Other than paid columnists, retired academic and strident nuclear advocate Leslie Kemeny has had more opinion pieces published in Australian newspapers than anyone else. A rough calculation indicates he has had over 200 pieces published over the past 40 years.
The remarkable thing is that it's pretty much the same opinion piece every time. A topical lead, then a light edit of previous material. Many of his pieces contain an appeal to "informed realism" − which is nothing more than a cheap shot at uninformed, unrealistic critics of the industry. He often refers to unnamed "international experts" who are purportedly "appalled" or "bemused" at Australia's failure to expand the nuclear industry − again, no substance, he's just wasting precious seconds that you'll never get back.
In recent years Kemeny has repeatedly quoted an International Energy Agency (IEA) report which purportedly states that: "Nuclear power is the technology which must be accelerated and promoted and relied upon if the world is to stabilise carbon dioxide emissions at an acceptable level."
In fact, the IEA has never said any such thing. The report to which Kemeny refers merely said that nuclear power is one technology that can help reduce greenhouse emissions. Energy efficiency and renewables contribute eight times more to climate change abatement than nuclear power under the IEA's hypothetical scenario.
Nuclear expansion is always portrayed as a pathway to wealth and prosperity in Kemeny's opinion pieces and these assertions are unencumbered by any connection with reality. He writes that exporting uranium without first enriching it "is just plain dumb", yet the Switkowski Report, BHP Billiton and others have argued that an enrichment industry in Australia would be an economic white elephant.
There are numerous factual errors; for example, Kemeny claims that "about 60" countries have embraced nuclear power − nearly twice the true figure. He claims that the Chernobyl death toll is 56, but studies by the World Health Organisation, the International Atomic Energy Agency and other UN bodies estimate 9,000 deaths in Eastern Europe, while other credible scientific studies put the global figure as much as 10 times higher.
Many of Kemeny's "facts" could be described as outliers; for example, he gives a figure of five kilograms of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour of nuclear power, yet the 2006 Switkowski Report put the figure 12 times higher.
Kemeny claims in a January 2013 opinion piece in the Canberra Times that there is a growing consensus among the world's leading scientists that energy can be best sourced from a ''generation four'' nuclear power plant. There is no such consensus and Kemeny provides no evidence to support the claim. His claim that "generation four" reactors could produce electricity for under two cents per kilowatt hour is laughable. The French Superphenix was promoted as the first commercial-scale 'fast breeder' reactor in the world. However it was one of the worst-performing reactors in history and the electricity it produced cost US$1.33 perkilowatt hour. Once again, Kemeny isn't just wrong, but wrong by orders of magnitude.
In 1982, Kemeny's writings were subjected to detailed analysis by Prof. Brian Martin, a physicist who was then teaching in the science faculty at the Australian National University. Prof. Martin concluded his analysis:
"In quite a number of ways, Kemeny in his public advocacy of nuclear power does not fit the image of the objective, trustworthy expert: he addresses only some of the issues and seldom replies to anti-nuclear arguments; he presents large amounts of irrelevant material; he is subject to inaccuracy, and on occasion fails to acknowledge his mistakes; he continually denigrates opponents; he speaks from a position representing a potential conflict of interest; and his expertise is mostly irrelevant to the issues, or of doubtful quality."
Kemeny threatened to sue and claimed that legal counsel had suggested a five-figure sum for damages. It was an idle threat − there was no apology and no legal action. The correspondence − both entertaining and illuminating − is posted on Prof. Martin's Wollongong University webpage.
Kemeny suggests Prof. Martin "may never have left the sterile corridors of academia", yet at least one of Kemeny's forays beyond academia ended in disaster. He was caught up in the failed Nu-Tec investment scheme (as a victim according to the ABC). This was the subject of a two-part special on the 7:30 Report in 2005.
ABC reporter Emma Alberici said:
"Professor Leslie Kemeny has been involved in the area of nuclear science for 30 years. That's how long he's been trying to get his technologies commercialised. So far none of his theories have left the drawing board. ... According to the company line Nu-Tec was a serious player with ground-breaking nuclear applications. Noted nuclear physicist Leslie Kemeny was ... the company's ace. The truth, however, was that Nu-Tec was no tech. Its technology didn't exist. Just a few underdeveloped ideas rattling around Professor Kemeny's mind. Some rudimentary paper work and a sales pitch aimed at novice investors. ... None of the institutional investors fell for Gregory Symons's sizzle so the only people burnt were Nu-Tec's small shareholders."
Kemeny's opinion pieces refer to the "pseudo-science" or "coercive utopianism" or "hidden socio-political agendas" of nuclear critics or supporters of "renewable energy" (a term that always appears in quotation marks, for reasons unexplained).
He sometimes lets fly with a conspiracy theory − the same conspiracy theory as that of climate change denier Ian Plimer, two men of the same generation and social cohort. Kemeny writes: "Radical green activism and global terrorism can form dangerous, even deadly, alliances. The 'coercive utopianism' of radical greens, their avid desire for media publicity and their hidden socio-political agendas can produce societal outcomes that are sometimes violent and ugly."
Kemeny believes the anti-nuclear movement is "supported by immense funds from affluent rightwing interests" and that it should be "recognised for what it is − anti-working class activism aimed at maintaining the last "status quo" for a fortunate minority".
Oh please. Kemeny himself has imposing far-right connections. He was pencilled in as the Christian Democratic Party candidate in the 2007 federal election, though he was replaced by another candidate. The Institute of Public Affairs published his 1985 booklet titled 'The peace movement and its hidden agenda'. He has written for Australian Conservative, a "free and open blogging forum for conservatives". He has had numerous articles published by Quadrant (e.g. Pseudo-science and lost opportunities; Radiation phobia and phantom risks; Beyond Radiation Neurosis).
On other occasions Kemeny spares "affluent rightwing interests" but gets stuck into "the strident rhetoric and opportunistic pseudo-science of the political left."
Clive Hamilton's comments about Ian Plimer also seem apt for Kemeny: "The emergence of the environment and peace movements in the 1970s challenged the benefits of nuclear technology, the power of the military-industrial complex and the claims of science to neutrality and benevolence. ... The criticism of the hitherto unquestioned place of science and technology destabilised the power and privilege of the scientific elite."
Hence a cohort of Grumpy Old Men.
Even Kemeny's bio notes raise questions about the precision of his writing. For example one wonders what he means when he says he was "the Australian observer and assessor at Chernobyl". Elsewhere he says his trip to Chernobyl was organised "through the offices of the I.A.E.A." − whatever that means. He describes himself as the Australian foundation member of the International Nuclear Energy Academy − but the Academy is just a lobby group comprised of Grumpy Old Men.