End of the three mines policy
I managed to miss the crucial moment, but Labor’s National Conference has just voted to scrap the three mines policy, which was adopted at the last Labor conference I attended (in 1982, IIRC). I can’t say I have any regrets about this. The policy was a grubby compromise when it was adopted, and it didn’t improve with age. The idea that restricting Australian exports of uranium could constrain nuclear proliferation might have made some sense back in the 1970s when nuclear power was expanding rapidly, but it has long since ceased to be relevant.
That said, the news on nuclear proliferation has nearly all been bad lately, after a period in the 1980s and 1990s when a number of countries (including Brazil and South Africa) turned away from seeking nuclear weapons. The insistence of declining powers like Britain and France on maintaining their nuclear power status, and the success of India and Pakistan in gaining acceptance of their nuclear weapons has set the scene for a disastrous expansion in the set of nuclear-armed states, which will, surely lead to nuclear weapons being used, either by a government or a terrorist group, sooner or later. The only hopeful sign is the possibility that North Korea will disarm, though the recent agreement gives the rest of the world nothing better than the position that had been reached back in 2001.
The related ‘news’ is Howard’s announcement of plans for an Australian nuclear power industry. It’s hard to see this as much more than a stunt, since it’s most unlikely that any plants will be operational before about 2030. Even that possibility is conditional on a whole range of necessary conditions, including a return to nuclear power in the US and Europe, the successful completion of research on a new generation of plants (Howard’s announcement includes a contribution to this project) and, most importantly, some permanent resolution of the debate over what to do with nuclear waste.
Given the absolute need to respond to the global warming problem, we shouldn’t rule out the nuclear option. But neither should we engage in the kind of winner-picking implicit in the statements we’ve heard lately from Howard and others.