Coalition MP’s ‘grassroots’ nuclear power survey linked to consultancy firm

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A Coalition frontbencher conducting a “bottom-up” poll on nuclear power is using a website registered by a firm that helps a small American modular reactor company, the documents reveal.

Ted O’Brien, the shadow minister for climate change and energy, released a statement on Friday saying he was “launching a grassroots community engagement programme” under the “Time to Talk Nuclear” banner.

He urged Australians to “join the conversation” by completing a short survey on the website, with the first question being, “What do you think could be the benefits of nuclear power in Australia?”

Guardian Australia can reveal that the web domain was registered by Helixos Pty Ltd, a Sydney-based consultancy whose plans include “supporting the commercialization of new nuclear energy technology”.

Helixos lists US company NuScale Power as one of its customers.

Related: Rather than an endlessly heated nuclear debate, politicians should be fueled by the evidence | Adam Morton

Helixos claims on their website that NuScale Power “is reinventing nuclear power and Helixos is helping them bring it to market.” He adds, “Helixos also provides training for employees to become technology ambassadors and engage with stakeholders and the public.”

A search of the domain records for O’Brien’s website shows that the domain registration contact name is Lenka Kollar, a nuclear engineer who co-founded Helixos in 2020. She previously served as director of the strategy and external relations for NuScale Power.

In that previous role, Kollar was “working to bring NuScale’s small modular reactor to market through business plan development and clean energy deployment,” according to a profile published in 2017.

Last month Kollar spoke at a global uranium conference in Adelaide on the theme of “reaching net zero with nuclear energy”.

In tweets summarizing his speech, Kollar said, “The time has come for Australians to have a conversation about nuclear power and potentially reverse the ban.”

It is understood that O’Brien has engaged Helixos, who also do design work, as the contractor to support development of the website. As part of the website design, he also registered the domain name.

A source familiar with the matter said O’Brien’s team had sought out Helixos, believing it was ideal for the job due to its familiarity with the topic of nuclear energy.

But the source said O’Brien came up with the idea for the survey and questions and paid for the work himself.

In a written response, O’Brien said the purpose of the survey and the use of the data collected were “all communicated openly and accurately.”

“I’m personally paying for the grassroots ‘Time to Talk Nuclear’ campaign out of my own pocket because I think it’s an important conversation to have with the Australian people,” O’Brien said.

“As we evaluate the prospects for nuclear energy in the future, I will continue to seek assistance from people knowledgeable in the field.”

Vice President of Marketing and Communications for NuScale Power Diane Hughes said, “Helixos actually provides services for NuScale Power.

“However, other than providing an exemplary image of our small modular reactor technology, NuScale has no involvement in the website, survey or disclosure of advanced nuclear technologies conducted by Mr. O’Brien.”

Helixos and Kollar were also contacted for comment.

Helixos describes itself as a company working “at the intersection of strategic consulting and technical consulting, specializing in the commercialization of clean technologies” and claims to act in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Helixos’ projects are openly listed on their website.

Collaborates with the Energy Policy Institute of Australia “on drafting public policy documents to promote a progressive and technology-inclusive energy policy”, including one focusing on the “ability of small modular reactors (SMRs) to support a ‘just transition’ for coal community in Australia”.

Helixos says it has partnered with SMR Nuclear Technology Pty Ltd “to develop a proactive stakeholder engagement strategy” to “help achieve the major objective of considering nuclear power as part of Australia’s future energy mix”.

Robert Pritchard, who is both president of SMR Nuclear Technology and executive director of the Energy Policy Institute of Australia, declined to comment.

The Leader of the Opposition, Peter Dutton, said in his budget response speech that the Coalition wanted “an intelligent conversation about the role these new nuclear technologies may or may not be able to play” in Australia.

Announcing the “grassroots community engagement programme” on Friday, O’Brien said the starting point would be “an online survey that will open a two-way conversation with the Australian public about the benefits and concerns of advanced nuclear technology becoming part of the future of Australia’s energy mix”.

“Other countries are reducing their emissions by keeping costs low and their grid secure with nuclear power,” O’Brien said.

“The question is: should we? Together with the Australian people, let’s find out.”

The survey has only three mandatory questions, starting with views on the benefits of nuclear power in Australia.

It then asks what concerns, if any, the participant has about nuclear power, followed by any questions they might have. There is an optional “stay informed” section by submitting an email address and postcode to the O’Brien team.

O’Brien’s website also lists frequently asked questions such as, “Is nuclear power clean?”

The answer states: “Yes! Nuclear power’s total life-cycle carbon emissions and raw material needs are the lowest among other energy sources, even lower than wind and solar.

Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen has previously accused the Coalition of pushing the nuclear debate as a “rearguard attempt to undermine and deny the transition to renewables”.

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