Australian Conservation Foundation leverages peace prize against peaceful technology

A Christmas message from 'Nuclear Free' campaigner Dave Sweeny of the Australian Conservation Foundation leveraged the awarding of a Nobel Peace Prize to the International Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons, into a broadside against the peaceful expression of any nuclear technology. The Australian Conservation Foundation deserves condemnation for co-opting disarmament, an issue in which every human holds an equal stake, toward their ideological campaigns against peaceful science and technology.

Ben Heard for Bright New World 

Bright New World stands with efforts to rid the world of the abhorrence that is nuclear weapons. We also support efforts to move to a footing where the use of such weapons becomes implausible. For true peace is not the absence of war but the implausibility of war. The Nobel Committee itself is well aware of the role of technology in driving peace. The 2005 Nobel Peace Prize winner was the International Atomic Energy Agency. The prize was received by Director General, Mohamed ElBaradei, ‘for their work for a safer and more peaceful world’. The Committee honoured the IAEA and its leader as "an unafraid advocate" of atoms for peace, not warheads’.

This obvious distinction between nuclear warheads and carbon-free reliable electricity generation is utterly, and quite deliberately lost on 'Nuclear Free' campaigner Dave Sweeny and the $14 million per year Australian Conservation Foundation. They instead used this Nobel Peace Prize as a segue to extoll the fact that ‘ACF campaigns to stop the supply of uranium that fuels nuclear reactors…’.

The anti-nuclear movement has thrived on this sort of rhetorical bait-and-switch for decades. Blink and you miss their skilfull linguistic linking of devices of destruction to the world's second source of clean energy. They simply ignore that the US nuclear power sector was integral in the destruction of no less than 16,000 former Soviet nuclear warheads under a program known as ‘Megatons to Megawatts’. Megatons to Megawatts provided fuel for an extraordinary amount of carbon free electricity, reducing the need to mine fresh uranium. But neither conservation nor peace is the goal of the Australian Conservation Foundation’s anti-nuclear efforts. The goal is in the name. Not pro-peace. Anti-nuclear.

Peace is furthered when a nation embraces nuclear power, because it makes that nation empirically less likely to embark on a nuclear weapons program. That is the finding of a 2017 study published in the peer-reviewed journal International Security. The author, international security expert Dr. Nicholas Miller explains:

'Contrary to the conventional wisdom, states with nuclear energy programs have not historically had a significantly higher likelihood of nuclear pursuit or acquisition… countries that attempt to use their energy programs as political cover for weapons programs are less likely to see these latter programs underestimated by outside intelligence agencies, and they more likely to be the target of U.S. nonproliferation sanctions. Second, countries with nuclear energy programs face higher costs from sanctions, because the penalties are likely to include a cutoff of nuclear trade that may be crucial to their economy. As a result, while energy programs may make nuclear proliferation technically easier, they make it substantially more difficult politically, thus producing a near-zero effect in the aggregate'.

The plainest possible example is the two Koreas. The South is a user and exporter of nuclear power, signatory to the non-proliferation treaty, and possesses zero nuclear warheads. The North has zero nuclear power reactors, is not a signatory to the non-proliferation treaty, and is developing and testing nuclear weapons.


Miller’s findings are consistent with the Kantian Triangle of peace which, as I wrote in 2013, asserts that two nations with (1) democracy, (2) economic interdependence, and (3) membership of international institutions have virtually zero probability of going to war with each other. War between them becomes implausible. Organisations with an interest in peace would build on this knowledge. The Australian Conservation Foundation is no such organisation.

Consider the words of the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (Co-chaired by Gareth Evans and Yoriko Kawaguchi), from their 2009 work Eliminating Nuclear Threats (emphases added).

'There are also very good reasons in their own right for supporting, as this Commission does, the cooperative sharing of the benefits of nuclear energy… it is almost impossible now to argue, from a global perspective, that civil nuclear energy is anything other than an indispensable element of the energy policy mix…Whether nuclear energy will increase its total share of electricity generation in a period of major and continuing demand increases may be questioned, but simply maintaining it would by itself be a major contribution to climate policy'.

Only ignorance of the self-inflicted variety can explain a senior member of an environmental organisation failing to grasp these realities. The Australian Conservation Foundation has its fingers in its ears. Sweeny even leveraged the Nobel Peace Prize to combat the establishment of a properly designed waste facility for Australia’s world-leading research and medical sectors. He wrote:

…the threat is not over and two communities are under intense pressure – this time from a federal government plan to move Australian radioactive waste onto their land.

With a South Australian election approaching, we’re urging state political leaders to actively oppose the federal government’s plan and uphold the state law banning radioactive waste dumps in SA.

‘Intense pressure’? This demands a reality check.

Of the three sites currently under consideration, all three were volunteered by land owners in 2015. So were the other 25 sites offered to the Australian Government. I know this, and so does Sweeny. He and I were both invited members of the Public Advisory Panel for that voluntary process.

In the two years since, two of the three sites fought their way back on to the shortlist with a community vote in favour. The third site had a comfortable majority with no objection to further participation (though lacked support from the local traditional owners). Community consultation committees have been established for all three sites. They will define ‘acceptance’ and the boundary of the community that is entitled to speak to the acceptance or non-acceptance of the facility. Each community receives a no-obligation $2 million Community Benefit Program, in recognition of their participation to date, with $0.4 million in projects funded to date.

None of this matters to the $14 million per year ACF. It intends to misrepresent, bully, undermine, and disempower local communities on the way to creating the 'intense pressure' they need. Anyone who chooses to engage with a process that potentially supports Australia’s nuclear research and medicine sector becomes their enemy. Of such technologies, Evans and Kawaguchi state:

… nuclear technologies and techniques are demonstrably valuable for improving human well-being, especially in fighting disease, helping to grow food, addressing food security and safety, and managing safe water and other natural resources. In health care, nuclear medicine and radiation therapy will continue to be important in providing earlier, more accurate diagnoses and safer, more effective treatments. In food security and safety, nuclear techniques have also contributed significantly in integrating pre- and post-harvest pest-control measures such as food irradiation and area-wide application of the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) to protect crops and livestock from pests. Techniques for diagnosing trans- boundary animal diseases will be increasingly important for early and rapid detection in both the laboratory and the field. And nuclear techniques have a significant role to play in hydrology, important as the growing scarcity of water resources and the dramatic lack of sustainable access to water and sanitation in developing countries become major impediments to sustainable development, wealth creation and the eradication of poverty. The Commission supports additional resources for the IAEA’s Technical Cooperation Programme, to assist developing states to take full advantage of peaceful nuclear energy for human development.

That’s what Sweeny and the $14 million ACF is leveraging a Nobel Peace Prize to fight next: local communities engaging with peaceful nuclear technologies that support human development.

It’s time to abandon the ACF. There are so many other meritorious organisations. For those who value direct conservation action in Australia, try Nature Foundation or Nature Conservation Society of South Australia. For the ecomodernist approach of taking pressure off nature through smarter human development, try us at Bright New World. Because when an organisation stoops to using a Nobel Peace Prize to directly undermine human development, it forgoes any legitimacy as a progressive voice for the future.

Ben Heard2 Comments