SA Nuclear Royal Commission

The South Australian Royal Commission into the Nuclear Fuel Cycle, established in March 2015, was tasked with considering options for expanding the nuclear industry in SA. 

The Royal Commission released its Final Report on 6th May 2016. You can get a copy of the report here.

The outcome of the Royal Commission isn’t at all surprising.  As predicted when the Royal Commission was established, the Greens knew that this process was all about softening South Australians up for SA to become the world’s nuclear waste dumping ground.

We’ve known for years that the uranium reprocessing market is “uncertain” and that there is “no opportunity for commercial development” [Royal Commission quotes].

We’ve also known for decades that nuclear power for SA is “not commercially viable … in the foreseeable future” [Royal Commission quotes].

The Royal Commission’s Findings on the nuclear waste dump are based on dubious economics, heroic assumptions and a big dose of guess work.  The Commission has identified a problem that lasts hundreds of thousands of years and proposed a solution with income that lasts just a few decades, but with costs lasting virtually forever.  If anything goes wrong in the future – we’re on our own.

The Greens have called on the Weatherill Labor Government to protect our State’s reputation and not leave our descendants to deal with a toxic future as their legacy.

Previous State Labor Premier Mike Rann fought off a Liberal plan for a national nuclear waste dump in South Australia last decade.  The current proposals are far more sinister and dangerous because they involve South Australia taking the most dangerous radioactive waste on the planet.

South Australians need to ask themselves and their politicians: “Is this the best future that we can aspire to?”

Join the campaign and sign our petition 'No Nuclear Waste Dump for SA'

Below are some responses from experts to the Royal Commission:

Richard Blandy, Adjunct Professor of Economics in the Business School at the University of South Australia

"I believe that the Royal Commission has got this wrong and that South Australia should not use part of its land mass as a dump for highly radioactive used fuel from overseas nuclear reactors (called “high level waste”) which, in the Royal Commission’s own words, “requires isolation from the environment for many hundreds of thousands of years”.

The reason why South Australia should not allow a nuclear dump within its borders goes to the heart of cost-benefit analysis involving many generations of people, literally tens of thousands of generations, in this case. Cost-benefit analysis works well when the costs are up front and the benefits accrue into the future. But it falls apart when the benefits are up front and the costs accrue into the future.

This is the case with the proposed high level nuclear waste dump."

Full text can be found here.

John Willoughby, Professor Emeritus, Flinders University, and a member of Doctors for the Environment Australia

"From the health point of view, the risks are largely borne by those who work in the nuclear industry and, perhaps because the risks are not high, the report does not adequately address them. Employees involved in the processing would have to accept increased health risks.

The impact on life and health from a major release of radioactivity from nuclear accidents is severe and immediate. Safety problems cannot be excluded: in existing repositories overseas (Germany and US), water ingress occurred in one, and failure in cooling systems caused an explosion in another. Both required expensive remediation.

Radiation toxicity is the primary reason so much care is required in dealing with nuclear material and why safe disposal of radioactive waste is critical. As the royal commission report says, “Used fuel requires isolation from the environment for many hundreds of thousands of years”."

Full text can be found here.

Prof. Ian Lowe, Emeritus Professor of Science, Technology and Society at Griffith University, and a member of the Royal Commission's Expert Advisory Committee:

"The crucial finding of the Royal Commission is that community consent would be essential to the successful development of any nuclear fuel cycle activities. It says "Long-term political decision-making, with bipartisan support at both state and federal government levels, would be a prerequisite". It is difficult to see how bipartisan support at both levels would be achieved for South Australia being more deeply involved in the nuclear industry.
"It notes that uranium mining currently contributes relatively little to South Australia. Despite Roxby Downs being one of the largest uranium producers in the world, its royalties are about $4 a year for each South Australian. The Commission sees little prospect of local processing of uranium and correctly observes that nuclear power is not economically feasible. The Switkowski report in 2007 found that significant public subsidies would be needed to make nuclear power economic in Australia.
"The most serious proposal in the Commission’s tentative findings is that SA should consider setting up shop as a destination for radioactive waste from countries like Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. The Commission believes that this could be a profitable operation, but that belief is based on generous assumptions about the willingness of those countries to pay for the removal of their waste. Independent analysis by The Australia Institute questions those assumptions and concludes the operation would probably not be profitable. The Commission also notes "there are no operating models for the commercial transfer of used fuel for disposal. Any proposal to store and dispose of used fuel in South Australia would require agreements between customer countries and both the federal and state governments". That is a big hurdle, as is the acknowledgement that "any development would require sophisticated planning and consent-based decision-making, acknowledging the particular interests and experiences of regional, remote and Aboriginal communities.

"So the report gives a red light for nuclear power, a tentative amber light for expanding uranium mining, a red light for further processing of uranium for export, then a very tentative and heavily qualified amber light for the SA State government’s concept of setting up as the destination for east Asia’s radioactive waste."

Full text can be found here.

Associate Professor Mark Diesendorf, Associate Professor in Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies at the University of New South Wales: 

"The Royal Commission’s report acknowledges that nuclear electricity is not commercially viable in South Australia. However, it expresses great enthusiasm for the management and disposal of overseas-produced high-level and intermediate level nuclear wastes in South Australia. It supports a combination of above-ground interim storage of dry casks together with underground ‘permanent’ storage. The rationale for this economically risky scheme is slender, being based on the quantities of wastes held in temporary storage by countries with nuclear power stations. The report is not troubled by the fact that no country, not even the USA, has so far succeeded in building and operating an underground waste dump.
"It fails to address the points raised by the Australia Institute, questioning, for example, why nuclear countries would pay to export their wastes when it may be cheaper to manage them at home. The economic analysis justifying this scheme is a single 2016 study, most of whose assumptions are not stated in the Commission’s report. The Commission discusses the alleged benefits of this scheme, while failing to acknowledge the economic risks of Australia managing high-level wastes for hundreds of thousands of years by means of unproven technologies and social institutions."

Full text can be found here.

Professor Jim Falk, Professorial Fellow at the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, University of Melbourne and an Emeritus Professor at the University of Wollongong: 

"This report should not provide much cause for optimism amongst thoughtful members of Australia’s pro-nuclear lobby. As with the previous Switowski report a decade ago, this report makes clear that nuclear energy generation and further fuel processing including enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing will be uneconomic in Australia without major changes in the Australian and world market."

"Oddly, the report settles on high-level nuclear waste storage as the opportunity for South Australia. This is odd given the decades long process (from as early as 1984) for the Commonwealth in trying to find an acceptable location to store Australia’s existing low- and intermediate-level nuclear waste. This couples with the Commission’s insistence that any extension of nuclear activities should have both bipartisan political support and the consent of the community.

"Prior experience, especially in Australia, and also in many other parts of the world including the USA, reflects long standing and widespread concerns about the safety of storing nuclear wastes completely isolated from the environment for the many centuries required. Given this, it would be fair to characterise any government which sought to open the way to waste storage and disposal in Australia as at best "courageous" and perhaps less politely, as "very politically foolish.""

Full text can be found here.

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