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A BATTLE WON HAS TO BE FOUGHT AGAIN

The Age: Tracee Hutchison

- Apr 04, 2007

Now, 24 years since we sang and danced our nuclear fears away at the bowl, the nuclear genie is out of the bottle again and tomorrow's Nuclear Fools Day concert at the bowl feels like groundhog day, writes Tracee Hutchison.

A MONTH before Bob Hawke became prime minister in 1983, a couple of friends and I painted a huge banner with a mushroom cloud in the middle of it. The banner was long enough to span the stage of the Sidney Myer Music Bowl and emblazoned in big yellow letters on it were the words "STOP THE DROP". To maximise the dramatic effect of the anti-nuclear message we fashioned the mushroom cloud around the H in the "THE".

The concert of the same name, in February 1983, featured INXS, Midnight Oil, Goanna and Redgum. And the prevailing mood among the tens of thousands of people who were there suggested a looming fear that the development of a nuclear industry would be bad for our health and our future.

With the fallout of the 1979 Three Mile Island reactor accident still casting a long shadow, we sang and danced and shouted our opposition to nuclear proliferation and anointed people such as anti-nuclear campaigner Dr Helen Caldicott as our patron saints.

As the '80s rolled on, Hawke introduced the ALP's famed three-mines policy and confidence in nuclear power as a viable and legitimate energy source continued to wane, thanks largely to the 1986 nuclear meltdown in Chernobyl that sent a radioactive cloud across much of Europe exposing 5 million people. The price of uranium plummeted.

Now, 24 years since we sang and danced our nuclear fears away at the bowl, the nuclear genie is out of the bottle again and tomorrow's Nuclear Fools Day concert at the bowl feels like groundhog day.

Exactly when the tide turned on nuclear power is hard to pin down. Was it English scientist Dr James Lovelock's declaration that he'd happily store nuclear waste under his home as a heat source? Is it a triumph of economic rationalists with short memories or simply boy-men with warmongering tendencies? It's anyone's guess. But somewhere along the way Australia, with 32 per cent of the world's uranium, became a major player in the nuclear industry.

Without a real clue on alternative energy options or a strategy to combat global warming, Prime Minister John Howard became the nuclear industry's pin-up boy, stacking an inquiry into nuclear energy options in Australia with nuclear advocates and appointing its chairman, Ziggy Switkowski, to a plum job heading the country's top nuclear research and lobby group ANSTO -- before the pro-nuke report was handed down.

Somehow the Federal Government also managed to persuade itself that sending our uranium to non-signatory countries to the international nuclear non-proliferation treaty with little post-it notes saying "Not for Weapons" was a reasonable enough guarantee that we're not part of a nuclear arms race.

Suddenly the idea that some of that uranium that had underscored the resources boom would have to come back to its country of origin in waste form was firming as our responsibility.

And just when you'd think the ALP would step up and take a strong stand on the nuclear issue it buckles. Suddenly the three-mines policy is up for grabs at next month's national conference. Suddenly Queensland Premier Peter Beattie is eating the words he took to the electorate that returned his Government to power just six months ago and dumps a pro-nuclear bombshell from the safety of an overseas junket.

Suddenly South Australian Premier Mike Rann is approving a fourth uranium mine, subject to the Feds giving it the green light, with the charming name of "Honeymoon". And suddenly NT Chief Minister Clare Martin is suggesting that the lady may well be for turning.

Somehow all of this is supposed to be good for Australia. Yet none of us wants a nuclear reactor or a nuclear waste dump in our backyard. Ask around. I doubt you'll find any takers. And contrary to Martin Ferguson's rhetoric the unions are not on board.

No other mineral is connected to the most destructive weapon ever built. It needs to stay in the ground.

As Caldicott said on the cover of her most recent book, Nuclear is Not the Answer to Global Warming or Anything Else, it is not the magic non-polluting answer to protracted inaction on alternate energy strategies.

And this is not the time to forget that accidents do happen. See you at the bowl tomorrow. I just wish I still had that banner.

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