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Australia’ impending nuclear future fails workers

Leigh Shears

29 July 2023


41 years ago, to this day (29th July 1982), Hunter Workers passed a resolution opposing the presence of nuclear-powered ships in Newcastle harbour and denounced Australia’s escalation of nuclear defence strategy in tandem with the US.

Novocastrians have long recognised the danger and multi-faceted harms nuclear technology poses to working people, which is why that same year in 1982, the City officially declared Newcastle to be a Nuclear Free Zone. And it’s also why Hunter Workers has always committed staunchly to keeping Newcastle, and Australia, nuclear-free.

Next weekend we will gather at the Tighes Hill Peace Park to commemorate Hiroshima Day, remembering the horrific devastation of Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the US detonation of two atomic bombs, and the hundreds of thousands tragically killed.

Hiroshima Day serves as a poignant reminder of the profound impacts of nuclear technology, and a warning to Australia as our leaders contemplate the establishment of a military base to home nuclear submarines and the accompanied arrival of specialised nuclear technology expertise.

It’s a warning we must heed well as short-sighted and ill-informed nuclear proponents jump at the opportunity to push their agenda in light of shifting attitudes and capabilities.

Opposition leader Peter Dutton earlier this month shamefully called for the adoption of nuclear power, arguing that nuclear energy should be established in our future infrastructure as a component of renewables transition.

His proposal is untenable for many reasons, by expert consensus, but significantly it fails workers. As does AUKUS plans. It is crucial that the welfare of workers is held as a central priority while we consider, with thorough deliberation and foresight, Australia’s national interests.

Establishing a military base in Newcastle Port, or any port nationally for that matter, is simply not conducive with the best interests of working Australians, and neither is building nuclear reactors on the sites of retired coal-fired power plants in the Hunter. These projects dangerously threaten the vital emerging industries and economic opportunity that workers and their communities desperately need.

The Hunter’s necessary transition is finally beginning to build momentum; earlier this month, the Federal government declared an offshore wind zone off the Hunter coast. The establishment of a floating wind farm will create the high-quality job opportunities needed whilst helping us meet our future energy needs optimally and sustainably.

But the establishment of a military base and the building of nuclear reactors will hog our resources, threatening this vital project and many others. We’re wasting eye-watering figures of precious dollars on unnecessary, economically illogical projects that take away our focus, hindering emerging industries and opportunities. According to the Hunter Jobs Alliance, an effective and just transition will cost $650 million over the next decade. Yet the cost of acquiring and homing nuclear submarines will cost up to half a trillion dollars, and building nuclear power plants will cost thousands of dollars more per kilowatt of electricity capacity compared to clean, renewable energy.

Importantly, the opportunities available under a nuclear-powered future do not reach the standards that workers deserve. Herding workers into jobs developing a military base and maintaining nuclear weaponry does not constitute a reasonable or just transition, nor is it feasible. And nuclear energy won’t supply workers with jobs soon enough, given nuclear’s especially long, expensive investment procurement and development phase, nor will it provide long-term, secure jobs. It is emerging industries and clean renewables that will supply us with the sustained long-term and diverse job opportunities required for the prosperity of communities.

Workers also deserve the safest jobs possible in clean industry. It is morally bankrupt to expect workers bear the far-reaching, varied risks of nuclear when there are entirely superior options available. Furthermore, it is future Australian workers who will undeniably bear the unfathomable burden of nuclear waste management. On a wider scale, acquiring and developing nuclear technology endangers us all by increasing international tensions.

Ultimately, government acceptance of nuclear lacks crucial foresight and fails workers. Communities want to keep Australia a nuclear-free zone. Nowhere in Australia is acceptable for a nuclear submarine military base. We must instead focus our efforts on the enormous challenge of transition that is ahead of us.

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