Tuesday 1st of December 2020

a new chief from the old troops...


Newly appointed Minerals Council chair Helen Coonan has become the latest business heavyweight to call for nuclear power to be considered as part of Australia's future energy mix.

Key points:
  • The Minerals Council's new chair Helen Coonan says there should be a parliamentary inquiry into nuclear power for Australia
  • Ms Coonan's comments come in response to statements from BHP's CEO saying that climate change poses "an existential risk" to the planet
  • She backed Adani's Carmichael coal mine, saying the company "wouldn't be proceeding if they didn't have the business model to sustain the mine"


The former Howard government minister said the "nuclear option" should be on the table, along with renewables, as the resources industry edges away from fossil fuels in the coming decades.

Speaking to the ABC's AM program, Ms Coonan said Australians were ready for a "sensible conversation" about nuclear power generation, which is currently outlawed in Australia.

"I think it's time to give it a go quite frankly. There's a long way to go, of course, because there are legislative barriers and there needs to be political will," Ms Coonan said in her first broadcast interview as the Minerals Council of Australia's chair.


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in hot water...

France has shut down the equivalent of four nuclear power stations as the heatwave eats into the country's electricity generating capacities.

With temperatures in French rivers hitting record highs, some power plants relying on river water to cool their reactors have been forced to scale back production.

The French nuclear safety authority has given others permission to return the river water at a higher temperature than is normally allowed. 

The precise consequences of higher river temperatures are not known, but it is thought that they could endanger fish. French meteorologists are calling this summer the country's hottest since 1947.

The chief executive of state-owned Electricité de France did not rule out further cuts, but said that the company would do all it could to maintain supplies.

"These past few days, we have shut 4,000mW of production capacity, which is the equivalent of four nuclear plants," Francois Roussely told France Inter radio.

He said that blackouts were not expected this week, but did not rule out the possibility of them happening if summer temperatures did not fall soon.


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With some Sydney and melbourne temperatures edging towards 45 degrees Celsius in summer, far hotter than those in France, and having basically no inland water (full of fish kill problems anyway), Australia is well-placed to bet on solar and windmill power — which are much cheaper than the nuclear option. Tell Coonan to put a sock in it and see the full stuff at:




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idaho for potatoes, ohio for nukes...

ON TUESDAY, a dark-money effort linked primarily to the Ohio nuclear industry delivered an audacious payoff, as a newly elected state legislature overcame years of opposition to shower a $1.1 billion bailout on two state nuclear plants.

Several dark-money groups spent millions to replace key Republican state legislators in the spring of 2018, followed by a furious lobbying campaign to make sure those new lawmakers elected a new House speaker — one who was amenable to the subsidy. The nuclear industry in Ohio has been on the brink of failure for several years, but previous legislatures had objected to a bailout, reading the writing on the wall: Nuclear power is neither a cost-effective solution for power nor an effective response to climate change, despite hopes for its success.

In April 2018, two nuclear plants, both owned by the electric utility FirstEnergy, filed for bankruptcy and have been threatening to cease operations if not bailed out. They were under increasing pressure to compete with cheaper alternatives, ranging from natural gas to wind and solar. The bankruptcy filings give a glimpse into the company’s political spending: more than $30 million from 2018-2019 on lobbying and campaigns in Ohio and Pennsylvania (where the company also sought a bailout, so far unsuccessfully).

The dark-money effort deployed a variety of vehicles that went by names like the Conservative Leadership Alliance and the Ohio Clean Energy Jobs Alliance. Murray Energy, a coal company, also gave heavily to current state House Speaker Larry Householder and his allied candidates, and the bailout from Ohio also includes subsidies to prop up failing coal plants in the state.

The payoff is extraordinary in degree — something like $30 million for campaigns in Ohio and Pennsylvania to win $1.1 billion in government subsidy. But it is similar in kind to other nuclear projects across the country. According to the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit devoted to research and advocacy, five cash-strapped states across the country have foisted more than $15 billion in subsidies on failing nuclear power plants since 2016, the latest sign that nuclear is unable to stand in a competitive energy market against lower-cost renewables.

IN OHIO, the state House battle was fought in at least 18 competitive Republican primaries, all proxy battles between Reps. Ryan Smith, the incumbent House speaker, and Larry Householder. Householder was a co-sponsor of the nuclear bailout bill that stalled in the legislature in 2018, making him a key ally to the nuclear industry. Several dark-money vehicles backed the pro-Householder candidates, and won 15 of the 18 races. Four pro-Householder candidates lost in the general election, but the primary wins put Householder in contention for the speakership.

The industry even targeted one Republican state representative who had rebuffed FirstEnergy’s advances before making a bid for Congress. “I didn’t budge when they came into my office to lobby me,” former state Rep. Christina Hagan said of FirstEnergy. “I became the target of the company and the members of our leadership team who wanted to get it done but couldn’t because I wasn’t going to be supportive. I’m sure they just wanted to make an example of me in my race for higher office that if you don’t play well, this is what will happen to you.”

On top of the dark money, FirstEnergy’s political action committees directly contributed more than $150,000 to the campaigns of Householder and candidates aligned with him, while giving none to Smith last cycle. Of the pro-Householder candidates who won their races, all but one supported the bailout.

Dark money also contributed to ads on Ohio television. Generation Now spent almost $2 million on ads in favor of the bailout, and perhaps much more. The Growth & Opportunity PAC, which got more than $1 million in donations from Generation Now, also blanketed the state House districts with television ads in favor of Republican candidates. Generation Now’s office is listed as the Columbus address of a longtime Householder adviser, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.


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too many crumpled hats...


Crown chair Helen Coonan conflicted in role of ombudsman chair

By ELIZABETH MINTER | On 26 October 2020

Crown profits from the hardship of problem gamblers, the banks refuse to stop credit cards for problem gamblers. Helen Coonan is chair of both Crown and bank ombudsman AFCA (Australian Financial Complaints Authority). It is a conflict that makes her position untenable.

“Poor culture … has been identified as the main culprit that permitted a slew of bad practices … and in many cases arrogant indifference to regulatory and compliance risk,” Crown Resorts chair Helen Coonan said in a speech. She noted that community trust in the sector had been “shattered”.

No, she wasn’t talking about her extraordinary revelations regarding money-laundering at Crown casino last week in the New South Wales Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority’s inquiry into Crown’s suitability to hold a Sydney casino licence.

She was, in fact, speaking in her role as chair of the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA, the financial ombudsman) in May 2019, referring to the banks and financial institutions that had caused “despair and hopelessness in many broken lives and broken businesses“.

Coonan could also just as easily have been talking about the despair and hopelessness felt every day by Australians suffering from gambling addiction.

In 2018, Crown Resorts for the first time released its profit results from poker machine revenue, revealing that gamblers lost $450 million on Crown’s 2,682 poker machines in Melbourne and a further $265 million on those in Perth in the 2017-18 financial year. Charles Livingstone, a professor of public health and gambling researcher, said the pokies profit from Crown Melbourne meant each machine made an average of $170,000 per year, 1.7 times higher than average for Victoria’s gambling machines.

Australians are the world’s most prolific gamblers based on per capita spending and have the highest gambling losses per capita in the world.

About one in six Australians who play regularly has a serious addiction and loses on average about $21,000 a year, according to government data. An estimated 400 Australians die by suicide each year, secondary to gambling-related problems. The social cost of gambling to the community is estimated to be at least $4.7 billion a year. And while Australia has less than 0.3% of the global population, the nation has 20% of the world’s poker machines.

That Coonan was ever appointed chairman of the financial ombudsman AFCA in light of her directorship of Crown is extraordinary.

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