Tuesday 24 May 2022 | 12:17 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 24 May 2022 | 12:17 | SYDNEY

Reader ripostes: Uranium expertise and emotion

This post is part of the Selling Australian uranium to India debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

16 December 2011 11:11

This post is part of the Selling Australian uranium to India debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

Three reader ripostes on our uranium debate. Below, Jasmin Craufurd-Hill and Michael Angwin. But first, Peter Burnett:

Lowy Institute staff seem to get very defensive when people criticise their role, as in the recent policy debate over nuclear issues (a similar trait was evident with the debate over the Fiji poll). Sam Roggeveen is right when he says that The Interpreter has published a range of views on the debate over the sale of uranium to India. But by their very nature, blog postings are ephemeral and don't carry the weight of a policy position issued under the Lowy Institute's logo. Beyond the blog, you don’t see the same diversity of views in the Institute's publications, which have never given space to a serious critic of nuclear power. 

It's hardly surprising that many people regard the Institute as gung ho on one side of the uranium and nuclear power debate, when you look at the publications and Op Eds authored by Rory Medcalf, Marine Letts and other senior Lowy staff members. No one objects to the Institute having a policy position, but don't kid yourselves that the spectrum of approved opinion is very wide. In line with Richard Broinowski, methinks you protest too much.

Jasmin Craufurd-Hill, a Women-in-Nuclear Global board member, writes: 

The application of nuclear science and technology to our world has probably never been so diverse or expansive, from the simple smoke detector outside our bedroom to the search for the origins of the universe with the Large Hadron Collider. Likewise, the breadth of who is an expert in facets of nuclear has similarly expanded and diversified — diplomats, scientists, physicians, scholars, engineers, tradespeople, IT professionals, academics, miners, mathematicians, manufacturers...even some archaeologists I know employing carbon dating, now logically claim a type of expertise and opinion. This rich diversity is why I found Richard Broinowski's riposte so perplexing.

Does someone really have to be of a particular bias or occupation to bring intellectual rigour, expertise or simply a thought-provoking perspective to a 'Lecture series' or a blog debate? With the breadth of nuclear science & technology applications I alluded to earlier, is there clear articulation of who/what constitutes a 'pro-nuke'? Should we dismiss the contribution of a 'pro-nuke' (medicines) expert in favour of that of an 'anti-nuke' (weapons) expert or are we able to see the grey, namely that both these perspectives could exist in one person and thus contribute to a lecture or debate on nuclear?

Michael Angwin, CEO of the Australian Uranium Association, writes:

Richard Broinowski is quite right to argue for the place of emotion in the nuclear debate. I defend that because I am often outraged by some of the things I see and hear and my emotions come to the surface too. And I’d inject more emotion into my advocacy except that I’m certain to be taken to task by Broinowski and others if I did. But he's still right: it is entirely appropriate to inject some emotion without being irrational.

Broinowski's problem — contrary to his own standard — is the rationality bit. Here's an example, taken from his Four Corners interview in April this year, talking about the crews helping to stabilise the Fukushima plant: 'They're going to die, many of them I think are probably sacrificing their lives'. There's no doubt about the emotion. But it's not rational. It's made up. That kind of remark is in the same category as one by, for example, Guy Rundle writing in Crikey in March, of the helicopter crews doing water drops over Fukushima: 'The Japanese crews will slough their skin and muscles, and bleed out internally under the glare of the world's media'.

Or those claiming Australians are 'morally culpable' for Fukushima because Australian uranium was used at the plant. Or those who make unsubstantiated and unscientific claims about fatalities caused by Chernobyl. Or those who circulate sad photos of children with deformities and claim this is what will happen to children conceived in the vicinity of uranium mines. Or who claim the IAEA and the World Health Organisation have a secret covenant under which the WHO goes easy on the impact of nuclear power on public health. I could go on. The challenge for Broinowski and others is not so much to inject some rationality into their claims as to inject some truth.