The announcement today by South Australia premier Jay Weatherill that a Royal Commission will be held into his state’s role in nuclear energy use in Australia is a welcome development.
New Matilda is not pro-nuclear. But New Matilda very much is ‘pro an honest and open public debate’ about nuclear energy. Indeed, we’re pro ‘an honest and public debate’ about most issues, particularly those that have such enormous importance to the future of this planet.
Notwithstanding a succession of Australian Governments failing abysmally to place man-made climate change at the top of public debate and action, most people now accept that it is real.
Most people understand that unless we start taking action now, the affects of man-made climate change will devastate future communities and economies. It is, to put not too fine a point on it, the greatest and most important challenge that we face.
The affects of man-made climate change will be felt most acutely by our children and future generations of Australians, in addition to people alive today who are the world’s most vulnerable citizens. In short, it is the poor that will feel the first affects of man-made climate change.
We have a solemn responsibility to act, and to act now, and that means having a mature, rational debate about whether or not nuclear energy has any role to play in tackling man-made climate change.
The fear of many Australians about the potential for catastrophe from nuclear energy is real, and deserved. The disaster at Chernobyl, and the more recent meltdown at Fukushima, among others, have seriously eroded public confidence.
There is no question that uranium can provide a powerful source of energy with a vastly reduced load of emissions. And there is no question that there is enough uranium on this planet to fuel our energy needs well into the future (thousands, if not tens of thousands of years).
The question is, whether it can be done safely.
That is the debate that Australians must have. And we must have it now. Enough time has already been lost arguing about whether or not climate change is real.
That debate, we hope, will be led by people like James Hansen, one of the world’s foremost climate change scientists, and activists. You can watch a video on his view below.
Hansen is a strong proponent of nuclear energy, and believes that it must make up part of our solution to climate change. While he is not a lone voice, nor is his position unanimous.
Not all scientists agree that nuclear energy is the future. Many prefer renewables. Still, the debate clearly must be had. Science and industry – and greed and apathy – helped get us into this mess. Ironically, science must play a key role in getting us out of it, and the debate must be had in a way that is accessible to the Australian people.
With that in mind, the federal government should seek to ensure that it also helps to lead the process of a full and frank public discussion.
New Matilda will be launching a new section in the coming months devoted to reporting climate change, the environment, and science. Nuclear energy, along with renewables such as solar and wind, will be a key part of that reportage.
We look forward to a vigorous, open and honest debate on a matter that is, to steal a quote, the greatest moral challenge of our lifetime.
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