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Lowe Tech

Lowe Tech column

Is Nuclear Waste More Valuable than Scientific Research?

By Ian Lowe

The federal Budget treated science as an expense while the Royal Commission identified nuclear waste as a potential money-spinner.

It’s a telling comment on the recent political climate that a Budget that does virtually nothing for science and technology is welcomed. As Dr Alan Duffy of Swinburne University of Technology wrote: “Scientists around Australia breathed a sigh of relief” that there was “at least funding for the coming year”. Senior science journalist Leigh Dayton noted in Science that there is “little to suggest any recovery from the $2.2 billion decline in support for science, innovation and research since 2014”.

The Electric Vehicle Challenge

By Ian Lowe

Installations of solar and wind energy will need to maintain their pace to ensure that the coming demand for electric vehicles won’t be powered by fossil fuels.

There is good news and bad news about the Australian electricity system. The bad news is that total electricity demand, which had been stable for a few years, has increased significantly in the past year. The environmental impact of this growth has been compounded by a larger share of the power coming from coal-fired generators. Down to 72% in 2013–14 when we had a price on carbon dioxide emitted, coal accounted for 76% of the generation last year.

Engineering Numbers Aren’t Adding Up

By Ian Lowe

Our universities aren’t producing enough engineers to meet demand, and gender balance remains an issue.

I began studying engineering part-time in 1959. The head of my university, subsequently rebadged as the University of NSW, was arguing then that Australia needed to educate more professional engineers if we were to become an advanced industrial nation. His stated ambition was for UNSW to produce more engineering graduates than any other Australian university.

CSIRO Cools on Climate Science

The science of climate change might now be accepted by world governments, but it’s short-sighted of CSIRO to short-change its research capabilities in this area.

The scientific community was shocked by the February announcement that hundreds of CSIRO positions will be axed. The cuts follow a steady erosion of the public science body, with more than 200 redundancies per year in recent times.

Double-speak on Coal

By Ian Lowe

The Turnbull government’s support for the coal industry relies on twisted logic.

As world leaders gathered in Paris for the long-anticipated climate change talks, the Australian government appeared frozen into embarrassing inaction by the deal done to secure the prime ministership for Malcolm Turnbull.

To reassure the nervous members of the lunar right, who conspired to remove Turnbull from the leadership in 2009 because he supported action on climate change, it seems clear that Turnbull agreed to stick to the Abbott government’s discredited “direct action” approach.

Nuclear Waste Returns, But Where Will It Be Stored?

By Ian Lowe

Australia’s nuclear waste is being returned from France, and New Zealand is finally reporting on the state of its environment.

The Impact of Technology

By Ian Lowe

The government has abdicated its responsibility to assess the broad economic effects of new technologies.

Do we need a formal process to assess the likely future impacts of new technologies? A recent Melbourne workshop reviewed a framework that could be used for a comprehensive review. I was involved in developing the framework with Prof Alan Petersen of Monash University and Prof Susan Dodds of University of Tasmania.

Drink Deposits Recycled

By Ian Lowe

Deposits on recyclable containers are returning despite the packaging industry’s protests.

It’s good to see some political attention being paid to waste. I have been puzzled by the fact that no other state has followed South Australia, which reintroduced beverage container deposits decades ago. The South Australian scheme has resulted in much higher rates of recycling glass bottles and metal cans, as well as significantly less litter. That change has been effected by a very small charge of 10¢ per container.

Clean Energy Clean Bowled

By Ian Lowe

The Abbott government has placed the Clean Energy Finance Corporation in a Catch-22 situation.

We seem to be in a parallel universe where science is being replaced by superstition. While the Australian government is trying to undermine the move toward renewable energy technologies in various ways and pandering to pseudoscience by spending tax dollars on a wind energy commissioner, I was asked by the ABC to defend wi-fi systems against claims they cause health problems!

Budget Delivers Austerity Measures for Science

By Ian Lowe

Science agencies were delivered substantial funding cuts in the 2015 Budget.

The Budget was not a happy one for science. Hundreds of millions have been cut from key science and research agencies, while the promised increase for medical research depends on controversial savings in the health care system.