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'Old buggers' push nuclear industry for SA

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A group of self-described “old buggers” is set to launch a push for South Australia to embrace nuclear energy projects and reverse its “economic malaise”.

Headed and bankrolled by former News International executive Bruce Hundertmark, South Australian Nuclear Energy Systems Pty Ltd operates out of a small office at 28 Greenhill Road, Wayville.

“We’re a group of old buggers originally from South Australia who are worried about our state, its economy and its prospects,” Hundertmark, 76, told InDaily today.

“We reckon we can develop nuclear energy projects that attract more than $20 billion in investment and create more than 100,000 jobs.

“We’ve also got an office in Tokyo and the USA; we’ve got some good connections.”

Hundertmark is an Adelaide boy – he completed his bachelor of Chemical Engineering at Adelaide University before carving out an international career in engineering, banking, diplomatic service and university administration.

These days he splits his time between Adelaide and Indonesia where he heads the drug discovery company PT Indo Bio Products and the molecular biology based developer, PT Indobio Diversita Guna.

He was a director of Rupert Murdoch’s News International PLC and Prudential Cornhill Insurance Ltd.

He made his fortune when he backed a small start-up in 1987 that developed “Videocrypt” technology – the satellite codes that allow pay TV companies to restrict their broadcasts to subscribers.

“The date was 1 April 1987 when I told Rupert Murdoch that there was no point in launching satellite TV unless you could protect it from piracy,” he said.

These days Hundertmark wants to do for South Australia what he did for Murdoch’s empire.

“South Australia sells uranium yellowcake and we sell it for bargain basement prices.

“It goes to places like Japan where they enrich it and turn it into fuel rods and use it in nuclear reactors.

“Our group believes that the process of enrichment and subsequent steps should be done here in SA.

“I’ve worked in the nuclear industry.

“Why are we selling yellowcake when we could enrich it, convert it to U235 isotopes, process the pellets into fuel rods and then sell it in that form?

“These projects have been proposed before, but every time we baulk at the idea.

“This time, South Australia might have no choice – there’s nothing else going on here.”

The “old buggers” list of directors at SA Nuclear Energy Systems Pty Ltd includes former Labor federal MP Bob Catley, Ian Kowalick, a former head of the Department of Premier and Cabinet during John Olsen’s Liberal Government and later an information technology consultant to the Rann Labor Government, and climate scientists Professor Stephen Lincoln and Professor Tom Wigley.

Hundertmark recalled the last attempt at pushing Australia further into the nuclear cycle, and again it involved a South Australian.

In 1997 leading Victorian businessmen Ron Walker, Western Australian mining magnate Hugh Morgan and SA’s Robert Champion de Crespigny were examining the viability of setting up Australia’s first nuclear power plant, in either Victoria or South Australia.

Their company, Australian Nuclear Energy, was established to examine potential commercial responses to future energy needs.

At the time, the businessmen found politicians were reluctant to be seen talking to proponents of nuclear energy.

Then Prime Minister John Howard confirmed he’d had a telephone chat, but that was as far as it went.

“The only contact I’ve had with these three very reputable businessmen is in about the middle of last year, Mr Walker in a telephone conversation I had with him … he said that he and Hugh Morgan and Robert de Crespigny had decided to register a company that could be interested in nuclear power,” Howard told media at the time.

“And I said ‘That’s a great idea, Ron, you know my view on it.’

“My view and the view of the Government about nuclear being an option has been well known.

“The question of whether it ever goes any further will be a matter for commercial opinion.”

Bruce Hundertmark is having similar problems.

“Most of them are nervous about being linked to it,” he said.

“We’ve spoken with Christopher Pyne – he’s the senior Liberal here in SA and we made some approaches to Labor’s Don Farrell, but he’s on the way out.”

The “old buggers consortium” had planned to “hit the ground running” if there had been a change of government in South Australia.

“We’d planned to get going the minute Labor departed office, but it didn’t happen.

“The local Liberals just don’t know how to campaign.”

Hundertmark said there was now no point in talking to the State Liberals: “They’re in Opposition for the next four years”.

He would, however, consider talking with State Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis, who has been a proponent of nuclear projects in the past.

In the meantime, the “old buggers” will keep on keeping on.

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