This december, we celebrate a very important 30th anniversary: it is 30 years since Jo Vallentine was elected to the senate.
ON OCTOBER 19 I WAS INVITED TO PARTICIPATE IN ‘MEN OF LETTERS‘ in Sydney – an occasional departure for the wonderful women of letters team. Ten of us were invited to write a letter to a woman who changed our lives. This was mine.
I can remember standing at the top of St Georges Terrace with my mother and father and little brother. We are 25 or 30,000 strong that day. A gathering that stretches from Kings Park half way down the terrace into the city. I am maybe 12 years old.
I don’t really know why I’m there; I’ll have to piece that together many years later. It turns out you and a tiny handful of friends and allies have been working for months to bring us together that bright Palm Sunday.
The rice paddy on the edge of Iitate village is 30km back from the coast, framed by steep forested hills, and we stop here briefly because the scene is so strangely heraldic.
At first glance, this looks like any other rural Japanese town in late summer, but it isn’t any more. The precise geometries of the fields are softened with neglect and waist-high weeds. Two empty police cars sit out front of the vacant community hall. Crickets hum in the mid-day humidity, in sleepy counterpoint to the rumble of diesel engines. A work team of several dozen men in white masks and overalls tend a slow assemblage of earthmoving equipment out in the field, but this is something other than agriculture.
In introducing a document of this kind, the first thing to note is that the text speaks for itself. This is not a work of analysis or opinion, but a straightforward chronology of accident, incompetence and disaster spanning seven decades. The key unifying theme here is nuclear technology, roaring into modern history out of the blinding singularity that lit the sky over Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.
The twin industries of nuclear weapons and civil nuclear power hold a unique and forbidding place in our lives as the 20th century recedes and the forgotten struggles of the Cold War mutate into something more complex. Nuclear weapons slumber uneasily in our mass subconscious, an amnesia broken by irregular and violent cameo appearances in popular culture.
Much of the debate around uranium sales to India – inside the ALP and in the broader community – will be viewed through the lens of the self-evident interest in maximising revenues from a commodity that Australia already sells to a dozen other nations.
I suspect most people, if they’re interested at all, will wonder what the fuss is about. We sell the stuff to a nuclear-armed communist dictatorship and the organised crime syndicate formerly known as Russia, so why not sell it to the world’s largest democracy?
Judging from the extraordinary outpouring of editorial anguish over the Australian Greens’ cautionary uranium mining policies, it seems we might have hit a nerve. Ranging from simple name calling to paranoid hysteria, one thing missing has been any analysis – any at all – of why we believe the nuclear industry should be phased out.