South Australia’s Nuclear Royal Commission compromised by biased leader Kevin Scarce

This article first appeared on Independent Australia

I’m not the only person who can conduct this Commission effectively and competently and it is critical that whoever is appointed has the confidence of those who are vitally concerned with this matter.

Rightly or wrongly, in this role I would not have the full confidence of sections of the Indigenous community which has a vital           interest in this inquiry.

That was Brian Martin ending his role as head of Royal Commission into Juvenile Justice in the Northern Territory, just four days after his appointment as reported in Reuters World News 1 August 2016

Martin seemed an excellent choice for the job, when appointed on 26 July. He has a strong legal background, as a judge of the Supreme Court of South Australia, later as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory in 2004 and acting Judge of the Supreme Court of Western Australia in 2012.

Brian Martin did not think that he had a conflict of interest in relation to his previous role as a Northern Territory judge. He did not doubt his “capacity to be both independent and competent in the role of the commissioner”. However, he recognised that a community perception of his having a conflict of interest would compromise the Royal Commission and its results.

As Mark Kenny wrote in The Age on 2 August 2016:

‘Indeed, Martin acknowledged this [public confidence] was the crucial factor — irrespective of the facts. He observed if any public doubts about the impartiality or commitment to the unvarnished truth were allowed to “fester” during the commission’s long months, its outcomes would be compromised.’ 

Why no outcry about the conflict of interest in appointing Kevin Scarce as head of SA’s Nuclear Fuel Cycle RC?

Apparently, while it’s not OK to have a conflict of interest in a National Royal Commissioner, this has not yet been a problem for a State one.

On February 9th 2015, the South Australian Government appointed Rear Admiral the Honourable Kevin Scarce as head of its Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission (NFCRC). This royal commission, which ran until May 2016, has been kept very off the radar of the wider Australian public, but touted strongly by the South Australian media, notably by The Adelaide Advertiser. Nobody in the mainstream media seems to have noticed the conflict of interest in the appointment of Kevin Scarce and in the appointments of his advisers.

Unlike the situation with Brian Martin, this is not a case of a perception of conflict of interest by some special sections of the community. It looks more like a choice of a royal commissioner that is unusual and inappropriate and involving a much more obvious conflict of interest.

The general practice in royal commissions is to appoint a serving or retired judge, due to the quasi-legal nature of the process. Brian Martin appeared to be well qualified for the Royal Commission into Juvenile Justice in the Northern Territory. Yet, as he had dealt with Aboriginal cases in his previous role as justice in the Northern Territory, this could raise questions about his impartiality.

Kevin Scarce with no legal background, was a most unusual choice as royal commissioner for South Australia’s Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission. Furthermore, his military career and close involvement with defence agencies, raises questions about his impartiality. The nuclear industry has undoubted connections with nuclear weapons and this has always been a vexed question for Australia. Nuclear powered and nuclear armed ships are allowed to visit Australian ports but for short stays only and under stringent conditions.

There is a strong defence lobby pushing for Australia to acquire nuclear powered submarines. Kevin Scarce was previously the head of Maritime Systems at the Defence Materiel Organisation.

Kevin Scarce is a  shareholder in Rio Tinto Group, the owner and operator of Ranger and Rossing uranium mines in Australia and Namibia

Prior to his appointment as Royal Commissioner, Kevin Scarce advocated a nuclear industry for South Australia. Speaking in November 2014 at a Flinders University guest lecture, Scarce acknowledged being “an advocate for a nuclear industry”.

He enthused about a compact fusion “reactor small enough to fit in a truck”, that “it may be less than a decade away” and could produce power “without the risk of Fukushima-style meltdowns”.

These claims have been dismissed even by the nuclear industry itself, as well as by nuclear friendly scientific experts. All of which indicates that this Royal Commissioner is low on science knowledge, as well as legal expertise, and raises the question?  Who has been influencing Kevin Scarce?

Scarce appointed an Expert Advisory Committee comprised of:

  • Professor Barry Brook, an active advocate of the NuclearvIndustry. He is the author of, or contributor to several pro-nuclear publications such as; Key role for nuclear energy in global biodiversity conservation, Australia’s nuclear options and An Open Letter to Environmentalists on Nuclear Energy.
  • Dr Timothy Stone, an advocate for nuclear power generation and nuclear industrial expansion in Australia. In the UK Dr Stone has held the position of Expert Chair of the Office for Nuclear Development and he is currently on the board of Horizon Nuclear Power as non-executive Director.
  • Director John Carlson, a former Director General of the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office. In part 6 of the introduction to Mr Carlson’s paper “Nuclear power for Australia”— an outline of the key issues he claims ‘Nuclear has a major advantage over other energy sources’.
  • Dr Leanna Read, a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, which advocated for nuclear power in Australia in August 2014.
  • And, for a more sceptical opinion, just this one – Professor Ian Lowe – a former President of the Australian Conservation Foundation.

The Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission reported its findings in May recommending that South Australia develop a nuclear waste importing business, (with the potential for later introduction of advanced nuclear reactors, such as Small Modular Nuclear Reactors (SMRs).

Will the outcome of the SA nuclear RC be compromised, given the criticisms so far?

Kevin Scarce has continued to be dismissive of criticisms of the plan. The Australia Institute crunched the numbers presented in the Commission’s interim report and wrote a detailed factual rebuttal.

Scarce responded on ABC radio on 31 March 2016, (7)  by saying that the RC “will take apart” the Australia Institute’s report “piece by piec’e.

When asked if such an aggressive attitude was appropriate, Scarce said:

I’m a military officer, what would you expect?”

The selection of pro nuclear advisers and speakers continued through the Royal Commission’s year-long proceedings and subsequent Citizens’ Jury sessions, as Independent Australia has shown in recent articles. 

Numerous well researched criticisms sent to this Royal Commission seem to have been ignored. Kevin Scarce has dismissed opposition as based on emotion or opinion, rather than on facts, saying: “The debate has been formed upon fear…”

In the case of the Royal Commission into Juvenile Justice in the Northern Territory, critics may still find problems, such as the narrowness of scope in the terms of reference, and the involvement of the Northern Territory government (more or less investigating itself). But at least Brian Martin’s swift action has avoided the “festering” effect of having a royal commissioner who is perceived to be biased.

Meanwhile in South Australia, the outcome of its Nuclear Royal Commission may well be compromised, as public confidence in Kevin Scarce might fester amongst Australians in general, and even amongst South Australians, despite that State’s government now bombarding them with pro nuclear propaganda.

Chocolates, bananas, ionising radiation and a nuclear waste dump

This article first appeared on Independent Australia

On the matter of ionising radiation and health, Noel Wauchope rebuts five misleading speakers at the Nuclear Citizens’ Jury hearings on Australia’s nuclear waste importation plan.

IN TWO DAYS of 25 Citizens’ Jury sessions in Adelaide (on 25-26 June), about nuclear waste importing, there was minimal coverage of the question of ionising radiation and health.

What little there was, was skimpy, superficial and downright deceptive, in 209 pages of transcripts.

There was not one mention of the world’s authoritative bodies on the subject — The World Health Organisation, U.S. National Academy of Sciences, Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission or any of the reports on biological effects of ionising radiation.

There was no explanation of the “linear no threshold” (LNT) theory on ionising radiation and health, despite the fact that this theory is the one accepted by all the national and international health bodies, including the Ionising Radiation Safety Institute of Australia who, on this topic, quote the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA).

The LNT theory holds that the long term, biological damage caused by ionising radiation – essentially the cancer risk –increases directly as the radiation dose increases. There is no safe lower level of ionising radiation.

Instead of explaining this basic concept in radiation protection, the slight coverage on radiation and health given to the Jury, was done in a trivial manner as the following examples (listed in the transcript report) illustrate.

First Speaker

Greg Ward, Chief of Staff, Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission, was asked the following question by a juror (p 28):

“Why didn’t the commission report to us the effect of radioactivity in these two [Hiroshima and Nagasaki] populations?”

Greg Ward

That’s just one example … There are lots of studies being undertaken … to look at it from other angles as well … I would have to say that there’s a cloudy area, and that’s largely around the impact of low doses of radiation on humans … You’ve got others who would argue that actually small amounts of radiation actually has a beneficial effect on your immune systems, but there’s certainly no — I would have to say there’s no universal agreement at this point.

Rebuttal

But there IS universal agreement on the Linear No Threshold theory, as explained by the health bodies named above.

Second Speaker

Chad Jacobi, Counsel Assisting, Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission (p. 31):

Chad Jacobi

the effects that we’re looking at, they are what are known as stochastic effects, they deal with lower doses where you need to do epidemiological studies in order to determine the relationship between radiation and a particular consequence … outstanding evidence, from Geraldine Thomas … She gave excellent evidence on this topic and her evidence is very interesting.  

Rebuttal

Mr Jacobi did not go on to explain any of this evidence, so the jurors were left in the dark here.

However, Professor Geraldine Thomas of the Imperial College London, cited by Jacobi, is well known as a speaker promoting the message that ionising radiation is nothing to worry about. She pops up wherever the nuclear lobby is doing a soft sell and in particular, downplays the health effects of radiation on all species as a result of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. She also claimed (at an international conference on radiation research in Warsaw in 2011):

Following Fukushima I doubt that there’ll be any rise in thyroid cancers in Japan.

Thomas’ views are greatly contested. Screening has shown an abnormal rise in thyroid cancers in Fukushima. Professor Timothy Mousseau has studied the Chernobyl and Fukushima situations extensively, finding ill effects of radiation — including genetic damage and increased mutation rates in many species.

Third Speaker

Nigel McBride, Chief Executive Business SA — the state’s peak business and employer group. Mr McBride had a lot to say — some snatches (p 88):

Nigel McBride

Maralinga atomic experiments … British atomic tests are not linked to this discussion; they’ve got nothing to do with it very subtle way of linking two completely unrelated issues to bring fear and emotion … 60,000 people work directly in the UK nuclear industry and in 60 years there has not been one fatality. Neither has there been a fatality in Canada, France, Germany, India and even the U.S. … Five and a half thousand people we understand die from some level of obesity yet we don’t ban sugar and sugary drinks … education over hysteria.

Rebuttal

On Maralinga, from Keith Thomas, Chief Executive of the South Australian Native Title Services (p 97):

Keith Thomas

For Aboriginal people the past really does shape the present and the future. Significant events like happened at Maralinga very much become a part of that … that’s affected people all the way to the present as there’s people dying young, which shouldn’t be happening … Aboriginal people — “We don’t want that stuff here because we’ve seen what it does to people.”

On nuclear workers’ fatalities:

An investigation in the U.S. last year, revealed at least 33,480 American nuclear workers died as a result of their radiation exposure. International Agency for Research on Cancer, World Health Organisation also reported on nuclear workers’ leukaemia.

Fourth Speaker

Jason Kuchel, Chief Executive South Australian Chamber of Mines and Energy. At last, the fun part about bananas and chocolate. He provided these to jurors, as some sort of evidence of the benignness of ionising radiation (p 117):

Jason Kuchel

I took the opportunity during the break to put some bananas and some chocolates on the tables … you will get to see the point of that as we go through. … [the risks of] getting an x-ray, flying in a plane or even eating a bananaAt the Onkalo waste repository in Finland, the worst case radiation dose if someone were to stand on top of the facility for a whole year and there was a defective package, the equivalent radiation would be equal to eating one bite of a banana.  

As the facility is not yet accepting radioactive waste, all that hardly matters. And that was all from Mr Kuchel.

Fifth Speaker

Associate Professor Michael Penniment, Director Royal Adelaide Hospital, went on at length about the present storage of radioactive materials in hospitals and so on in Adelaide. He took a long time to go near the question of health effects of low level radiation but he finally got to talking about radioactive sources (p 124):

Michael Penniment

It may be that you may not want to avoid them anyway … I got the banana association straight up. I didn’t get the Lindt one [the reference is to the Lindt chocolate factory, which is quite near a nuclear power plant]; I didn’t see that coming. But certainly there’s some radioactive potassium.

You can decrease your risk by doing a few things: you can live in a wooden house, that will take per cent house; if you live in a tent, that will take 20 per cent off; if you live in the open, that will take 50 per cent off.  (He goes on to elaborate the benefits of radiation in treating cancer).  And that’s it — end of his presentation.

However, later in the Q and A section, Penniment did return to that subject ( p.132):

I saw an article by … David Webb … in the follow-up to Chernobyl … there were 28 deaths, and those were the radiation workers that were sent in to clean up the initial spill … And then there was something of the order of 1500 people that died from suicide because of their concerns about radiation, which he described as really the fallacy of radiation, that those people were so worried, and beyond that nobody has died form that incident.

There’s even data that suggests, and it’s reassuring to me, there was data from the British Radiology Association a number of years ago that low level exposure that’s above what we’ve set as the community limit actually may have an improvement in health in terms of what’s called radiation hormesis. The study of radiation workers in the 50s and 60s where controls aren’t as tight as 30 they are now suggests that it may actually have a very low level exposure to radiation but above what we would deem safe might actually have an improvement in health.

Rebuttal

On Chernobyl deaths:

Professor Penniment has taken his information from the World Nuclear News. As well as the sources noted above, eminent Russian scientists have put the death toll at 985,000. The most recent study TORCH-2016, an independent scientific evaluation of the health-related effects of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, explains the difficulty in getting an accurate estimate but suggests a conservative estimate of 30,000.

On nuclear workers’ health: 

As explained above, in rebutting Nigel McBride.

On radioactivity of bananas:  

Bananas, brazil nuts and some other foods contain radioactive potassium-40 — but in extremely low doses. Potassium-40 in bananas has a specific activity of 71 ten millionths of a curie per gram. Compare that to the 88 curies per gram for Cesium-137. This is like comparing a stick of dynamite to an atomic bomb. Our bodies manage the ingested Potassium 40, so that after eating bananas, the excess is quickly excreted and the body’s Potassium-40 level remains unchanged.

The radioactive isotopes that come from nuclear fission (such as strontium -90, cesium -137 and iodine 131) were unknown in nature before atomic fission: our bodies are not adapted to them. And as well as being far more radioactive that Potassium -40, they can accumulate in the body.

I had hoped for something sensible to come out of these Citizens’ Juries. That doesn’t look like happening if the juries continue to be fed this kind of nonsense.

Nuclear Citizens’ Jury in action: the purpose and the process

On June 25 and 26, the South Australian government held the first of three citizens juries, dedicated to discussing the recommendations of the recent Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission. The sessions are being run by the South Australian company DemocracyCo.

From the start, there are problems with the purpose of this Citizens’ Jury. Premier Weatherill did not really help to clarify this, in his opening speech, as he explained its purpose:

It is not to arrive at a decision, but to arrive at a decision that the government can make a decision.

The initial company charged with setting up the jury plan was the Sydney company New Democracy. They used the term “Citizens Jury” which is trademarked by the Jefferson Institute. Here’s where the trouble starts. The Jefferson Institute, in in its definition of Citizens’ Jury  clearly states:

The Citizens Jury convenes diverse groups of citizens to study an issue deeply, discuss different perspectives on the issue, and recommend a course of action or craft their own solutions to address the issue at hand.

The Citizens Jury process has been used in several countries, and was used Adelaide in 2015. On that occasion, the Citizens’ jury recommended the mandatory desexing of cats and dogs. All of these Citizens’ Juries made a decision and a recommendation, in keeping with that trademarked definition. To my knowledge, this Nuclear Citizens’ Jury is the first in the world to abandon that principle of making a decision, verdict, or recommendation. Instead, it is charged with the job of developing a readable, understandable, summary of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission’s 320 pages of recommendations.

How did New Democracy come to this decision to abandon an intrinsic purpose of a Citizens’ Jury? One can only surmise that this was done under pressure from the South Australian Labor government and the Royal Commission?

No wonder that Premier Weatherill floundered a bit in his introduction at the jury opening.

Having arrived at this plan for the jury, New Democracy handed over the process to the South Australian company, who, by the way, had managed the Adelaide Cats and Dogs desexing question.

There are intrinsic flaws in this Citizens Jury process

For one thing, there are too many members (50) in this “jury”, and in the one planned for later this year (350) . A jury should be made up of 10 to 20 members.

Apart from that, the process looks good at the start. New Democracy and DemocracyCo have gathered their 50 members following a random selection from a database of over 820,000. A payment of $500 (Citizens Jury 1) for the four day commitment ensures that the members are not disadvantaged, by for example, missing work, and other costs. Facilitators are selected to be neutral. DemocracyCo have gone to a lot of trouble to ensure that the hearings are transparent and accessible to all. They provide videos, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=260PBScNcJ8 and at http://yoursay.sa.gov.au/nuclear/livestreams/citizens-jury-one-livestream and will be providing transcripts. Watching these videos, it is clear that DemocracyCo’s facilitators are endeavouring to manage the hearings in a fair way, courteously giving space for jury members to question the speakers.

Even so, the process is fraught with difficulties. Following Premier Weatherill’s introduction, the first session  introduced members of the Royal Commission team. They outlined the Royal Commission’s steps and recommendations. I got the impression that they were keen to have the Royal Commission strongly influencing the process. Questions from the jury members were at times answered in a vague way.

If this were a real legal jury, speakers could not get away with waffly answers.

Here’s an example:

A female jury member asked Greg Ward, (member of the RC) about the non existence of a functioning underground nuclear waste storage. Her exact words:

But they haven’t actually done it

Mr Ward’s reply:

There is one – the USA’s WIPP .

He then very quickly went on to lengthy information about the countries trying to develop one. A lawyer would have stopped Mr Ward from doing that waffle – the lawyer would have said:

Yes or No?

The lawyer would also have been briefed, and would know that the Waste Isolation Pilot Project is not functioning, and has in fact, been a disaster.

Another interesting question to Greg Ward:

You make it clear that the Royal Commission has no responsibility to educate the community at large. We jury members, with our lack scientific knowledge are given this job – our job is greater than the Commission’s. Who is going to support and fund this necessary education of the public?

Answer from Greg Ward:

It is a big challenge. I think you will enjoy the process. (repeats) It is a big challenge. You will need to focus on the real issues and the facts. I’m sure that you will provide the right advice.

A problematic area is in the choice of witnesses. This is done in a complicated way, but

DemocracyCo is trying to be fair here. In looking for expert witnesses, the jury members are not necessarily aware that some might come with technical knowledge, but with an implicit or well-known bias on the subject. This is most likely to happen with witnesses on the subject on health and ionising radiation.

A later meeting, on selection of witnesses on the subject of “education” (educational methods etc), the meeting recommended a speaker from Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA). What was needed was an education expert, not a radiation expert.

If you go to DemocracyCo’s Citizen Jury website – Citizens’ Jury One Video Library or to Youtube – you can see 24 videos of these recent hearings.

To try to assess the content of all of these witness speeches is quite a daunting task. However, when one breaks it down into topics, it becomes easier to analyse these speeches from witnesses, and to detect any biases, omissions and flaws. Day One was pretty much a big spruik from the Nuclear Fuel Chain Royal Commission. Day Two was more complicated.

As one goes through all these hearings, as I have done, questionable areas emerge. Some of these are – the economics of waste importing, transport safety, including terrorism risks, the effects of low dose radiation, and perhaps the most significant aspect of all – Aboriginal rights. I think that if observers study each aspect separately, flaws in the Royal Commission’s (RC’s) case will become evident.

It’s not a proper “Jury”, with a purpose to arrive at a yes or no verdict. It is a campaign ruse by the Weatherill government to get these “ordinary people” to develop a readable, understandable, summary of the RC’s 320 pages of recommendations. Apparently the RC personnel are not able to do this themselves.

Two rays of light in all this. First, the jury members are already asking intelligent questions. Secondly, DemocracyCo’s personnel are making every effort to run these hearings fairly, and transparently.

The South Australian nuclear lobby may be in for some surprises.

Submission to South Australian Parliamentary Committee. 10 holes in the Royal Commission’s pro nuclear case

It’s no surprise that South Australia’s questionable Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission (NFCRC) is recommending that Australia become the world’s nuclear waste import hub. That has been the intended outcome from the beginning, when the Commission was set up, over a year ago.

The questionable integrity of the NFCRC was discussed in a submission by Yurij Poetzl over a year ago. Poetzl pointed out Royal Commissioner Kevin Scarse’s conflict of interest, as a shareholder in Rio Tinto, and as a member of CEDA (the Committee for Economic Development In Australia). CEDA’s Policy Perspectives of Nov 2011 clearly supports and promotes the growth of South Australia’s nuclear industry. The Royal Commissioner selected predominantly pro-nuclear experts for the Commission’s Advisory Committee. The Advisory Committee had no involvement of health or medical professionals. Poetzl went on to list 22 significant questions that were not addressed in the RC’s Terms of reference. (1)

Speaking in November 2014 at a Flinders University guest lecture,Scarce acknowledged being an “an advocate for a nuclear industry”.

This doubt is raised again, in the latest batch of Submissions, which were published on the RC’s website on 2nd May. In a Submission that is neutral, not anti- nuclear, Gary Rowbottom notes that

Mr. Scarce, in his delivery of the tentative findings, a mere day after the release of these findings, seemed to be critical of any comments made in opposition to deepening Australia’s involvement in the nuclear fuel cycle, often citing lack of evidence for viewpoints expressed.

there is a fair bit of evidence that the commission members themselves are in the majority, clearly quite pro nuclear. I am not happy at the lack of subjectivity that may have brought to the findings, particularly on the waste issue. Whilst Mr. Scarce did say that they did look at the negative sides of all the Issue papers, there is not much evidence of that in the Tentative Findings.

Kevin Scarse, would, I am sure, once again dismiss such criticisms as just “opinion” or “emotional”, “not fact-based” or “formed upon fear”.

The Royal Commission’s problem is that criticisms of its findings are fact-based.

The latest batch of submissions brings up many unanswered questions.

1. Aboriginal rights
Our involvement with fighting the nuclear industry is nothing new. We were long ago concerned by the government agreeing to uranium mining activities that have now permanently contaminated our land and our groundwater. We want no further expansion of the nuclear industry and we will continue to fight for our rights as traditional owners in respect of the wisdom of our old people that came before us. We care for our country. We only wish governments and industries would do the same. Anggumathanha Camp Law Mob

Our members consider that any attempt of a proposal to place this site on Aboriginal lands in SA will be a blatant disregard for the Custodians of their lands already so long disregarded.

These particular Findings of the Royal Commission (including their many subclauses, not included), which note expressly Aboriginal Communities and specifically those communities deeply affected by the British nuclear tests at Maralinga, ring immediate alarm bells for our members. – Ngoppon Together Inc

2. Economics.

The Royal Commission’s Tentative Finding, that substantial economic benefits could be obtained at low risk from the storage and disposal of used nuclear fuel in South Australia, is not soundly based. Excessive reliance has been placed on Jacobs MCM (2016), which has made over-optimistic assumptions in the financial analysis, such as the willingness of potential customers to pay for their share of the cost of the geological disposal facility before it has been built.

The proposal has major financial risks to taxpayers that have been ignored or played down in the Tentative Findings. These are sufficient grounds to reject the scheme. However, if the Royal Commission is determined to ignore or downplay the risks and recommend the proposed project, it should also recommend that the substantial financial risks be taken by a private corporation or consortium, not Australian taxpayers – Dr Mark Diesendorf

The proposal is that we should accept waste before the repository has been completely built and tested. This proposal is so reckless, as to be negligent. We would face the very real risk of being left with high-level nuclear waste, and no technology to properly handle it- Dr Andrew Allison

If Russia, with vast territory, a mature nuclear power industry, and experience with their own stockpiles of waste, could not establish a waste dump for profit, what chance does Australia have of succeeding in such an enterprise?- Meg Backhouse’s submission.

If this is such a great deal, how come no other country has grabbed it before now? – South Australian Greens

Item 88 How can financial assessments based on operating over about 100 years be relevant when the storage is required over many hundreds of thousands of years? Item 150 The Federal and State Government will have to underwrite the risks if the project goes ahead, which will require taxpayer funds. In the event of a disaster the Government (and therefore, the taxpayer) will be required to sort out the mess. – Graham Glover.

3. Safety.
Accepting waste that – in the Report’s own words ‘requires isolation from the environment for many hundreds of thousands of years’ (p 16) requires a very high-level of confidence that the risks associated with the location of such waste in our state are very low. The Tentative Report does not provide a level of evidence that can give confidence about these risks. Unfortunately the nuclear industry and its proponents have a long record of over stating the benefits of the nuclear industry and understating its risks – to the cost of citizens’ in terms of health, community stability, and economic outcomes. We are asked in the Tentative Report to take these recommendations ‘on faith’ given that the proposed high-level waste dump is not operational anywhere on earth – and, further, that the dump proposed for our state is twenty times larger than that planned (not actual) for Finland. – Mothers for a Sustainable South Australia

4. Transport dangers.
The Royal Commission apparently assumes that the movements of many hundreds of thousands of tonnes of spent nuclear fuel from many countries around the world to the Gawler Craton will be low risk, no problems and perfectly safe. As contradictory as those stances are, I do not accept that position of default safety. Further I do not accept that the unloading of the HLNW will be perfectly safe. I do not accept that road transport from port to repository site will be perfectly safe, even on a dedicated purpose built road. -submission from Paul Langley

We are concerned at the obvious dangers of transporting overseas high level radioactive wastes into our state and country. – Catholic Religious South Australia

5. Climate change

Has the NFCRC incorporated the potential impacts of climate change on the ecology and geology the State? It is essential that some scenario planning for climate change impacts be included in the assessment as conditions in the next one hundred years are likely to be very different to those experienced in the last 100 years. Trisha Drioli

There is no analysis of the potential impacts on the environment into the future. In fact, it is not possible to even comprehend what the environment could be like 100,000 years into the future. For example, climate change models predict significant changes in weather patterns including precipitation and temperature. Models of potential sea level rise indicate significant inundation of coastal areas, but if worst case scenarios eventuate, such as significant melting of the polar ice caps, most of South Australia would be underwater. That might take thousands of years, but there is nothing to indicate the possible impacts of the environment if a currently arid environment became wetter or if groundwater levels rose or if a site became completely inundated. Mark Parnell

6. Health
The Commission’s opening tentative finding states that “South Australia can safely increase its participation in nuclear activities, and by doing so, significantly improve the economic welfare of the South Australian community.”

The evidence base for adopting such a confident and conclusive statement is questionable. – factual evidence is given in this submission by Dan Monceaux
7. The legality of the Commission under question

THE WASTE REPOSITORY PROPOSAL VIOLATES EXISTING AGREEMENTS AND AUSTRALIAN LAWS – Dr Andrew Allison

It is currently South Australian law that “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.”

As a South Australian citizen, I am very concerned by what appears to be a disregard for the rule of law. This is particularly concerning as the nuclear industry across the world has a somewhat tarnished reputation when it comes to transparency and compliance with legal requirements. Any lack of confidence in the rule of law (whether perceived or real) will be extremely detrimental to this project and to South Australia as a democratic state. -from submission by Trish Drioli

8. Lack of transparency?
Transparency” is a term when used in such context, makes a mockery of public consultation and decision-making. In an industry that is hidden within Legislative Agreements that prohibit “freedom of information” and with information locked up in inter-departmental exchanges that circumvent any public disclosure, there is no transparency. Local get-togethers do not equal public engagement. These are serious matters which are of National concern from submission by Anne McGovern

Many who are attending the meetings in surrounding affected communities are stating they are being told it will be low level waste only, when the report clearly states that the profits expressed so strongly are actually determined on expected high level nuclear radioactive waste from international power stations and other uses, as stated on page 16, tentative finding number 73 through to 95, in addition to intermediate and low level waste. (NFCRC, 2016)

9. Impact on other industries.
The Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission Tentative Findings Report contains many generously overstated ambitions, almost no analysis of the environmental, tourism or agricultural consequences with its focus on narrowly supported economic benefits.

Concerns about environmental and safety effects of the waste depot are not the result of over-emotional, irrational fears. Holly-Kate Whittenbury

Item 155 Any chance of South Australia being regarded as the “Clean & Green” or the “Carbon Neutral” State will be overshadowed if this proposal goes ahead. Impacts on agriculture, tourism and the renewable energy sectors could be significant, irrespective of whether a major nuclear accident has occurred or not. South Australia could be known as the “Dumb” or the “Dump” State. – Graham Glover.

It was disappointing to note that “Impacts On Other Sectors” was given relatively little attention. … SAWIA notes that its members have genuine concerns about the potential risks to the reputation of the South Australian wine industry in the event of a nuclear accident occurring on South Australian soil.

Such a risk would also have the potential to harm the State government’s economic priority of ‘Premium Food and Wine produced in our Clean Environment and Exported to the World’ – SOUTH AUSTRALIAN WINE INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION INCORPORATED

10. Deceptive spin about medical wastes.

Even if the waste depot did only receive low level, medical waste, the facility would not be economically viable; medical waste, as described by physician Louise Emmett, only needs to be stored for such a short time that it would hardly make it to the waste facility for dumping, before it breaks down;

“In the vast majority of nuclear medicine practices the storage issue is not particularly current in terms of what we keep. It’s waste products have a short half life, up to eight days half life, so it would be difficult to take that long distances for storage.” (Baillie, R. 2012)

This quote was taken from a 2012 interview with ABC reporter Rebecca Bailie and described the deceptive and secretive attempts to store nuclear waste on Muckaty cattle station in the Northern Territory and describes the government and nuclear proponents’ spin on the storage of dangerous waste using medical uses as an excuse as a method of breaking down strong public resistance. Clearly, the supporters of the waste dump in 2016 are using the same deceptive techniques. Radiologist Doctor Peter Karamoskos has also pointed out the deception this time round in 2016;

It is at best misleading and at worst a lie to claim that a large-scale nuclear waste repository such as what is being proposed would be solely justified to handle the minuscule amounts of nuclear medicine waste generated in Australia.” (Parnell, M.2015)…….. Holly-Kate Whittenbury

1. http://nuclearrc.sa.gov.au/app/uploads/2015/09/Yuri-Poetzl-24-07-2015.pdf

Jay Weatherill launches a nuclear propaganda juggernaut

This article first appeared on Independent Australia

SOUTH AUSTRALIAN Premier Jay Weatherill is launching an all out campaign to inform the public about the recent Nuclear Fuel Chain Royal Commission’s plan for a global nuclear waste importing industry.

This is all going to be terribly democratic, we are told. There will be “citizens’ jury” meetings on 25-26 June and 9-10 July.

I am, in fact, in favour of the citizens’ jury idea. Instead of us being “talked down” to by experts (who are likely to have a vested interest in the nuclear waste import plan), ordinary non-experts hear all the evidence and opposing opinions, discuss these and come up with a sensible verdict.

After all, that is what we expect in a criminal trial. We do not trust the verdict to “experts” although we do expect their opinions to be heard.

My first problem with the South Australian citizens’ juries on nuclear waste importing is that the first jury isn’t given a true jury role.

The letter sent to potential jury participants says that their task will be to:

‘… produce an independent guide to help every South Australian understand the recommendations raised by the Royal Commission’s report.’
This jury will not produce a verdict on whether or not the jury thinks that the nuclear waste import plan should go ahead.

The organisation running the process, newDemocracy, define the term as:

The Citizens Jury convenes diverse groups of citizens to study an issue deeply, discuss different perspectives on the issue, and recommend a course of action or craft their own solutions to address the issue at hand.
So, Weatherill’s first “Citizens’ Jury” is not going to act as a jury at all. It is going to provide material for the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission’s information campaign. And how will this jury gather this information? Well, it will presumably be informed by the newly created Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission Consultation and Response Agency — about which nobody seems to know anything. Who are the members?

The second jury does appear to have a greater role. This second and final jury will perform a jury role in that it will resolve a direction for the Premier and the government and answer the question,

‘Do we have your consent to continue to pursue opportunities related to the Nuclear Fuel Cycle?’
There are other questions as to its role. A citizens’ jury is supposed to have an independent advisory panel. Who will be on this panel? It’s also supposed to have an independent monitor supervising its meetings. Who will this be? The jury will hear expert witnesses. Who will they be? And where will the jury get its documentary information? How transparent will this citizens’ jury be?

One comforting thought is that newDemocracy’s reputation is at stake if their jury process is seen to be unfair. However, will they be able to withstand the pro-nuclear pressure from the Weatherill Government and Kevin Scarce’s Royal Commission crew?

NewDemocracy have set out a fulsome 21-page account of the whole community consultation process as an attachment. This process has been studied and “blessed” by the following “community engagement professionals: as indicated in the report:

Prof. Lyn Carson, University of Sydney, Board member of newDemocracy
David Kahane, University of Alberta & Convenor, Alberta Climate Dialogue (ABCD)
Lucy Cole-Edelstein, Principal, Straight Talk Communications & Former Board member, IAP2
Kathy Jones, Chief Executive, KJA, Board member of newDemocracy
Mary Pat MacKinnon Vice President Hill + Knowlton Strategies Canada
Professor Peta Ashworth, Chair in Sustainable Energy Futures, University of Queensland
Meanwhile, Jay Weatherill has wasted no time in setting out the rest of the process that will follow this first Citizens’ Jury meeting:

Teams from the newly formed Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission Consultation and Response Agency will begin visiting communities from late July, travelling across the State to explain the Royal Commission’s report and gather feedback from the community.

All major regional centres, more than 50 remote towns and all Aboriginal communities will be visited in a dedicated program to ensure all South Australians can get involved in the conversation about the State’s future involvement in the nuclear industry.

Major suburban shopping centres and events, such as the Eyre Peninsula Field Days in Cleve (August), and the Royal Adelaide Show (September) are also included.

This again raises those questions about just who will be informing the public, with what materials and so forth. And there’s another great question that nobody seems keen to answer.

How much is this nuclear publicity juggernaut going to cost taxpayers?

Five big nuclear issues for 2016 — and Australia’s role in them

This article first appeared on Independent Australia

Nuclear issues got next to no discussion in Australia in 2015. That is sure to change in 2016 from five explosive factors.

#1: Nuclear weapons

It’s not nice to talk about the threat of nuclear war. That’s the bogey man that doesn’t exist any more. Or does it?

Swinburne University’s Marko Beljac recently outlined the risks of a ‘nuclear war by miscalculation’, due to the United States setting “red line” borders close to Russia and China, while all three powers escalate their production of modern nuclear weapons. Australia contributes to these increasing border tensions by joining the U.S. in stepping up up military surveillance flights over the South China Sea, in defiance of China.

William Perry, former U.S. Secretary of Defense, in his new book My Journey at the Nuclear Brink, warns on the renewed danger in the new nuclear arms race. Australia has to be involved, with Pine Gap’s important role in the United States ballistic missile defense system and in its space-based intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. In the event of nuclear war, Pine Gap makes Australia both a participant and a target.

What the experts call a “limited nuclear war” between India and Pakistan is always on the cards as both nations ramp up their nuclear weaponry. What does Australia do about this? The Turnbull Government, ignoring the advice of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCOT) and pro nuclear power expert Dr John Carlson, goes ahead with insecure uranium sales to India, thus contributing to that India-Pakistan arms race.

All these considerations will matter to Australia in a number of ways in 2016. An obvious example is in the diplomatic tightrope that our Government must walk in its relations with China — Australia’s largest export market.

#2: Indigenous rights

Over decades, the global nuclear industry has used Indigenous land for bomb testing, uranium mining and waste disposal.

In the past few years, Indigenous Australians have shown their determination to oppose nuclear waste dumping and expanded uranium mining in the Northern Territory. No First Nations group has volunteered to host the Lucas Heights nuclear waste.

For 2016, governments must have learned that Indigenous Australians are a force to be reckoned with and that non-Indigenous might join in that anti nuclear struggle. State governments, particularly Western Australia, have sought to strengthen the resources industries’ power to fight Aboriginal land rights. This has to be an issue for uranium mining in 2016 — whether mining developments can continue to ride roughshod over traditional Indigenous traditional land.

#3: Energy technologies

Renewable energy is here to stay. It used to be “alternative energy”. Now, when U.S. investment bank Lazard pronounces that wind and solar technologies are beating conventional fuels – coal, gas and nuclear – on costs of production, the world is sitting up and taking notice.

What has this got to do with nuclear power?

Well, everything. The world is moving away from fossil fuels. They have lost their social licence and the writing is on the wall for investment in fossil fuels. The nuclear lobby has latched on to this and is vigourously promoting itself as the energy alternative, while it downplays renewable energy. That downplay is either done either subtly – describing both nuclear and renewables as “both part of the energy mix” – or more directly, as in the social media, rubbishing solar and wind power. This occurs especially in the United States, where the nuclear industry has joined with the fossil fuel industries in lobbying efforts to stifle renewable energy development. In Australia, a good example of the nuclear lobby’s attack on renewable energy came when it promoted climate contrarian Bjorn Lomborg‘s attempt to set up a university anti-renewables think tank.

Australia is particularly important in this global competition between traditional energy sources and 21st Century renewable technologies. Despite the Australian Government’s often faltering support for and, indeed, outright opposition to wind and solar power, it is all happening here. Australia leads the world in rooftop solar, with the highest portion of residential buildings with rooftop photovoltaic power. Despite government policy uncertainty, important solar research continues, community solar projects are developing, large scale solar projects are taking off, for example, in New South Wales. Wind power is now also taking off and has long shown its success in South Australia.

The much celebrated “Blind Freddy” has always known that Australia is the nation of greatest potential for solar, wind and wave energy. At the same time, it is the nation of arguably the greatest risk from climate change. It is in our economic interest to move to low carbon energy sources. The nuclear lobby would have everyone believe that nuclear energy is the answer. But even they know that this is not a practical choice for Australia. In February, the South Australia Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission will be announcing its recommendations. Its chief, Kevin Scarce, has already indicated that it is not likely to recommend nuclear power.

In 2016, Australia still has the opportunity to become a leader in truly clean renewable energy technologies, as energy storage systems become a reality.

There’s also the design challenge that is rarely mentioned. This is the imperative to develop design systems by which the rare earths in cell phones, computers, wind turbines and so on can be recycled, rather than mined. This is a promising new industry already started in South Australia. It goes counter to the great Australian tradition of mindlessly “digging it up, shipping it out”, but – hey! – isn’t it time for some new thinking?

With 2016 as an election year and with the ALP’s policy of a 50 per cent renewable energy target by 2030, renewable energy developments form a challenging issue.

#4: Australia as the world’s nuclear waste dump

One of the major spruikers for this idea has been Bob Hawke, who again floated the idea when speaking to the Huffington Post last week.

The plan has had little coverage in Australia’s media, except for South Australia. It seems that until old Labor heavies Hawke and Gareth Evans enthused about it, the idea has been seen as solely relating to South Australia. However, as the first step would be to dismantle Australia’s Federal laws against importing nuclear waste, this will have to become a national matter.

Confusing the issue is the fact that Australia is obligated to take back the Lucas Heights reactor nuclear waste that has been processed in France, UK and Argentina. The first French lot has to comeback in 2016. This is a special case, with special legislation to permit only the storage of wastes that originated in Australia. The nuclear lobby will have a field day with this, seeing it as a foot in the door for that other grand plan to import the world’s radioactive trash.

Which brings me back to the South Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission and all that will ensue from its recommendations. Commission head, Kevin Scarce, will no doubt cover his back with worthy statements about proceeding only if there is a social licence, but we can be pretty sure that this expensive year-long Royal Commission is not going to turn its back on its central idea — importing nuclear wastes. Meanwhile, in 2016, the ALP will have to face the push within its ranks to change its existing anti nuclear policy.

#5: The propaganda war

The American nuclear industry is fighting for its survival. The focus there is on exporting nuclear technology and, indeed, that is also the focus in other nuclear countries, such as China, Russia, Japan, South Korea.

The controversial main pro-nuclear themes are:

  • nuclear’s role in beating climate change;
  • and transforming the unhealthy image of ionising radiation.

I will spare you a diatribe on this last matter. but I have no doubt that there will be pressure on Australia’s academic and health authorities, as well, of course, on the mainstream media to accept these two viewpoints.

Nuclear issues got near to zero discussion in Australia in 2015. That is sure to change in 2016.

We cannot trust billionaire philanthropists to lead the way on climate action

This article first appeared on Online Opinion

We should not trust tech billionaires to solve the world’s climate problem, David Aeurbach recently wrote in Slate. His focus was on the fact that not just these great entrepreneurs, but all of us, must tackle climate change. However, there are some other, and more concerning reasons why we should be sceptical of the billionaire entrepreneurial climate action drive.

At the opening of the Paris Climate Summit (COP21), with the blessing of the White House, Bill Gates announced the Breakthrough Energy Coalition (BEA), with an ambitious goal to deal with climate change. 24 billionaire philanthropists have joined in the BEA. They include Richard Branson, Mark Zuckerberg, and Jeff Bezos.

Simultaneously 19 governments, including the United States, China and India, announce “Mission Innovation”, a project that will involve tax-payer money to explore and invent new ways to develop low carbon energy.

Not surprisingly, the two organisations will work in tandem. The billionaire philanthropists plan a public-private partnership between governments, research institutions, and investors that will focus on new energy methods especially for developing countries.

Sounds great, doesn’t it?

I would be churlish to criticise the efforts of such generous givers as Bill Gates, Richard Branson, and Mark Zuckerberg. But I’m going to do it, anyway.

For a start, this twin project is directed at researching new forms of low carbon energy. A lot of money therefore is to go into trying out new plans, that exist at best, only in blueprint form. Yet already there are in operation large scale and small scale renewable energy projects that could be deployed. In particular, small scale solar energy is very well suited to being deployed in rural India, Africa, and other developing nations, as well as in Australia and other developed nations. It is happening now. Projects such as Barefoot Power have operated for years now, bringing affordable solar power to millions of rural poor in Africa, Asia Pacific, India and the Americas.

The energy need now for poor countries is deployment of existing technologies, not years of research and testing of so far non-existent ones.

Next, what avenues of research will the BEA pursue? Bill Gates gave a clue, in his launch speech on November 29:

The renewable technologies we have today, like wind and solar, have made a lot of progress and could be one path to a zero-carbon energy future. But given the scale of the challenge, we need to be exploring many different paths-and that means we also need to invent new approaches.

Other clues:

  • The one and only University that has joined BEA is the University of California, which runs the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, well known for its nuclear research.
  • Bill Gates is co-founder and current Chairman of the innovative nuclear energy company TerraPower Gates has a long term history of enthusiasm for small nuclear power reactors. Since the Fukushima nuclear disaster, USA’s Nuclear Regulatory Commission has tightened the rules for new reactors. Fortunately for Mr Gates, China is less fussy about this, so Gates has been able to do a deal with the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC). TerraPower and CNNC will build the first small 600 MW unit in China, and later deploy these nuclear reactors globally.

I don’t doubt that Bill Gates is sincere in his goal of reducing greenhouse gases. It’s just that I have reservations about Small Nuclear Reactors having any impact on global warming.

If Small Nuclear Reactors did in fact reduce greenhouse gases, the world would need thousands of them to be up and running quickly, but they’re still at the planning stage. They’re supposed to be much safer than conventional nuclear reactors, but still produce radioactive wastes, and are targets for terrorism. Each and every one of them would need 24 hour guarding. It gets expensive.

One can only wonder at the cast of mind of the Gates, Branson, and Zuckerbergs of this world. It seems to me that they have a particularly American outlook – one that happily blends personal profit with the public good. Nothing intrinsically wrong with that. And they have a charming, boyish sense of adventure, which finds it most attractive to do something really new. Old no- profit programs like “Barefoot Power” just don’t have that rakish appeal.

Australia has a few like-minded people, such as Barry Brook, and Ben Heard, who are keen to become part of this exciting “new nuclear” venture.

Of course, Gates and co. are not alone in this rather fantastic enthusiasm. The term selected “Breakthrough Energy Initiative” gives the game away. For many years now, America’s Breakthrough Institute has lobbied and publicised “new nuclear” as the solution for climate change. The Breakthrough Institute has many well-meaning and enthusiastic environmentalists as members. Its philosophy, expressed in “The Ecomodernist Manifesto” is full of beautiful motherhood statements about climate and environment, and only a few paragraphs about new nuclear technology.

This Manifesto, by the way, appears as a Submission to the South Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission.

The effect of the Breakthrough Institute, over the years, has been to slow down action on reducing the use of fossil fuels. It has also aimed to discredit renewable energy.

Bill Gates and co have been amazingly successful in their ventures. (We won’t count Richard Branson’s space travel disaster). Being rich and successful adventurers does not necessarily prove them to be wise. There are many aspects to the challenge of climate change, of which they may not be aware. I certainly agree with David Aeurbach that we should not rely trust tech billionaires to give the lead in solving the world’s climate problem.