By Ommission

Today witnessed an attempt by Helen Caldicott to offer commentary on South Australia’s nuclear fuel cycle royal commission. You can read it here but there are no prizes for guessing what it contains. Maybe for what it doesn’t contain, but we’ll get to that.

If I may correct a few highlights (Where to begin? Does she do any research at all?):

The people advocating a nuclear South Australia have no comprehension of genetics, radiation biology, oncology and medicine. Or they are willing to ignore the risks.

My own comprehension of genetics stems from my major in biochemistry, earned at the University of Adelaide, and I advocate for at least the fair consideration of nuclear in South Australia. More authoritatively, the late Professor Wigg was pivotal in bringing the benefits of radiobiology and oncology research and treatment to this state and more widely to the nation, and he also advocated for nuclear energy. He was unwilling to ignore the risks of excluding nuclear.

But more fundamentally, the point Caldicott entirely misses is that her refusal to listen to anything from nuclear professionals makes her worse than mistaken. So when she claims, “But they are wrong. Only 9 per cent of the plutonium successfully fissions, leaving 91 per cent of it with its extensive life, as well as producing deadly fission byproducts” as if she understands the physics involved, and Roger Blomquist of Argonne National Labs observes that this claim is nonsensical, her intentions must be seriously questioned.

The first argument is environmental: that nuclear power is the best way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and as such combat climate change. But this ignores the huge expulsion of greenhouse gas that goes into producing nuclear power.

This polemic appears to hinge on the claims of Storm van Leeuwen and Smith, made on their website and not in the peer reviewed literature. But it has been criticised in the literature and thoroughly debunked. It is also inconsistent with figures presented by the US National Renewable Energy Laboratories.

Heard is advocating the reprocessing of radioactive fuel. This involves dissolving intensely radioactive fuel rods in nitric acid and chemically precipitating out plutonium, which would then fuel small, modular, fast-breeder reactors.



Aside from the fact that countries like France conduct large scale reprocessing of nuclear fuel safely (which helps them run economically on a majority of nuclear power, keeping emissions at world-leading low levels as well as supplying large annual exports to coal-dependent neighbours), what Ben, Barry and others, and now Senator Edwards have been clearly talking about is an unrelated fuel recycling method which utilises electrochemistry in a non-water, molten salt medium. No nitric acid involved here, Helen. The entire idea is that fissionable transuranic materials are not separated (keeping them useless for weapons diversion) and do not and cannot leave the site, instead being recast as alloy fuel and returned to the reactor.

Moreover, the uranium enrichment facility she cites as currently needing so much coal-fired electricity… is shut.

The dump would be constructed on Aboriginal land, near and likely above the Great Artesian Basin.

If this isn’t the most opportunistic and intentionally inflammatory sentence of the entire screed, I don’t know what is. There’s absolutely no basis for claiming a facility would need to be situated within these limits. Indeed there’s no reason for insisting on it being so far from major populations at all.

There would also be americium-241, even more deadly than plutonium…

So “deadly”, we put it in plastic casings and screw it onto our ceilings to warn us of the mundane hazards of house fires.

The BBC is more interested in the facts around plutonium than Caldicott is.

The South Australian population would be likely to experience epidemics of cancer, leukaemia, congenital anomalies and genetic diseases through future generations as the waste inevitably leaked.

You knew it was coming, didn’t you? The shameless prognostication of cancers, mutations and death. But wait – isn’t this what she predicted for Western Japan nearly 4 years ago? Come to think of it,

She hasn’t mentioned Fukushima at all!

Caldicott is given a mouthpiece to perpetuate her own peculiar brand of nuclear hysteria, and not once does she remind us that three reactor cores melted down and released radionuclides over part of Japan just this decade? Has it anything to do with her desperately ill-informed prophesies of catastrophe bearing no resemblance to reality? What about her insistent use of a bogus but frightening chart which everyone else knew was fraudulent? Who knows?

Not that I’m not happy that at least one self-appointed anti-nuclear leader has apparently ceased exploiting – at every opportunity – a deathless industrial accident which happened in the context of a natural disaster that killed thousands. But due to shame over the so far constant fear mongering? Unlikely.


2 thoughts on “By Ommission

  1. Caldicott is delusional as well as delirious. She has her followers, but hopefully will not influence the Royal Commission. The world has moved on since the days of Maralinga.

    • Just a couple of years ago we were hearing about the need to evacuate most of Japan; and radioactive Europe with deaths by the millions from Chernobyl

      Now, an Australian state is taking its most confident step possible towards the technology she has hated for over 35 years, she is handed a microphone, and… nothing? No examples to point to, no IAEA-WHO conspiracies? What gives, HC?

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