Sydney University students and staff rallied outside Fisher Library on September 6 to protest against plans, announced by vice-chancellor Gavin Brown to open a new ,that will cooperate with the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), in placing the university "firmly at the forefront of future developments in Australia's nuclear related research".
The announcement followed PM John Howard's $12.5 million investment for the Nuclear Collaborative Research Program in July which focuses on developing future nuclear power technologies.
The rally, organised by the Sydney University Environment Collective, was addressed by Isobelle Coe from the Aboriginal Tent Embassy as well as National Tertiary Education branch president Michael Thompson.
Matt Howard from Iraq Veterans Against War spoke about the use of depleted uranium munitions currently being fired in Iraq and Afghanistan by the US-led forces.
According to Brown, Sydney University's Institute of Nuclear Science will aim to train sufficient numbers of "home-grown" nuclear experts to operate the 25 nuclear power stations that the Howard government plans to build in Australia. Brown hopes that 15 nuclear scientists will graduate each year from the institute.
While Clive Baldock, the institute's acting director, issued a media release saying that the focus of the institute would be on training personnel to produce radioactive pharmaceuticals and hospital nuclear diagnostic technology, he was reported in the August 22 Sydney Morning Herald as saying: "We don't have the number of nuclear scientists we would need if we went down the nuclear power route." The majority of nuclear scientists are currently trained "in-house" at the Lucas Heights research reactor.
Sydney University's institute is the first to open in Australia since the 1980s when nuclear research was abandoned due to the strong anti-uranium and anti-nuclear movement. The last such centre, UNSW's School of Nuclear Engineering, closed in 1986.
In a September 6 media release, Holly Creenaune of Friends of the Earth Sydney said that "the US-Australia nuclear deal seeks to turn Australian universities into research and training grounds for a dangerous and unsustainable industry".
Olivia Nigro of the Australian Student Environment Network said "Sydney University students do not want to see their university be part of Howard's aggressive nuclear push. The Institute for Nuclear Science will be first since the closure of Australia's sole remaining School of Nuclear Engineering in the 1980s. Twenty years on, there is still no support for Howard's nuclear agenda at Sydney University or across the Australian community."
Wenny Theresia of the Sydney Nuclear Free Coalition said: "Nuclear power is no solution to climate change — it is too expensive, too dangerous and cannot provide the deep cuts to greenhouse gas emissions we need now."