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An abrogation of responsibility

By Anthony Albanese - posted Tuesday, 9 May 2006

The meltdown of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor 20 years ago was one of the most significant disasters of the 20th century, and the effects of it are still being felt. To get a sense of the scale of the disaster, authorities are still trying to prevent more radiation from leaking and there is still a 30-kilometre security radius around the site.

As Mikhail Gorbachev declared this month: "Chernobyl opened my eyes like nothing else. It showed the horrible consequences of nuclear power, even when used for non-military purposes."

The International Atomic Energy Agency concluded that radiation exposure from the Chernobyl disaster will lead to the deaths of up to 4,000 people, and there have been 4,000 cases of thyroid cancer, mostly in children. The agency found that 350,000 people were displaced, with relocation a "deeply traumatic experience".


Chernobyl showed the world that nuclear power was not safe, but just 20 years later our Prime Minister is ready to bring nuclear power to Australia.

On April 7 John Howard told Southern Cross Radio: "My philosophy is that if it became economically attractive, I would not oppose [nuclear power] any more than I oppose the export of uranium."

The Treasurer, the Defence Minister, the Industry Minister and the Environment Minister have all said Australia should consider establishing a nuclear power industry.

The ALP has opposed nuclear power in Australia for decades. Its platform states that "Labor will prohibit the establishment in Australia of nuclear power plants and all other stages of the nuclear fuel cycle".

Nuclear energy doesn't add up economically, environmentally or socially, and after more than 50 years of debate, we still do not have an answer to nuclear proliferation or nuclear waste.

Nuclear power is the most capital intensive to establish, decommissioning is extremely expensive and the financial burden continues long after the plant is closed. On March 30 Britain estimated it will cost $170 billion to clean up its 20 nuclear sites.


In the US, direct subsidies to nuclear energy were $115 billion between 1947 and 1999, with a further $145 billion in indirect subsidies. In contrast, subsidies to wind and solar energy combined during the same period were only $5.5 billion. Those costs don't include the black hole of nuclear waste - because there is no solution.

The Defence Minister, Brendan Nelson, said on November 27: "In terms of high-level waste, if it were ever to be produced from an Australian nuclear industry, well that will be a matter for the governments of the day".

What an abrogation of responsibility.

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This is an edited extract from a speech delivered at the University of Sydney. First published in the Sydney Morning Herald on April 26, 2006

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About the Author

Anthony Albanese is the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development.

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