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Successful inaugural SIA nuclear seminar


16th October 2019

The Submarine Institute of Australia (SIA) has made a highly successful foray into the policy debate about nuclear submarines – and nuclear energy – by holding the institute’s inaugural nuclear seminar.


The event, which was staged in partnership with UNSW Canberra and was held at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in Canberra on 2 October, was attended by almost 80 people and they were treated to a first-class line-up of speakers.


After SIA President, Mark Sander welcomed delegates, the keynote address was delivered by former Minister for Resources, Energy and Tourism, Hon Martin Ferguson AM.


Mr Ferguson said Australia could continue to believe the current situation on energy is suitable or “we can have a serious discussion”.


On nuclear-propelled submarines, Mr Ferguson questioned why Australia should not have access to submarines which are more effective.


“Australia is selling itself short,” he said. “Not considering nuclear submarines for Australia is a national security own goal.”


On a what was a compelling morning program, Professor Lyndon Edwards, National Director, Australian Generation IV International Forum Research provided insights into the use of nuclear energy on a global basis.


“I still remember when the first Range Rover cost $2 million,” he said. “Similarly the first nuclear reactor would cost a lot of money.”


Professor Edwards said there are 452 nuclear power plants in operation around the world and that the design of nuclear propulsion is highly classified, even more highly classified than weapons production.


Another major presentation was delivered by Mr Greg Ward, who was Chief of Staff to the Commissioner during South Australia’s Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission.


Mr Ward recounted some of the key findings of the commission, including that a nuclear waste management operation in South Australia would have significant economic benefits, including creating almost 10,000 jobs.


But he lamented the lack of action since the commission, saying: “There was community consultation about whether to take forward the commission’s findings following the release of the final report, but political and community support evaporated.


“The necessary conditions for a nuclear industry are trust, time and political support.


“There is no country with nuclear submarines which doesn’t also have a civil nuclear industry.”


Other key points put forward by speakers at the event, which was designed to hear views which were for, against and neutral on nuclear energy, included:

  • Mr Robert Pritchard, Executive Director, Energy Policy Institute – Until the ban on nuclear technology is lifted, Australia isn’t technology neutral;
  • Mr Tony Irwin, Chairman, Engineers Australia Sydney Division Nuclear Engineering Panel – The benefits of nuclear power for Australia include it provides energy security, diversity and reliable electricity generation;
  • Professor Ian Lowe, Emeritus Professor, Science/Technology/Society, Griffith University – If renewables can meet our needs, why use nuclear power?
  • Ms Katherine Ziesing, Editor, Australian Defence Magazine – Education is the key;
  • Dr Ben Heard, Consultant (Asset Performance), Frazer-Nash Consultancy – Let’s remove the prohibition and begin to prepare a nuclear sector; and
  • Hon Stephen Conroy, former Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy – There will never a nuclear industry in Australia.

A day of many highlights was capped off when the Chief of Navy, VADM Michael Noonan AO, RAN, called in for the final hour of the event and delivered the closing words.


VADM Noonan said: “We don’t yet have the answers to the important issues raised today, but everyone will go away better engaged.”


Given the strength of the event, the SIA is now considering whether it will be held on an annual basis.


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