Lowy Institute

Last Sunday I attended a screening of Pandora’s Promise in a strongly air conditioned Sydney cinema (probably fossil fueled).

I was curious to see the make up of the audience. Would I see the usual suspects, all my old (and I mean that quite literally) pro- (as well as anti-) nuclear colleagues? Would there be a younger audience, a new generation sufficiently open-minded to help bring the discussion out of the guilty shadows and show risk-averse politicians the way to take a dispassionate look at the role of nuclear energy in generating reliable low-carbon energy in an energy-voracious world? Could it move the discourse in Australia from an argument to a debate?

The audience was rather 'mature', but that balance will probably be restored when the film is globally launched on iTunes on 3 December. In the Q&A, director Robert Stone was optimistic that the message would have particular appeal to a younger, solution-focused demographic.

But to the film. With only 80-90 minutes to cover a huge canvas, Robert Stone’s film is a creditable effort to demonstrate nuclear power’s tested potential to deliver clean, relatively safe base-load power, in contrast to unreliable renewables such as wind and solar (despite recent improvements).

The film was dominated by testimonials from environmentalists and why they changed their opposition to nuclear energy, which most admitted was based on a 'feeling' rather than science. This may account for a couple of slightly clunky moments: in one scene, British environmentalist David Lynas goes to Fukushima with his Geiger counter and, after a fairly high reading, is asked by the film maker whether he is 'still pro-nuclear'. The notion that elevated readings at Fukushima is all it will take to change his mind suggests that the new pro-nuclear stance is about as simplistic as the anti-nuclear stance which preceded it. Perhaps this short cut is due to the exigencies of the editing room.

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It was encouraging to get an open minded perspective from the converts. Pro-nuclear wonks, who tend to dismiss criticism of the dangers and costs of nuclear energy as ignorant or deluded, could take a leaf out of their book.

The film throws light on nuclear power, its history and potential as the technology becomes safer. It sheds light on the big fossil fuel business bias against nuclear energy and the fact that, despite entry into the market of renewables, global use of coal continues to rise inexorably. It nicely dramatises the fact that hopes for a global agreement to reduce carbon emissions in a timely fashion to reduce the risk of a global environmental catastrophe is a delusion, and that the demand for global growth, with its voracious energy needs, are unstoppable.

Pandora's Promise suggests that the green movement is betraying its own values by continuing to perpetuate the myth that a global treaty and energy efficiency will achieve the required environmental outcome. In this the greens are complicit with the fossil fuel industry and the growth in global coal consumption.

The film shows the irony of pro-nuclear politicians, mostly on the right side of politics, who are not in favour of energy policies to help reduce carbon emissions, while those on the left who oppose nuclear power are, by their opposition, complicit in the rise and rise of carbon emissions.  Here lie the seeds of a bipartisan approach to a nuclear energy policy with extraordinary potential for the environment.

The film is less strong in tackling the argument that nuclear power increases weapons proliferation dangers, although the reduced proliferation risks of new-generation reactors is covered.

My main criticism of the film would be its almost exclusively North Atlantic, developed-country focus. There are images of Brazilian poverty, suggesting the need for reliable clean energy for growth and development. But there is nothing on the world’s most populous, fastest growing but still developing countries India and China, both of which have active civilian nuclear programs which face strong grass roots opposition due to justified concerns about corrupt governance and lax safety.

The laxness of the regulator in developed Japan would have reinforced these concerns. The IAEA knows that without a dramatic improvement in safety, the nuclear industry will never increase its global share of energy supply.

A large problem with the nuclear debate has been the inability of advocates to explain, in plain language, what the benefits and risks are, and why the benefits outweigh the risks. Trying to explain complex science without being simplistic is a challenge, and the film is a good first try.

Director Robert Stone says he has been thrilled by the global response, even before the global launch on 3 December. He thinks it signals the start of a movement. When I look at the history of other movements, such as the women’s movement, which touches 51% of the world’s population, or even the environmental movement, I am not sure his expectations will be fulfilled. But if even half of the environmental movement were to switch to supporting nuclear power, he might be onto something.  Stone is to be congratulated for getting the ball rolling.


In the third of our series of interviews conducted at the University of Melbourne's Australia Latin America Dialogue, we probe more deeply into the implications of the rise of China for commodity based economies such as Australia and Latin American countries and focus on what we can learn from one another. 

Dr Adrian Hearn from Sydney University points out that China needs to feed its increasingly urbanised population of 1.3 billion, which is driving the purchase of arable land in countries such as Australia and Latin America. This is a matter of great political sensitivity. 

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The 2012 Lowy Poll showed a whopping 81% of Australians was against the Australian government allowing foreign companies to buy Australian farmland to grow crops or farm livestock. This is also a hot button issue in Latin America, where a number of governments have legislated restrictions on foreign ownership of land.

Adrian also talks about a number of opportunities for two-way investment between Australia and Brazil in mining services, clean water and clean energy, including the production of ethanol in Australia using Brazilian know-how.

The inaugural chairman of the Council on Australian Latin America Relations and independent company director Bernard Wheelahan AM reminds us that Australia should take greater advantage of the business opportunities in the high-growth Latin American market as a prudent strategy of diversification from Asia. There is scope for the big Australian mining companies to act as national flagships over and above their commercial objectives, he says. 

Bernard also reminds us that think tanks such as the Lowy Institute should offer some strategic direction to government and business on why they would do well to invest more political and economic capital in Latin America. 

In part 1 of this video series we look at educational ties and in part 2 we consider the rise of Brazil.

Photo Peter Casamento, Casamento Photography. 


In the second of our series of interviews conducted at the Melbourne Latin American Dialogue in August hosted by the University of Melbourne (part 1 here), we took a look at Australia and Brazil from a Brazilian perspective.

University of Sao Paulo's Professor Amancio Silva's polling of elites and the public in Brazil tells us that Brazil sees itself as an 'intermediate' power with a strong attachment to multilateralism. High priority is given to a permanent seat for Brazil on the UN Security Council. 

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Australia's ambitions are not dissimilar, if a little more modest, as perhaps befits a country with one ninth of Brazil's population and an economy ranked 14th behind Brazil's number 6 ranking. We view ourselves as a 'middle power' and only have aspirations for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council. 

What surprised Professor Silva was how little Brazilians know about Australia, even at the elite level. A lot more work to be done here. Perhaps future Lowy polls could include a question on how Australians view Brazil.

Ronaldo Veirano, Honorary Consul of Australia in Rio de Janeiro, is confident Brazil's rise is here to stay, with successive administrations supporting solid policies of economic growth and stability, built on the platform of its return to democracy and the control of inflation. He sees a lot of scope for capitalising on common interests and strengths through economic and think tank collaboration. We were pleased to hear that, even if Professor Silva's polling reveals a low level of awareness in Brazil of Australia, Ronaldo Veirano notes that the Lowy Institute is well known in Brazil 'and the world'.


Now is Latin America's moment in the sun, pronounced John Grill, the long serving chief executive of global company Worley Parsons, at the annual dinner of the Australia-Latin America Business Council in Sydney last week.

In Australia, we have been a little slow in catching on to this fact but there are signs this is changing. The political and economic transformation of Latin America has generated greater prosperity and stability and has made it an increasingly attractive destination for international business. Australian businesses, especially in the mining sector, have led the way and there are growing opportunities in the education, tourism, energy and environmental technology sectors.

Latin America has looked to Australia and the Pacific to provide models for its own developmental aspirations; the recent visit to Australia by President Sebastian Pinera of Chile was the most recent testament to the extraordinary opportunities for both continents. 

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Pinera's speech at the Lowy Institute provided a vivid example of one Latin American country's determined and steady path to greater prosperity and a progressive reduction of poverty through greater engagement with the outside world. This includes an open economy, friendly investment climate and determination to invest in its people through education. 

Pinera' s speech revealed that Australia has been a role model for Chile's economic development. Chile is also now at the stage where some its social and economic policies can be a model for other developing countries; one member of the audience suggested that Chile's pension scheme would be an excellent model for Burma.

Australia and Brazil are the two largest economies in the southern hemisphere and those who think and talk about these things acknowledge that greater mutual engagement is long overdue.

Mutual lack of awareness of the opportunities remains an impediment to building closer economic and political links between Australia and Latin America. Yet more than ever we face common challenges as a consequence of the shift of economic and geo-strategic weight from the North Atlantic to Asia, dominated by China. This shift will shape our destinies, and as resource dependent economies we share the challenges of China's rise to our economies, trade and investment policies, and even our political culture.

These questions were the subject of the Melbourne Latin America Dialogue in August hosted by the University of Melbourne which attracted more than 200 local and international delegates and 60 speakers from the world of business, government, academia and science. The Lowy Institute was there and spoke to numerous delegates. What emerged from this conference and our interviews was that what unites Australia and Latin America is much greater than what divides us and that distance is preeminently psychological.

Over the next week we will post some of our interviews with the participants who provided fascinating insights into the relationship and the exciting opportunities for closer engagement between Australia and Latin America. Above is my talk with Dr Wendy Jarvie from UNSW and Dr Sean Burgess from the ANU about why Australian higher and vocational eduction should be so attractive to Latin America, and why Australia should learn more about Latin America.

Look out for our next video on Australia and Brazil from the Brazilian perspective, which includes some fascinating polling on how Brazil views its place in the world and how little Brazilians know about Australia.

Also to be posted soon is a video looking at common political and economic challenges for Australia and Latin America in China, and the need to cement the political and economic relationships between the two continents.


As media reports foreshadow more cuts in our already hollowed-out Australian diplomatic service, I can highly recommend a thought-provoking speech recently delivered to the Australian Institute of International Affairs in Canberra by the Director-General of ONA and inaugural Executive Director of the Lowy Institute, Allan Gyngell.  

In 'What happened to diplomacy?', Allan calls the post-9/11 decade the 'national security decade', during which policymakers 'spoke about the world in ways which emphasised values rather than interests'. While diplomacy was practiced during this time, the role of diplomacy 'is greater in a world in which interests can be weighed than one in which values are judged'. 

This is all now going to change, according to Allan, as we enter a period in which diplomacy will matter more than it has since the beginning of the Cold War. The diplomacy we are returning to is 'the work nation-states do to advance their purposes in the world'.

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However, the new diplomacy will look different to its 20th century predecessor, with a couple of modern (or is it 'post-modern'?) characteristics shaped by the information revolution and a much larger, more diverse number of players in the international system as a consequence of great changes to the global power balance. In the 21st century, Allan says, 'an additional dimension of public diplomacy is needed to address the publics that increasingly shape state behaviour'. 


Extrapolating what all this means for Australian diplomacy, Allan cites a series of successful examples of our diplomacy from both sides of politics: the Cambodia Peace Plan, the East Timor intervention, APEC and the G-20. He concludes that Australian diplomacy is most successful when it:

  • Is backed by careful and detailed support work, open to ideas drawn from outside government. In each of these examples, academics and think tanks had important contributions to make
  • Is driven by the active engagement of ministers
  • Uses our alliance relationships constructively
  • Makes effective use of our long record of participation in multilateral organisations
  • Builds external coalitions, especially with the region. The Indonesia relationship was important in each of these cases; South Korea was a key to success with the G20
  • ...draws on all the dimensions of state power: political, military and economic

An example which does not pass this test is former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's 'Asia Pacific community', which Allan describes as 'a victim of immediate expectations' and losing sight of the time it takes to effect change in the international system. In this context (and for self-serving reasons, as I was personally involved), Allan could also have mentioned Australia's successful effort to bring to a conclusion the negotiations of an international Chemical Weapons Convention in 1992, banning an entire category of weapons of mass destruction. This took more than 20 years of negotiation in the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament.  

Allan was careful not to get into the discussion about DFAT resourcing. But you can read the definitive Lowy reports on Australia's ever-shrinking diplomatic service here (Australia's Diplomatic DeficitDiplomatic Disrepair). And our ground-breaking work on e-diplomacy (the role of social media in public diplomacy and in prosecuting national interests) has, thanks to the use of social media, gone viral. 

Allan concludes that 'we were marginal to the diplomacy of the Cold War' but that 'we are far more central to the diplomacy of the emerging world — as the locus of power moves closer to Australia'. To succeed, we will need to be able to use all the old as well as the new tools at our disposal.  Allan's speech is a great introduction to the 'why' and 'how'.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.


A belated tribute to Lyn Lusi, co-founder with her husband and orthopaedic surgeon, Dr Jo Lusi,  of 'Heal Africa' in Goma. Lyn succumbed to cancer on 17 March this year. 'Heal Africa' is a health service which provides fistula surgery and care for women with fistula caused by sexual violence.

During a visit to Australia in September 2009 to speak at the Annual Voices for Justice campaign at Parliament House in Canberra, Lyn also spoke at the Institute at one of our Wednesday lunch sessions. She talked about her experiences in the Democratic Republic of Congo, what we must learn from its tragic predicament and how the international community needs take responsibility for tackling the problem of gender-based violence as a tool of war. 

Lyn inspired many with her work, courage and vision, including  US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who, after visiting Goma inside the war zone in eastern Congo, vowed to intensify international efforts to work for the elimination of sexual violence as a tool of war (Lusi is fourth from right in the above photo). Lyn Lusi's presentation at the Institute can be accessed here. Here too is a fitting tribute from The Economist to Lyn Lusi and her work. 

Photo by Flickr user IIP State.


Henry Sokolski, Executive Director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, has responded to my post calling for governments to cooperate more with industry to manage nuclear risks:

All of this is a bit hortatory and quite vague. Do you have any clear cut examples where industry has been more conservative in pushing its nuclear wares than their governmental overseers?  I think the first responsibility of any sound corporation is to its stockholders and that requires making as many sales as are legal.

Yes, it is hortatory because we have barely begun the process. It lacks detail not least because we need more information about where an increased industry contribution would add the most value and cause the least disruption to business. For that, a more regular and specialised dialogue is required. 

The Nuclear Suppliers Group is taking some small steps to consider how industry might be persuaded to share with government more information about attempts to procure items for illicit weapons of mass destruction programs. Additional measures might include due diligence checks on potential customers and business partners and the goods, software and technology they wish to acquire. Adoption of best-practice principles and adding non-proliferation into Corporate Social Responsibility statements should also be considered. 

We know that boardrooms and shareholders do not want their companies tainted with WMD proliferation.

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An 11 March 2008 NY Times article by Smith and Ferguson ('France's nuclear diplomacy') reports on the disconnect between President Sarkozy's aggressive nuclear diplomacy and the financial and technical capacity limits of AREVA to match it. The article notes that this is not an exclusively French problem. When the sale of uranium to India was first mooted by the Howard Government in 2007, the push to sell uranium was a purely political one, not encouraged by Australian uranium mining companies. Some were at pains to highlight their strict adherence to supplying in accordance with strict non-proliferation rules and guidelines, including membership of the NPT.

The lessons of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) are instructive here: the world's chemical industry understood (eventually) the advantage of showing shareholders and the public its commitment to chemical disarmament and non-proliferation, especially in light of its inadvertent contribution to Iraq's chemical weapons program. If industry was to be regulated intensively and obtrusively, there were distinct advantages to being a collaborator and ensuring that business did not contribute to chemical weapons proliferation, while at the same time having a direct say in how commercial confidentiality could be preserved. 

The 1989 Government-Industry Conference against Chemical Weapons, hosted by Australia, laid the groundwork for a successful government-industry partnership for this purpose. The conference took place in the context of the emerging global consensus that chemical weapons should be abolished altogether. This was preceded by intensive, multi-year lobbying with leading chemical companies by Australia, with some political support from partner countries. Without the chemical industry's support and collaboration, the CWC could not have come into existence. 

It is true that political support and momentum for complete nuclear disarmament is not as strong as it was for chemical weapons disarmament. That said, the features of the nuclear industry (global, integrated and closely connected to government) and the nuclear policy landscape, including concerns about safety and security, strongly favour deeper and more regular government-industry collaboration. A jointly negotiated declaration as to how that could be done would add a new dimension to the global nuclear conversation and would reinforce some of the methods of government-industry cooperation suggested above, including joint monitoring, reporting, enforcement of the rules and export controls. 

That is why Prime Minister Gillard's exhortation for greater government-industry collaboration at the Nuclear Summit in Seoul was a small but welcome step in that direction.



North Korea made good use of the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul to illustrate the limits of global summitry to deal with real-life nuclear dangers. 

The announcement of intent to launch a satellite into space in mid-April aboard a long-range rocket, widely believed to be a cover for the DPRK's nuclear missile development, distracted considerably from the Summit's principal agenda, which was to secure more of the world's dangerous nuclear material, to ensure such material does not get into terrorist hands and, over time, to reduce the global stockpile of fissile material.

Securing sensitive nuclear material is part of a much broader international agenda to protect the world from nuclear dangers. This agenda is commonly referred to as the 'three Ss' — safety, safeguards and security. Only for safeguards do we have an international treaty, the NPT, governing the rules of non-proliferation. An inspectorate, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is tasked to police these undertakings, with mixed results. 

Many countries, especially those aspiring to nuclear power in Asia, do not have the know-how or resources to manage nuclear safety and security, and many do not attach priority to it. They worry that calls by the established nuclear powers to implement shared controls are designed to deprive them of the right to use nuclear technology, including sensitive technologies like enrichment and reprocessing, limits to which would considerably reduce proliferation dangers.

This sovereign mindset is hard to crack, especially among developing countries. But the business of nuclear governance is increasingly being shared between governments, industry and transnational organisations. Much of the world's nuclear industry is multinational, with significant public/private cross-ownership where commercial interests, nonproliferation interests and national strategic interests can overlap or collide.

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The terrible events at Fukushima just over a year ago have underscored graphically that effective nuclear governance is not just a cost of doing business, but a prerequisite for running a sustainable business. The nuclear industry and its shareholders have a stake in achieving a world free of nuclear dangers. Maintaining reputation for safety and responsibility is critical to a successful business and shareholder value.

So it could be in the boardrooms rather than the parliaments where greater accountabilities are possible in managing global nuclear risks. One might say that nuclear governance is too important to be left to governments alone. Yet institutionally, we have not really embraced this idea. For example, the Seoul security summit had a 'side event' with industry, which preceded the formal summit by several days.*

Industry sometimes takes a more conservative approach to nuclear business than governments, which push for nuclear cooperation for diplomatic and political reasons, but where this makes no sense commercially. Industry can contribute to global efforts to raise the political, financial and commercial costs of proliferation. Industry is at the front line of the development and spread of dual-use nuclear technology and has the capacity to prevent, limit or place conditions on the spread of that technology, as well as report it. It can also influence the type of nuclear technology that is developed in the future.

Industry's comparative advantage includes its knowledge of increasingly complex supply chains for hardware and technology exports and its ability to deploy such knowledge to prevent proliferation. This will be discussed at the next Nuclear Suppliers Group plenary hosted by the US in April.

Recent examples of more responsible nuclear corporate citizenship include the reactor vendor's code facilitated by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and the Uranium Stewardship exercise — a cradle to grave accountability mechanism — initiated by Australia, now being managed through the World Nuclear Association.

In June 2010, the Lowy Institute undertook the most comprehensive survey yet of the global nuclear industry. Respondents showed a strong willingness to do more to prevent nuclear proliferation.

Public confidence is fundamental to the nuclear enterprise; we know that 'a nuclear incident anywhere is a nuclear incident everywhere'. The changing nuclear landscape and the integrated nature of the world's nuclear industry suggest that industry and government should develop jointly new understandings of dealing effectively with nuclear proliferation dangers, safety and security to rebuild confidence in the global nuclear project.

* I note, however, Prime Minister Gillard's intervention at the Summit: 'And third, I think we should find mechanisms to foster co-operation between governments and the private sector.'

Photo courtesy of the Nuclear Security Summit.

17 of 18 This post is part of a debate on Selling Australian uranium to India

I have a couple of additional comments with respect to Richard Broinowski's reader riposte.

According to the Nossal Institute for Global Health Website, where Tilman Ruff is an Associate Professor, he is an infectious diseases and public health physician with particular interests in vaccines and immunisation. Ruff's bio makes no reference to any expertise as a 'radiation physician'.

The panel which I chaired at the offices of The Age in Melbourne on 9 June was on the topic of 'How Australians feel about nuclear power'. Richard refers to Andy Lloyd of Rio Tinto Mining and Warren Mundine, but fails to mention the third panelist at that session, Professor Daniela Stehlik, author of the National Academies Forum 2009 report on nuclear attitudes in Australia, whose participation was obviously critical to the theme of the debate. All of these panels can be downloaded from our website.


2011 was not a brilliant year for the three nuclear S's: safety, security and safeguards.

It was a bad year for non-proliferation. Witness the progression of Iran's 'peaceful' nuclear program, recently documented by the IAEA as conducting activities relevant to the development of nuclear weapons. It was also a bad year for nuclear energy and safety, following the terrible Fukushima crisis in March.

Disarmament negotiations between the two major possessors of nuclear weapons, the US and Russia, are not progressing much, and certainly do not match the ambition of President Obama's 2009 Prague speech, which committed the US to a vision of a world without nuclear weapons.

In Australia, following a flurry of activity supporting the work of the Australia-Japan sponsored International Commission for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament (ICNND), not a great deal of follow-up is visible from the Australian Government. 

And despite the high profile efforts of the so-called 'Four Horsemen' (Henry Kissinger, Bill Perry, Sam Nunn and George Shultz, who in 2007 called for nuclear weapons abolition in the Wall Street Journal) and President Obama's Prague speech, the world's concerns are focused on matters such as global warming, the financial crisis, the Arab spring and food and energy security. There does not seem to be much space for worrying about the world's nuclear dangers.

And yet nuclear dangers are ever present, and growing, with potentially catastrophic consequences. 

Globally, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement has come out of its closet of policy neutrality to take up the cause of global abolition. A network of senior leaders in Europe (the European Leaders Network for Multilateral Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament or ELN) and now another in Asia have also sought to keep the momentum going. 

On 12 December the Asia Pacific Leadership Network for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament (APNL), comprising 31 leaders of different political persuasions from fourteen regional countries and chaired by former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans, issued a statement of commitment to reduce nuclear dangers in the region.

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As global economic and strategic weight shifts to Asia, our region is increasingly vulnerable to strategic instability and nuclear tensions. Asian strategic rivalries present a real threat for nuclear proliferation and the region's insatiable appetite for energy will make Asia the main locus for growth in nuclear power, notwithstanding the Fukushima disaster.

The APNL statement contains much that is familiar. It also refreshes some good ideas, such as the proposal for an Asian Nuclear Energy Community to further regional collaboration and to promote high standards in non-proliferation, security and safety, an idea promoted by the Lowy Institute's Visiting Fellow John Carlson. John and I have frequently argued that Australia cannot be a regional or international driver of nuclear diplomacy while Australian expertise and infrastructure is on the decline. It is a deficit which needs urgent attention.

Our Nuclear Policy Centre writes regularly on Asia's nuclear future. Like the APNL and ELN networks, the Institute's nuclear policy work has received support from the Nuclear Security Project of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, co-chaired by former Senator Nunn and CNN founder Ted Turner.

In 2008 Rory Medcalf wrote on the need to build an Asian regional order based on nuclear restraint and no-first-use, and the role Australia can play. In the same year, the late Andrew Symons wrote on how to manage security and safeguards challenges arising from the expansion of nuclear energy into Southeast Asia. More recently we have run a blog debate and workshops on extended nuclear deterrence in Asia, to be published as a book in 2012. All our nuclear work can be found on the Institute's Nuclear Policy Centre page.

Building a global constituency is a critical element in keeping the urgent need to reduce global nuclear dangers top of mind. It's good to see that the networks of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, senior leaders in Asia and Europe and the Lowy Institute are all on the case!

Photo by Flickr user IAEA Imagebank.

7 of 18 This post is part of a debate on Selling Australian uranium to India

In my previous post I suggested that Australian uranium sales to India might strengthen the non-proliferation regime. We are not only known as a reliable supplier of uranium, but a strict one, and this need not change with India.

Australia has agreements to supply uranium to non-nuclear weapons states and to peaceful facilities in nuclear weapon states. Both types of agreements ensure that Australia's nuclear exports remain in exclusively peaceful use, and may only be re-transferred to a party with a bilateral safeguards agreement with Australia.

All Australian safeguards agreements have provision for the full accounting of all Australian Obligated Nuclear Material (AONM). The importing party needs Australia's prior written consent to transfer the material to any third party. AONM is not to be enriched beyond 20% U-235. No reprocessing of AONM is allowed without Australian consent. Why is this important? Because high levels of enrichment or reprocessing technology are needed for nuclear weapons.

For historical reasons India fails to qualify as an officially recognised nuclear weapon state under the NPT, though it is obviously a nuclear weapon state in practical terms. Any agreement with India will therefore be modelled on the types we have with China and Russia. Any Australian government should ensure that an Australian safeguards agreement with India incorporates, as a minimum, a renewed commitment from India to adhere to the international non-proliferation and arms control conditions it made to the US and to the NSG in 2008 which exempted India from NSG controls.

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These include: an Additional Protocol on India's civil nuclear facilities; a  voluntary, unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing; a policy of no-first-use of nuclear weapons; working with others towards the conclusion of a multilateral fissile material cutoff treaty in the Conference on Disarmament that is universal, non-discriminatory, and verifiable; an existing, comprehensive system of national export controls and a commitment to adhere to Missile Technology Control Regime and NSG guidelines.

Japan is negotiating a civil nuclear cooperation agreement with India on this basis. A deal with Japan is crucial because major US suppliers like GE and Westinghouse, which have either Japanese owners or partners, can only do business with India if Japan does away with nuclear and high-technology export controls. These negotiations are stalled because Japan is not satisfied India is honouring the 2008 NSG conditions. News reports say that Japan intends to put more pressure on India to sign the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty as a condition for a nuclear cooperation agreement. The US Atomic Energy Act also requires the US to halt nuclear exports to India if it resumed nuclear testing. 

In 2011, the NSG also toughened its export conditions for sensitive enrichment and reprocessing technology needed for nuclear weapons programs ('ENR'). While nuclear suppliers in France and Russia believe this will not affect their planned nuclear cooperation with India, these additional criteria should help prevent the further proliferation of weapons making technology, a core Australian security objective.

Yes, the single greatest development putting pressure on Australia's non-proliferation policy was the nuclear cooperation agreement between India and the United States in 2006 and the subsequent decision by the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) in 2008 to issue a waiver for India subject to certain conditions.  Australia was a party to the NSG decision. But Australia maintains its own, additional stringent supply conditions through the bilateral safeguards agreements it concludes with customers for its uranium.

The sale of Australian uranium to India therefore has the potential to strengthen the non-proliferation regime through best practice standards and by taking the Japan and US approach. Whether an Australian government can deliver such an outcome is not certain. Had we moved earlier, we may have been able to impose tougher conditions than our Canadian and Kazakh competitors.

For the current government a change in ALP policy is just a very small, but necessary first step in this direction.

Photo by Flickr user Bigod.

6 of 18 This post is part of a debate on Selling Australian uranium to India

Prime Minister Gillard's announcement that she will seek a change in Labor's platform to permit uranium exports to India is problematic for Australia's non-proliferation policy and reputation. I share the concern about the apparent failure to extract anything from India in return for a major policy shift, and the implication that uranium exports to India will soon become the law as soon as ALP policy has been changed, without the due process usually reserved for changes of policy of this magnitude.

But let's not throw our hands up in the air just yet. A change in ALP policy is the backing a Gillard Government will need before any negotiations can commence with India, negotiations which might yield net benefits to Australia's non-proliferation agenda.

First, the proposal to change decades of Australian policy on which countries we sell uranium to is not entirely capricious. There are some sound policy reasons for exporting uranium to India, primarily strategic and environmental: India is a rising power with which we should establish a strategic relationship. As thoroughly irksome as this is, India has made it clear that the price of a closer relationship is access to Australian uranium.

India's energy needs are voracious and nuclear energy will help limit the damage to the global environment from its growing energy use. The world also needs India to be an active participant in the fight against proliferation and in managing emerging nuclear tensions in its region. As it is not and never will be a member of the NPT, other mechanisms for including India in these efforts are needed.

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Second, refusing to export uranium to India will neither prevent India from modernising its nuclear forces, nor prevent nuclear proliferation in South Asia. Plenty of countries are prepared to sell uranium to India, and the AQ Khan network, China and the DPRK have contributed to proliferation in Asia in a way which countries like Australia have been powerless to influence. To the extent that India's exclusion from official nuclear trade has had an impact, it has diverted resources away from its domestic power program. So far, India has put its military program first.

Third, Australian uranium sales to India, an NPT non-member, does not spell the death of the effectiveness of our non-proliferation practices. Australia will not be in a position to actually export uranium to India within the next five years or more because of capacity constraints and bans on uranium mining in states where the uranium is relatively easy to extract (eg. Queensland). But leaving that aside, there are opportunities to negotiate some valuable non-proliferation commitments with India in return for uranium sales, as like-minded countries such as the US and Japan are trying to do.

Australia can do so through a negotiated bilateral safeguards agreement with India, backed up by an additional framework agreement with India to reflect the international non-proliferation and arms control commitments which underpinned the 2008 Nuclear Suppliers Group decision to exempt India from its export controls. These commitments were confirmed by then Indian foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee in a statement in September 2008. Additional conditions such as halting our nuclear exports if India resumes nuclear testing should also be on the table.

In my next post I will explain how this might be done.

Photo by Flickr user truthout.org.


According to Geoff Gallop's recent opinion piece, all the questions about nuclear power have been answered — it's too dangerous, too expensive, too unpopular, and would be best left to die. We don't need it to tackle climate change and we can't afford it. 

That's a pretty big call, especially in the context of a bipartisan target in Australia to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. And the way we are apparently going to do it is by using renewable technologies, many requiring subsidies, and many of which are not yet proven providers of base-load power.

Here are some brief observations and further reading on some of the detailed claims made in Geoff's piece:

About 65 nuclear plants will be under construction by the end of 2010, all including cost overruns and delays. Importantly though, none of these are being built as a result of market-based decision-making.

Some reactor projects, like other major infrastructure projects, experience cost overruns and delays. This is particularly the case with first-of-a-kind reactors such as the EPR in Finland. However, the experience in East Asia (China, Japan, ROK) is different – reactor projects there consistently come in on time and on or under budget.

The new reactors in Finland (one under construction and one or two in planning) are owned by industry consortia who see nuclear's capacity to supply large amounts of base-load power with low carbon emissions as essential to the country's industrial base. New reactor proposals in the US are being made in a deregulated market, and must stack up financially. The slower than expected 'renaissance' in US nuclear build is being primarily driven by low gas prices.

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Indeed the market hasn't been all that keen on nuclear power – and no wonder, with the high costs, technical complexities and local politics. It's not exactly a stock-market friendly business — just ask the owners of the Tokyo Electric and Power Company!

Most operators of nuclear plants – particularly in Western countries — are listed companies. To date, Fukushima doesn't seem to be having much impact on their investment decisions, although stricter regulatory standards may eventually have some impact.

The general public have never been all that keen on nuclear power. They have weighed up the risks and have almost always concluded that it is not for them – when asked that is.

Public support for nuclear is reasonably strong in countries which have a long history of it. Generally, the closer a person lives to a nuclear facility, the more supportive they are. While Fukushima has affected public support in the short term, it is too soon to conclude what long-term effect it will have; it could be less than that of Three Mile Island or Chernobyl. Recent successful siting exercises in Sweden and Finland for waste management facilities (which are less popular than reactors) have been based on community support, involving public consultation exercises stretching over years.

Firstly, there is the question of accidents. We know that all modern industrial processes carry dangers, some more than others. However, when human error or natural disaster causes nuclear accidents, the consequences are significant, and not just for those living in the vicinity of the plant.

This study by the OECD's Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) suggests nuclear power generation is much safer than alternative forms of energy generation.

Secondly, there is the difficulty of transporting and disposing of nuclear waste. Again, there are similar issues in other industries, but they are not in the same league as those related to the highly radioactive material from a nuclear plant.

The challenges of managing radioactive waste are much smaller than those of managing other hazardous wastes (see OECD NEA study entitled Radioactive Waste in Perspective). In particular, the hazard from radioactive wastes diminishes over time with decay, while other problematic wastes remain hazardous forever.

Thirdly, there is the potential for nuclear weapons proliferation. Civil nuclear weapons programs can be a cover for making nuclear weapons and there is the potentiality for terrorist organisations (or extremist governments) to turn stolen plutonium into bombs.

'Civil nuclear weapons programs' should presumably be 'Civil nuclear power programs'. You can't deny this – Iran is the perfect example of a country using its energy program, in particular the sensitive nuclear technology of enrichment, to do just that. But you don't need to use such technologies to generate power and you could buy fuel from an internationally controlled source. This may well be the future of nuclear supply. 

Also, weapons programs have historically been a precursor to energy programs, rather than the other way around. And if Saudi Arabia wants to counter Iran's weapons plans, it is more likely to buy nuclear weapons off the shelf than via a power program. As to terrorists stealing plutonium, Steve McIntosh noted on The Interpreter a few weeks ago that civil plutonium is no good for making weapons.

Nuclear power can't compete when it comes to both economics and the economics of environmental reform. Even with the enormous subsidies it receives nuclear power can't compete with its low or no carbon competition – renewables, cogeneration and efficiency. In 2008-2009 renewables provided half of the world's new generating capacity.

Not all energy economists agree, and with a high price on carbon, the economics of nuclear power looks more promising. Extensive work from the OECD NEA leads this agency to conclude that nuclear is more than competitive with renewables.

We don't need it to tackle climate change and we can't afford it.

Many reputable studies regarding controls on CO2 emissions show that nuclear is an essential component of the solution.

According to Geoff, nuclear power advocates fail 'to do anything about their stated preferences' which 'leads one to conclude that it has been used more as a wedge to divide the left rather than as a serious basis for energy policy'. If, as is the case in Australia, both sides of politics has declared the subject out of bounds, whom should the advocates be engaging with?

We need to understand the risks to Australia's energy future by excluding peaceful uses of nuclear energy, and the risk to Australia of declining nuclear expertise while Asia embraces nuclear energy. This question is part of the larger picture of how Australia will deal with dynamic Asia, and how we will be able to hold our own economically. The question that needs to be debated is: what are the implications for Australian energy security and future competitiveness in rapidly growing Asia if we forswear nuclear energy?

For the moment, it looks as if Australia is out of step with history and our regional circumstances. This is why it is so important for us to invest in an extended, informed, unemotional debate on this matter and not declare the science and the economics settled.

Photo by Flickr user Ivanhoe057.


Here at the Lowy Institute we have promoted a broad, informed discussion on all aspects of Australia's nuclear future, through panels, papers and debates, including through The Interpreter

An anti-nuclear protest outside the Lowy Institute in April, 2011.

The recent Fukushima crisis has reinforced the importance of engaging with the public on the role of nuclear energy in comparison to other sources of energy for future economic growth, and how global governance arrangements for nuclear safety, security and nonproliferation can be improved.

John Carlson, Visiting Fellow at the Lowy Institute and the former Director-General of the Australian Safeguards and Non-proliferation Office, recently argued ('Nuclear Power for Australia-an outline of the key issues') for the Australian Government to facilitate an informed public discussion and to make available the considerable expertise that exists in government for this purpose. He suggests that one of the first steps should be to refresh the Switkowski Report and to bring it up to date. 

Our next nuclear panel, 'How Australians Feel about Nuclear Power', will be held at the Age offices in Melbourne on Thursday 9 June from 12.30pm to 2.00pm and will examine how Australian attitudes to nuclear energy are shaped. Should you be interested and attending, please contact our Events Manager Kate Weston on kweston@lowyinstitute.org

Photo by The Lowy Institute's Ashley Townshend.


Quite a bit has been written about the lethality or otherwise of the radiation doses received by the workers at the stricken Fukushima power plants. 

In his latest Interpreter post, Richard Broinowski has stated that 'From all informed reports, some of the heroes who worked in the plant desperately trying to remediate damage have received [lethal] doses from gamma radiation and will die'.

Here are a couple of contrary views: The maximum reported whole body dose to any worker as a result of the incidents is around 170 mSv (millisieverts). This is beyond general occupational limits of 50 mSv in any one year, but well below the recommended limit for intervention in emergency situations, which is 500 mSv.

No workers have suffered radiation sickness, although those workers who have been exposed to over 100 mSv in a short period are likely to incur a 1% increase in overall lifetime cancer risk.

The website of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR), says that direct health effects (radiation burns or sickness) do not appear until the dose is around 1,000 mSv, and doses become lethal somewhere between 1,000 and 10,000 mSv (individuals vary in susceptibility to radiation, so there is no single threshold). 170 mSv is well below any of these thresholds.

Richard's statement that 'Among the many thousands of civilians who have received small radiation doses in Fukushima, Iwate and Miyagi Prefectures, some, according to the best informed of nuclear physicians, will probably die sooner or later from one radiation-induced cancer or another' also bears closer examination. 

While it is true that radiation protection principles are predicated on the linear no-threshold model, it is instructive to compare that model with the actual results from the Chernobyl accident. Chernobyl was a much more serious accident than Fukushima, and much more serious than Fukushima could ever have been. In particular, doses to exposed civilian populations were significantly greater than is the case with Fukushima. What do extensive investigations by UNSCEAR conclude? 

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Apart from the dramatic increase in thyroid cancer incidence among those exposed at a young age, and some indication of an increased leukaemia and cataract incidence among the workers, there is no clearly demonstrated increase in the incidence of solid cancers or leukaemia due to radiation in the exposed populations. Neither is there any proof of other non-malignant disorders that are related to ionizing radiation. However, there were widespread psychological reactions to the accident, which were due to fear of radiation, not to the actual radiation doses.

The last sentence is important; it is the fear of radiation, rather than radiation itself, which has caused possibly the most widespread health consequences. Given that, we need to be very careful about spreading exaggerated and unscientific fears about the health effects of the low doses of radiation being experienced in Japan.

Don Higson, Fellow of the Fellow of the Australasian Radiation Protection Society has this to say:

'Ziggy Switkowski (SMH News Review, April 2-3, 2011) says "radiation-induced illnesses [at the Fukushima nuclear plant] have struck fewer than 20 emergency workers". Actually, it is fewer than 3. To be precise, two of three workers who ignored the readings of their radiation monitors and got their feet wet while wading in contaminated water. Their feet were burned by beta radiation, which could be nasty but is unlikely to be life threatening. The third worker was wearing gum boots, which protect against beta radiation but not against gamma radiation.

Altogether, a total of less than 20 workers have received radiation doses in the range 100 to 180 mSv. To put this into perspective, a dose of up to 30 mSv could be incurred from a CT scan. There is no chance of radiation sickness unless exposures reach about 1000 mSv.

Doses in the range 100 to 180 mSv cause a small risk of developing cancer after 20 or more years if the dose is incurred instantaneously (as in the atomic bomb explosions at Hiroshima and Nagasaki). If the dose is spread over a period of time, the risk is lower and less certain. About 25% of the population dies from cancer whether accidentally exposed to radiation or not. This rate might be increased by an additional one percent (say from 25% to 26%) for the more highly exposed workers at Fukushima'.

And finally, you can read George Monbiot's response to his critics

Photo by Flickr user Dancing Arethusa.