The machinations of Australia’s Dr John White and his thorium nuclear dream

The Liberal Party’s nuclear dreams: The strange case of Dr John White and Ignite, Independent Australia Sandi Keane 12 March 2014,   

Why were Ignite Energy so desparate to dissociate their director Dr John White from both the nuclear industry and the Liberal Party? Deputy editor Sandi Keaneinvestigates.

IS THE nuclear fantasy that has taken hold in South Australia poised to slip under Victoria’s ‘no nukes‘ radar?

More to the point, is the iconic Ninety Mile Beach region of Gippsland being eyed off as a future source of thorium – uranium’s young sister – the substance hailed by nuclear proponents as the green energy source of the future?………

Enquiries to both the Sydney and Melbourne offices of Ignite confirmed that, yes, Dr White was still one of its key people — manager, government and community liaison. Less than five months ago, he was introduced as Ignite’s “executive director” in an interview with the ABC’s The World Today on 17 October 2013. Indeed, the receptionist at Ignite thought that the ‘executive director’ title was still listed on Dr White’s CV.

So, why delete it from the website and have conniptions over us publishing his connections to the Uranium Industry Framework? Also, what did Megan Davison mean by ‘casting aspersions’? Was it the reference to his being ‘a key Liberal Party adviser in the Howard-era’?

As chair of Howard’s Uranium Industry Framework and mastermind of the business plan for the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (now renamed the International Framework for Nuclear Energy Co-operation), ‘key adviser’ hardly seems to do him justice.

Is this a reaction to the claims by members of the Gippsland community that Ignite is getting favourable treatment because of John White’s special relationship with the Liberal Party?

ELA4968’s thorium prospects

Further cross-referencing of Ignite’s website with pages downloaded months earlier provided further clues.

The details of one of IER’s leases, ELA4968 – which covers the iconic Ninety Mile Beach, Maffra, Sale, Bairnsdale and Orbost – had also disappeared.

The old website listed this exploration licence as including

‘… heavy minerals such as ilmenite, leucoxene, rutile, zircon and monazite.’

The revised website simply says:

‘… both EL 4416 and EL 4968 are prospective for world-class heavy mineral sands deposits.’

Delving further, I saw on the Victorian Government’s Department of Energy and Resources website that[IA emphasis]:

‘Recently there has been renewed interest in monazite as a source of thorium (my emphasis) for possible use to generate electricity in thorium nuclear reactors.’ 

India plans to source thirty per cent of its energy needs from thorium-based reactors by 2050. Ignite’s large marine terminal at Victoria’s Barry Beach, which is currently being developed to export brown coal products such as briquettes to China, would also prove very handy for shipping thorium.

Bid to overturn the Prohibition on Mining Thorium in Victoria

Clearly, the nuclear lobby is desperate to claw back public confidence after the nosedive it took post-Fukushima. Enter thorium as uranium’s ‘new black’. As Noel Wauchope reported recently inIndependent Australia:

‘… thorium reactors are the latest flavour in nuclear power hype.’

There is no production of thorium in Australia but Australia (Victoria especially) is ranked as one of the richest sources in the world. Monazite, as a source of thorium, can be found in the Murray Valley and Gippsland and Otway Basins.

So what, exactly, is the stumbling block?

It’s called the Nuclear Activities (Prohibitions) Act 1983, which effectively prohibits the exploration and mining of thorium and uranium in Victoria.

It was then that I found a submission from the Minerals Council of Austral dated March 2012, which recommends the Victorian Government:

‘Actively considers the removal of the prohibition on exploring for uranium.’

On checking with Victorian minister for energy and resources, Nicholas Kotsiris, IA was assured that:

‘The Victorian government has no plans to undertake a review of the Nuclear Activities (Prohibitions) Act 1983 – s.5. The ban on the exploration for uranium or thorium remains in place.’

The Shadow Minister, Lily D’Ambrosia, was just as reassuring:

‘Victorian Labor is opposed to uranium/thorium exploration and mining in Victoria and we have no intention of changing that.’

But we’d be foolish to underestimate the powers of persuasion of the Minerals Council of Australia……..

the Abbott Government has continued to systematically dismantleAustralia’s renewable industry, forfeiting our slice of the future low carbon economy to appease its paymasters in the mining industry.

Fukushima was a set-back, but it hasn’t stopped former Foreign Minister Alexander Downer continuallyadvocating nuclear power — I’ve counted up to a dozen articles spruiking nukes. It’s all part of the softening up process. Having demonised the wind industry and done away with the RET, nuclear will, of course, be the only alternative.

But we shouldn’t forget where the real money is to be made.

Howard may have gone but the legacy of his ‘cradle to the grave’ nuclear fantasy lives on, never having been fully shelved by the Liberal Party. Storing the world’s spent fuel was estimated by Dr White back in 2006 to be worth $6 billion per annum.

Dr John White

Or, as he said in an interview with The Australian:

“This is business worth hundreds of billions of dollars over the next 50 years.”

John White invested $45million in his Nuclear Fuel Leasing Group. No-one would invest that sort of money without some surety the laws outlawing the industry will be changed in his favour.

The Australian public didn’t get a debate on Howard’s nuclear plans — he made sure of that. The culture of secrecy especially on nuclear matters lives on. When the Coalition laid out its nuclear ambitions in the Liberal Party’s July 2010 election policy, it included the promise of a debate on nuclear power.

We’ve heard nothing since. So, isn’t it time the Liberal Party at state and federal levels came clean about its nuclear ambitions, which also include dusting off the  global nuclear waste dump idea in South Australia?

But whether they choose openness or continue the secrecy, I think we can expect White to continue to beaver away as quietly as possible to further the Liberals’, the mining lobby’s and his own nuclear ambitions.,6270

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