Nuclear Worlds

With the publication of Arena’s lucky 13th issue, ‘Set it on Fire With Your Love?‘, we have also launched a campaign to critique the political resurgence of nuclear power as ‘the only way forward’ in a climate collapsing world.

As part of a wider series of public events and media interventions, we have here collected the four articles from the special section, as well as a curation from Arena’s archives of articles pertinent to the nuclear question. They are a kind of ‘reading list’ for those seeking to get a deeper understanding of just what is at stake with the nuclear question. The articles are below in counter chronological order, going all the way back to 1982.

But first, the special issue…

In Issue 13, John Hinkson explores the deep structures of life and culture in the nuclear age, shattering any confidence there might be in the safety of the nuclear way. Dave Sweeney gives an account of the success of the people’s anti-nuclear movement to date in Australia. Guy Rundle forewarns on the technocratic directions of Greens parties that might see nuclear power accepted by them as clean and green, and asks will it happen here. Darrin Durant engages nuclear interests and their political backers on Left and Right in a comprehensive demolition of their claims about the capacities of nuclear power, and especially those of the latest-generation reactors with which the industry is currently all abuzz.

In 1981 Split Enz sang that ‘history never repeats’. Karl Marx knew it was more complicated. He explained that the French revolutions had been corrupted by the successive dictatorial coups d’etat of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1799 and his nephew Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte in 1851. Opening his analysis in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, Marx quipped that ‘Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.’

Marx meant that Bonaparte I was a tragedy and Bonaparte III a farce. The same applies to the history of the global nuclear industry. Nuclear power has moved from a bloated and technocratic imposition of existential risks and hubris (tragedy) to a so-called renaissance with all the hallmarks of farce (a desperately incompetent white elephant in a decarbonization revolution destined to be defined by renewables).


Australia would look very different if it wasn’t for sustained intergenerational effort to resist the nuclear option. In the country that is home to around 35 per cent of the world’s uranium—the basic fuel for both nuclear power and nuclear weapons—it is a tribute to the protest movements of recent decades that the landscape is not littered with legacy and operating uranium mines, or with multiple sacrifice zones of nuclear processing, waste and weapons sites. In one of the most urbanised nations on Earth, it is tribute to resistance that we are not dependent on nuclear reactors for hot showers and cool drinks.

Our land does contain failed and failing uranium mines, warehoused radioactive waste and continued contamination at nuclear test sites, but the scale is far less than it would have been if the atomic agenda pushed and promoted by nuclear proponents had succeeded. And we have also dodged the worst bullet—nuclear weapons—along with commercial nuclear power reactors and the hosting of high-level international radioactive waste. However, powerful political, corporate and media interests are now joining forces with international actors and influences to prosecute a vision of an Australia that is fully integrated into a civil and military nuclear platform.


It is wrong to assume that the reason for such existential fears has passed, or that they would be merely remnants of an irrational past. On the contrary, these fears have simply been displaced, while the threat is unchanged. As Daniel Ellsberg made clear in The Doomsday Machine, such calculations continue today in military, intelligence and political discussions out of public view, quite divorced from the everyday world. This divorce between those who know and those who are left to their everyday lives may seem benign, but it is more worrying than the first stage of response to the emergent nuclear reality. For the displacement of raw fear has been achieved by a creeping normalisation of nuclear technology. Existential fear has been deadened through lack of knowledge—in large part, organised ignorance—including through the suppression of information about the meanings of nuclear technology, and this in turn has had basic consequences.


Finland was, by Nordic standards, a fairly backward country until a few decades ago, after which it became a world leader in innovations in education, telecommunications, open source software, social services and much more. Recently, it chalked up another first, with its Green party Vihreät announcing that it had reversed its policy opposing nuclear power due to the potentially catastrophic effects of climate change and the continued use of fossil fuels. This was prompted, of course, by the European gas supply crisis arising from the Russia–Ukraine war, which has made it necessary for Germany to re-open its coal mines in order to keep energy supplies at constant, and growing, levels. Vihreät’s party manifesto now states that nuclear is ‘sustainable energy’ and the party is pushing to streamline the approval process for small modular reactors. Just some fringe party with a perverse take on an issue others regard as settled? No. Vihreät has 20 seats in the 200-seat parliament, is in the ruling four-party coalition, and holds the foreign and environment ministries. Its shift is a pivotal moment in Green politics.


PODCAST: Setting the World on Fire: the new nuclear push

Alison Caddick, Darrin Durant, Dave Sweeney, Karina Lester, John Hinkson

28 Sep 2023

An audio recording of the Arena public discussion hosted by the Institute for Postcolonial Studies (IPCS).


The below are articles are collected from Arena Online, Arena Magazine, Arena Journal, and one from the first series Arena. They are presented here in counter-chronological order.

Albert Einstein issued a dire warning: that we were living under threat not only from the atomic bomb and the spectre of extermination in nuclear war, but also from a second weapon, one he considered just at dangerous for humanity and the planet—‘the Information Bomb’.


Almost every word written about ‘net energy gain’ from a fusion reaction is a species of manufactured ignorance generated by managing uncomfortable knowledge, which is complicated by a tension between the desire to trust fusion experts but and the knowledge that those experts operate under powerful incentives to engage in hype.


The bright young things of Silicon Valley, with their dreams of direct democracy on Mars and digital immortality, are often difficult to take seriously. But their hubris is only the gaudy version of a broader cultural and political belief in the power of science and technology to edit, alter and override the very stuff from which our world is made—in other words, to ‘play God’.


Nuclear Promises, by Tilman Ruff

Tilman Ruff, Arena Magazine, Oct 2019

In 2006 the Howard government commissioned nuclear enthusiast and former chair of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation Ziggy Switkowski to undertake a review of nuclear power for Australia. On 1 June 2010 Switkowski made an extraordinary statement about matters nuclear on the ABC’s World Today:

I think the association with asbestos is deliberately provocative and reckless. A couple of the best-studied consequences of excessive nuclear-radiation exposure followed the Second World War and the communities in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We now have 65 years of data and there’s no suggestion there that there are continuing or enduring consequences.

Insult to the hibakusha notwithstanding, a starker untruth would be hard to find. A similar whitewash of the overwhelming evidence of health harm from any exposure to ionising radiation underpins the Japanese government’s ongoing willingness to expose people affected by the Fukushima disaster to twenty times the usual maximum permissible level of radiation.


On 11 March 2011—as I was preparing to enter graduate school—a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and resultant tsunami caused a full meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant located on the island of Honshu, on the east coast of Japan. Within days the Vienna-based international organisation tasked with verifying the proposed moratorium on nuclear-weapons testing—the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization—issued a series of six technical briefings to its then 182 member states that detailed the nature and extent of the plant’s radioactive emissions. Interestingly, this was despite the detection of radionuclide releases from civilian nuclear reactors being outside its terms of reference. The CTBTO’s mandate was, after all, exclusively nuclear weapons related. At the time, the CTBTO’s ‘international monitoring system’ had around thirty-five active radionuclide stations that were able to detect radioactive particles and noble gases at levels a billion times lower than those that are harmful to humans. Working in tandem with the radionuclide stations was the CTBTO’s network of seismic, hydroacoustic and infrasound sensors. The verification regime is designed such that any significant event on the planet—not to mention the troika of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown, as occurred at Fukushima—would be detected in one or more constituent parts of earth’s biosphere, in real time.

The annihilating core: Facing extinction – will we consent to our own negation?

Guy Rundle, 2019, Arena Magazine, Issue 161.

Chernobyl hit global screens…about the same time that a new wave of consciousness was breaking across the Western world and points beyond: hundreds of millions of people suddenly realised that major global events related to climate change and biosphere catastrophe are not five or six decades away but two or fewer…

New Worlds and the Nuclear Age

John Hinkson, 2019, Arena Magazine, No.158

“That the discovery of nuclear power opened up an utterly dis tinctive set of possibilities was metaphorically recognised immediately by the scientists involved”.

Bombs Away: The hidden legacies of Britain’s hydrogen-bomb tests

Nic Maclellan, 2017, Arena Magazine, Issue 148.

From the beginning of the nuclear age, the United States, Britain and France sought distant locations to conduct their Cold War programs of nuclear-weapons testing. For fifty years between 1946 and 1996, the islands of the central Pacific and the deserts of Australia were used to conduct more than 315 atmospheric and underground tests, at ten sites. The Western nuclear powers showed little concern for the health and well-being of nearby Indigenous communities and the civilian and military personnel who staffed the test sites.

Australia has two hearts, two potent symbolic centres. One is Uluru, a place of profound significance to Indigenous Australians, and of significant, if borrowed, meaning to many others, offering a promise of reconciliation, of an opening to the future. The other, Pine Gap, redolent with the symbolism of imperial power and threat, is the poisoned heart of the land, pumping toxins into the political landscape, binding us to a closed and increasingly threatening future, nationally and globally.


Nuclear Technologies and Exterminism

Alan Roberts, 2016, chapter from the book, Cold War to Hot Planet: 50 Years of Arena

(This book, incidentally, is probably the best introduction to Arena’s distinctive analysis…).

Keep the poison out of Muckaty: Fighting nuclear waste dumps inthe Northern Territory

Dave Sweeney; Natalie Wasley; Lauren Mellor, Arena Magazine, Issue 127.

Whoever is taking this waste dump into our country needs to come back and talk to the traditional owners. We don’t want it, it’s not our spirit. Our spirit is our country, our country where our ancestors been born.

— Traditional owner Dianne Stokes

On 15 July 2005 the Howard Coalition government announced plans to build a national radioactive waste facility in the Northern Territory. The plan was a clear reversal of policy taken to the 2004 federal election explicitly promising not to target the Northern Territory. Science Minister Brendan Nelson initially named three parcels of Defence land as possible dump sites, remarking, ‘Why on earth can’t people in the middle of nowhere have low-level and intermediate level waste?’The announcement was made without any consultation with traditional owners, their representative land councils, the wider community or the then NT Labor government. Harts Range, Fisher’s Ridge and Mt Everard were thrust into the spotlight and became the new battleground over radioactive racism in Australia.

Flying at altitude: Obama balances disarmament against US nuclear primacy

Aiden Warren, 2013, Arena Journal, Issue 39/40

During the 2008 Presidential campaign, Barack Obama pledged to implement a new direction in US nuclear weapons policy. He would ‘show the world’ that the United States believed in its existing commitment under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). In other words, he committed to working towards, ultimately, eliminating all nuclear weapons. In his 2009 speech in Prague, Obama defined this transformative quest in greater detail and in doing so suggested what appeared to be a marked break from the policies of his predecessor. The Bush administration had banished the term ‘disarmament’ from its official vocabulary and broken with past nuclear policy pronouncements by pushing vigorously for an expanded role for nuclear weapons. There has indeed been a break from the declarations of an ‘American Century’. However, while the Obama administration has presented optimistic rhetoric on disarmament, it has in essence pursued a policy of maintaining the nuclear balance while only taking incremental steps towards disarmament. These steps, I will argue, have been accompanied by clear measures to retain US nuclear primacy. This article will focus on the transition between the Bush and Obama administrations and, more specifically, the extent to which Obama has attempted to ‘rebalance’ the nuclear option.

The 2011 disasters in Japan, the earthquake, the tsunami and the explosions at the Fukushima nuclear plants, stirred my memories of past nuclear ‘events’ and revived my fears, and my recollections of the many ways we at Arena and thousands of others around the world have worked towards the abolition of nuclear weapons and to oppose uranium mining for the generation of nuclear power. One can try to imagine how much more intense the reactions of the Japanese people must have been. Think of those in the affected areas, those in areas near nuclear plants, and especially those still living who, in August 1945, lived through the ‘hell’ of the A-bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and suffered subsequent social isolation. Nor should we forget their families and the younger generations who have learnt about this terrible history.


Nuclear sickness

Peter Karamoskos, 2011, Arena Magazine, No.113

Japan continues to struggle with the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant five months after the second worst nuclear accident in history. Three reactors have experienced full core melts, and spent fuel fires have also added to the fallout burden. The plant is yet to be brought under control and continues to discharge radioactivity into the environment, albeit at a lessening rate. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) continues to rate the situation as ‘very serious’.

Germany: Renouncing Nuclear Power

Jay Watkinson, 2011, Arena Magazine, Issue 112.

Faced with the ongoing nuclear crisis in Japan and increasing pressure coming from the opposition side of politics, the current ‘black-yellow’ coalition of the Christian Democratic Party (CDU), its sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU) and the Free Democratic Party (FDP), led by Chancellor Angela Merkel, recently reversed its previous support for nuclear power and decided to temporarily close down seven nuclear power plants and reassess the extension of the operating lives of all nuclear plants in the country. Seeing as though the current government only last year overturned the ‘Nuclear Exit Law’ that the previous Social Democratic-Green government had negotiated with the power industry by extending the operating times of nuclear plants by an average of twelve years, this policy reversal is nothing short of stunning and could turn out to be a defining event in the anti-nuclear movement in Germany, as well as Merkel’s chancellorship. As Europe’s largest economy and a would-be leader in international affairs, the reaction of both the German population and their government to the Fukushima incident is being watched carefully around the world, but in order to understand recent events better, we need to examine the forces at work in this long-running national debate.

Keep reading online… or via the PDF below…

The American Nuclear Empire and Iran

Tim Collins, 2008, Arena Journal, Issue 29/30.

The vehement opposition of the United States to the advancement of Iran’s nuclear programme is discussed in the context of its ongoing hostile opinions towards Iran since the late nineteenth century. It is suggested that America should comply again with the global nuclear order it initiated, in order to attempt to control Iran’s nuclear policy.

From Here to Eternity (Part 1 & 2)

Geoff Sharp, 2007, Arena Magazine, No. 88 and 89

“The proliferation of the technosciences marks the end of the Enlightenment because their focus is no longer upon the ‘conquest of nature’ but upon its reconstitution”.

The nuclear non-option: Editorial.

Christopher Scanlon, 2006, Arena Magazine, No.82.

“The search for more sources of power remains predicated on a culture that accepts no limits to development; one driven by the idea that the natural environment is no more than a storehouse of raw material to fuel economic growth at almost any cost”.

The Phantom Solution: Climate Change and Nuclear Power

Alan Roberts, 2005, Arena Journal, Issue 23.

Discusses the effects of nuclear power over climate change. The question is whether the threat of inadvertent climate change can be removed simply by using energy more efficiently, it also discusses the economic and political plausibility of these methods.

Mass Destruction

Geoff Sharp, 2003, Arena Magazine, Issue 64.

Now that the drums of war are beating MOAB, ‘the mother of all bombs’, has been rolled out to complement the raw power of an opening rain of missiles, MOAB pushes towards the limits of any conventional sense of a bomb. It weighs in at nine tonnes or so and it’s its shattering blast is audible at 20 kilometres. Given that part of its role is to break down the will to resist, the mushroom cloud which follows its detonation is a special bonus.

MOAB: the acronym resonates with words and images from the tradition of the Hebrews — with Job, with Sheol, with the beginning and the end of the world. While MOAB is a monster within the family of conventional bombs it is said to be only the equivalent of a small nuclear bomb. That is to say the equal of a tactical nuclear weapon, one to be directed towards a particular target rather than an entire city or region.

Why then should one interrogate this comparison?


Into The Valley of the Shadow

John Hinkson, 2002, Arena Magazine, Issue 58.

The United States Nuclear Posture Review indicates that we are entering a period of unprecedented global hazard. Can an emerging global consciousness prevent global destruction?

Japan and the coming East Asian explosion: A new arms race

Richard Tanter, 1999, Arena Magazine, Issue 42.

The consequences of going nuclear: an interview with Praful Bidwai

Praful Bidwai, 1998, Arena Journal, Issue 11.

Godzilla rising: Japan’s nuclear industry

Yuki Tanaka, 1994, Arena Magazine, No.10.

As with western nations, Japanese nuclear physics research in the period between 1940 and 1945 was strongly concerned with the development of the atomic bomb. A programme of experimental research was initiated in 1940 by a small group of scientists, led by Dr Yoshio Nishina, and was supported by the Japanese Imperial Forces in the hope that Japan would be able to arm itself with the atomic bomb by the mid 1940s. After Japan was defeated, the occupation forces banned research in nuclear physics for several years. In 1954 however, following the US Atoms for Peace initiative, the Japanese Government officially embarked on its Nuclear Power Project and committed itself to a high level of funding for research. Professor Hideki Yukawa, a Nobel Prize winner in Physics who had collaborated with the Imperial Forces in atomic bomb research during the war, was appointed chair of the Atomic Power Committee. But until the mid 1970s, the Nuclear Power Project remained in an experimental phase.

Power games

Robyn Eckersley, 1993, Arena Magazine, No 6.

Whatever happened to the case for soft-energy paths? Even with the threat of global warming, the ecological, social and economic arguments in favour of non-nuclear renewable energy sources (such as solar, wind and biomass) have been buried in the bog of the Australian energy debate, squashed by the elephantine feet of mega coal-fired electricity plants.

Beyond Imagination? Responding to Nuclear War

John Hinkson, 1982, Arena (first series), no.60