Renfrey Clarke

There is no genuine reason why Australia cannot have 100% renewable electricity in less than a decade, at sharply reduced prices.

In May a vice-president of Sempra Energy, one of the largest utility firms in the US, caused a stir by stating flatly that there was no longer any technical obstacle to powering California with 100% renewables.

In public policy, there are many dog’s breakfasts presented as considered initiatives. Rarely, though, are we served up such a self-contradictory, irrational and generally talentless a dish as the new “energy intervention” announced by South Australia’s Labor government on March 14.

Aimed at side-stepping conservative attacks over recent power cuts, the government’s plan makes some provision for storage back-up to underpin wind and solar. But mainly, the $550 million scheme consists of large-scale concessions to fossil fuel interests — in this case, the gas industry.

Right-wing politicians have blown hard on the anti-renewables dog-whistle since February 8, when extreme temperatures in South Australia were followed by rolling electricity blackouts.

Late that afternoon, power demand in the state spiked to near-record levels. From about 6pm, 100 megawatts — roughly 3% of the state’s total demand — was shed for about half an hour.

To most South Australians, Labor Premier Jay Weatherill’s plan for a vast outback dump to host imported high-level nuclear waste is dead, needing only a decent send-off.

Nevertheless, the Premier keeps trying to resurrect the scheme. Why?

Usually, when people mention dying in a ditch, they are discussing something they would much rather avoid. But for the South Australian state Labor government of Premier Jay Weatherill, dying in a ditch seems a positive ambition.

For Weatherill and his cabinet, the “ditch” is the government’s plan to host up to a third of the world’s high-level nuclear waste in a giant dump in the state’s remote north. The dump scheme was rejected decisively on November 6 by a government-organised “Citizens’ Jury”.

To the fury of business spokespeople, South Australia’s “Citizens’ Jury on Nuclear Waste” has effectively exploded plans by the state Labor government to host the world’s largest nuclear waste dump.

The jury was intended by Premier Jay Weatherill to lend his scheme a garnish of popular consent. But in their final report on November 6, the jurors instead concluded that the dump plan should not go ahead “under any circumstances”. The vote was overwhelming, with two-thirds of jury members opposing the government’s projections.

Yes, climate change was right there in the picture when a massive storm cut off power supplies throughout South Australia on September 28, forcing electricity workers to carry out a first-ever “black start” to get the state’s grid operating again. Estimated as a one-in-50-years occurrence, the storm left high-voltage transmission pylons bent like paper-clips.

Efforts to halt plans for nuclear waste dumping in South Australia have made important advances in recent weeks, with environmental, trade union, indigenous and other bodies pushing for a joint opposition campaign.

At a September 16 meeting called by the peak labour movement body, SA Unions, and the Maritime Union of Australia, members of at least 14 organisations resolved to work toward forming a coordinating committee “around the common objective of preventing nuclear waste dumps being established in South Australia”.

Are small-scale nuclear power reactors the key to dealing with the high cost of electricity in South Australia? Someone in the policy apparatus of Labor Premier Jay Weatherill seems to think so.

Adelaide’s Channel 7 splashed the story across its news reports on September 7: the nuclear power option was being officially explored!

“A top-level report clearly indicates small-scale reactors have been on the short-term radar,” the channel stated.

Armed with the findings of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission, South Australian Labor Premier Jay Weatherill is pressing ahead with plans to import as much as a third of the world's high-level nuclear reactor waste and store it in the state's outback. There are compelling reasons to reject it. The project, it now emerges, could go ahead only over resistance from Indigenous traditional landowners, some of whom took part in the Lizard Bites Back convergence in early July.
In the plans of governments in Adelaide and Canberra, South Australia is to become the country’s “nuclear waste dump state”. Most South Australians remain sceptical. And among the state’s Aboriginal population — on whose ancestral lands the dumps would be located — opposition to the scheme is rock-solid. “It’s very simple and easy to understand,” Aboriginal activist Regina McKenzie told Green Left Weekly on May 24. “No means no!” In the plans of governments in Adelaide and Canberra, South Australia is to become the country's “nuclear waste dump state”.
As South Australia's economy continues to tank, local business leaders and the state Labor government have snatched at the nuclear option. Leading the hopes for salvation is a proposal for a giant underground waste dump to store some of the world's spent reactor fuel.
As a sagging economy cruelled their electoral chances, right-wing parliamentarians and power-brokers in the South Australian Labor Party decided in late 2014 that it was time to ditch a once fiercely-defended point of policy. The party's remaining opposition to the nuclear fuel cycle would have to go. Labor Premier Jay Weatherill soon came on board, and by March last year the state's Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission was under way.
If modern industrial capitalism were a person, he or she would be on suicide watch. The system that has brought us quantum physics and reality television, modern medicine and the columns of Andrew Bolt is set on a course which, by all the best reckoning, points directly to its doing itself in. If capitalism goes on — everything goes. Climate, coastlines, most living species, food supplies, the great bulk of humanity. And certainly, the preconditions for advanced civilisation, perhaps forever.
To get elected, wait until the existing government makes itself unelectable. Say as little as you can about your real policies. Smile, and present a small target. Those were the perspectives of South Australia’s Liberal opposition in the run-up to the state elections on March 15. The key Liberal slogan, outside polling places throughout the state, was “A Fresh Start”. A start to what, specifically? Voters weren’t supposed to ask.
First there was climate denial. But the mocking laughter of the informed public – along with the indignation of the scientists – finally reached the energy-company boardrooms. So now instead we get the non sequitur. That’s Latin for “it doesn’t follow”. Rather than lying outright, the fossil-fuel chiefs make nakedly contradictory statements and count on us not to notice.

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