Australians Should Stop Being Foolish Cowards
'We're the hope of the world' by Andrew Bolte The Sunday Mail 2/10/2005

It's fear, not science, that's robbing Australia of so many opportunities. So lets bury a green myth by building a nuclear waste dump.

WE need to dig this hi-tech dump of Bob Hawke's, and not just to bury nuclear waste. We need it also to bury the green unreason which has held up great ideas like this for far too long.

Hear it already, the hyperventilating over this suggestion from the former Labor prime minister for a nuclear waste dump that would be worth billions.

But enough, please. Green myths have too often won out over science and it's already cost us a fortune.

Where do we even start to count these losses? With, say, genetically modified food crops? Why not? Scientists agree GM crops such as canola are safe and useful. Our Gene Technology Regulator approved GM canola for use. Yet, spooked by nothing more than green believers and their technophobic dupes in the media, our state governments have banned them.

Result? We're losing so many sales to GM-hip countries such as Canada that the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics last, month warned these bans may cost us $3 billion over 10 years.

That's gold-plated idiocy. Or figure, as uranium prices soar, what we've lost in sales by stopping more than three uranium mines from opening, to placate Earthworshippers who think nuclear power is a crime against nature. Add the millions we'll spend on taking scarce water from farmers to send it instead down the Murray to "save" the river from "dying" —when the water in fact is as sweet now as it was 60 years ago.

Why have scientists taken this assault on their traditions so meekly? Why hasn't the Australian Academy of Science fought this rising superstition? Where has anyone been who claims to value reason?

Well, it's time to fight back. Let this battle over the nuclear waste site be the Waterloo of the greens.

The plan pushed this week by Hawke is not new, of course. Pangea, an international company, proposed the very same thing in 1999, figuring a waste facility would earn an astonishing $2 billion a year.

Judged on the science alone, it made sense ... and still does. Around the globe, 440 nuclear reactors pump out almost a fifth of the world's electricity — but also about 12,000 tonnes a year of nuclear waste.

But no country has yet built a permanent high-level waste facility, and for 40 years spent nuclear fuel has been left at temporary sites.

Now that's unsafe. That's also a hell of a business opportunity, with $1 million a tonne on offer to bury this stuff. As Pangea said, no one is better placed than we are to take advantage.

The reason is that to store this waste safely you need a big stretch of flat land with dense rock that's been geologically stable for hundreds of millions of years. That land must also get little rain, have little ground water to disturb the waste and have nothing around that's likely to be needed far a long time.

Four places fit the bill—China's Terim Basin, southern Argentina, southern Africa and desert Australia.

But wait! Do you trust China to handle nuclear waste well? South Africa? That leaves us — the hope of the world; the country with the place, talent and trustworthiness to handle such a vital and delicate job.

Naturally, we'd need to build a dedicated port and rail line and get up to 70 special ships. Then we'd have to dig a repository 500m under the deserts of Western Australia or the Northern Territory big enough to take a fifth of the world's wastes over the next 40 years. By then we'd have $120 billion. On the facts alone, who could resist the challenge? Why resist the 2000 jobs and the cash? Who doubts that we're smart enough to do all his safely and well?

Yet see the politicians run. When Pangea first revealed its plan, the Howard government's then industry minister, Senator Nick Minchin, refused to even meet its representatives.

Pangea has since disbanded discouraged. But have the times changed? Now even former Greenpeace head Paul Gilding admits nuclear power might help stop the global warming he thinks threatens us. So does former NSW Labor premier Bob Carr and Federal Education Minister Brendan Nelson agrees we should debate nuclear power "notwithstanding the hysteria".

But already the drums of the savages are rumbling. "A crazy idea," protests the Total Environment Centre. "Selling our souls," says Greenpeace.

Enough. It's time for scientists to defend good science. Time to listen to experts with answers, not mystics with vibes. Time to defend the reason that has made us rich. Time to bury the superstitions that will make its poor. There aren't that many Australians and our country is not so very rich in nature's gifts. The edge we have on the rest of the world is our brains. It we stop thinking rationally, we wont even have that.

The green mystics must be defied and reason must again rule. This dump is our test. Let's start digging.