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Moral Smoke Screen for Nuclear Boom

Tahlia Palmer: Steady Eye

Moral Smoke Screen for Nuclear Boom

Andrew Ryan

Being the Prime Minister of Australia must be difficult. I was about to attempt a breakdown of how much work I imagine goes into even getting to that position, let alone, the work entailed once you’re there, but I don’t know enough about the lives of lawyers and economists and high achievers from political families to make any sort of call on it, other than that I understand they have to have their persuasion on constantly. Convincing people to listen to you and change their minds and believe you when you say you’ve got only the best of intentions is where it’s at in the world of politics. I used to think that Julia Gillard was an epic fail in this regard… but I’ve come to realise she can be very good at it on occasion.

The blur of Christmas and New Year should not have erased all the same sex marriage stuff from your minds completely, because it was only about two months ago. Big protests, constant interviews, a rousing chorus of idiots claiming it will lead to the acceptance of child marriage and zoophilia, the prime minister herself making no qualms about the fact her personal view opposing it is not in line with the view of majority of the country (WHY??, HOW??? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?), the calls for conscience votes if a bill is even introduced, all the crazy things that left Australia in a big ol’ tizzy, then the need for Christmas shopping really hit and everyone forgot about everything except their quickly depleting bank accounts.

How many people noticed that in that same period, in the same speeches and published columns, she also decided that now is the time “to focus on our long-term economic goals and be prepared to confront difficult questions about maximising prosperity and the strength of our relationships in our region of the world.”? Fair enough., that’s a pretty broad and fitting statement. Times are changing, power is shifting, and there are all kinds of different right now. But what this statement actually means is that we’ve got to get better at being friends with asian countries, and the big way to start? She plans on lifting the ban on the sale of uranium to India.
Even though the title of her piece mentioned uranium, the small mention of selling uranium was glossed over quickly to lead on to a more in depth look at expectations for the gay marriage debate. She talks up our long connection with the country, mentions only Canada as someone who currently sells uranium to India to justify that we should help them out- when in fact France, the United Kingdom and the USA all have civilian nuclear trade deals with India- and does a quick written pat on the leg: don’t worry, we’ll make sure they behave themselves. Two paragraphs that are easily looked over if you’re only thinking about gay marriage, which is exactly what seems to have happened in the case of most people, because I haven’t noticed a single word about this issue until this week.

For those of you who don’t know why I would pick it apart: the sale of uranium to India is something the government has had banned because India hasn’t signed the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. It’s kind of a big deal.

You know who else hasn’t signed it? Pakistan. And you know who has now started to knock on Gillard’s door being all “NOT FAIR, WE SHOULD GET SOME URANIUM TOO”? Pakistan. She’s said Pakistan won’t get it any, they’re not to be trusted. But that’s going to piss them off, and it’s never fun pissing Pakistan off.

This policy change idea isn’t coming from nowhere, obviously; as the Prime Minister of Australia, she’s looking out for Australia’s interests, right? The economy will get a huge boost of cash moneys from sales made to India: the rapidly developing country is currently dependant on natural and renewable energy, but cannot sustain itself with these alone for much longer. They need uranium, and Gillard is jumping on the bandwagon, eager to fill Australia’s coffers.

And that’s alright I suppose. More hospitals beds, better pay for teachers maybe? But the problem remains that India hasn’t signed that pesky little treaty, and despite the fact that the Nuclear Suppliers Group issued the country a waiver a few years ago, effectively letting them buy uranium again to keep their population with electricity, it’s still a bit iffy. Why haven’t they signed it?

There is, of course, the ever-looming weirdness about nuclear energy anyway. There are huge problems with everything to do with it. Mining it is fucked, transporting it is fucked, dealing with the waste material (plutonium) is fucked, and the fact that if used incorrectly (or correctly, what ever your goal is), uranium and plutonium can be used to obliterate cities in 5 seconds is fucked. There have been big protests in India against the building of nuclear power plants. Everyone is terrified after Fukishima, and it’s not surprising. They feel completely at risk, they don’t have faith in anyone’s ability to minimise that risk, so they’d rather not deal with it. And I agree. FUCK THAT SHIT, nuclear is unnecessary.

And you know that bit about making sure India doesn’t fuck up with the uranium? Apparently it will take a lot of work for India to meet the standards our government expects for the agreement to take place. They’ve signed the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, but they are still at high risk “on a number of issues including transparency, corruption, the number of sites where material was stored, the independence of regulators and security during transport.“

I read on Wikipedia that the process that goes into creating electricity from uranium can be described as using a canon to kill a fly. If that is truly the case, this all seems ridiculous. It’s a dumb solution to a shitty problem, but governments keep using it because it’s already there, and it’s easier to invest 10 years into make a new reactor than to spend who-knows how long and how much on figuring out safer and cleaner alternatives. Man, if the world was run by introverts who spent more time contemplating than worrying about their careers and hiring spin doctors to cover it up when those worries become obvious, then I think we’d all be feeling a whole lot better about our collective futures.

So what is the deal with our Prime Minister? Faffing about, attempting to get shit done but looking like a dickhead when the successes aren’t celebrated and the failures are highlighted. Hiding a huge, nationally and internationally affecting change of policy behind a much brighter, louder basic rights issue that should have been sorted out years ago without all the hoo-ha… The Labor government is centre-left, leaning heavily on centre; I suppose one shouldn’t be surprised. More than anything it highlights how important it is to pay attention to the politics of your country. It can be enthralling, exhausting, enraging and mind numbingly boring, but not looking behind the flashy news broadcasts and actually knowing what the fuck is going on is a responsibility we have to ourselves and our futures. I’m not saying India shouldn’t have electricity for their growing population, I’m just saying that the fact our government is planning to sell it to them despite the risks and keeping it kind of quiet is a little concerning.