WA needs an energy vision 

THIS month’s meeting of the WA Mining Club was pitched as a battle between two sides of the “big energy questions” facing miners and policy makers in Australia, voiced by Vimy Resources’ Mike Young and ex-Northern Minerals boss George Bauk.
WA needs an energy vision  WA needs an energy vision  WA needs an energy vision  WA needs an energy vision  WA needs an energy vision 

Consumers don't understand the true costs of their devices.

Haydn Black

Reporter

In the end the second, potentially last, virtual meeting was less fist-to-fist and more virtual face-to-face, as is suitable in the COVID-19 era, with moderator and WA mining identity David Flanagan keeping "the two pugilists in check", although there was broad agreement on both sides.
 
Young, as the head of an aspiring uranium miner, was firmly pro-nuclear, calling Australians 'ignorant and stupid' for not embracing the power of the atom for cleaner energy.
 
Bauk, having just stepped down as head of Australia's second rare earth miner and processor, was tired of talk without action, which means the green energy revolution hasn't hit the ground as many expected it would.
 
Both men agreed the time for change has long-since arrived, and there was a rare opportunity in the post-COVID-19 rebuilding phase for Western Australia to use its mix of raw materials and skills to help drive a paradigm shift.
 
"There is a massive sea change in world, and WA is well-placed if we can get people off their arses and think outside the box," Young said.
 
"We must make sure we can back what we believe in," Bauk agreed.
 
Why is the change not happening? Simply put, the incumbent power structures favour investment in fossil fuels over less polluting alternatives, and the world is low to change because of a lack of understanding and education, as much as investment.
 
What can break the incumbent's stranglehold and open the markets for battery minerals such as lithium and cobalt, rare earths used in magnets, or uranium?
 
Demand.
 
Young argued nuclear energy is the "cheapest, safest and best" option for power generation, with the pure science showing the number of deaths per gigawatt hour a "statistical blip" compared to the mortality rates linked to the coal, oil and gas sectors, and that alone should generate support.
 
However, the uranium fuel cycle sparks a strong emotional response, when people see meltdowns such as Chernobyl and Fukushima, conflating nuclear power with nuclear weapons, or bad science such as Spider-Man, Godzilla or The Simpsons summoning the spectre of doom.
 
Bauk thinks the real monster is the offshoring of massive environmental degradation, liabilities, and human rights abuses.
 
Both men agreed people need to be willing to pay more for their end products, from the big purchasing departments to individual consumers, if they really want to walk the talk on being environmentally-friendly.
 
"Any mining done anywhere in the world, with very few exemptions, will be worse than Australia, so if you are opposed to mining in Australia you are pushing the issues offshore," Young said.
 
With "the best environmental and safety standards in the world" Bauk said Australia could present itself as the best alternative for raw and refine materials to China, which now dominates the supply chains - something that became all too clear in the COVID-19 outbreak.
 
"Australia can provide alternative, without bashing China, which we can't beat on price, but we can offer a better product. It's not just about money," Bauk said.
 
Turning rhetoric into action will require several steps, including education about what mining is, where resources come from and how they are recovered.
 
They agreed that perception is reality, and that there needs to be a generational change, starting in schools, because the current global energy supply chain has the inertia that will be difficult to disrupt.
 
Governments should also back technologies that can challenge orthodoxy and drive change, Young said.
 
Bauk said such support could position industry to do the heavy lifting, help establish new sectors, such as downstream processing and reviving Australia manufacturing, and make the nation a global powerhouse. 
 
Young wants to see an exploration of visionaries with "crazy ideas" that could challenge paradigms, such as Andrew Forrest breaking open the Pilbara iron ore duopoly or Elon Musk's Tesla forcing open the EV and battery sectors, or even Young's own idea for uranium rentals rather than sales. 
 
The mining industry can also do more to get its message out, getting kids into STEM subjects, and educating them about the "ethically abhorrent" sources of minerals that may be in their devices, such as blood cobalt, to drive the change.
 
"We need to get everyone behind us, we need to educate them about how world goes around, and the benefits of mining industry," Bauk said.
 
Bauk said his decade-long attempt to develop Browns Range, combined with Lynas Corporation's Mt Weld mine, showed WA could not only compete with incumbency, but become the best-in-class globally.
 
"The mining industry can do it when it put its mind to it," Young agreed.
 
He suggested Australia should go nuclear, with emerging smaller modular reactors a viable part of the energy mix, even at mines, replacing gas and diesel.
 
He also admitted solar and wind power at remote mines could also work at the right scale, with campaign processing delivering a measurable benefit to projects. 
 
Better battery storage could also shake things up - with batteries built with Australian lithium chemicals, of course.
 
"I am an optimistic, and I absolutely believe in our capacity to see a challenge coming, and do something about it because in WA are bucketloads of capacity and intelligence," Flanagan said.