ANNABELLE MCDONALD, THE AUSTRALIAN – THE NATION, JULY 22, 2006
“Don’t do it! Mikhail Gorbachev, right, at a press conference with Peter Beattie in Brisbane yesterday. PICTURE: LYNDON MECHIELSEN
FORMER Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev has warned Australia to avoid nuclear power, urging the Howard Government to pursue it only as “a lesser evil” than coal.
Less than a week after John Howard indicated he wanted a domestic uranium enrichment industry, Mr Gorbachev said nuclear energy was dangerous and uneconomical.
The political statesman turned environmental activist, who as president oversaw the catastrophic Chernobyl nuclear plant meltdown in 1986, instead urged Australia, and countries including the US, France and China, to search for alternative sources of energy such as solar power.
Mr Gorbachev, 75, also called for all nuclear weapons to be destroyed, fearful that signs of a new arms race were emerging across the globe.
Twenty years after Chernobyl, the world’s worst nuclear accident, former Soviet states have spent billions of dollars containing the radiation. But Mr Gorbachev said the full effects of the disaster were still unknown.
“(Chernobyl) changed our attitude towards nuclear power in a very significant way,” he said in Brisbane, where he is a co-chair of Earth Dialogues Brisbane 2006, a three-day forum on the environment, economics and science.
“(I) believe, given there is a deficit of energy and the power situation in the world is very difficult, that nuclear power stations may be needed, but only as a lesser evil, and only in extreme need should such stations be built.”
Mr Gorbachev said nuclear power became uneconomical when the cost of storing the waste was included in the equation.
“Nevertheless, a number of countries including the United States, China, Russia, France and others intend to build new nuclear power stations because they need energy and the alternative sources of energy are not yet available.
“Yet I believe alternative sources are not available precisely because not enough investment is being made into those new sources of energy.”
Mr Howard has appointed a taskforce to examine the viability of nuclear power in Australia.
But Mr Gorbachev said his Geneva-based environmental group, Green Cross International, was calling for money from the public and private sectors to fund energy research.
“For the Iraq war, very quickly $100billion was found to execute that war, whereas we need just $50 billion over 10 years for research into solar power which could bring in a few percentage points more of power to the world,” he said.
Despite predictions of an energy crisis within the next 20 years, Mr Gorbachev said signs of an emerging new arms race were of more immediate concern as he called for the destruction of all nuclear weapons. He said one Russian land-based SS18 missile had the power of “100 Chernobyls”.
He also demanded Australia sign the Kyoto Protocol on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, adding: “The best scientists support this approach and all attempts to refute that science have been unsuccessful.
“I don’t think it would be right to continue with the situation when the whole world is marching in the (right) way, whereas just a couple of countries, like the US and Australia, are marching in the (wrong) way.”