Hard News by Russell Brown

Going Danish?

Yes, the Herald's lead story on a poll indicating that New Zealanders are prepared to countenance a more relaxed attitude to nuclear ship visits is, as Gerry Brownlee noted, "interesting". But was the question based on a fantasy?

National's review of its anti-nuclear policy came up with what was put forward as the Danish solution: a "policy ban" on nuclear ship visits rather than a legislative one, which might make the Americans happier. But this letter in this week's Listener suggests that that is not in fact the "Danish solution" at all:

Nuclear-free New Zealand

The National Party Taskforce members have completely misunderstood and misrepresented Danish nuclear policy ("On the defensive", May 22). Their proposal is to replace our legislated ban on nuclear-powered ship visits with an equivalent ban, but expressed only as a policy. Denmark is cited as a country that has such a policy, and has good relations with the US.

But this claim is completely wrong. Denmark allows nuclear-powered ships to visit, provided Danish authorities are given technical details of the nuclear power plants in the ships so that they can assess their safety for themselves. The US Navy does not release such information, so their nuclear-powered warships do not visit Danish ports. This policy is set out in material supplied by the Danish Embassy in Canberra, and has been confirmed by a recent special adviser to the Danish Ministry of Defence.

The Taskforce proposal is baseless. This is astonishing. National understood Danish policy in the Muldoon era, and the Taskforce members had it explained to them in at least one submission late last year. Yet they still could not get it right. So much for the Creech report.
R E White
Director, Centre for Peace Studies, University of Auckland

The proposition that we could have our cake (no nuclear ship visits) and eat it too (no longer irking the US government) is, not surprisingly, attractive. Unfortunately, it seems rather poorly rooted in reality. Really, shouldn't the Herald have exercised a bit more scrutiny before putting it to the public as reality - even if it spoiled the headline a bit?

Still, it behoves us never to close our minds on controversial issues, and the ecologist James Lovelock's urgent plea for us to embrace nuclear energy as the only way to avoid devastating climate change did make me think I ought to do some reading to discover whether I still think what I thought I thought, if you get my drift.

Public Address reader Carolyn Hicks has been following the debate since the publication of Lovelock's essay:

I was fairly dismissive of it until I read the so-called rebuttal by Bruce Sterling, a man who I formerly had a fair bit of respect for, and the associated Slashdot discussion.

As several posters pointed out, the essence of Sterling's response seemed to be an assumption that invoking Hiroshima or mentioning the word "nukes" is enough to render the rest of the discussion unnecessary. I consider myself a greenie, but reading Sterling's snarky remarks and the related Slashdot posts made me question some of my own unthinking assumptions that nuclear=bad (or that nuclear power=nuclear weapons). What it reminded me of was the emotional reactions to genetic engineering, the idea that simply mentioning 'tomato' and 'fish' in the same phrase will triumph over rational argument (and sadly often does).

I'm certainly no fan or apologist for nuclear power or GE, but difficult problems need open minds to solve them. I have in the past really appreciated the rationality you've brought to the overheated GE debate, and I'd be interested in your take on this issue, especially in light of Aotearoa's anti-nuclear stance. Obviously nuclear energy isn't something NZ is going to be needing any time soon (unless climate change dries up the Waitaki River), but on a global level, could opposition to it be as much of a knee-jerk and possibly counterproductive reaction as railing against "potatoes that are part toad"?

I agree with Carolyn. I'm not about to go out cheerleading for nuclear energy - not until I feel I know a lot more about it - but Sterling's response to Lovelock's proposition was inane. Was he hungover or something?

Elsewhere, Fahrenheit 9/11 has distribution and will be in US cinemas before the fourth of July.

The Chalabi-Iran scandal gathers momentum as it emerges that the erstwhile Pentagon favourite tipped off Iran government that the US had broken its communications codes. The White House is, understandably, now furiously distancing itself from the former saviour of Iraq. As the FBI starts conducting interviews, Josh Marshall speculates on who in the Pentagon might be sweating the most.

The case of The Memory Hole being blocked from viewing by US troops in Iraq is quite interesting. I wonder what else they don't get to see?

Molesworth & Featherston cheerily celebrates "topping a hundred thousand hits" on its website for the month of May - then honestly admits to having no idea what that might actually mean. Not much, unfortunately: a "hit" is simply a file request, and how many hits your page logs is purely a function of how many files it contains. The stats you're after are unique visitors, number of visits and total page impressions. But we're happy to send traffic Molesworth's way, so do go and have a look-see …

Oh, and by the way, for May, Nielsen NetRatings had Public Address at 14,000 unique visitors, 50,000 visits, 250,000 pages and, er, 3.4 million hits. Keep it coming, folks. We'll turn a dollar out of the damn thing yet …