo, with its 30 million people, had to be evacuated. That is what he was grappling with in the first days after the disaster and has subsequently said that the power company involved was extremely unhelpful in providing the kinds of details that he needed to know in thinking about and making those kinds of plans. But think about it for a moment: imagine a situation in a developed country, such as Japan, where somebody has to think about moving 30 million people and what it would mean. As he said, it would mean that Japan would cease to exist and operate as a nation-state during a period where you are trying to manage that kind of disaster. It is worth actually considering that.

I note that Senator Abetz was very selective in the way that he responded to this matter. He noted, for example, in relation to food, that one of the UN agencies, the Food and Agriculture Organisation, did contribute in the section on agriculture and food security about the contribution of nuclear energy and nuclear technology for food security. But the report also recognised that a nuclear accident involving the release of radioactive material will result in:

… serious radioactive contamination of water, agriculture, aquaculture, fisheries and forestry productions as well as wildlife, thus posing a serious threat to veterinary and public health, food security and trade, with direct implications on the livelihoods of people.

So let us get that absolutely straight: a nuclear accident of this kind will lead to contamination and will have massive health and also food security impacts, as we have seen with the level of contamination of food in the immediate area of Fukushima. In relation to the achievement of the Millen­nium Development Goals, Senator Abetz quotes that the IAEA suggests that the provision of access to energy for the 2.4 billion people currently living in energy poverty is an important precondition for progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals. We totally agree. Energy is important in delivering the Millen­nium Development Goals, but nuclear power is not the answer to doing that, because we are talking here about costs and risks, and in fact it is distributed energy produced by renewable energy that has a much greater opportunity and chance to be able to relieve poverty. I put it this way: in the UNDP report they note that sustainable development will require the cost per megawatt hour of electricity to be less than three per cent of per capita income. Since the majority of those in need of energy live in countries where annual per capita incomes are under $1,000, the need is for technological options in the range of $30-$50 per megawatt hour. With nuclear you are not going to get it anywhere under $100, if not more as we go into the greater risk parameters that you are going to have to pay for if you are going to try and develop nuclear energy. So what we should be doing is opposing the idea that you would try and drive nuclear energy, central­ised systems requiring governments to underwrite them in terms of cost, posing difficulties for local communities. Instead, you would support Australian technology in thin film solar, for example, which is a new and exciting area of solar. It is now biodegradable and is entirely consistent with aspirations for providing energy to develop­ing countries. We will see that Australian technology roll out over time and we going to see it make a big difference in the developing world.

On climate change, there is this ridiculous assertion that nuclear energy is required to address climate change. It is actually the opposite. In this report it states that the assumptions that need to be reviewed are regarding the types of accidents that are possible. The report says that an assessment of those accidents was way too modest and that they need to look at the possible effects of climate change in relation to nuclear energy. That is because nuclear cannot take the heat. We have seen right around the world in the last decade several occasions where nuclear reactors have had to be closed down because of extreme heat conditions, which will be increasing as the rate of climate change accelerates.

Let me give you a few examples. In July 2010 in Alabama we saw the shutdown of nuclear facilities to the point where it cost that energy agency or energy department $50 million, all of which had to be paid for by customers in Tennessee, when they had to close down the reactors because they could not cool them, there was no water to be able to do it, and also they could not dispose of the hot water into river systems which were already depleted. At about the same time we had exactly the same situation in Europe. For example, in the summer of 2003 during those record-breaking heatwaves millions of people across France and Italy suffered through extended power shortages after the French network of 19 nuclear power plants had to reduce their operations. Seventy per cent of France's electricity comes from nuclear power. Italy also purchases about a third of its electricity from French nuclear providers. During the heatwave those countries had to basically cut down on use and promote energy conservation. There were blackouts and the result was that many aged people, hospitals and so on experienced those blackouts, and it was appalling. That is why France is now one of the countries in Europe most rapidly embracing renewable energy technology, because they recognise that in extreme weather events nuclear is no good, the reactor has to be shut down.

So let us get this very straight: rather than being a solution to climate change, nuclear is actually significantly undermined by climate change. The coalition does not want to address climate change, but we are going to have more extreme weather events in Australia, more high-temperature days. It is completely unsuitable technology in this country. But I do want on the record that Senator Abetz reiterated that it is coalition policy to build nuclear reactors in Australia. He still has not said where he would build them—

Senator Bernardi: That's not true.

Senator MILNE: Senator Abetz said that. Just a few minutes ago he said that as far as he was concerned the Labor Party is not wanting to support nuclear reactors, clearly the Greens do not, and he was hoping that that would be rethought. It is coalition policy and Senator Abetz has made it clear. In the face of climate change, getting nuclear reactors is so ridiculous, and in face of the disaster that has been Fukushima it is strange that anybody could be talking about promoting nuclear energy. There we had Ziggy Switkowski doing just that. He did not go and stand outside Fukushima, though, did he, when he was busy talking about the low level of risk. He should have gone straight there if it were so low-level risk. But no, it is the Japanese people who are suffering because of this.

I hope that at this meeting in the United Nations tomorrow they will not only consider this but look at the IAEA and say that this organisation needs to split its responsibilities for looking at nuclear proli­feration and for its promotion of nuclear as a technology. They need to split the regulatory authority from the promotion, and that is one of the very positive things that should come out of this meeting tomorrow.