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In Australia, millions unite in 40 organisations to say NO to nuclear power

Broad coalition representing millions of Australians opposes nuclear power,   https://www.sbs.com.au/news/broad-coalition-representing-millions-of-australians-opposes-nuclear-power  17 Sept 19, Some 40 groups have drawn up a statement calling on the federal government to embrace renewable energy rather than going down the path of nuclear.

More than 40 groups representing millions of Australians have come together to issue a clear message to the federal government that the nation’s energy future is renewable, “not radioactive”.

However, the mining industry is calling for the ban on nuclear energy to be lifted.

The coalition of groups has submitted a shared statement in response to the federal parliamentary inquiry into the prospects for nuclear power in Australia.

“The groups maintain nuclear power has no role in Australia’s energy future and is a dangerous distraction from real progress on our pressing energy and climate challenges and opportunities facing Australia,” the Australian Conversation Foundation said.

“[We call] for the federal parliament to embrace renewable energy as the cleanest, quickest, cheapest and most credible way to power Australian homes and workplaces, and re-power regional communities and the national economy.”

The ACF is joined by a broad coalition of faith, union, environmental, aboriginal and public health groups.

These include the ACTU, state and territory trade unions and councils, the Public Health Association of Australia, Uniting and Catholic church organisations, the Smart Energy Council, the Aboriginal-led Australian Nuclear Free Alliance, climate action groups and Greenpeace Australia Pacific.

Their statement raises concerns over the long-life of nuclear waste, the volume of water needed to cool a nuclear reactor, the time needed to build a reactor, the high cost of a plant, security and safety.

However, in its own submission, the Minerals Council of Australia called on the legislated ban on nuclear to be lifted and uranium mining to be mainstreamed with other minerals.

Council chief executive Tania Constable said nuclear energy should be considered as part of the energy mix if Australia is to retain its strong industrial sector with high-paying long-term jobs.

It will also encourage investment and maintain system and price stability through a stable and reliable electricity market while significantly cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

“Australia has lost its comparative advantage in energy,” Ms Constable said in a statement. “Rising prices and falling reliability are forcing businesses to invest overseas instead of Australia.”

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September 17, 2019 Posted by | AUSTRALIA, opposition to nuclear, politics | Leave a comment

Thorium nuclear reactors – expensive, dangerous and leave dangerous radioactive isotopes with long half-lives

New nuclear power proposal needs public  debate   https://independentaustralia.net/environment/environment-display/new-nuclear-power-proposal-needs-public-discussion,13071   By Helen Caldicott | 4 September 2019  The prospect of thorium being introduced into Australia’s energy arrangements should be subjected to significant scrutiny, writes Helen Caldicott.

AS AUSTRALIA is grappling with the notion of introducing nuclear powerinto the country, it seems imperative the general public understand the intricacies of these technologies so they can make informed decisions. Thorium reactors are amongst those being suggested at this time.

The U.S. tried for 50 years to create thorium reactors, without success. Four commercial thorium reactors were constructed, all of which failed. And because of the complexity of problems listed below, thorium reactors are far more expensive than uranium fueled reactors.

The longstanding effort to produce these reactors cost the U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars, while billions more dollars are still required to dispose of the highly toxic waste emanating from these failed trials.

The truth is, thorium is not a naturally fissionable material. It is therefore necessary to mix thorium with either enriched uranium 235 (up to 20% enrichment) or with plutonium – both of which are innately fissionable – to get the process going.

While uranium enrichment is very expensive, the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel from uranium powered reactors is enormously expensive and very dangerous to the workers who are exposed to toxic radioactive isotopes during the process. Reprocessing spent fuel requires chopping up radioactive fuel rods by remote control, dissolving them in concentrated nitric acid from which plutonium is precipitated out by complex chemical means.

Vast quantities of highly acidic, highly radioactive liquid waste then remain to be disposed of. (Only is 6 kilograms of plutonium 239 can fuel a nuclear weapon, while each reactor makes 250 kilos of plutonium per year. One millionth of a gram of plutonium if inhaled is carcinogenic.)

So there is an extraordinarily complex, dangerous and expensive preliminary process to kick-start a fission process in a thorium reactor.

When non-fissionable thorium is mixed with either fissionable plutonium or uranium 235, it captures a neutron and converts to uranium 233, which itself is fissionable. Naturally it takes some time for enough uranium 233 to accumulate to make this particular fission process spontaneously ongoing.

Later, the radioactive fuel would be removed from the reactor and reprocessed to separate out the uranium 233 from the contaminating fission products, and the uranium 233 then will then be mixed with more thorium to be placed in another thorium reactor.

But uranium 233 is also very efficient fuel for nuclear weapons. It takes about the same amount of uranium 233 as plutonium 239 – six kilos – to fuel a nuclear weapon. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has already, to its disgrace, ‘lost track’ of 96 kilograms of uranium 233.

A total of two tons of uranium 233 were manufactured in the United States. This material naturally requires similar stringent security measures used for plutonium storage for obvious reasons. It is estimated that it will take over one million dollars per kilogram to dispose of the seriously deadly material.

An Energy Department safety investigation recently found a national repository for uranium 233 in a building constructed in 1943 at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

It was in poor condition. Investigators reported an environmental release from many of the 1,100 containers could

‘… be expected to occur within the next five years because some of the packages are approaching 30 years of age and have not been regularly inspected.’

The DOE determined that this building had:

Deteriorated beyond cost-effective repair and significant annual costs would be incurred to satisfy both current DOE storage standards, and to provide continued protection against potential nuclear criticality accidents or theft of the material.

The DOE Office of Environmental Management now considers the disposal of this uranium 233 to be ‘an unfunded mandate’.

Thorium reactors also produce uranium 232, which decays to an extremely potent high-energy gamma emitter that can penetrate through one metre of concrete, making the handling of this spent nuclear fuel extraordinarily dangerous.

Although thorium advocates say that thorium reactors produce little radioactive waste, they simply produce a different spectrum of waste to those from uranium-235. This still includes many dangerous alpha and beta emitters, and isotopes with extremely long half-lives, including iodine 129 (half-life of 15.7 million years).

No wonder the U.S. nuclear industry gave up on thorium reactors in the 1980s. It was an unmitigated disaster, as are many other nuclear enterprises undertaken by the nuclear priesthood and the U.S. government.

September 5, 2019 Posted by | AUSTRALIA, Reference, thorium | 1 Comment

Australia’s most expert nuclear shill performs for the industry at a Parliamentary Inquiry

Noel Wauchope  31 Aug 19

He’s an expert at it.

What the nuclear industry wants is the removal of Australia’s Federal and State legislation that prohibits the nuclear industry in Australia.

Ziggy delivers.

Sure, he makes motherhood statements about nuclear dangers, about costs etc.  He even gives a subtle little tick to that distracting fantasy – small modular nuclear reactors.

But Ziggy faithfully conveys the central message of the global nuclear lobby to Australia:

Should we change the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act? Absolutely. All obstacles to the consideration of nuclear power should be removed as part of a nuclear energy strategy debate.  https://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/summary/summary.w3p;adv%3Dyes;orderBy%3Dpriority,doc_date-rev;query%3DDataset%3AcomRep;resCount%3DDefault

August 31, 2019 Posted by | AUSTRALIA, spinbuster | Leave a comment

Refuting Australian Financial Review’s disinformation on Small Modular Nuclear Reactors (SMRs)

August 29, 2019 Posted by | AUSTRALIA, media, Small Modular Nuclear Reactors | Leave a comment

Parliamentary Inquiry told that renewable energy, not nuclear power, is Australia’s best option

Nuclear inquiry told “firmed renewables” cheapest and best option for future  https://reneweconomy.com.au/nuclear-inquiry-told-firmed-renewables-cheapest-and-best-option-for-future-58109/   , Sophie Vorrath

But in a hearing in Sydney on Thursday morning, it heard that nuclear power just doesn’t stack up against firmed renewables – already at price parity with new-build coal and gas and “well and truly” on track to becoming the lowest cost generation form for the National Electricity Market.

“Unfirmed renewables are effectively the cheapest form of energy production today,” said Alex Wonhas, the chief system design and engineering officer at the Australian Energy Market Operator.

“If we look at firmed renewables, that current cost is roughly comparable to new-build gas and new-build coal, but given the learning rate, this will well and truly become the lowest cost generation form for the NEM.

“There is a certain amount of energy that we expect renewables to deliver,” Wonhas added. “But we will need dispatchable resources, and generators that can respond quickly.

“Gas is an effective firming option, but there’s a whole range of other technologies out there – such as solar thermal, that are dispatchable.” He also added pumped hydro and battery storage.

“We are quite fortunate that we have many different technology options available that we can use to build Australia’s future generation system.”

And nuclear, it is becoming blindingly clear, is not one of them.

Even Ziggy Switkowski, who headed up the Coalition’s last big excursion into nuclear power, was unequivocal on that.

“The window (in Australia) is now closed for gigawatt-scale nuclear,” he told the Committee on Thursday, noting that current large-scale versions of the technology had failed to find anywhere near the same economies of scale that had been enjoyed by solar and wind.

“Nuclear power has got more expensive, rather than less expensive,” he added, while also noting that the time required to develop new nuclear projects could cover at least five political cycles. There is no business case, and no investor appetite.”

Switkowski told the Committee that the only hope for nuclear in Australia hinged on the future of Small Modular Reactors – which, as Jim Green explains here, are currently “non-existent, overhyped, and obscenely expensive.”

Current costs for SMR generation, as modelled by the AEMO and CSIRO, are estimated at $16,000/kW, which as Committee member and Labor MP Josh Wilson pointed out, is more expensive than large-scale nuclear by at least 50 per cent, and four or five times higher than capital cost of new solar wind. And while other technologies are modelled to see a decrease in their cost over time – solar thermal and storage, for example, at $7,000/kW is expected to fall to around half that in 2050 – SMR nuclear costs stay flat in AEMO/CSIRO modelling out to 2050.

August 29, 2019 Posted by | AUSTRALIA, politics | Leave a comment

Trumped Up: Wiki cables show Australia thinks Iran is not the aggressor,

Trumped Up: Wiki cables show Australia thinks Iran is not the aggressor, Michael West, by Prof. Clinton Fernandes — 23 August 2019  Wikileaks cables reveal Iran presents no threat to Australia and little threat to the US. Instead, clear intelligence from the US, Australia and Iran confirms Iran, although portrayed as aggressive, has pursued a defensive military strategy. Clinton Fernandez reports.

August 24, 2019 Posted by | AUSTRALIA, Iran, politics international, secrets,lies and civil liberties | Leave a comment

Rare earths’ radioactive wastes -a toxic issue in Malaysia

Australian mining company Lynas gets permission to dispose of radioactive waste in Malaysia, dividing locals ABC 

Key points:

  • Malaysia has renewed the rare earth plant licence of Australian company Lynas
  • Green groups say Lynas’ activities pose a threat to the local environment
  • Lynas says it will meet the licence obligations set by Malaysia’s Government

Outside of China, the Australian firm, Lynas, is the world’s only major producer of rare earth minerals, which are crucial in the production of high-tech gear including smartphones, laser-guided missiles and electric car batteries.

The ore is dug up at Mount Weld in Western Australia and then shipped to Malaysia, where the cost of processing is significantly lower.

The low-level radioactive waste is a by-product of the enrichment process and Malaysian activists are convinced it poses a threat to local communities.

At a recent protest in Kuantan, several hundred people rallied against the Australian firm and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s decision to extend its licence to operate.

“[The radioactivity] will be passed through our children and our children’s children,” said Moses Lim, a chemical engineer turned activist.

“We may be gone, but our grandchildren will curse us.”

Mr Lim claimed the issue had the potential to “tarnish the good name of Australia” in the minds of millions of Malaysians. But the Prime Minister, 94-year-old Dr Mahathir, dismissed criticism of Lynas’ operations in Malaysia.

“It’s not Chernobyl. This isn’t going to be dangerous,” he said.

‘We just have to accept this fate’

The issue has split the local community, which relies on the hundreds of high-paying jobs that the processing facility provides.

At a local fish market in Kuantan, a mother who declined to offer her name told the ABC she feared radioactive contamination from the facility would make its way into her food.

“I am scared, but I have no choice but to buy the fresh fish from here. We just have to accept this fate,” she said.

“I think Lynas should be shut down for the sake of the surrounding environment.”

But other locals said there was nothing to worry about, blaming politicians for trying to capitalise on the issue by whipping up fear in the community.

Raja Harris bin Raja Salleh, the chief fisher in Balok village, said the residents are “not at all scared”.

“Lynas is the same as other agencies and factories that produce chemicals. The accusations against Lynas are political,” he said.

Toxic waste becomes a toxic issue

The issue of Lynas’ radioactive waste has become politically toxic for the Mahathir-led coalition, which promised in opposition to close the Australian plant.

Now in government after last year’s shock election result, there has been a major backing down.

Lynas is allowed to keep operating its plant and has been given six months to find a suitable site within Malaysia to permanently dispose of 580,000 tonnes of low-level radioactive waste currently stockpiled at the Kuantan facility.

The company has also been given four years to relocate its cracking and leaching processing operation — which creates the radioactive waste — to Western Australia.

Wong Tak, a Malaysian Government MP who attended the Kuantan protest, said the cabinet decision to extend the licence was a “great disappointment”.

The long time anti-Lynas campaigner claimed the issue was serious enough to fracture the Mahathir-led Pakatan Harapan, or Alliance of Hope, Coalition.

“I know the majority of backbenchers are with us, and I will even say the majority of the cabinet are with the people.”

Dr Mahathir has taken a pragmatic approach to the issue, saying the decision to extend the licence was based on expert advice, not the “popular view”.

“Either we get rid of the industry and lose credibility in terms of foreign direct investment, or we can take care of the problem,” he said……

The fate of Lynas in Malaysia is being keenly watched around the world amid concerns rare earth materials could become a bargaining chip in the ongoing US-China trade war.

In 2010, the Chinese supply of rare earths to Japan suddenly stopped for two months following a territorial dispute over Japan’s claim to the Senkaku Islands, which angered China.

The construction of the Lynas plant in Malaysia was largely funded in 2011 by Japan, which needed a reliable supply of rare earths.

China currently holds a near-monopoly on the production of rare earth minerals, with Lynas producing about 13 per cent of global supply.https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-08-22/malaysians-divided-on-radioactive-waste-from-aussie-miner-lynas/11434122

August 22, 2019 Posted by | AUSTRALIA, Malaysia, RARE EARTHS | Leave a comment

Australia would be a mug to be conned into buying small modular nuclear reactors

7 reasons why Small Modular Nuclear Reactrs are a bad idea for Australia, more https://independentaustralia.net/environment/environment-display/seven-reasons-why-small-modular-nuclear-reactors-are-a-bad-idea-for-australia,13010

International news reports that, in a failed missile test in Russia, a small nuclear reactor blew up,  killing five nuclear scientists, and releasing a radiation spike.

In Australian news, with considerably less media coverage, Parliament announced an Inquiry into nuclear energy for Australia, with an emphasis on Small Modular Reactors (SMRs). Submissions are due by September 16.

A bit of background.  The U.S. government and the U.S. nuclear industry are very keen to develop and export small modular nuclear reactors for two main reasons, both explained in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2018     Firstly, with the decline of large nuclear reactors, there is a need to maintain the technology and the expertise, trained staff, necessary to support the nuclear weapons industry. Secondly, the only hope for commercial viability of small nuclear reactors is in exporting them – the domestic market is too small.  So – Australia is seen as a desirable market.

The USA motivation for exporting these so far non-existent prefabricated reactors is clear.  The motivation of their Australian promoters is not so clear.

These are the main reasons why it would be a bad idea for Australia to import small modular nuclear reactors.

  1. COST.Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University’s Department of Engineering and Public Policy concluded that the SMR industry would not be viable unless the industry received “several hundred billion dollars of direct and indirect subsidies” over the next several decades. For a company to invest in a factory to manufacture reactors, they’d need to be sure of a real market for them – Australia would have to commit to a strong investment up front.

The diseconomics of scale make SMRs more expensive than large reactors.  A 250 MW SMR will generate 25 percent as much power as a 1,000 MW reactor, but it will require more than 25 percent of the material inputs and staffing, and a number of other costs including waste management and decommissioning will be proportionally higher.

study by WSP / Parsons Brinckerhoff, commissioned by the 2015/16 South Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission, estimated costs of A$180‒184/MWh (US$127‒130) for large pressurised water reactors and boiling water reactors, compared to A$198‒225 (US$140‒159) for SMRs.

To have any hope of being economically viable, SMRs would have to be mass produced and deployed, and here is a “Catch-22″  problem The economics of mass production of SMRs cannot be proven until hundreds of units are in operation. But that can’t happen unless there are hundreds of orders, and there will be few takers unless the price can be brought down. Huge government subsidy is therefore required

  1. Safety problems. Small nuclear reactors still have the same kinds of safety needsas large ones have. The heat generated by the reactor core must be removed both under normal and accident conditions, to keep the fuel from overheating, becoming damaged, and releasing radioactivity.   The passive natural circulation coolingcould be effective under many conditions, but not under all accident conditions. For instance, for the NuScale design a large earthquake could send concrete debris into the pool, obstructing circulation of water or air.  Where there are a number of units, accidents affecting more than one small unit may cause complications that could overwhelm the capacity to cope with multiple failures.

Because SMRs have weaker containment systems than current reactors, there would be greater damage if a hydrogen explosion occurred.  A secondary containment structure would prevent large-scale releases of radioactivity in case of a severe accident.  But that would make individual SMR units unaffordable. The result?  Companies like NuScale now move to projects called “Medium” nuclear reactors – with 12 units under a single containment structure.  Not really small anymore.

Underground siting is touted as a safety solution, to avoid aircraft attacks and earthquakes. But that increases the risks from flooding.  In the event of an accident emergency crews could have greater difficulty accessing underground reactors.

Security 

Proponents of SMRs argue that they can be deployed safely both as a fleet of units close to cities, or as individual units in remote locations. In all cases, they’d have to operate under a global regulatory framework, which is going to mean expensive security arrangements and a level of security staffing.  ‘Economies of scale’ don’t necessarily work, when it comes to staffing small reactors.   SMRs will, anyway, need a larger number of workers to generate a kilowatt of electricity than large reactors need.  In the case of security staffing, this becomes important both in a densely populated area, and in an isolated one.

  1. Weapons Proliferation.

The latest news on the Russian explosion is a dramatic illustration of the connection between SMRs and weapons development.

But not such a surprise. SMRs have always had this connection, beginning in the nuclear weapons industry, in powering U.S. nuclear submarines. They were used in UK to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. Today, the U.S. Department of Energy plans to use SMRs  as part of “dual use” facilities, civilian and military. SMRs contain radioactive materials, produce radioactive wastes – could be taken, used part of the production of a “dirty bomb” The Pentagon’s Project Dilithium’s small reactors may run on Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) , nuclear weapons fuel – increasing these risks.

It is now openly recognised that the nuclear weapons industry needs the technology development and the skilled staff that are provided by the “peaceful” nuclear industry. The connection is real, but it’s blurred.  The nuclear industry needs the “respectability” that is conferred by new nuclear, with its claims of “safe, clean, climate-solving” energy.

  1. Wastes.

SMRs are designed to produce less radioactive trash than current reactors. But they still produce long-lasting nuclear wastes, and in fact, for SMRs this is an even more complex problem. Australia already has the problem of spent nuclear fuel waste, accumulating in one place – from the nuclear reactor at Lucas Heights.  With SMRs adopted, the waste would be located in many sites, with each location having  the problem of transport to a disposal facility.  Final decommissioning of all these reactors would compound this problem.   In the case of underground reactors, there’d be further difficulties with waste retrieval, and site rehabilitation.

6. Location. 

I have touched on this, in the paragraphs on safety, security, and waste problems.  The nuclear enthusiasts are excited about the prospects for small reactors in remote places. After all, aren’t some isolated communities already having success with small, distributed solar and wind energy?   It all sounds great. But it isn’t.

With Australia’s great distances, it would be difficult to monitor and ensure the security of such a potentially dangerous system, of many small reactors scattered about on this continent. Nuclear is an industry that is already struggling to attract qualified staff, with a large percentage of skilled workers nearing retirement. The logistics of operating these reactors, meeting regulatory and inspection requirements, maintaining security staff would make the whole thing not just prohibitively expensive, but completely impractical.

  1. Delay. 

 For Australia, this has to be the most salient point of all. Economist John Quiggin has pointed out that Australia’s nuclear fans are enthusing about small modular nuclear reactors, but with no clarity on which, of the many types now designed, would be right for Australia.  NuScale’s model, funded by the U.S. government, is the only one at present with commercial prospects, so Quiggin has examined its history of delays.   But Quiggin found that NuScale is not actually going to build the factory: it is going to assemble the reactor parts, these having been made by another firm, – and which firm is not clear.  Quiggin concludes:

Australia’s proposed nuclear strategy rests on a non-existent plant to be manufactured by a company that apparently knows nothing about it.

As  there’s no market for small nuclear reactors, companies have not invested much money to commercialise them. Westinghouse Electric Company tried for years to get government funding for its SMR plan, then gave up, and switched to other projects. Danny Roderick, then president and CEO of Westinghouse, announced:

The problem I have with SMRs is not the technology, it’s not the deployment ‒ it’s that there’s no customers. … The worst thing to do is get ahead of the market. 

Russia’s  programme  has been delayed by more than a decade and the estimated costs have ballooned.

South Korea decided on SMRs, but then pulled out, presumably for economic reasons.

China is building one demonstration SMR, but has dropped plans to build 18 more, due to diseconomics of the scheme.

There’s a lot of chatter in the international media, about all the countries that are interested, or even have signed memoranda of understanding about buying SMRs, but still with no plans for actual purchase or construction.

Is Australia going to be the guinea pig for NuScale’s Small and Medium Reactor scheme?  If so,when?  The hurdles to overcome would be mind-boggling. The start would have to be the repeal of Australia’s laws – the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999 Section 140A and Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act 1998. Then comes the overcoming of States’ laws, much political argy-bargy, working out regulatory frameworks, import and transport of nuclear materials, – finding locations for siting reactors, – Aboriginal issues-community consent,  waste locations.  And what would it all cost?

And, in the meantime, energy efficiency developments, renewable energy progress, storage systems – will keep happening, getting cheaper, and making nuclear power obsolete.

August 17, 2019 Posted by | AUSTRALIA, Small Modular Nuclear Reactors | Leave a comment

Stifling democracy- Australia’s National Radioactive Waste Management Facility Taskforce is even more repressive than UK’s

Cumbria Trust 11th Aug 2019 The Guardian has reported that residents in Southern Australia, who face having a nuclear waste storage facility imposed on them, are being forced
to sign an excessively restrictive code of conduct if they wish to attend
community meetings. This prevents them from taking notes, repeating certain
views expressed in the meeting, or trying to take part in the committee
discussions.

This appears to go well beyond the steps required to maintain
an orderly meeting, and serves to suppress democratic accountability. While
the last search process in Cumbria, MRWS, didn’t go to such extreme
lengths, there were some unnecessary restrictions which obstructed local
democracy. Specifically, executive members of the borough councils, and
cabinet members of Cumbria County Council, were told that they could not
give any public indication of whether they were minded to vote for the
process to proceed to the next stage. This ‘predetermination’ rule
allowed senior councillors to completely avoid public scrutiny on the
matter.

https://cumbriatrust.wordpress.com/2019/08/11/australian-troubles-with-community-engagement/

August 12, 2019 Posted by | AUSTRALIA, civil liberties | Leave a comment

Australian Senate reaffirms Australia’s law banning nuclear power

This motion was moved by Senator Hanson-Young and passed by the Senate, 29 July 19

July 30, 2019 Posted by | AUSTRALIA, politics | Leave a comment

Australia’s government doesn’t mention climate change: it’s not happening in Australia

We are now in a place we’ve never been before https://southwind.com.au/, 

23 July 2019 by Peter Boyer    Australia’s big dry is now its worst drought on record. Which is pretty much the way it is everywhere.  Following a lead from our state and federal governments, today I’m going to avoid the delicate matter of future climate. Instead I’ll focus on what’s happening around us now.

Weather records tell us that June in Australia was 0.26C warmer than average and 31 per cent drier. The first half of 2019 produced the continent’s second warmest and seventh driest conditions in 120 years of records.

In those six months the Murray-Darling Basin had about half its normal rainfall. Basin residents might have coped with this in normal times, but these are not normal times. Dry, warm, high-evaporation weather since January 2017 has left them with conditions they’ve not seen before.

Now it’s official. Rainfall records reveal that today’s Murray-Darling experience is Australia’s worst drought on record – more severe than the Federation, the World War II, the Millennium or any other drought in our recorded history.

Bureau of Meteorology climatologist David Jones told a BOM seminar last week that proxy evidence indicates Australia hasn’t been as dry as this for two or three million years, long before humans existed. This puts the current state of our weather in a completely new place.

Numerous NSW and southern Queensland towns now have emergency water restrictions in place. Many towns in upper Darling catchments calculate their water storage as a few months at most. In Tenterfield they’re pumping already-depleted groundwater to try to keep storage levels stable.

Water is now being carted to the small town of Guyra, 150 km away, but for Tenterfield that’s not an option – at least not a sustainable one. Its businesses and 4000 residents would need 1400 B-double truckloads a month, or nearly 50 each day, to sustain even minimal water use.

The list of towns threatened with losing their water supply is growing, including Warwick and Stanthorpe in Queensland. The larger centres of Tamworth, Armidale, Orange and Dubbo are lining up to join them if good rain doesn’t come this year. The Bureau is not hopeful of that happening.

Running out of water is a nightmare for any community. Cape Town almost ran out a year ago and is still in a tenuous position. In much-larger Chennai on India’s southeast coast, where it hasn’t rained for six months, the situation is dire. Monsoon rain is not expected for another month or two.

This city of 10 million people consumes over 500 million litres a day. The provincial government is now using trains to transport water every day from a half-full storage over 300 km away, but if the city were to run out completely that supply would have to increase 50-fold. That won’t happen.

Early monsoonal downpours in India’s Assam along with Nepal and Bangladesh have brought the opposite problem: too much water, displacing millions of people and killing over 100.  Not far away in the high Himalayas, the rate of glacier melt has been found to have doubled in less than 20 years to more than eight billion tonnes a year. A scientific assessment published in June is a very bad omen for downstream communities depending on glacial meltwater.

Meanwhile America’s Pacific north-west is preparing for another nasty fire season. A scientific wildfire survey has just informed Californians, after their worst season ever last year, that the state’s summer fires have increased five-fold since the 1970s, with rising temperature the key cause.

Wildfire anxiety has spread northward, to the dark, dank forests of British Columbia. The Canadian province’s wildfire service has warned that abnormally high fire conditions will be experienced in coastal regions including Vancouver Island at least till the end of summer.

This comes after several summers of intense wildfires up and down the Canadian west coast, mostly started by lightning strikes. They have been especially devastating in new-growth forests, where less genetic diversity and lower tree density allows higher moisture loss.

Things are hotting up in the far north. Alert, a Canadian military base on Ellesmere Island in the high Arctic, normally has a daytime maximum around 7C in July, but it’s currently experiencing an unprecedented heatwave that has seen temperatures climb above 20C.

Canada’s chief climatologist, David Phillips, says this heatwave is just the latest indicator of what will be a long, hot Arctic summer. The main trigger, say scientists, was a dramatic loss of Arctic sea ice over the past decade that allowed the ocean to absorb much more heat from the sun.

Smoke has become a regular contributor to Arctic weather, and this year is no exception. These are not forest fires so much as peat fires. The dried-out tundra itself is now burning in Alaska and across wide Siberian expanses, sending choking black smoke into the air.

Among the many things I’ve left out are Darwin’s groundwater crisis, depleted Great Barrier Reef coral, Europe’s unprecedented June heat, vanishing Antarctic sea ice, chronic drought in Africa and the Americas and floods in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Did I mention climate change?

VICTIM of a chronic decline in government support, Hobart’s venerable environment and sustainability body, Sustainable Living Tasmania, has been forced to close its doors after nearly 50 years of quiet achievement. It will continue as a volunteer-run organisation with no office

July 23, 2019 Posted by | AUSTRALIA, climate change | Leave a comment

Australia cracks down on climate activism. French journalists arrested while filming anti-coal activities

Adani protest: French journalists arrested while filming anti-coal activities, Guardian
Journalists charged with trespassing after filming Frontline Action on Coal activists include Hugo Clément, 
Ben Smee @BenSmee, Mon 22 Jul 2019 Four journalists working for the public television network France 2 have been charged with trespassing for filming a protest near the Abbot Point coal terminal, in north Queensland, targeting the operations of the Adani group.

July 23, 2019 Posted by | AUSTRALIA, civil liberties, climate change, media | Leave a comment

How Australian Aboriginals stopped a huge uranium mining project

Leave it in the ground: stopping the Jabiluka mine, Red Flag Fleur Taylor, 15 July 2019  “…… The election of John Howard in March 1996 marked the end of 13 years of ALP government…..

Australia’s giant mining companies – major backers of the Coalition – got their wish list. Howard immediately abolished Labor’s three mines policy, and the business pages crowed that “25 new uranium mines” were likely and possible. And in October 1997, then environment minister Robert Hill blew the dust off an environmental impact statement from 1979 that said mining at Jabiluka was safe. Approval of the mine quickly followed.

The Jabiluka uranium deposit, just 20 kilometres from the Ranger uranium mine, is one of the richest in the world. The proposal was to build a massively bigger mine than that at Ranger, which would be underground and therefore more dangerous for the workers. It was projected to produce 19 million tonnes of ore over its lifetime, which would be trucked 22 kilometres through World Heritage listed wetlands.

The Liberals hoped to make a point. After all, if you could put a uranium mine in the middle of a national park in the face of Aboriginal opposition, what couldn’t you do?

The fight immediately began. The traditional owners of the area, the Mirarr, were led by senior traditional owner Yvonne Margarula and the CEO of the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation, Jacqui Katona. They were supported by anti-nuclear campaigners around the country, most notably Dave Sweeney of the Australian Conservation Foundation, as well as a network of activist groups.

The most important objective was to delay construction of the mine, scheduled to begin in 1998. To do this, the Mirarr called on activists to travel to Jabiluka in order to take part in a blockade of the proposed mine site until the onset of the wet season would make construction impossible.

The blockade was immensely successful. Beginning on 23 March 1998, it continued for eight months, attracted 5,000 protesters and led to 600 arrests at various associated direct actions. Yvonne Margarula was one: she was arrested in May for trespass on her own land after she and two other Aboriginal women entered the Ranger mine site.

The blockade also attracted high-profile environmental and anti-nuclear activists such as Peter Garrett and Bob Brown. This helped signal to activists that this was a serious fight. The sheer length of time the blockade lasted created a fantastic opportunity for the campaign in the cities. Activists were constantly returning from Jabiluka with a renewed determination to fight.

The Jabiluka Action Group was key to building an ongoing city-based campaign in Melbourne, and the campaign was strongest there of any city. It held large – often more than 100-strong – weekly meetings, organised endless relays of buses to the blockade and  took the fight to the bosses and corporations that stood to profit from the mine.

We were determined to map the networks of corporate ownership and power behind the mine. But in the late 1990s, when the internet barely existed, this wasn’t as simple as just looking up a company’s corporate structure on its glossy website. It took serious, time consuming research.

A careful tracing of the linkages of the North Ltd board members showed that they were very well connected – and not one but two of them were members and past chairmen of the Business Council of Australia (BCA) – one of Australia’s leading bosses’ organisations. So our June 1998 protest naturally headed to the Business Council of Australia. We occupied their office, and the two groups of anti-uranium protesters, 3,800 kilometres apart, exchanged messages of solidarity, courtesy of the office phones of the BCA.

We were also staggered to learn that the chairman of a company that owned two uranium mines and was Australia’s biggest exporter of hardwood woodchips was also a member of the Parks Victoria board, the national president of Greening Australia and the Victorian Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) board president!

The EPA, and corporate greenwashing in general, thereby became a target for the campaign. Another target was the Royal Society of Victoria, which made the mistake of inviting Sir Gus Nossal, a famous scientist and longstanding booster for the nuclear industry, to give a dinner address. We surrounded its building, and the organisers, somewhat mystified, cancelled the dinner. This action once again made headline news, helping to keep the issue of the Jabiluka mine in people’s minds.

We held regular protests at the headquarters of North Ltd on Melbourne’s St Kilda Road. On the day that Yvonne Margarula was facing court on her trespass charge, a vigil was held overnight. When we heard she had been found guilty, the protest erupted in fury. Cans of red paint – not water-based – materialised, and the corporate facade of North Ltd received an unscheduled refurbishment. The Herald-Sun went berserk.

The leadership of the Mirarr people gave this campaign a different focus from other environmental campaigns of the time. It was fundamentally about land rights, sovereignty and the right of Aboriginal communities to veto destructive developments on their land. In Melbourne, the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation appointed long-time Aboriginal militant and historian Gary Foley as their representative. Gary worked tirelessly to provoke and educate the many activists who turned up wanting to “support” or “do something” for Aboriginal people.

At a time when “reconciliation” was strongly supported by liberals and much of the left, Foley told us that reconciliation was bullshit. He argued native title (supposedly a key achievement of Keating) was “the most inferior form of land title under British law”, and that the ALP was every bit as racist as One Nation – if not worse. He insisted activists must educate themselves about sovereignty and the struggles happening right here, not just those happening 3,800 kilometres away. The way the Jabiluka Action Group activists approached this challenge was an example of how people’s ideas change. Many came into the campaign primarily as environmental activists, but almost all left as committed fighters for Aboriginal rights.

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When the blockade wound down at the onset of the wet season, it was an opportunity to fight on some other fronts. Representatives of the UN World Heritage Committee visited Kakadu in late 1998 and issued a declaration that the World Heritage values of the area were in danger. They called on the government to stop the mine. Yvonne Margarula and Jacqui Katona travelled to Paris to speak to the European Commission about the mine.

John Howard, at the time mired in ministerial scandals and resignations, had called an election for September 1998, and there was hope in some quarters that Labor might win and stop the mine. But Howard scraped back in on only 48.3 percent of the vote, and it was clear that the fight on the ground would have to continue.

In the meantime, an important legal loophole had been identified. North Ltd had failed to secure agreement for the Jabiluka ore to be trucked to the Ranger mine for processing. It turned out the Mirarr did have the right to refuse this, and by exercising this right they would increase the cost of the project by $200 million (the cost of building a new processing plant at Jabiluka). This, combined with the ongoing protests, became a huge problem for the company.

Something we enjoyed doing at the time was monitoring North Ltd’s share price. It started out high when the Liberals took power. But after a year of protest and controversy, it had started to sink. The slump world uranium prices were going through didn’t help. But what the share price correlated to most closely was the major protests – it showed a drop after every single one.

Fund managers everywhere had absorbed the simple message that Jabiluka meant trouble, and early in 1999 this formerly prestigious blue-chip mining stock was described as one of the year’s “dog stocks”. Encouraged by this, the campaign launched its most ambitious action to date – the four-day blockade of North Ltd, from Palm Sunday until Easter Thursday 1999. This was the beginning of the end for the mine. In mid-2000, Rio Tinto bought out the struggling North Ltd. With no appetite for a brawl, the new owners quietly mothballed the Jabiluka project, signing a guarantee with the Mirarr to that effect. The campaign had won.

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The Jabiluka campaign was one of those rare things – an outright victory. It was a win not just for the Mirarr people, but for every community threatened by a devastating radioactive mine. And it was a win for humanity as a whole, protected from more of this deadly substance. Our chant – “Hey, North, you’re running out of time! You’re never going to get your Jabiluka mine!” – for once came true.

The victory inspired a neighbouring traditional owner, Jeffrey Lee, single-handedly to challenge the development of the Koongarra uranium deposit, resulting in the cancellation of that entire mining lease. In Melbourne and other cities, the Mirarr resistance inspired sustained and creative campaigning from a wide variety of participants – from vegan Wiccans and revolutionary socialists to doof-doof rave organisers and corporate-philanthropist Women for Mirarr Women. The campaign was chaotic and argumentative, but united by a commitment to challenging corporate power and standing up for Aboriginal sovereignty.

It still serves as an inspiration for anti-nuclear and anti-mining campaigns, such as the brave and determined opposition of the Wangan and Jagalingou traditional owners to the Adani mine. It stands as a great example of how blockades on country can nourish and inspire actions in the cities.  https://redflag.org.au/node/6839

July 18, 2019 Posted by | AUSTRALIA, indigenous issues, opposition to nuclear, Uranium | Leave a comment

Australia would be wise not to mindlessly follow USA into war against Iran

We must think very carefully before committing to war in the Gulf, The Age, By Hossein Esmaeili, July 8, 2019 Conflict between the United States and Iran is deepening and the two states are marching towards war. The Persian Gulf, where a third of the world’s natural gas and a fifth of the world’s oil is sourced, may soon see another large scale and probably long-lasting international conflict………

On Sunday, Iran announced it would enrich uranium beyond the nuclear deal limit unless the remaining parties – Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China – help reduce the paralysing US economic sanctions, which are strangling Iran’s economy. …….
Any war in the volatile environment of the Persian Gulf and the Middle East would not be, as Trump said, ‘‘quick and short’’, but rather a blazing regional and international conflict which may disturb the world economy and endanger global peace and security. ….
In late June, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo officially called on Australia to play a role in a new global coalition against Iran. Following Pompeo’s request, Prime Minster Scott Morrison did not rule out possible Australian involvement in a possible military conflict between the US and Iran.  ……
After the events of September 11, 2001, John Howard invoked provisions of the 1951 ANZUS Treaty to demonstrate Australia’s support for the US in its war against the Taliban/al-Qaeda and later against Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.  …..
Australia has no legal obligations under the ANZUS Treaty, or any other international agreement, to join the US in another possibly long, chaotic and devastating regional conflict. Indeed, under the Charter of the United Nations, to which both Australia and the US are parties, the use of force is prohibited unless authorised by the Security Council of the United Nations.
Australia’s Prime Minister must think very carefully before committing Australia to a war that has virtually no international support, no international legal justification, and no rational justification. ……

the European Union is backing measures, provided by France, United Kingdom and Germany, known as Instruments In Support of Trade Exchange (INSTEX), to facilitate trade between the EU and Iran to partially get around the US sanctions, in order to save the 2015 nuclear deal, to maintain dialogue with Iran and to prevent an international military crisis.

Australia would be much wiser to join the EU’s INSTEX and engage in dialogue with Iran……..

Should Morrison decide to enter into a conflict in one of the most volatile regions of the world, he will not have the decision-making power to end it. He would do well not to drive Australia into such a war, instead, given Australia’s international reputation, he should help European countries, the world community and the United Nations to avoid a useless armed conflict, which will not benefit any country.

War with Iran won’t be like war with Iraq: significantly more pain, more bloodshed and more devastation for the entire world, including Australia, will be the result.

Hossein Esmaeili is an associate professor of international law at Flinders University.  https://www.theage.com.au/world/middle-east/we-must-think-very-carefully-before-committing-to-war-in-the-gulf-20190708-p52566.html

July 9, 2019 Posted by | AUSTRALIA, politics international, weapons and war | Leave a comment

A grandmother explains the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change

Our Future || Caring for planet is a moral responsibility  https://www.canberratimes.com.au/story/6244511/caring-for-planet-is-a-moral-responsibility/?cs=14246 Thea Ormerod, 30 June 19   

July 1, 2019 Posted by | AUSTRALIA, climate change, Religion and ethics | Leave a comment