Should Australia invest funds and resources in developing Generation IV nuclear reactors?

This article first appeared on Online opinion

Without any fanfare, with no media coverage, Australia’s Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCOT) is presently considering Australia signing up to the International Framework for  Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems (GIF), which will commit this nation to take part in developing new nuclear reactors.

Dr Adi Paterson, CEO of the Australia Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, signed up to this GIF Framework last year. However, that does require confirmation by the Australian government. Hence there was the  need for the JSCOT Committee to at least take a look at it, before the government completes the membership. Apparently there is no need for public discussion, or probably even Parliamentary discussion.

This Committee very quietly invited submissions, and very few were in the know about this. Now the received submissions have been published – at http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Joint/Treaties/NuclearEnergy/Submissions.

Anyway, it looks as if ANSTO is the driving force behind this process, and judging by the submissions received, the nuclear lobby was in the know, even if the public was not. Fourteen submissions were received. Of these, eleven were strongly pro- nuclear, and three were opposed. The opposing submissions came from Friends of the Earth (FOE), (jointly with the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF ), Medical Association For The Prevention of War (MAPW), and myself, (I came upon the Parliamentary website just by chance).

In assessing these submissions, of course, I have to admit to bias on my part.  Still, I think that any reader would find that there is one submission that stands out for clarity, and a detailed, factual discussion of the GIF plan. That is the one written by Jim Green and Dave Sweeney, for FOE and ACF.

Green and Sweeney respond to assertions made in ANSTO’s National Interest Analysis.They question claims that the new reactors reduce weapons proliferation risks, are economic, efficient, and solve waste problems. They rebuke the claim of ANSTO that “a significant expansion in nuclear power production is underway “, listing the overall decline in nuclear power growth, with the exception of China. They discuss at length the very long time frame expected even by nuclear industry experts, before any Generation IV reactors could be commercially viable.

They go on to discuss each of the six proposed new nuclear reactors, giving a detailed history of the attempts to develop each, and factual information that refutes those claims made by ANSTO.   For all of their statements, Green and Sweeney provide evidence and references.

The Medical Association for Prevention of War  (MAPW)’s submission questions the government’s high subsidising of ANSTO, and points out the poor prospects for private investment in new nuclear power. It refutes the argument that Gen IV reactors would solve the nuclear waste problem, quoting analysis by the US National Academy of Sciences  They discuss the history of attempts to develop Gen IV nuclear reactors,- ” a track record of repeated failure and massive cost”. They discuss the direct and indirect costs, and ANSTO’s secrecy about nuclear costs. Safety and reliability issues, and proliferation risks, are examined. They also point out that the recent Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission (NFCRC) was not supportive of new nuclear technology.  The Commission proposed:

“monitoring and reporting” of new designs, not participation in research and active subsidization. The Royal Commission also places emphasis on economic value for nuclear power generation, which is clearly entirely absent from fast reactor operations.”

My own submission also discusses non-proliferation, nuclear waste, and claims about climate change, but it focuses on the lack of public information and discussion. In view of Australia’s laws prohibiting the development of nuclear power in Australia, I find it disturbing that the government is about to put money and resources into developing new nuclear reactors.

Now – to the eleven pro nuclear submissions. In general these faithfully repeat the claims made by ANSTO, stressing the value of Australia participating in an international forum. (e.g: submission from Australian Nuclear Association)

  • Most submissions praise ANSTO and universities ANU and UNSW for their expertise.
  • Then there’s the claim that nuclear power will decarbonise the economy. (submission by The Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE)). (and from Barrie Murphy)
  • Joining GIF willincrease the visibility of Australia’s cutting-edge research (from Nuclear Engineering Research Group, School of Electrical Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, UNSW Sydney)
  • Would increase Australia’s ability to influence international policy – will increase the international status of ANSTO and Australia’s universities. (from Warren Centre for Advanced Engineering)

None of these submissions discussed the proposed reactors or provided any evidence for those claims.

Oscar Archer’s submission did provide some information on reactor types, and even a favourable nod to renewable energy. He concluded, in rather a leap of logic, that

“only these deployable nuclear technologies can enable decarbonisation beyond electricity, by displacing conventional industrial heat sources”

And he recommends the GIF Framework agreement, because:

“it  will serve to build expertise that should be vital when the time comes for Australia to take its next big step with regard to nuclear technology”.

It was a kind of a relief to come upon Ben Heard’s submission. At least he provided some passion and real enthusiasm for the nuclear cause. He expressed his concern that nuclear power is being left out of discussions on sustainable energy.

However, Heard’s enthusiasm is not backed up by evidence. He anticipates:

“near term commercialization and deployment of a range of advanced nuclear technologies. We have estimated such integrated projects may deliver net benefits in the tens of billions of dollars to Australia while advancing international peace and stability and accelerating the deployment of important technologies.”

“The potential improvements in back-end waste management of advanced nuclear technologies are inarguable”

“With the mounting threat of climate change and the immediate and serious problems of poverty and energy-related pollution, a direct substitute for new coal needs the greatest level of support. Modern nuclear energy is that direct substitute.”

I do realise that in this summary of the submissions, I could well be accused of bias. The only way for readers to examine this question is to go to the JSCOT website, and to read the submissions for themselves.

A radical change in pro nuclear spin

This article first appeared on Michael West’s site as Reactorvated: new nuke push ramps up

We don’t hear much about this, yet. It’s an international nuclear industry plan to develop new nuclear reactors, ones that are still only in the design phase. The Australian Parliament’s  Treaties Committee is holding an Inquiry into the Framework Agreement for International Collaboration on Research and Development of Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems. Australia already signed up for this in June 2016, without any public discussion.. Now the plan is to extend Australia’s involvement, and the Committee calls, (rather quietly)  for submissions by 28 April 2017.

Anyone would think that the idea of expanding the nuclear industry in Australia was dead and gone, following last year’s debacle of the South Australian government’s attempt to get a nuclear waste import business set up in Australia. However, the latest plan is different.
The South Australian plan was unsuccessfully touted as a bonanza for that state. It was also promoted to the global nuclear corporations as the answer to their problem of where to put radioactive wastes. It would have been a plus for AREVA, Westinghouse, Toshiba, G.E. Hitachi, enabling them to market nuclear reactors to South East Asia, with the promise of having the waste disposal issue solved.

The failed plan was set out in the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission Final Report .  The idea of Australia developing new generation nuclear reactors got the barest mention, in Chapter 10. However, this idea was always quietly a part of the nuclear lobby’s plan for the future.

When it comes to pro nuclear propaganda, what is radically different now, is that Generation IV nuclear energy systems are no longer touted as a helpful solution for those “conventional ” nuclear corporations, (that I will call “Big Nuclear”). In the current climate of financial crisis for AREVA, Westingouse, Toshiba etc, the “new nuclear” companies, Terrestrial Energy, Transatomic, NuScale etc now pitch their products as not a help, but a radically different alternative to the conventional reactors.

This new nuclear propaganda is certainly out there, but is not yet prevalent in Australia. The nuclear lobby’s first step now is to get government commitment in principle, getting Australia in step with USA and the other nations in the campaign. While the government is certainly well aware of the rejuvenated pro nuclear campaign, the soft sell to the Australian public is barely underway, yet

In 2017, the change in both content and style has come about both because of recent developments in the nuclear industry, and also because of the changing media environment. Today’s persuasion campaign is promoting a different product, targeting different audiences, using different media outlets, and above all, has adopted a revitalised style.

The product ? The favoured product is the Small Modular Reactor, (SMR) which does not yet actually exist, except as a design. Some are said to be under construction in China. It’s not at present possible to build them commercially in America or UK: licensing and safety regulations would have to be changed first.

The target audiences? There are several. First, governments have to be won over, particularly because of need to change nuclear regulations, and also because of costs. With the availability of cheap gas and renewable energy, nuclear projects do not currently attract private investment. Even the Bill Gates’ billionaires’ SMR project, Breakthrough Energy Coalition  is seeking tax-payer funding, via the governmental Mission Innovation programme. In Britain, Weinberg Next Nuclear not only informs the government, but has achieved the status of a registered charity.

Secondly, mainstream journals are targeted. Not a week passes without ecstatic articles on SMRs popping up in mainstream media. Almost certainly, these derive from carefully worded handouts from the SMR firms, or better, from journalists like James Conca, who specialises in writing for the SMR lobby.

However, the most important target is the public, and particularly, youth.

Media outlets? You have to hand it to the new nukes lobby. They are way ahead of other industries, and especially of Big Nuclear, in their use of Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, SoundCloud and also of TV, film, radio and podcasts

Style? I think this is what counts, in winning hearts and minds. The media manipulators for the SMR lobby display publicity skills, with a versatility worthy of Joseph Goebbels. Lavishly produced TV series, such as Uranium: Twisting the Dragon’s Tail and the film Pandora’s Promise, carry a very subtle soft sell for new nuclear. A new pro nuclear spin film, The New Fire, is in production.

In fact, quite a small number of individuals produce both wordy technical presentations for government, industry, and mainstream journals, and bright, snappy, easily accessible messages for the young, and for non-technical environmentalists. The best example is Michael Shellenberger who writes extensively, and runs numerous nuclear front groups – Environmental Progress Ecomodernists, etc, – of great appeal to enthusiastic environmentalists.

In Australia, this propaganda genius is shown by Ben Heard, who sends sophisticated submissions to government , tweets incessantly, and also runs a touchy feely nature-loving nuclear front group “Bright New World” 

Especially in the USA, these very appealing groups pop up quickly, to meet changing circumstances. The latest is Generation Atomic, formed in April 2017, specifically to organise a clear pro nuclear presence in the March for Science, an American and international event on 22 April.

Reading back through this, I realise that it shows that, as Marshall McLuhan said,The Medium is the Massage.  What the message IS might matter less than its attractive style.

However, the nuclear propaganda message is always there, though it has evolved over decades.

The decades of nuclear spin from the late 1940s to the 1990s could be called the era of Defensive Spin.  Apart from one ambitiously positive 1950s campaign about Cheap Electricity “too cheap to meter”, pro-nuclear propaganda became mired in the fear, and the support for weapons, that characterised the Cold War period. The defensive themes of the 1970s -80s followed news of nuclear accidents, and could be summarised as Downplaying Radiation Effects, and Assurances of Safety. 

I have skimmed through that Defensive Spin era because the later Positive one is much more interesting, and relevant to today.

1990 The first burst of positive nuclear spin came  at around the time of the first IPCC Climate Report. Already, nuclear corporations like AREVA were talking about Fossil Fuel Depletion and Energy Security: nuclear power was the answerThe industry was reluctant to yet push the low-carbon argument, as many in these corporations did not believe in global warming. However, they could still push the line about nuclear power being Clean and Pollution Free (Nuclear Energy Institute)

2003, The Breakthrough Institute  was the first big foray of a new nuclear front group. They pushed the clean energy line, but courageously in 2004 touted the benefits of nuclear power to combat global warming. While some nuclear lobbyists are still pushing that line, it has also somewhat lost favour, because research is showing that this line has resulted in promotion of renewable energy, rather than nuclear

Over the 2000s, nuclear front groups have sprung up. For a long time they promoted “new nuclear” – Generation IV reactors as Supporting Big Nuclear.    The big selling point was the promise that Generation IV reactors would eat the wastes of conventional reactors. They still push that promise to the world, but are now not keen to be seen as associated with the troubled Big Nuclear   companies.

The message is always a positive and optimistic one.  Even the Fukushima disaster becomes twisted as some sort of evidence for the benefits of new nuclear.

With the more youthful and digitally aware target audience in mind, the Ecomodernism  movemen brought in a new spin angle – Humanitarian and nature loving. It has the feel of an alternative to big corporations, although billionaires are behind it.

The overall message is saving the planet. This encompasses: endless cheap and pollution-free energy for all of humanity, recycling nuclear wastes and thus solving that problem, combatting climate change, and promoting the beneficial uses of ionising radiation, freeing people from irrational fears, and from anti-science.

I am not here interested in scrutinising the claims made by today’s pro nuclear spin. I am in awe of their chutzpah. The Generation IV- SMR lobby has been successful, in gaining the attention of government and media for technologies which do not yet even exist.  In today’s world of “alternative facts”, I guess that this success is not surprising. It remains to be seen if “new nuclear” can win the public approval that it needs.

Submission to: Inquiry: The Generation IV Nuclear Energy – Accession

 24 April 2017   First of all, I find it very strange that this agreement has been signed up to in advance, not by any elected representative of the Australian Parliament, but by Dr Adi Patterson CEO of the Australia Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, apparently pre-empting the results of this Inquiry!

I find it disturbing that this Inquiry is being held without any public information or discussion. Are we to assume that the decision to join this “Charter” is being taken without prior public knowledge?

It is a pretty momentous decision. According to the World Nuclear Association the 2005 Framework agreement “formally commits them (signatories) to participate in the development of one or more Generation IV systems selected by GIF for further R&D.”

The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 currently prohibits the development of nuclear power in Australia. Nuclear power cannot be approved under either the EPBC Act or the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act 1998.  These prohibitions are, as I understand it,  supported by all major parties in Australia?

This would be an extraordinary step for Australia to take, especially in the light of the recent South Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission (NFCRC) pro-nuclear Royal Commission, which, while recommending South Australia for an international nuclear waste dump, nevertheless stated that

The recent conclusion of the Generation IV International Forum (GIF), which issued updated projections for fast reactor and innovative systems in January 2014, suggests the most advanced system will start a demonstration phase (which involves completing the detailed design of a prototype system and undertaking its licensing, construction and operation) in about 2021. The demonstration phase is expected to last at least 10 years and each system demonstrated will require funding of several billion US dollars. As a result, the earliest possible date for the commercial operation of fast reactor and other innovative reactor designs is 2031. This timeframe is subject to significant project, technical and funding risk. It extends by six years a similar assessment undertaken by GIF in 2002. This means that such designs could not realistically be ready for commercial deployment in South Australia or elsewhere before the late 2030s, and possibly later.”

This was hardly a ringing endorsement of Generation IV nuclear reactors.

The South Australian Citizens Jury, Community Consultations, numerous economists, and the S.A. Liberal Party all rejected that nuclear waste plan, as not economically viable.  A huge amount of preparation was done by the NFCRC in investigating the phases of the nuclear Fuel Cycle (more accurately Chain) to arrive at their rather negative view of Generation IV nuclear reactors.

That makes it all the more extraordinary that the Australian government would be willing to sign up so quickly to ANSTO’s request that Australia put resources into these untested, and so far, non-existent nuclear technologies.

I hope that the Committee is aware of the present financial troubles of the giant nuclear corporations, such as AREVA, Toshiba, and Westinghouse Electric. Nuclear power is turning out to be a financial liability wherever it is not funded by the tax-payer, (as in China and Russia). (1)

The World Nuclear Association describes the Generation IV International Forum (GIF) as countries for whom nuclear energy is significant now or seen as vital in the future. Australia’s situation in no way fits these criteria.

Nuclear energy is not significant now in Australia, and even the NRCRC nuclear proponents do not see it as vital for Australia’s future. It is almost laughable, that right now, renewable energy systems are taking off in Australia – both as large solar and wind farms, and as a huge increase in small decentralised systems such as home and business solar panel installations.

That’s where Australia should be putting its resources of human energy, talent, and funding.

The claims made by the nuclear lobby, ANSTO and some politicians, notably Christopher Pyne and Julie Bishop, about Generation Iv nuclear reactors, do not stand up to scrutiny:

Non proliferation “-   Furthering Australia’s non-proliferation and nuclear safety objectives.” The well-known claim that a “conventional” nuclear bomb cannot be made from these new types of reactor, might be true, to a certain extent. However, IFRs and other plutonium-based nuclear power concepts fail the WMD proliferation test, i.e. they can too easily be used to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons. The use of thorium as a nuclear fuel doesn’t solve the WMD proliferation problem. Irradiation of thorium (indirectly) produces uranium-233, a fissile material which can be used in nuclear weapons.  These materials can be used to make a “dirty bomb” – irradiating a city or other target.  They would require the same expensive security measures that apply with conventional nuclear reactors.

If the purpose in joining the GIF is to strengthen non-proliferation and safety – why is ANSTO the implementing agent not the Australia Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office?

Solving nuclear waste problem? Claims that these new nuclear reactors will solve the problem of nuclear wastes are turning out to be spurious. For example, Nuclear energy startup Transatomic Power has backed away from bold claims for its advanced reactor technology after an informal review by MIT professors highlighted serious errors in the company’s calculations. (2) Even at the best of times, the “new nuclear” lobby admits that their Gen IV reactors will produce highly toxic radioactive wastes, requiring security for up to 300 years.
The Integral Fast Reactor is called “integral” because it would process used reactor fuel on-site, separating plutonium (a weapons explosive) and other long-lived radioactive isotopes from the used fuel, to be fed back into the reactor. It essentially converts long-lived waste into shorter lived waste. This waste would still remain dangerous for a minimum of 200 years (provided it is not contaminated with high level waste products), so we are still left with a waste problem that spans generations. (3)

Climate change. The claim that new nuclear power will solve climate change is spurious. This ignores life-cycle CO2 emissions

Nuclear energy is not zero carbon.

Emissions from nuclear will increase significantly over the next few decades as high grade ore is depleted, and increasing amounts of fossil fuels are required to access, mine and mill low-grade ore.

To stay below the 2 degrees of global warming that climate scientists widely agree is necessary to avert catastrophic consequences for humans and physical systems, we need to significantly reduce our emissions by 2050, and to do this we need to start this decade. Nuclear is a slow technology:

The “Generation IV” demonstration plants projected for 2030-2040 will be too late, and there is no guarantee the pilots will be successful.

Nuclear Economics. For “a time when significant expansion in nuclear power production is underway” – this is a laughable falsehood. In reality, nuclear power economics are in a state of crisis, most notably in America, but it is a world-wide slowdown. (4)

The vagueness of the Generation IV International Forum (GIF) agreement is a worry. Australia is to formally commit to participate in the development of one or more Generation IV systems selected by GIF for further R&D.  Surely Australia is not going to sign up to this, without any detail on what kind of research, what kind of reactor, what amount of funding we would be committing to the GIF.

And all this without any public discussion!

  1. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/apr/11/toshiba-losses-uk-moorside-nuclear-plant-westinghouse
  2.  https://www.technologyreview.com/s/603731/nuclear-energy- startup-transatomic-backtracks-on-key-promises/
  3. https://skeptoid.com/episodes/4555
  4.  http://reneweconomy.com.au/nuclear-industry-crisis-29735/

Australia joins international forum to develop new Gen IV nuclear reactors

This first appeared on Independent Australia

Yes, I bet that you’ve never heard of the GIF, either. I hadn’t, until just this week, when by chance, I heard of The Australian Parliament’s Treaties Committee’s Inquiry into the “Charter” or  Framework Agreement for International Collaboration on Research and Development of Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems. The Committee consists of 9 Liberal MPs, 6 Labor, and one Green.

That inquiry is being held now, and the Committee calls, or more correctly, whispers, for submissions by 28 April 2017.

It is all about the GIF – The Generation IV International Forum     The Australian Government signed up to this, In 2016, without any public discussion

What is The Generation IV International Forum (GIF)?

An international collection of 14 countries: Argentina, Brazil, Canada, France, Japan, South Korea, South Africa, the UK and the USA ( original charter members 2005) Switzerland, Euratom, China, Russia and Australia (signed later)  . The World Nuclear Association describes the collection as countries for whom nuclear energy is significant now or seen as vital in the future.

 What is the 2005 Framework Agreement aka ‘the Charter’?

According to the World Nuclear Association the 2005 Framework agreement “formally commits them (signatories) to participate in the development of one or more Generation IV systems selected by GIF for further R and D.” Australia signed the ‘Charter’ on 22 nd June 2016 – by Dr Adi Patterson COE of the Australia Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation. (pending this JSCOT review). ANSTO is to be the implementing agent.

When the Australian government quietly signed up to the GIF, it made no commitment to any particular action towards developing new nuclear reactors.  Other countries, including Japan, Canada, France, South Korea, have committed to working on particular types ofGeneration IV reactors Australia might be expected to not only fully sign up as a member of the Charter, but perhaps also to provide funding and resources to develop one or more types.

Australia’s signing of the GIF

Media reports indicate Australia made a bid or approach to join GIF. The active seeking out of such an agreement that is at odds with public opinion, at odds with the current Governments policy position on nuclear power and is inconsistent with Australian laws which prohibit the use of this technology is astounding.

What the Gov’t said in 2016 in relation to joining GIF: Christopher Pyne, said:

Australia’s invitation to join this important global project marks an exciting opportunity to be at the forefront of global innovation in the nuclear industry.” He added, “Inclusion in the GIF further strengthens Australia’s position as a nation that has the research muscle to deliver innovations on the global stage. It reinforces the governments 1 $billion National Innovation and Science Agenda, encouraging our best and brightest researchers to collaborate with international experts.

Julie Bishop said in relation to joining GIF:

 Australia has firm non-proliferation goals and nuclear safety objectives, and   contributing to the global conversation on this level is an opportunity to assist in the research that is making nuclear technologies safer around the world in the long term.

What are Gen IV (Generation 4 reactors)

Generation IV reactors describe 6 models/concepts of reactors that claim to solve many of the problems with nuclear power – waste, proliferation risks, safety. There are six reactor technologies described as Gen IV. A 2014 industry update on the road map for development of these 6 technologies can be seen at seen at Technology Roadmap Update for Generation IV Nuclear EnergySystems

In short all 6 technologies are in the ‘viability’ (conceptual) or ‘performance’ (engineering) phase. The earliest prediction for the development of a prototype would be 2022, but it’s expected it will take much longer.

ANSTO makes a number of questionable assumptions about Australia joining in developing new nuclear reactors. For example ANSTO claims that it would “Further Australia’s non-proliferation and nuclear safety objectives” , and “Further strengthen our claim as the most advanced nuclear country in SEAP”, and will position Australia to develop Generation IV reactors.

There are so many questions about this – one hardly knows where to start:

  • Why was there no public discussion about this and yet it is a departure from existing energy policy in Australia – for a technology that is currently prohibited – a prohibition which is supported by all major parties in Australia?
  • What conversations between ANSTO and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Science were had about the signing of the 2005 Framework?
  • What exactly was the intention behind signing the ‘Charter’ what does Australia hope to gain from being involved?
  • What capacity or resources are being allocated for involvement in GIF?
  •  if the objective on joining the GIF is to strengthen non-proliferation and safety – why is ANSTO the implementing agent not the Australia Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office?
  • Given that Australia has clearly and repeatedly made the assessment that nuclear energyis not an option for Australia, why is our active participation – using Australian taxpayers resources for the development of nuclear power technology, in our interest?
  • National Interest Analysis states that Australia had “to demonstrate that it could contribute to the research and development goals of the GIF in a unique and substantive way” – how did Australia do that – and what contributions is ANSTO advocating Australia make towards the research and development goals of the GIF?
  • What are the anticipated costs of such contributions?  Over what period of time?  For what guaranteed outcome?
  • What are the Government and ANSTO’s intentions  in relation to advancing or positioning Australia to develop nuclear energy (a technology which is currently prohibited under Australian laws)?

Nuclear Power has continually been dismissed as an energy option for Australia. Recent Reports from Pro nuclear or neutral orgs on nuclear – all excluding nuclear as an energy option for Australia.  Some examples :

Nuclear power cannot be approved under either The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 EPBC Act or the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act 1998.

In 2017 the “conventional” nuclear industry, with the leading companies AREVA, Toshiba, Westinghouse, is beset by financial problems.  At the same time new renewable energy systems are flourishing, and coming down in price. It seems absurd that the Australian government should now want to venture into development of new nuclear reactors, that exist only in the design phase, that have problems in getting private investment or insurance.

 

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.