BY Kieran Adair
The board of Local Government Super has come under fire from City of Sydney and Leichhardt Councils after a decision to scrap its ban on nuclear investment.
The fund, which manages super contributions for local government employees across the state, adopted an ethical investment policy in 2000 that saw them withdraw investment in in a range of industries including tobacco, gambling and nuclear energy. This policy was revised late last year to include additional screens against high-carbon emitting industries, such as coal and oil sands, but re-allow investment in nuclear energy claiming they are “the only proven alternative to fossil fuels.”
This stance has been criticised by City of Sydney Greens councillor Irene Doutney, who cited the impact of recent nuclear disasters, such as the the Fukushima meltdown, when moving a motion condemning the policy change at last month’s Council meeting. “From 1955 to 2013 there have been at least 93 accidents in nuclear power plants across the world including in 2013 in Hanford, Washington State where deteriorating storage tanks leaked 1 million gallons of reactor by products into the Columbia River”, said Clr Doutney.
These sentiments were mirrored in the neighbouring Council of Leichhardt where Mayor and Greens representative Rochelle Porteous said she was surprised and disappointed by the policy change. “Nuclear technology has been demonstrated time after time to be incapable of properly managing risks, to be accident prone… and to be a security risk”, she told journalists, “as a Council, we oppose nuclear power and associated facilities, nuclear waste dumps and uranium mining in Australia.”
Both councils have voted to call on the Local Government Super to reverse its decision, noting that the new policy is in conflict with their existing ethical investment policies which still ban nuclear investment. Mayors Clover Moore and Rochelle Porteous have also written to the board asking them to revisit the decision.
However, this dissent was not unanimous. Liberal City of Sydney Councillors Christine Forster and Edward Madla voted to oppose Doutney’s motion. Councillor Forster told City Hub that she has “no objection to the Super fund’s decision,” and that she believes “nuclear energy is the only viable source of emissions-free baseload power in many places around the world” and therefore necessary in supporting a transition to a low carbon economy.
Local Government Super has also stated that the change in policy is due to environmental concerns. “Climate change is an unarguable scientific reality and one which poses a very real investment risk”, Peter Lamber, the fund’s Chief Executive Officer said, “while the use of renewable energy will increase, it will not be able to meet all the energy needs around the world in a lower carbon future, so alternatives need to be considered.”
Corporate Watch Australia studied 16 ethical investment funds across Australia, and found a variety of approaches taken toward nuclear investment including caps, limits and bans, as well as one fund fund that was actively pro-nuclear.Determining the ethics of nuclear investment has always proven a difficult task.
Australian Ethical Super is one of two funds that has maintained a ban on nuclear investment, claiming that the high carbon emissions produced from mining uranium ore, and the safety threats posed by nuclear waste, negate the reduction in emissions from nuclear energy production.
Though the board of Local Government Super meets monthly, it’s unclear how long it will be before this issue is resolved.
Finding the balance between demands for higher ethical standards in super management, and navigating the realities of nuclear investment remain difficult tasks.