2016 in climate and nuclear news

This article first appeared on https://antinuclear.net/

2016 brought  a new word – the Anthropocene. It has been the year in which many of us realised that the planet has been irrevocably changed- by the human species. Of the wide-ranging effects of human activities,climate change is the one that has now become the most terrible threat.  People  around the world are trying to change our destructive ways: individuals, town councils, city mayors, states, and, to a much lesser degree, national governments work to conserve energy and promote renewable energy generation.

Countering that, the polluting industries have used their think tank front groups, and mainstream media, to confuse the public, and deny the science.

In November 196 countries participated in the  United Nations Climate Change Conference in Marrakesh, to develop agendas for carrying out the  the Paris Agreement of 2015. But international action was hampered by the presence of fossil fuel companies, and even more, by the election of climate sceptic Donald Trump to the USA presidency.

The nuclear disarmament movement was boosted on October 27, when—by a vote of 123 for, 38 against, and 16 abstaining—the First Committee of the UN agreed “to convene in 2017 a United Nations conference to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons.”

Nuclear power issues focussed on both the decline of the nuclear power industry, and the desperate efforts of the industry to survive. Notably in Britain, a clearly uneconomic pro nuclear programme has been pushed, with the gigantic Hinkley white elephant in the lead. In America, subsidising of nuclear power is a contentious issue.

Meanwhile. nuclear countries, unable to make the nuclear industry profitable, and unable to deal with its toxic wastes, have persisted in their marketing drive to export nuclear technology. The target countries are many, but South East Asia is a prime example. That campaign for SE Asia suffered a setback when South Australians rejected an ill-advised government push to commercially import nuclear wastes – a plan that was intended to solve the problem for new nuclear stations in South East Asia.

Within the nuclear lobby, a quiet battle has gone on between the conventional Big Nuclear Reactor industry, and the campaigners for Small Nuclear Reactors. The latter reactors do not exist, but their hype is everywhere, particularly led by Bill Gates and various nuclear front groups. Unfortunately, Gates has bought into the nuclear lobby’s deception about nuclear fixing climate change.

So – we end the year with climate change not just looming, but already here, endangering us and other species. The extraordinary attention given to Donald Trump and his impact on global climate and nuclear policy leaves us with very worrying questions.

South Australia’ s nuclear waste import plan might be dead, but it’s being exhumed.

This article first appeared on Independent Australia

Political support for the project has collapsed.  On November 10th Liberal Opposition Leader Steven Marshall declared that:

Jay Weatherill’s dream of turning South Australia into a nuclear waste dump is now dead. That death knell was sounded on Sunday when the citizens’ jury handed their final report to the Premier.

Senator Nick Xenophon declared  nuclear waste storage in SA “a stinker of an idea” which should be “buried for eternity”. Labor Premier Weatherill fumed, accusing the Opposition Leader of withdrawing his support for a nuclear waste dump before the consultation process had been completed.

But the damage was done. A Parliamentary Inquiry into the plan has heard some damning economic evidence. Even nuclear enthusiast Business SA chief Nigel McBride pronounced that the plan was now “dead”. Beleagured  Weatherill now faces mutiny in his own Party-  The Advertiser reported a strong push within Labor to roll the nuclear policy, and strong opposition from the union movement to the waste import plan.

You would think that, with an election coming up in 2018, Jay Weatherill might ponder on the advantages of making a gracious retreat, respecting the remarkably strong recommendation from his own Citizens’ Jury  that the international nuclear dump was not to go ahead ‘under any circumstances’.

But no!   Jay Weatherill is persisting with the plan, even though it is a bell tolling his political suicide.  Why?  Well, nobody seems to know.  I can only suspect that Weatherill has some very poor advisers, or that the nuclear lobby has some sort of hold on him – that he is beholden to them in some way.

Meanwhile – let not the anti nuclear movement rejoice!   The plan for importing nuclear waste to South Australia has been several decades in the making, and this recent government push has cost at least $13 million. The nuclear lobby is not giving up, so easily.  The focus now shifts to the plan for a Federal nuclear waste dump in Barndioota. It would be naive to think that these two plans are not connected.

Australia has a relatively small, but most enthusiastic nuclear lobby, led by Ben Heard and Barry Brook. Ben Heard, (who has just started a pro-nuclear group seeking charity status)  made the connection between the two waste dump plans, explaining why South Australia could take not only Australia’s, but also the world’s, nuclear waste. 

It is a simple, and in a way logical, idea, to say that once a place is radioactively polluted, – well, why not choose that place to dump more radioactive pollution? That logic was expected to work for South Australia, seeing that widespread pollution had occurred as a result of the British atomic bomb tests. However, it backfired badly, when the Aboriginal communities and their doughty supporters Sisters of St Joseph produced compelling arguments against that idea.

Well – that idea didn’t work at first. But what if we got a nuclear waste dump in South Australia? One that started out getting “low level medical” nuclear waste, but then got “intermediate level” nuclear waste originally derived from Sydney’s Lucas Heights nuclear reactor?  Especially as medical nuclear wastes are so short-lived – radioactivity lasting generally for just hours, or a few days, it would be pretty silly to have a great big repository site, with not enough wastes to fill it.

The Australian government has been secretive about its current plan for a national nuclear waste dump. The publicity about it has been downright duplicitous. They say that the purpose for the dump is to dispose of medical radioactive wastes.

Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation ANSTO itself points out the brief period of radioactivity of medical isotopes:

Nuclear medicines typically have a half-life of several hours or days. This means they rapidly lose their radioactivity level within the predetermined half-life.  

Molybdenum-99, Mo-99 is the most in demand medical isotope. It can be shipped from a nuclear reactor where it is created as a fission product, to the point of use as it has a reasonably long half-life of 66 hours. Its decay product, Technetium 99m, with a 6 hour half-life, is used as a tracer.

Now, if medical wastes are radioactive for only hours, or a few days – why would they need to be transported for thousands of miles across the continent? They are produced in very small quantities, and currently stored near the point of use, in hospitals. (There’s actually a strong argument for the use of non-nuclear cyclotrons to produce these isotopes close to the hospitals, rather than at the centralised nuclear reactor at Lucas Heights in Sydney. )

So – an underground nuclear waste facility for medical wastes, at remote Barndioota, in South Australia, doesn’t sound necessary.

Oh, but then there’s the processed nuclear waste returning to Lucas Heights, from France and UK. The Australian government describes this as intermediate-level waste that isn’t harmful unless mismanaged. The French Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) has  classified it as high-level (long-life) waste according to standards set by ANDRA, the French national radioactive waste management agency. High-level waste is ANDRA’s most severe nuclear waste classification.

It is pretty clear that the purpose of the proposed Barndioota nuclear waste dump is the disposal of Australia’s intermediate/high level waste returning from overseas.  There are strong arguments for closing Australia’s Lucas Heights reactor. However, that is not the subject here.   I concede that ANSTO needs to decide what to do with this nuclear waste.  It is at present kept at the Lucas Heights facility. ANSTO was asked by the Commonwealth Government to site, store and manage the return of reprocessed waste until the National Radioactive Waste Management Facility is in place. ANSTO has applied to the ARPANSA for licences to construct and operate an interim waste store.

Nobody is suggesting that the proposed Federal waste dump would develop into a site to receive international nuclear waste. There are significant reasons why that would almost certainly be impossible.   One important reason is that Australia’s “returning” nuclear wastes are very small in amount, currently estimated at 680 cubic metres. The site is rumoured  to have a capacity of  about  10,000 cubic metres. The government is very cagey about the planned capacity, but I am assuming that it would be much smaller than Finland’s Onkalo nuclear waste repository, which is planned for  5,000 to 10,000 tonnes capacity. 

Compare the Finland project to the South Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission’s plan for commercially importing 138,000 tonnes of high-level waste . There is no way that the federal plan could develop into that grandiose project.

Still, the proposed federal nuclear waste project does start the process in some important ways.

First, the Federal plan must navigate several legal difficulties. In 2010, former premier Mike Rann brought in laws to prevent a national nuclear waste dump being put in South Australia.  Mr Weatherill said those laws would have to be repealed  before the Federal Government could go ahead with any plans.  Federally, the National Radioactive Waste Management Act 2012 did water down prohibitions on nuclear waste dumping, but still has provisions that have to be overcome, particularly in relation to Aboriginal rights.

Secondly, there is that Aboriginal question. I think that the State and Federal governments are justifiably wary of the opposition they might meet from Aboriginal people, and are working on that problem. The South Australian Government recently imposed Aboriginal Regional Authorities upon the State’s indigenous communities. These are being used to fast track & rubber stamp development over much of the land. They would be integral to Jay Weatherill’s strategy of manufacturing consent.

So – the Premier is still bent on the grand plan to make South Australia a hub for commercial importation of nuclear wastes. He promises a plebiscite on the matter – at some unspecified time in the future, to be held “at the end of the process, after everything has been worked out”.

An unspoken part of the process must surely be the development of the Federal government’s nuclear waste facility in South Australia, which would conveniently overcome some big hurdles, and would make that State look like an attractive place for a nuclear hub. Environmentalists had better stop rejoicing and start examining the machinations going on to impose that federal site.

Nuclear waste debated at two events in Adelaide on 29 October 2016

This article first appeared on antinuclear.net

Will Australia become the global nuclear toilet?  It’s not obvious to the rest of the nation, but this question is about to be advocated in two South Australian events, that will have repercussions for the whole of Australia. These are the second Nuclear Citizens’ Jury in Adelaide on October 29 and the South Australian Labor Party Conference, also on October 29.  The ALP conference is really the most important one, as Premier Weatherill will surely need the backing of his own party as he moves to the process of overturning South Australia’s law against nuclear waste importing.

Indeed, the Nuclear Citizens’ Jury is really irrelevant. Whatever decision it makes, is in no way binding on the government. And anyway, this so-called “Jury” of 350 persons cannot make a convincing decision. The brief given to them is worded, in terms that come straight from the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission South Australia’s (NFCRC)  report that advocated nuclear waste importing:

Under what circumstances, if any, could South Australia pursue the opportunity to store and dispose of nuclear waste from other countries?

I understand that some jurors wanted a change from this question, but no change was allowed.

The previous Citizens’ Jury had some very dubious witness presentations, particularly on the health effects of ionising radiation. This was not entirely the fault of the organisers, DemocracyCo, as the 50 jury members themselves selected the witnesses to be invited.

One might expect this second Citizens’ jury to be better served by witnesses, but the new witness list is a curiously mixed bag.  Of the 31 names, including 5 facilitators, 16 are likely to be supporters of nuclear waste importing, 11 opposing it, and 4 appear to be neutral.

The most worrying section in this Citizens’ Jury is the session on SAFETY, dealing with general safety, siting and transport. For this session, there are 8 witnesses.  Of these, only one witness appears to be a neutral expert. This is Professor Sandy Steacy who knows all about earthquakes. The other witnesses are:

  1. Haydon Manning, a vocal promoter of the nuclear industry
  2.  Gerald Ouzounian  also a nuclear power enthusiast
  3. Professor David Giles, of Minerals & Resources Engineering Future Industries Institute has all too strong a background in the mining industry.
  4. Dr John Loy: his theme is all about medical waste(an almost negligible component of Australia’s own Lucas Heights nuclear waste), and over-confidence on the safety of nuclear waste facilities. He has a background in promoting nuclear power to United Arab Emirates.
  5. Frank Boulton, General Manager  WMC (Olympic Dam Marketing) Pty Ltd
  6. Dr AndrewHerczeg, formerly of the International Atomic Energy Agency 
  7. Ian Hore-Lacy formerly of the Uranium Institute in Australia-he now works for the World Nuclear Association. Mr Hore-Lacy is unusual: he sees support for nuclear power as a religious and moral duty (He is also very critical of Pope Francis’ ideas on environment)

These pro nuclear experts have had much to say on storage of nuclear wastes. But none seems to have taken much interest in the issues around transporting highly radioactive wastes over thousands of kilometres across oceans and land.  With the increasing volatility of weather events, as climate change progresses, and with the also growing concerns about terrorism, this omission is one of the greatest weaknesses of the case for importing nuclear wastes. The subject just glossed over in a few brief paragraphs in the NFCRC Report.

On the subject of SAFETY, focussing on the aspect of human health, the facilitator Tony Hooker is a bit of a worry. He worked with Professor Pamela Sykes on her mouse studies, at Flinders University?   Funded by America’s Department of Energy, Syke’s research purported to show that low dose radiation is actually good for you. 

Apart from the facilitator, the 4 witnesss for this section are evenly matched, with Dr Margaret Beavis and Dr Robert Hall opposing nuclear waste importing, and Dr Sami Hautakangas and Dr Stephan Bayer supporting it.

The vital section could well turn out to be ECONOMICS.  And here, there IS a surprise, with an apparent bias towards the negative camp. The facilitator, Adjunct Professor Richard Blandy is an opponent of nuclear waste importing. So this is not fair. Speakers Richard Dennis, Professor Barbara Pocock and Assoc. Professor Mark Diesendorf (via Skype) all have views opposing waste importation. The remaining speaker, Tim Johnson, from Jacobs, is supportive of the plan, but only cautiously so. 

If economics were the only consideration, the waste import plan might conceivably die a quiet death, following this Citizens’ Jury, and a possibly negative report from a Parliamentary Inquiry. However, there are other considerations, such as underlying connections with the defence industry.

The South Australian Labor government, led by Premier Jay Weatherill, is enthusiastically backing the nuclear lobby’s campaign for setting up South Australia as the first place in the world to invite in the world’s nuclear waste, as a profit-making enterprise.

In practical terms, you can forget this government’s extravagant public relations promotion of the nuclear industry, culminating in these “Citizens’ Juries”. They really matter very little, in comparison with the actual steps to be taken for the pro nuclear campaign to succeed.

Step One is to overturn a South Australian law – the NuclearWaste Storage Facility (Prohibition) Act 2000. It includes:

8           Prohibition against construction or operation of nuclear waste storage facility

9          Prohibition against importation or transportation of nuclear waste for delivery to nuclear waste storage facility   (The Act does have exemptions for the nuclear waste generated within Australia, e.g from Australia’s research reactor at Lucas Heights).

The government has already weakened this Act (In April 2016) by amending this provision:

13—No public money to be used to encourage or finance construction or operation of nuclear waste storage facility

(1)     Despite any other Act or law to the contrary, no public money may be appropriated, expended or advanced to any person for the purpose of encouraging or financing any activity associated with the construction or operation of a nuclear waste storage facility in this State.

They had to change it quickly – to allow for financing community consultation or debate on the desirability or otherwise of constructing or operating a nuclear waste storage facility in this State.  – seeing that they had already spent $7.2 million promoting nuclear waste storage, in the NFCRC

Anyway, prior to overturning this Act, Premier Weatherill is surely going to need to have the Labor Party onside. At last year’s ALP Conference, He and State Labor president Peter Malinauskas made a big push for South Australia going nuclear     As the national ALP policy remains clearly opposed to all nuclear industry further development, we can expect that Weatherill will meet with some opposition to his nuclear plan from Labor members at the conference.

Perhaps the nuclear lobby, their captive South Australian Premier, and subservient national media, will not be able to press on with their plan without an unpleasant fracas.



Nuclear Citizens’ Jury: an ethical case for importing nuclear wastes

This article first appeared on Online Opinion

The South Australian government will call another Nuclear Citizens’ Jury, on October 29 – 30. This time the jury must answer this question:

Under what circumstances, if any, could South Australia pursue the opportunity to store and dispose of nuclear waste from other countries?

That set me thinking. The main “circumstance” for recommending this “opportunity” is the State Government’s plan to eventually bring in a pot of gold for the State. This is explained in the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission South Australia’s Final Report. It estimates the revenue at over $257 billion, – total annual revenue of $5.6 billion a year over the first 30 years of operation and about $2.1 billion a year until waste receipts were notionally planned to conclude 43 years later. • over the life of the project, a net present value of profits of more than $51 billion at a discount rate of 4 per cent (p 105)

There really is no other argument for this project in the Report. In the 320 page report any arguments about Aboriginal issues, safety, environment, health, are aimed at rebutting criticism of the plan. They provide no argument on the plan actually improving health or environment, and are in fact quite defensive about Aboriginal impacts.

However, nuclear lobbyists have for a long time been promoting the idea that Australia has an ethical responsibility to import nuclear wastes. Terry Grieg, of the Australian Nuclear Association  expressed it clearly on Robyn Williams’ Ockham’s Razor show, in 2013.:

We export yellowcake to over 20 countries…..we have a responsibility to take back their waste—it has come from our yellowcake—for final disposal.

Australia would take its rightful place as a leader in the growing world nuclear power-generating industry and we would capture the moral high ground on the previously thought intractable problem of waste disposal

This ethical argument is supported only by enthusiastic nuclear lobbyists. Even the World Nuclear Association is clear on the question of responsibility for nuclear wastes:

There is clear and unequivocal understanding that each country is ethically and legally responsible for its own wastes, therefore the default position is that all nuclear wastes will be disposed of in each of the 50 or so countries concerned.

So – the Nuclear Citizens’ Jury seems to be left with only one real circumstance under  which it has the “opportunity” to store and dispose of nuclear wastes from other countries –  the projected financial bonanza.

There are many serious critics of the economic argument, such as in submissions to the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission (NFCRC) by Senator Scott Ludlam , by Mothers For A Sustainable South AustraliaDr Mark Diesendorf, and by more recent articles such as the economic briefing by Independent Environment Campaigner, David Noonan. The current South Australian Parliamentary Inquiry has also criticised the economic plan. Senior Liberal MP Rob Lucas, a former state treasurer and the opposition’s Treasury spokesman suggested that:

we, the taxpayers of South Australia, will be spending tens and maybe hundreds of ­millions of dollars on fool’s gold — fool’s uranium, fool’s nuclear waste dumps.

The NFCRC personnel and the Weatherill government will put up their case for  developing the nuclear waste import scheme as an economic bonanza for South Australia. And perhaps they’re right.

But what if they are wrong?

 Perhaps there IS an ethical argument for South Australia to import nuclear waste. I’m not referring to the uranium lobby’s hope that by Australia importing waste it will make their industry look good, and thus help to save its current decline. 

While all countries with nuclear reactors have problems in dealing with their radioactive wastes, for some countries the waste crisis is exceptionally serious. The best example of this is Japan. Japan now has over 17,000 tons of highly radioactive waste. As a highly populated land, Japan does not have many choices in areas suitable for burial of these wastes. It’s a land vulnerable to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, and with a population very aware of, and opposed to the risks of new nuclear facilities. The government is considering constructing a disposal facility under the seabed, but that is an idea fraught with problems. Their other solution – nuclear reprocessing, still leaves wastes for burial, and after decades of effort, is proving to be a failure.

At present Japan’s Shinzo Abe government is set on reviving the nuclear industry. However, there is much popular opposition to this, and Japan might well later move to the opposite policy. Interestingly, following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear meltdown in 2013, Japan held a “deliberative poll” – a type of “citizens’ jury’, which resulted in this conclusion:

 As a direct result of the deliberative polling process, Japan’s national government has pledged to have zero percent dependency on nuclear energy after 2030.

Here is where an ethical argument comes in.  If Japan took the decision to keep its nuclear reactors closed, to close down the two that are now operating, and abandon the nuclear goal, it would still have to solve the radioactive waste problem.

Japan would need help, in many ways, to achieve that goal.   It would indeed be an ethical decision for a country such as Australia, to help.  With more space, and a more stable geology, there could be a good case for Australia accepting Japan’s nuclear waste, in this situation.

The present plan, for nuclear waste to be imported into South Australia, is based on the idea of helping South East Asian countries to set up their nuclear power projects, by conveniently solving their “back end” problem.  It is above all, a plan to the benefit of the global nuclear industry, which is at present in quite a crisis.

If indeed, the waste importing idea were conditional on a Japanese plan to close down the industry, and help Japan overcome its very serious dilemma, this could be one big move towards halting the global  nuclear industry juggernaut, with its undoubted connection to nuclear weapons.  Japan could pay a reasonable amount to the waste host country, without being ripped off, without that country expecting to become mega wealthy.   That would be one circumstance in which it would be an ethical choice for South Australia to import and dispose of nuclear waste.

Pie in the sky! – I hear your cry.

Yes, sadly so. Is there any chance that such an ethical decision would ever be made?   I doubt it.  The Nuclear Citizens’ Jury is left with the question of whether or not to support the NFCRC’s plan for a nuclear waste bonanza, or to risk possible State bankruptcy in the event of it all going wrong.



South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill; deceptive or just ignorant about Finland’s nuclear waste plan?

This article first appeared on Independent Australia

Premier Weatherill is using Finland’s nuclear waste dump model as a benchmark for Australia but they are not comparable, says Noel Wauchope.

SOUTH AUSTRALIAN PREMIER Jay Weatherill has gone to Finland to study their nuclear waste storage project.

With the premier are three stalwarts of the mining and nuclear lobbies: marketing man Bill Muirhead, chief executive of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Consultation and Response Agency (CARA) Advisory Board Madeleine Richardson and chair of CARA John Mansfield.

Unsurprisingly, they all seemed to have no anxieties about nuclear waste disposal.

Premier Weatherill waxed lyrical in The Advertiser about the Finland waste disposal site, describing it in operation:

There, spent nuclear fuel is placed in eight metre long iron canisters, encased in copper tubes … Inside the underground tunnels, the canisters are placed in deep holes.

Reading this, you would think that is actually happening in Finland. But no — that’s just the plan. The facility, in fact, has no nuclear wastes yet disposed of there. In fact, no wastes will be placed there until 2020, at the earliest.

Weatherill’s comments imply that the Finland project and the South Australian plan are pretty much the same kind of thing. Well, apart from some rather obvious differences in climate, which might matter, the whole plan is different.

South Australia’s nuclear waste import plan would need a dump substiantially larger than Finland’s waste dump:

Onkalo (Finland), permanent underground high level Nuclear Waste Dump

  • Capacity 5,000 to 10,000 tonnes high level nuclear waste
  • or 2,500 to 5,000 high level nuclear waste canisters

Proposed SA Nuclear Waste Dump

  • Capacity 138,000 tonnes high level nuclear waste or 69,000 high level nuclear waste canisters
  • Capacity 390,000 m3 intermediate nuclear waste
  • Capacity 81,000 m3 low level nuclear waste
  • Above ground temporary facility capacity 72,000 tonnes high level nuclear waste
  • Above ground temporary facility capacity 175,000 m3 Intermediate nuclear waste

Just for high level nuclear waste alone, it will require a waste dump 14 to 28 times the size of Onkalo (69,000 high level nuclear waste canisters). And for decades, half of the high level nuclear waste will be stored above ground in a temporary facility.

A perhaps even bigger deception is in Weatherill’s main theme, praising Finland for its transparency and community consent, since that is a subject of considerable dispute.

In fact, Finland’s technology for deep disposal of nuclear wastes was developed by the Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Company (SKB). SKB has for several years been attempting to obtain a licence to start construction in Sweden, but has been denied permission by a land and environmental court ruling.

The reason for the court’s denial is that, as the project was being discussed with the public, SKB’s research was found to be incomplete and, in certain cases, inaccurate. It turned out, for instance, that there is significant disagreement over the estimated

corrosion rate of the copper canisters, which are considered the main engineering barrier to prevent the escape of long-lived radionuclidesinto the surrounding


In 2016, Sweden established the Swedish National Council for Nuclear Waste. This

independent body published a 167-page report entitled ‘Nuclear Waste State-of-the-Art Report 2016: Risks, uncertainties and future challenges, which detailed considerable risks – environmental, health and economic – with the waste burial technology.

Sweden has the Swedish NGO Office for Nuclear Waste Review. It is a coalition comprising five NGOs working with nuclear and radiation safety issues, advising the Government and informing the public. The coalition is financed by the Government’s Swedish Nuclear Waste Fund.

Finland has no such agency. That might account for the relative ease with which the Finnish nuclear industry gained public acceptance for the plan with no substantial criticism from the public. In Sweden, the nuclear waste burial project has not gone ahead, as there is much debate and opposition from some scientists and from a well-informed public.

Representatives from municipalities near the Finland repository construction site, Johanna Huhtala and Raija Lehtorinne, explained:

‘ … the locals trust the nuclear industry completely.’

I guess that the Finnish model for community consent is more to Weatherill’s liking than the Swedish one. I can’t see him setting up a South Australian NGO office for nuclear waste review.

Pro nuclear submissions to South Australian Parliament show the primary interest is in promoting “new nuclear”

This article first appeared on Independent Australia  [where links are included]

THE SOUTH AUSTRALIAN government’s promotional campaign for the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission (NFCRC) continues to stress the economic gain to the State through importing nuclear wastes.

However, recent pro-nuclear submissions to the South Australian Parliament’s Joint Committee on Findings of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission have instead focussed on the benefits of “new nuclear” technology, particularly “small modular reactors” (SMRs) — note how the word “nuclear” is left out since people distrust it.

The global nuclear lobby is keenly interested in the South Australian government’s plan to import nuclear waste, because it would solve the waste problem for nuclear companies wanting to sell reactors and particularly, new types of nuclear reactors, to Asian countries.

This idea was pioneered by Australians and spelt out early in 2015, just as the NFCRC was starting, in an ABC Radio National talk by Oscar Archer. Since then, we haven’t heard any more about this, as the whole emphasis in SA government propaganda, has been on the billions supposedly to be made by that state from importing nuclear wastes. The idea of developing new nuclear technology is mentioned in the NFCRC report (p56 and p63) but very much played down and not recommended for South Australia.

Still, for foreign nuclear companies, the underlying aim is to further, or more correctly, to save, the nuclear industry by setting up new nuclear reactors, in particular SMRs.

It is vital for the nuclear industry to have a nuclear waste disposal plan. The industry has pretty much given up on selling nuclear reactors to countries that already have nuclear power and they are struggling with the waste problem. The big hope is to sell to “new” countries.

They are clearly looking to South Asia, as shown at the conference, The Prospects for Nuclear Power in the Asia Pacific Region, held in August, in Manila. The deputy director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Mikhail Chudakov said that IAEA sees South Asia as a region where nuclear energy is “high on the agenda” and could be one of the drivers for global nuclear power deployment.

The thing is, no country is going to embark on the nuclear power path – for small or large reactors – unless they have a prior plan for the disposal of radioactive wastes. This is vital for the nuclear industry — which is where Australia comes in.
I was surprised that out of 55 submissions to the South Australian Joint Committee on Findings of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission, only five were pro-nuclear.

However, despite the NFCRC’s distinct lack of enthusiasm for new nuclear technology, three of those five submissions were focussed, not on waste importing, but on new nuclear reactors.

Ben Heard’s whole argument is directed at new reactors:

Our research indicates that South Australia could make a significant contribution in this technology development beginning at a modest reinvestment of revenues from used fuel.

Many nations in this region already exploit nuclear technology however this use is constrained by lack of a back-end solution…… The availability of a multinational solution for the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle could change these investment decisions profoundly.
Heard backs up his argument by playing the climate card of nuclear being “low carbon” and so on.

Dayne Eckermann writes:

‘The main motivation for myself and others to embrace and openly support this technology is its immense power output from a relative small facility.’
And the South Australia Chamber of Mines and Energy’s (SACOME’s) view:

Australia’s well-equipped political, legal and educational structures mean that a reactor program could – with the support of experienced international partners – be started swiftly

SACOME strongly believes that the advances in small modular reactors and advanced reactor designs will provide the necessary facilities to be able to service remote mine clusters and townships where economical to do so.

Of the remaining two submissions, one from Leighton Smith was short — a very few lines of general support for the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission waste import plan. And the other submission from Graeme Weber, was confined to a recommendation of the Gawler Range Volcanics as a site for waste facility.

I understand that, for the Parliamentary Committee, all submissions were actually published. This is in contrast to the NFCRC process, in which submissions from interested parties such as foreign nuclear companies were kept confidential.

While Premier Weatherill’s propaganda campaign rolls on with a somewhat simplified story on the nuclear waste import plan, the serious players in the Australian nuclear lobby, are holding their fire for now, with only those three submissions to the Parliamentary Committee. Like Oscar Archer, at the beginning of the NFCRC saga, they are primarily keen for “new nuclear”, with the waste import as a necessary prelude. Still, all of them realise that the first steps are to change laws and associated regulations, such as:

State Nuclear Waste Storage Facility (Prohibition) Act 2000.
Federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 2000,
Customs Act 1901
Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act 1999
Nuclear Non-Proliferation (Safeguards) Act 1987


Mixed motives in South Australia’s nuclear waste import plan

This article first appeared on Online Opinion   [included links]

In South Australia the continued nuclear push focusses solely on a nuclear waste importing industry. Yet that might not be economically viable. Behind the scenes, another agenda is being pursued – that of developing new generation nuclear reactors.

First, let’s look at the message. The message from the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission (NFCRC) is clearly a plan to make South Australia rich, by importing foreign nuclear wastes.

The earlier NFCRC report “Tentative Findings” stated that:

…the storage and disposal of used nuclear fuel in South Australia is “likely to deliver substantial economic benefits to the South Australian community”, with a commercially viable storage facility operational in the late 2020s – $5 billion a year over 30 years and $2 billion a year for the following 40 years.

The NFCRC’s final recommendation is that :

…a state wealth fund that spreads the benefit to future generations of South Australians could reach about $445 billion overmore than 70 years.

South Australia has the attributes and capabilities to manage and dispose of international used nuclear fuel safely, and it would have significant intergenerational benefit to the community.

This theme has been repeated ad nauseam by the NFCRC’s publicity, by politicians, and the mainstream media.

At present, the South Australian government is running a state-wide process of over 100 forums – “community consultations”, where personnel, from the NFCRC and other nuclear experts are explaining the purportedly lucrative plan to local communities. At the same time, the Nuclear Citizens’ Jury process is being continued, with meetings planned for October and November.

Meanwhile, the South Australian Parliament is holding a Committee Inquiry into the NFCRC’s recommendations. This Committee asked witnesses about various aspects of the plan. However, an intense focus in questioning Royal Commissioner Kevin Scarce, and Dr Tim Johnson from Jacob Engineering (financial reporter to the NFCRC) was directed at the economic question. It was clear that the politicians were concerned that there’s a possibility of the State spending a significant amount of money on the project, which might then not go ahead. And, indeed, Dr Johnson acknowledged that, financially,” there is a very significant risk”. Mr Parnell quoted Jacobs’ report:

…the total expenditure prior to the decision to proceed and sign contracts with client countries is likely to be from around AUD300 million to in excess of AUD600 million…

In other words, before we actually decide to go ahead, before we have signed any contracts,expenditure is up to and in excess of $600 million.

Whereas other countries are compelled to develop nuclear waste facilities, to deal with their waste production from civil and military reactors,that is not a necessity for Australia, (with the exception of relatively tiny amounts derived from the Lucas Heights research reactor).

So, the only reason for South Australia to develop a massive

nuclear waste management business is to make money. If it’s not profitable, then it shouldn’t be done.

Or so it would seem.

There is another, quieter, message. When you read the Royal Commission’s reports, you find that, while the major aim is for a nuclear waste business, in fact, the door is kept open for other parts of the nuclear fuel chain. It recommended:

Remove existing prohibitions on nuclear power generation
Monitor developments in new nuclear reactor designs for future consideration
Nuclear power may be necessary, along with other low-carbon generation technologies. It would be wise to plan now to ensure that nuclear power would be available should it be required ….This is likely to include consideration of small modular reactor (SMR) designs, but exclude for the foreseeable future fast reactors and other innovative designs because the generating capacities of SMRs would be attractive to integration in smaller markets, such as in South Australia and in off-grid applications.

Nowhere in the NFCRC report, do they make a link between establishing the waste repository and planning for nuclear reactors. It is as though the two projects are not related. But they are.

The clearest explanation of this came early in 2015, just as the NFCRC was starting, in an ABC Radio National talk by Oscar Archer. He outlined a plan:

Australia establishes the world’s first multinational repository for used fuel – what’s often called nuclear waste. This is established on the ironclad commitment to develop a fleet of integral fast reactors …The development of the intermediate repository and the first reactors is funded by our international partners……

By unblocking the back end of the nuclear fuel cycles for our international partners and customers, rapid development in conventional Generation III+ nuclear technology receives a strong boost …

Each PRISM “power block”, or set of twin reactors, adds 622 megawatts of saleable zero-carbon generation to Australia which further improves the revenue position. …….The transition to PRISM world-wide is under-way on the back of Australia’s pioneering embrace of this technology with support of key partners.

Archer’s plan is significant because it illustrates a very important point about South Australia’s nuclear waste plan – IT SOLVES A GLOBAL NUCLEAR INDUSTRY PROBLEM. Both in ‘already nuclear’ countries, especially America, and in the so far non nuclear counties, such as in South Asia, the nuclear industry is stalled because of its nuclear waste problem. In America, the “new small nuclear”, such as the PRISM, technologies (Power Reactor Innnovative Small Module) cannot even be tested, without a definite waste disposal solution. But, if South Australia provided not only the solution, but also the first setting up of new small reactors, that would give the industry the necessary boost.

The NFCRC is not recommending Oscar Archer’s plan.

However, the significance remains. Once Australia has set up a nuclear waste importing industry, the nuclear reactor salesmen of USA, Canada, South Korea, will have an excellent marketing pitch for South Asia, as the nuclear waste problem has been removed from their shores.. And South Asia is exactly the market that the NCRC has in its sights. The NFCRC eliminated most of the EU, Russia, China, North America as customers. This was explained by Dr Tim Jacobs, of Jacobs Engineering, (financial reporters to the NFCRC), at the recent hearing of the South Australian Parliamentary Joint Committee on Findings of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission .

Globally, the ‘conventional’ nuclear reactor business is struggling, The ever escalating costs of USA’s nuclear reactors being built, of France’s Flamanville reactor, and most notable lately, Britain’s Hinkley C nuclear fiasco, have cast a gloom over ‘big nuclear reactors’

However, this is quite good news for the ‘small nuclear’ lobby. In the USA, the charge is led by Bill Gates, and a bunch of billionaires, who work to get governments, and taxpayer funding to support their novel nuclear reactor projects. In Britain, the nuclear charity (yes, it has charity status!) the Alvin Weinberg Foundation , and 33 new nuclear companies are practically ecstatic at the news that Teresa May’s government is having doubts about Big Nuclear.

Australia has its own cadre of small nuclear enthusiasts. These individuals have, in a short period of time, achieved world recognition as advocates for the various types of new small nuclear reactors. On the international scene, leading lobbyists are the Breakthrough Institute, with their Ecomodernist Manifesto. (They put in a submission to South Australia’s NFCRC), and Australian lobbyists Barry Brook and Ben Heard.

The themes of the Ecomodernists are rather touchy feely writings about the environment, so it is no surprise that they have many very caring and sincere environmentalists in their movement. The subtle message of the Manifesto is that renewable energy is not that great, and that brave new nuclear is needed to combat climate change. A similar, but more clearly spelled out theme is the message from the Australian lobbyists.

Australia’s present government is influenced by climate sceptics who dismiss the science, and also the economic concerns about climate change.

South Australia’s government is influenced by a strong nuclear lobby push and the Royal Commission advocacy for solving that State’s present financial problems by a futuristic nuclear waste repository bonanza scheme.

The global nuclear lobby surely does not care about whether or not the South Australian nuclear waste importing scheme is economically viable. Their fairly desperate need is to sell nuclear reactors to those countries that don’t already have them. In particular, the ‘small nuclear” lobby sees an urgency now, with ‘big nuclear’ failing, to get their industry happening.

A commitment by an Australian State to take in nuclear waste could do the trick for them – as Oscar Archer put it – by unblocking the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle. The NFCRC plan also promises the chance of a market in Australia for the mini nuclear reactors.