Dubious Australian push for nuclear power to star at COP26.

This first appeared on Independent Australia ( as The Nationals and Murdoch media support nuclear power ahead of COP26)

On 1st September,  Senator Matt Canavan called for Australia to boycott the COP 26 Climate Summit to be held in Glasgow in November.  Was he speaking on behalf of the coal or oil industries?  Well, not exactly.  This was the latest, and weirdest call from Australia’s noisy little band of pro nuclear promoters.  Canavan was responding to the news that the nuclear industry has been banned from having exhibits at COP 26. He ranted on that the Climate Summit was a ”sham” for excluding nuclear power – a view supported by MP Ken O’Dowd. O’Dowd said that nuclear power should be at the top of the climate agenda. Other National Party notables  –  David Littleproud, and  Bridget McKenzie recently spoke out  for nuclear power.

It’s not long ago since these nuclear fans, and especially Matt Canavan were fans of the coal industry.  Indeed, they probably still are.

But like the nuclear industry worldwide, they are now taking up the cause of climate action, with a vengeance. The nuclear lobby’s motives are clear. First, they want the tax exemptions and other subsidies that come with being declared as clean and sustainable. Secondly, but also extremely important, they need that seal of approval. that public respectability, which goes with acquiring the ”clean green” label.

The global lobby’s most persuasive argument is that a nuclear reactor’s operation generates a lot of electricity, with only a minuscule production of CO2 14.  (They don’t talk about the processes of the nuclear fuel chain from uranium mining through to demolition of dead reactors and disposal of wastes. Of course their favourite phrase ”emissions free” energy doesn’t count emissions of radioactive strontium-90).

The Australian nuclear promotion is less persuasive. Coming predominantly from Murdoch media, the content of nuclear propaganda is sloppy, inaccurate, and at times downright weird.  THE AUSTRALIAN provides two outstanding

The first is this eye-catching article  ”Savvy activists cast nuclear benefits in a fresh green light ” – subtitled -‘‘For baby boomers, nuclear weapons and nuclear energy were conflated as an existential risk. This created an irrational fear that persists today’‘  So,from the outset, the argument is an attack on anti-nuclear activists, rather than the case for nuclear power.

The hero of the piece is Zion Lights, formerly of Extinction Rebellion, who created her own pro nuclear group Emergency Reactor. She works closely with Michael Shellenberger, who, himself, has lost the support of the general nuclear lobby, due to his many inaccurate statements.  Zion Lights and THE AUSTRALIAN go into a lengthy digression on the foibles of the baby boomers, who have ”conflated nuclear weapons and nuclear energy as an existential risk that could wipe out humanity.”   The health effects of the Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters are minimised, and renewable energy is rubbished as being ineffective and polluting.

The author, Claire Lehmann, concludes that the too-slow movement towards carbon neutrality is the fault of the misguided anti-nuclear baby boomers.

The second article is ”Nuclear stacks up – cue the meltdown” by Greg Sheridan, who starts by accusing Australians as being ”environmental outliers”, for prohibiting nuclear power.- ” purely negative, and more or less insane”. ”Australia is not just eccentric, but nuts”. Sheridan goes on in this vein, then enthusing about the success of nuclear power in the EU and the USA (although the former is very much divided, and critical of the nuclear industry, and in the latter, the industry is collapsing).

Then come these claims about renewable energy: 

Renewables look economically competitive only because of the subsidies they get, the massive distortions to the regulatory structures required to make them viable at all, and because they have no obligation to be available all the time.”

That is absolute rubbish! The private sector is only too happy to invest in renewables!  Why is that? Because renewables are cheap, clean, quick to build, do not require continuing digging up of fuel to keep them going, and do not produce pesky dangerous waste to deal with by future generations further down the track!   And storage of this energy is improving and advancing all the time.   


The advancements in technology are continuing in renewables and do not look like stopping any time soon! And their “viability” also involves many different ways of harnessing this energy – solar, wind, geothermal, tidal, biomass, solar thermal….the list goes on – and not relying on just one way of producing this energy, in many different regions.

Then, Sheridan moves on to spruik for small nuclear reactors (SMRs). He claims, with no evidence, that SMRs will be a cheap energy source – cheap compared to what? Certainly  not renewables. He states that small nuclear reactors will be cheaper than the old large ones. But for the amount of energy produced, to equal that from a large reactor, a number of small reactors would be needed, which becomes more expensive.  He predicts NuScale’s SMRs to be operating by 2028. What is he talking about?   Even the NuScale company predicts just one SMR to be operating in the USA by 2029 –    it is a long way from that, to widespread use of  SMRs in America, let alone Australia.

Then, the main thrust of this pro nuclear argument moves on to an attack on Labor, the Greens etc: –  ”the deadly, wretched, wholly negative, nihilistic scare campaigns and demonising that the ALP left and its Green allies have conducted against nuclear energy

There is no attempt to address any of the worrying issues that surround nuclear power – costs, safety, environmental damage, radioactive wastes.   He reminds that Bill Gates backs nuclear power. Well, of course Gates does – he owns a nuclear power company, Terra Power.

He also quotes the EU as backing nuclear power.  While several EU countries do have nuclear power, the EU as a whole is not recommending  nuclear powers as a climate solution. In fact the nuclear industry is banned from exhibiting at the Green Zone at COP26.

Sheridan moves away from the climate argument, to push for nuclear submarines, and the need for nuclear reactors to support them. And then it’s on to electric cars. Well, the submarine argument is debatable, too. He dismisses renewable energy as a power source for industry, and especially for powering electric cars   ” Solar panels and windmills won’t cut it”

As I write this comes the breathtaking news that the Murdoch media is changing its attitude to global warming. From a rather crude sort of climate denialism, they are likely now to move to a more sophisticated support for the technical ”climate fixes” spruiked by the fossil fuel industries, a more subtle way of sabotaging real climate action. Perhaps we can expect them also to provide something more credible on the nuclear issue, in the future.

Elon Musk and Bill Gates: beware of gurus toting solutions to climate change

Bill Gates, while motivated to help fight climate change, has also long been trying to make a success of his nuclear technology company  Terra Power.   The climate emergency presents him with the perfect opportunity  to promote this, and especially, to get tax–payer funding to do it, as he suggests in his new book.

This first appeared on Online Opinion

Elon Musk  has grand plans to save the world. Bill Gates has just published his book  ”How To Avoid a Climate Disaster”.   They both envisage tax-payer funding for their solutions.  But beware of gurus toting the solution to the planet’s crisis.

If you don’t think that our home planet is in an ecocidal crisis, then you’ve been blissfully unaware of global heating, over-population, biodiversity loss, waste crises, plastic pollution, overconsumption of energy , water shortages, deforestation, nuclear danger,  space junk danger,  perpetual nuclear war risk…….

Visionaries like Bill Gates and Elon Musk have brought extraordinary, and beneficial advances to our human society. On the way, they have become billionaires. And good luck to them. But their wealth and fame has made them all too ready to be seen as world leaders, and to see themselves as having the solutions to world problems.   This can be problematic, as in effect, some of their solutions exacerbate the problems.

The future envisioned by both Bill Gates and Elon Musk has one huge blind spot.  They both foresee ever-expanding energy use, and they plan for that – problems can be fixed with technology.

On a finite planet, endless energy use just cannot work.  But the concept of enough is just not in their plans.  If the human species does not take up the concept of enough, we could just become an extinct species. Technology could be used to reduce energy use, but that idea fades away as Gates, Musk, and other technocratic leaders see progress as being to have ever more exciting and energy-guzzling gimmicks and activities.The digital revolution. It should be a benefit, enhancing our lives, and in many ways, it IS.  But an energy price is paid in our unbridled use of digital technology.  Every email, emoji, Facebook post, tweet, blogpost, Youtube,   uses electricity.  It’s not as if these actions  just disappear ”into the cloud”.  What a dishonest term that is!   There is no such cloud. What there actually IS –  is a host of vast areas of dirty great data” farms”. There’s another dishonest term.  They’re not farms. They are soulless collections of great metal servers, using  ever growing amounts of electricity, and of water, to keep them cool.

Then there’s the price at the end.  It’s very hard to find out the details and the extent of toxic materials from digital technology, that are dumped in poor countries.
And, to be fair, companies like Apple, have made some efforts to reduce their ewaste. https://www.ewaste-expo.com/is-apple-delivering-on-its-environmental-claims/

However, planned obsolescence is rampant in the high tech world, resulting in the utter tragedy of  ewaste pollution, – from discarded smartphones, laptops, computers, printers, TVs, fidbits, smart fridges, robots etc, the tragedy of the thousands of children working as waste-pickers in India and Africa, in slum conditions. E-waste includes many toxic materials such as lead, arsenic, cadmium, and mercury, that release dioxins. .  ”With no health or environmental protections in the slum, the toxins contaminate the air, water, and the food consumed in the slum…….. The area is constantly covered in thick, toxic smoke from the burning of electrical cables that goes on all day and night,” – High-tech hell: new documentary brings Africa’s e-waste slum to life https://news.mongabay.com/2012/04/high-tech-hell-new-documentary-brings-africas-e-waste-slum-to-life/

Both Gates and Musk are enthusiasts for renewable energy, and in the climate crisis, they are to be applauded for their work in this direction. Yet, as with all kinds of digital technology, renewables should not be unlimited, and do have their downsides, both in the production (pollution from rare earths mining/processing), and in the final disposal, with toxic wastes, and components that are difficult to recycle.  .  The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) estimates that solar panels produced 250,000 metric tonnes of waste in 2018 alone.

Bill Gates  and Elon Musk do show their awareness of the planet’s grave environmental problems, but we don’t hear from them about energy conservation, or about moving away from the consumer society.   Both talk quite enthusiastically about the great increase in energy use that we can expect. They complacently predict endless energy use, just as the nuclear lobby did in its glossy advertising film ”Pandora’s Promise”

Elon Musk now  plans to put 24,000 satellites into space, and is well known for his dream of colonising Mars, and This idea has, of course, been taken up by many others, and there’s a sort of general public delight in space travel and interstellar rocketry.  People seem oblivious to the fact that this will require huge amounts of energy, and that  the space scientists already are turning away  from clean solar power, to the far more dangerous source of nuclear fission.   They’re also oblivious of the state of affairs in near space, where the trillions of bits of space debris pose dangers, floating about just like the plastic pollution in the oceans.  Meanwhile the military planners in USA, Russia, China are already planning for nuclear weapons and war in space.

No surprise then that Elon Musk sees nuclear power as necessary – not just for his predicted need for much more electricity on Earth, but for this obsession with satellites and rockets.

Less well understood than his push for electric cars and Tesla technologies, is Elon Musk’s investment in the cryptocurrency, Bitcoin.  Running Bitcoin demands enormous amounts of electricity, as Timothy Rooks explained recently https://www.dw.com/en/why-does-bitcoin-need-more-energy-than-whole-countries/a-56573390

Bill Gates, while motivated to help fight climate change, has also long been trying to make a success of his nuclear technology company  Terra Power.   The climate emergency presents him with the perfect opportunity  to promote this, and especially, to get tax–payer funding to do it, as he suggests in his new book.


Wake up people!     These two gurus have done some good stuff.  But don’t let them manipulate us into  dangerous territory –   with nuclear technology, so connected with weaponry, and with its dangers, and the unsolved problem of radioactive trash.  Sure, technology has got to be part of solving the planet’s crises. But we need much more imaginative leadership to steer our species away from infinite consumption and infinite energy use.

Australia: double standards on research cooperation with China?

This was first published on Independent Australia on 4 January 2021

Scott Morrison’s Liberal Coalition government seems to remain in silent approval of ANSTO’s partnership with a Chinese company, to develop Generation IV nuclear technologies such as small nuclear reactors.

But it’s a different story, when it comes to the Morrison government’s concern to put a stop to the Victorian Labor government’s cooperation with China in developing  agricultural, communications and medical research

We hear very little about the Australian government’s research connections with China, managed under the Australia-China Science and Research Fund (ACSRF) , which has the aim of “supporting strategic science, technology and innovation collaboration of mutual benefit to Australia and China.”

One remarkable collaboration between Australia and China is in the strategic partnership between the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) and the Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics (SINAP) to develop the Thorium Molten Salt Nuclear Reactor (TMSR)  and other “Generation IV” nuclear reactor designs.

In March 2019 , Dr Adi Paterson, then CEO of ANSTO welcomed renewal of this agreement, and was reported as stating that it was “consistent with ANSTO and Australia’s interest in and support of

Generation IV reactor systems “. This statement was made at a time when Australia’s federal and states’ laws clearly prohibited development of nuclear reactors.

The Age (28/12/2020) quoted anonymous senior federal government sources who reveal that the Australian government may use its powers to tear up a research agreement between the Victorian government and China’s Jiangsu province . This agreement was signed in 2012 and renewed in 2019.

The sources said the Victoria-Jiangsu Program for Technology and Innovation Research and Development was on a list of agreements the Department of Foreign Affairs had identified as potentially contrary to Australia’s national interest. Very recent legislation has given the federal government the power to cancel agreements between Australian states and foreign governments.

The Victoria-Jiangsu Program for Technology and Innovation Research and Development has covered a variety of research areas.

On the co-operation between Victoria and the Jiangsu province, the Burnet Institute’s deputy director of partnerships, Associate Professor David Anderson said that “the Victorian government should get lots of credit for embracing genuine collaboration “

The programme has helped the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute work on a potential cure for hepatitis B . The Burnet Institute has received significant help to develop antibody tests to immediately diagnose medical conditions including COVID-19 and measles.

The background to the new legislation giving the federal government the power to axe such state agreements is in the increasing anxiety over China’s “rapidly growing, high-tech military sector”.  According to defence expert Dr Paul Monk it is all about gaining access to Australian intellectual property, part of increasing military-industrial strength with the aim of winning wars.

The Age quotes Dr Monk :   ” [China] is a militaristic, mercantilist country where [strategic] industries are owned by the government and directed to increasing military power”

The USA partly funds the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, which strongly advises against co-operative research with China.  And of course, the Victorian Liberal opposition leader Michael O’Brien was quick to join in the chorus, condemning the Labor government for having the deal with China.

All this makes it all the more inexplicable as to why the Australian government should have an agreement with China to develop nuclear reactors. Under federal law, Australia prohibits establishing nuclear installations.

However, in December 2019, a Senate Committee presented its report on the – Inquiry into the prerequisites for nuclear energy in Australia.  This report did recommend that Australia should collaborate with international partners in progressing the understanding of nuclear energy technology. It advised that ANSTO should assess the feasibility of Generation IV nuclear reactors, including small nuclear reactors. The Committee did recommend that Australia should consider lifting its moratorium on nuclear reactor research, particularly in relation to advanced nuclear reactors, including small modular reactors.

Still, the law prohibiting nuclear reactor development still stands.  ANSTO seems to have jumped the gun, in setting up this agreement with China several years ago, well before there was any move to change this law.

There has been virtually no media coverage of  Dr. Adi Paterson’s deal with China, which goes back to 2015.  I have previously written about this, and the secrecy under which it was conducted.

Indeed, ANSTO’s operations and its funding have been conducted in secrecy, under the comfortable shroud of national security.

Right now, there is a move to corporatise the nuclear medicine facility at Lucas Heights as a separate entity to ANSTO.  At the same time, the government is in an unseemly rush to set up a nuclear waste dump near Kimba in South Australia.  In the midst of all this came the sudden unexplained resignation of the CEO, Dr Adi Paterson.

The silence on all this is disturbing.   It must be especially so for the small rural community of Kimba, and for the Aboriginal Title Holders,  as they wait in limbo, for the vexed question of the nuclear waste dump to be solved.  For the rest of South Australia, that is a concern, too.  Victorians may well wonder why their medical research co-operation with China is seen as so dangerous.  Meanwhile is it OK for Australia’s nuclear research body ANSTO to work with China on the development of small nuclear reactors?

 

 

New nuclear legislation set to provide toxic dumping ground in South Australia

This first appeared on Independent Australia on 30 August 2020

UNDER THE PRESSURE of The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), The Australian Government is in a hurry to get a new bill passed. It’s not really a new bill, it’s actually a new bit tacked on to an existing one. It’s called the National Radioactive Waste Management Amendment (Sithttps://independentaustralia.net/politics/politics-display/new-nuclear-legislation-set-to-provide-toxic-dumping-ground-in-south-australia,14256e Specification, Community Fund and Other Measures) Bill 2020.

The amendment does two important things: it selects a definite place in South Australia, a farmer’s property called Napandee, as a radioactive waste dump and it removes the possibility of a judicial review of that selection.

The existing law allows for the Minister for Resources to select a site, but his or her decision can be questioned and opposed. The amendment will prevent that.

The proposed dump is an “interim” radioactive waste facility.

It would consist of two parts:

  1. Temporary above-ground storage for what is known as low-level waste (LLW). LLW is a general term for a range of objects that are radioactively contaminated, but not considered to be highly radioactive nor toxic for thousands of years.
  2. A “temporary” above-ground storage for intermediate-level waste (ILW). ILW is a term for a mix of wastes that contains some very long-lived highly toxic radioactive matter, that does require isolation for thousands of years. While this amount would be smaller in volume, it would be far more significant. 95 per cent of this radioactive content would be spent nuclear fuel rods from ANSTO’s nuclear reactor at Lucas Heights, Sydney.

At present, these highly radioactive wastes are stored in giant canisters at Lucas Heights, where there is ample space for further canisters and experienced and skilled staff to monitor them and provide security.

ANSTO has plans to expand its operation and CEO Dr Adi Paterson’s dream of a world-leading business in exporting radionuclides for medicine and industry. Meanwhile, international nuclear security obligations demand that Australia develop a plan for the permanent disposal of nuclear wastes.

Unfortunately, this Napandee plan does nothing towards meeting these obligations. All that it does is to take highly radioactive wastes from very secure temporary storage at Lucas Heights, transport them by road, rail, or sea, for at least 1,700 kilometres to be placed in another temporary storage on agricultural land.

There is no plan whatsoever for the permanent disposal of this highly radioactive trash.

There’s a vague story that these wastes will later be moved from Napandee to a permanent disposal — anything from 40 to 300 years. They are most likely to suffer the fate of other such facilities in the USA and other countries and become stranded wastes.

Some, but not all, people in the Kimba area, where the Napandee farm is sited, look forward to the $31 million to be granted to the community when the facility is up and running. Napandee farmer Jeff Baldock was paid four times the value of his 160-hectare parcel of land. Community benefit amounts up to $3 million were offered to Kimba for considering the plan.

ANSTO and the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science backed the National Radioactive Waste Management Facility Taskforce (NRWMFT) in supplying information to the community. There was a heavy emphasis on “medical” wastes. But the reality is that the vast majority of wastes from nuclear medicine are very short-lived radioisotopes, that have no need to be transported thousands of miles and are routinely disposed of close to places such as hospitals where they are used.

A ballot was held in the area, of ratepayers only, on whether or not to support the project. Some residents close to the property were excluded, as were the Native Title holders, the Barngarla Aboriginal community. The vote result, from 824 voters, was 452 “yes”. The Barngarla held their own vote — 80 Barngarla voted, with the unanimous result of “no”.

The whole issue of the transport of the nuclear wastes and their “temporary” dumping does concern also the region, the state of South Australia and the nation. The decision should not be made solely by 452 ratepayers in one small rural area.

That area, Kimba, has been split apart as many in the community oppose the plan. It will cast a blight on the perception of local and indeed state agricultural produce as clean and green.

Non-ratepayers did not get a look-in. In this modern, almost Trumpian paradigm, outsiders such as economists, environmentalists, medical experts, sociologists and independent radiation experts are seen as “the elites” that can’t be trusted. Unfortunately, independent overseas experts on nuclear waste management have been excluded, too. Apart from the problems raised for the town and region of Kimba itself, there are serious questions about the appropriateness of the planned system, the area environmentally and geologically.

The decision to set up this “temporary” nuclear waste dump follows decades of efforts by the nuclear lobby, both Australian and global, to set up such a dump, or better, a permanent site for importing nuclear wastes.

Of course, this plan is confined to nuclear wastes produced in Australia. For now.

The plan is obviously helpful to ANSTO. They can pass this uncomfortable buck of 10,000 year-lasting radioactive wastes on to a distant South Australian rural community. It will then be managed and funded by whom? The South Australian and Australian tax-payers.

This will take the pressure of ANSTO, make it look as if they’re doing something about their radioactive trash and avoid any Lucas Heights, or rather Barden Ridge fuss, as they expand their operations. (The residential area previously part of Lucas Heights was renamed Barden Ridge to increase the real estate value of the area, as it would no longer be instantly associated with the nuclear reactor.)

It’s not so helpful to South Australia, or to Australia. The best solution is to leave those nuclear reactor wastes safely stored at Lucas Heights for the time being and to develop a national discussion and plan for what to do with those wastes for permanent disposal. Under this present, rather rushed scheme, Resources Minister Keith Pitt, Dr Paterson and the whole crew of the NRWMF will be dead and gone, long before the stranded wastes at Napandee will be properly dealt with.

A solution for the common good is what’s needed, not just a solution that suits ANSTO. ANSTO is a statutory body — a case of the tail wagging the dog, perhaps?

The National Radioactive Waste Management Amendment (Site Specification, Community Fund and Other Measures) Bill 2020 has been passed by the House of Representatives. It will be debated in the Senate later this year.

Meanwhile the Senate Economics Legislation Committee is holding an Inquiry into this bill. They were due to report on 31 August, but I understand that this may have been postponed. They have held three public hearings, but at the third one, the Department of Industry requested that the discussion be continued later, in confidence via a telelink.

This where it gets interesting. Suddenly, a public hearing becomes private. The topic for this new secrecy was the discussion of some documents from the NRWMFT that had been requested by the Committee and received only a very short time before the hearing. The documents were heavily redacted. They relate to the process by which the Napandee site was selected. How spontaneous was the farmer’s offer of his land? What roles did the NRWMFT, ANSTO and the Industry Department, play in instigating this offer?

So many questions surround this plan:

  • Is the new amendment being pushed because Minister Keith Pitt fears the opposition of Aboriginals, or indeed of the public in general?
  • The exclusion of the Barngarla from the decision — how does this square with Indigenous rights?
  • Why did the Government not provide any independent advice to the Kimba community?
  • Why are the South Australian and Australian public excluded from decision-making?
  • Why is this Senate Committee public hearing to be held in secret?
  • Why is this all happening in such a hurry?

Transporting nuclear wastes across Australia in the age of bushfires

This first appeared on Independent Australia

In 2020 the final decision on a site for Australia’s interim National Radioactive Waste Facility will be announced, said Resources Minister Matt Canavan, on 13th December. He added:

I will make a formal announcement early next year on the site-selection process.

With bushfires raging, it might seem insensitive, and non-topical, to be worrying now about this coming announcement on a temporary nuclear waste site, and the transport of nuclear wastes to it.  But this IS relevant, and all too serious in the light of Australia’s climate crisis.

The U.S. National Academies Press compiled a lengthy and comprehensive report on risks of transporting nuclear wastes: they concluded that among various risks, the most serious and significant is – fire.  

The radiological risks associated with the transportation of spent fuel and high-level waste are well understood and are generally low, with the possible exception of risks from releases in extreme accidents involving very long duration, fully engulfing fires. While the likelihood of such extreme accidents appears to be very small, their occurrence cannot be ruled out.

 Transportation planners and managers should undertake detailed surveys of transportation routes to identify potential hazards that could lead to or exacerbate extreme accidents involving very long duration, fully engulfing fires.

Current bushfire danger areas include much of New South Wales, including the Lucas Heights area, North and coastal East Victoria, in South Australia – lower Eyre and Yorke peninsulas. If nuclear wastes were to be transported across the continent, whether by land or by sea, from the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor in Sydney, to Kimba in South Australia, they’d be travelling through much of these areas.  Today – they’d be confronting very long duration, fully engulfing fires. 

Do we know what route the nuclear wastes would be taking to Kimba, (which is now presumed to be the government’s choice for the waste dump)?   Does the Department of Industry Innovation and Science know? Does the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation know?  Well, they might, but they’re not going to tell us.  We can depend on ANSTO’s consistent line on this :

In line with standard operational and security requirements, ANSTO will not comment on the port, routes or timing until after the transport is complete.

That line is understandable of course, due to security considerations, including the danger of terrorism.

Spent nuclear fuel rods have been transported several times, from Lucas Heights to ports, mainly Port Kembla, in great secrecy and security. The reprocessed wastes are later returned from France or UK, with similar caution. Those secret late night operations are worrying enough. But their risks seem almost insignificant, when compared with the marathon journey envisaged in what is increasingly looking like a crackpot ANSTO scheme for the proposed distant Kimba interim nuclear dump.  It is accepted that these temporary dumps are best located as near as practical to the point of production, as in the case of USA’s sites.

Australians, beset by the horror of extreme bushfires, can still perhaps count themselves as lucky in that, compared with wildfire regions in some countries,  they do not yet have the compounding horror of radioactive contamination spread along with the ashes and smoke.

Fires in Russia’s have threatened its secret nuclear areas.  Several American nuclear analysts have concluded about the fire dangers in Russia’s waste transport and temporary storage:

These risks could pose serious security implications not just for Russia but for the U.S. and for the world.

Similarly, Ukraine has had catastrophic wildfires, Ukraine has had catastrophic wildfires,endangering nuclear waste facilities and transport

In the USA, the Hanford nuclear waste reservation, always a dangerous place, had its dangers magnified by wildfires.  In 2018, California’s Woolsey wildfire spread radioactive particles from the Santa Sussana nuclear waste area. Famously, Kim Kardashian, not previously known for environmental activism, took up the struggle to expose this scandal, and agitate for a clean-up.  In Idaho, a nuclear research facility just like Lucas Heights one, aroused  much anxiety about its wastes, and waste transport, as wildfires invaded the area.

Many in America have long been aware of the transport danger:

The state of Nevada released a report in 2003 concluding that a steel-lead-steel cask would have failed after about six hours in the fire, and a solid steel cask would have failed after about 11 to 12.5 hours. There would have been contamination over 32 square miles of the city and the contamination would have killed up to 28,000 people over 50 years. .https://www.benzinga.com/news/19/12/15039410/freight-all-kinds-transporting-nuclear-ores-and-wastes

The State of Wyoming is resisting hosting a nuclear waste dump, largely because of transportation risks, as well as economic risks. In the UK, Somerset County Council rejects plans for transport of wastes through Somerset.

In the years 2016 – 2019, proposals for nuclear waste dumping in South Australia have been discussed by government and media as solely a South Australian concern.  The present discussion about Kimba is being portrayed as just a Kimba community concern.

Yet when the same kind of proposal was put forward in previous years, it was recognised as an issue for other states, too. Eureka Street reported:

In 2003 the mayors of Sutherland, Bathurst, Blue Mountains, Broken Hill, Dubbo, Griffith, Lithgow, Orange, Wagga Wagga, Auburn, Bankstown, Blacktown, Fairfield, Holroyd, Liverpool, Parramatta and Penrith — communities along potential transport routes — opposed ‘any increase in nuclear waste production until a satisfactory resolution occurs to the waste repository question’.

The NSW parliamentary inquiry into radioactive waste found ‘there is no doubt that the transportation of radioactive waste increases the risk of accident or incident — including some form of terrorist intervention’.

Most reporting on Australia’s bushfires has been excellent, (with the exception of Murdoch media, which tried to downplay their seriousness ) However, there has been no mention of the proximity of bushfires to Lucas Heights. As happened with the fires in 2018, this seems to be a taboo subject in the Australian media.

While it has never been a good idea to trek Lucas Heights’ nuclear waste for thousands of km across the continent, or halfway around it, by sea, – Australia’s new climate crisis has made it that much more dangerous. The bushfire apocalypse – is it just a one-off?   Or, more likely, is this nation-wide danger the new normal?

Australia has no choice but to adapt to this global heating world, and to do what we can to stall the heating process, by becoming part of a global climate action movement. And fast.  In this new, and scary scenario, nuclear power has no place. If nuclear power actually were an effective method of combatting climate change, it would still have no place, because the reactors would never be up and running in time.

It is ludicrous, as well as dangerous, for Australia’s nuclear lobby to pretend that nuclear power is any part of a solution to climate change. Ben Heard, in his nuclear front “environmental” site Bright New World, proposes this, and actually uses the bushfire risk as an argument for nuclear power.   Mark Ho, of the Australian Nuclear Association uses the bushfire risk as the reason why Australia should remove the ban on nuclear power, though he doesn’t explain the connection.

From the point of view of Matt Canavan and the nuclear lobby, the bushfires are probably a timely distraction. The whole bizarre plan for a Kimba nuclear waste dump might just be able to proceed, quietly, as a local matter only.

On the other hand, the Australian public in all States, those “quiet” people who go along with this government’s lack of any real policies, are now stirring, waking up to the painful realisation that climate change is upon us. Bushfires are now the national horror. They won’t want the horror of nuclear waste transport dangers added to the mix.

 

Australian government must fund nuclear power – Barrie Hill of SMR Technology

This first appeared on Antinuclear.

Barrie Hill gives an insight into just what the global nuclear lobby wants from Australia.  They want to overturn Australia’ s laws prohibiting nuclear activities, and get the tax-payer to fund the development of the nuclear industry in Australia

His submission (no.60) to the FEDERAL. Inquiry into the prerequisites for nuclear energy in Australia is a fine example of the nuclear-lobby-speak that is turning up in these submissions from nuclear power experts.  He’s the Managing Director of SMR Technology, and makes sure to outline his impressive background in the industry.

His is a long submission, in 3 long documents.  Here are snatches from his main document.:

*****************************************************

Hill says that for Australia replacing coal with nuclear will be “ the least cost alternative “. He recommends a South Korean type nuclear chain. Says that “the viability and advantages of small modular reactors is fully covered in a separate submission”. Recommends setting up a Federal government authority to lead Australia’s nuclear program. Recommends the South Korean Advanced Power Reactor 1000MWe (APR1000).

“It is recommended that the groundwork for an inevitable future nuclear power program is put in place beginning with the removal of all legislated prohibitions and increased support or familiarisation and training programs.”

the government will need to guarantee high level positions with appropriate salaries for  qualified persons coming from existing nuclear areas”

Recommends used fuel storage to be ready by 10 years from first plant commissioning “and that storage allow for eventual fuel recovery”. Wants high regulation and documentation, and sites for reactors chosen early.

Outlines his strong background in the nuclear industry.

Discusses the needs for electricity, and limitations of renewable energy. Criticises the electricity marketing structure. All existing subsidies should be removed. Says base-load power is critically needed. Wants a single independent Australian Electricity Commission to be set up.

Goes on at length and in detail about projected.electricity costs. The development of nuclear reactors for power generation provides a cost effective, safe, and reliable option for the progressive replacement of the current Australian base load generation fleet.” and suggests direct replacement by Small Modular Reactors.

Says that Westinghouse indicated a  good potential for widespread industry involvement within Australia”.

Hill attributes the “difficult acceptance” of nuclear power to “accident outcomes sensationalised by technically uninformed media.”

At an early point in the process the Federal and State governments should act to remove all legislative bans prohibiting a final decision to proceed so that the work may be developed unobstructed and finally judged on it’s merits. It is clear that the existence of the bans has restricted expenditure on thorough analysis to date particularly by government  agencies and has been a severe detriment to the establishment of a coherent energy policy for the nation.”

He moves on to “Stage 2” – a feasibility study, resulting in a “national investment decision”, the forming of a Nuclear Energy Program Implementing Organisation, bring in many experts, including foreign experts for “high level knowledge” . Recommends Government Leadership and Continuous Investment in Nuclear Infrastructure….. “ The Australian government therefore should play a lead role in the program from the initial phase with investment funds, manpower selection, and appropriate planning –

With the existence of a firm financial guarantee from the government local and overseas companies will actively participate in the national nuclear power construction program with reduced risk. ”.

Only an Australian government agency can arrange and manage the required level of investment estimated to total $150B to eventually replace all retiring coal fired power stations, to ensure maximum benefit for the Australian community and minimum risk. The Reserve Bank has noted that this time of unprecedented low interest rates is the perfect  opportunity for government investment in productive new assets such as power stations.

Lengthy discussion on need for training and education especially tertiary. International co-operation, especially on safeguards. Need for a standard nuclear design.

[on nuclear wastes)”The work carried out for the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission based in South Australia has provided sufficiently detailed pre-feasibility studies to commence final feasibility work for the implementation of used fuel storage in Australia. It is recommended that used fuel storage be available ten years from first plant commissioning and that storage allow for eventual fuel recovery.”

Recommends importing nuclear wastes, as a way to fund nuclear power development :“The economic viability and revenue streams defined for used fuel import storage as part of the work carried out by the South Australian Royal Commission could in the extreme provide sufficient revenue to fund the development of a nuclear power program for all of Australia. This massive economic opportunity cannot be overlooked”

Need for a strong independent regulator.

On insurance, Hill explains why beyond a certain level risk had to be socialised. It is now understood that the state needs to accept responsibility as insurer of last resort”

Hill dismisses the idea of any necessary connection between nuclear power and nuclear weapons proliferation.

Discusses how to organise a leadership team, then process for choosing sites for reactors.

Discusses radiation at length, tending to minimise the health effects of Chernobyl and Fukushima, and reassures about the nuclear industry’s good safety culture.

Recent OECD and local studies suggest that Federal action to introduce nuclear power is the only economically viable option to meet minimum cost of supply, maximum reliability of supply, and key environmental imperatives for the Australian electricity sector.”

Hill gives detail on choosing a reactor type- recommending a Korean one.

On risk analysis – Humans are poor risk managers, focusing too much on consequences and too little on probabilities – something insurance and lottery salesmen relish.” Gives lengthy detail on risk identification and risk mitigation. He includes not only safety risks, but also financial risks, and ways to mitigate them.

Finally, Hill turns to the issue of climate change, recommending nuclear power for reducing greenhouse gases, and replacing coal power.

“The Federal government will be required to manage the financing, construction and operation of all nuclear power stations for the foreseeable future.
A prerequisite for the investment is the establishment of a government leadership andmanagement control organisation the Australian Electricity Corporation”

“ It is time for the Australian Federal government to lead a strategy for change before all those benefits are irretrievably lost.”

Federal inquiry gives glimpses of public opinion on nuclear power

This first appeared on Online Opinion.

Up until 7 September, 38 submissions have been published on the website of the Federal Inquiry into the prerequisites for nuclear energy in Australia https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/House/Environment_and_Energy/Nuclearenergy/Submissions

The numbers of submissions for and against nuclear power are almost 50/50. However, as some submissions may be confidential, we can’t really be sure of the numbers.

The main arguments in the pro nuclear submissions

The topic mentioned most often was – advocating for thorium nuclear reactors. Pro nuclear submissions also tended to focus on a call for public education about nuclear power, and a need to remove Australia’s laws that prohibit the nuclear industry. Several submissions concentrated on the question of nuclear wastes – arguing that this was not such a problem and a solution would be found. Small Modular Nuclear Reactors (SMRs) were recommended, as cost effective.

The main arguments in the anti-nuclear submissions

Overwhelmingly, the most selected topic was economics – the costs of nuclear power, and the government subsidies needed. Nearly as often mentioned was renewable energy, and its role in reducing greenhouse gases. Another big concern was the safety risks of nuclear power. There were several mentions of water use of nuclear power, of radioactive waste problems, and risks of terrorism and of nuclear weapons proliferation.

There were a variety of other concerns raised by both sides. Radiation is a hotly argued issue. Its hazards are discussed by Paul Savi (Submission No 4), but Erlc Gribble (No 38) argues that low dose radiation is not harmful, in fact can be beneficial (radiation hormesis).

The anti-nuclear arguments included social and political claims – that nuclear power has no social licence (EcoEnviro Pty Ltd – Richard Finlay-Jones Submisson 6), – that there is historic Australian opposition – hence the ban, (Greig Myer Submission 25), – the undemocratic history of nuclear activities in Australia,(Paul Savi, Submission 4)

Other anti-nuclear claims – that Australia shouldn’t be the first to try out SMRs, that renewables would provide more employment, that Aboriginals’ historic care of the land should be respected, (Trish Frail 32) .

On the pro nuclear side, there’s some exasperation at Australians’ lack of knowledge about nuclear power. Robert Gishubl (Submission 28) rails at “the irrational faith-based objections many people have”. Eric Gribble (38) writes of “a widespread paranoid concern” about radiation, – “It is easy to be a green. You simply oppose everything “.

Pro nuclear suggestions include first getting an international nuclear waste facility in South Australia, which would then fund the development of Generation IV nuclear reactors – (Matthew Gustafson, (20). Keith Thompson (11) suggests that the government offer generous awards for people who produce solutions to nuclear waste disposal. Geoffrey Hudson (37) warns on delay problems for land-based reactors, and advocates reactors on barges at sea.Ian Fischer(No 8) recommends a voluntary postal plebiscite to allow Australians to decide about a nuclear future. Eric Gribble (38) is keen on nuclear power’s ability to further Australia’s role in space research.

Even on the pro-nuclear side, there are some reservations, and not all are sceptical of renewable energy. Goronwy Price (35) sees nuclear as a support to renewables. Geoff Billard, (31)’s support for nuclear power is conditional on it being cost-effective.

At this stage, it’s hard to assess the general opinions on “the prerequisites for nuclear energy in Australia”. Submissions are accepted until September 16th. So there will probably a new rash of submissions published, over the next weeks. . The ones published so far have been relatively short. We can expect some longer and more detailed ones from various companies and organisations.

Seven reasons why small modular nuclear reactors are a bad idea for Australia

This first appeared on Independent Australia.

SMALL MODULAR REACTORS are in the news internationally and, rather more quietly, also in Australia.

International news reports that, in a failed missile test in Russia, a small nuclear reactor blew up, killing five nuclear scientists and releasing a radiation spike.

In Australian news, with considerably less media coverage, Parliament announced an Inquiry into nuclear energy for Australia, with an emphasis on small modular reactors (SMRs). Submissions are due by 16 September.

A bit of background. The U.S. Government and the U.S. nuclear industry are very keen to develop and export small modular nuclear reactors for two main reasons, both explained in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 2018. Firstly, with the decline of large nuclear reactors, there is a need to maintain the technology and the expertise of trained staff necessary to support the nuclear weapons industry. Secondly, the only hope for commercial viability of small nuclear reactors is in exporting them — the domestic market is too small. So, Australia is seen as a desirable market.

The USA motivation for exporting these so far non-existent prefabricated reactors is clear. The motivation of their Australian promoters is not so clear.

Here are the main reasons why it would be a bad idea for Australia to import small modular nuclear reactors:

1. Cost

Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University’s Department of Engineering and Public Policy concluded that the SMR industry would not be viable unless the industry received ‘several hundred billion dollars of direct and indirect subsidies’ over the next several decades. For a company to invest in a factory to manufacture reactors, they’d need to be sure of a real market for them — Australia would have to commit to a strong investment up front.

The diseconomics of scale make SMRs more expensive than large reactors. A 250 MW SMR will generate 25 per cent as much power as a 1,000 MW reactor, but it will require more than 25 per cent of the material inputs and staffing and a number of other costs including waste management and decommissioning will be proportionally higher.

study by WSP/Parsons Brinckerhoff, commissioned by the 2015/16 South Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission, estimated costs of A$180‒184/MWh (US$127‒130) for large pressurised water reactors and boiling water reactors, compared to A$198‒225 (US$140‒159) for SMRs.

To have any hope of being economically viable, SMRs would have to be mass-produced and deployed and here is a catch-22 problem — the economics of mass production of SMRs cannot be proven until hundreds of units are in operation. But that can’t happen unless there are hundreds of orders and there will be few takers unless the price can be brought down. Huge government subsidy is therefore required.

2. Safety problems

Small nuclear reactors still have the same kinds of safety needs as large ones have. The heat generated by the reactor core must be removed both under normal and accident conditions, to keep the fuel from overheating, becoming damaged and releasing radioactivity. The passive natural circulation cooling could be effective under many conditions, but not under all accident conditions.

For instance, for the NuScale design, a large earthquake could send concrete debris into the pool, obstructing circulation of water or air. Where there are a number of units, accidents affecting more than one small unit may cause complications that could overwhelm the capacity to cope with multiple failures.

Because SMRs have weaker containment systems than current reactors, there would be greater damage if a hydrogen explosion occurred. A secondary containment structure would prevent large-scale releases of radioactivity in case of a severe accident. But that would make individual SMR units unaffordable. The result? Companies like NuScale now move to projects called “medium” nuclear reactors, with 12 units under a single containment structure. Not really small anymore.

Underground siting is touted as a safety solution, to avoid aircraft attacks and earthquakes. But that increases the risks from flooding. In the event of an accident emergency, crews could have greater difficulty accessing underground reactors.

3. Security 

Proponents of SMRs argue that they can be deployed safely both as a fleet of units close to cities or as individual units in remote locations. In all cases, they’d have to operate under a global regulatory framework, which is going to mean expensive security arrangements and a level of security staffing. “Economies of scale” don’t necessarily work when it comes to staffing small reactors. SMRs will need a larger number of workers to generate a kilowatt of electricity than what is required by large reactors. In the case of security staffing, this becomes important both in a densely populated area and in an isolated one.

4. Weapons proliferation

The latest news on the Russian explosion is a dramatic illustration of the connection between SMRs and weapons development.

But not such a surprise. SMRs have always had this connection, beginning in the nuclear weapons industry in powering U.S. nuclear submarines. They were used in the UK to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. Today, the U.S. Department of Energy plans to use SMRs as part of “dual use” facilities, civilian and military.

SMRs contain radioactive materials and produce radioactive wastes which could be taken or used part of the production of a “”dirty bomb”. The Pentagon’s Project Dilithium’s small reactors may run on Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) – nuclear weapons fuel – increasing these risks.

It is now openly recognised that the nuclear weapons industry needs the technology development and the skilled staff that are provided by the “peaceful” nuclear industry. The connection is real, but it’s blurred. The nuclear industry needs the respectability that is conferred by new nuclear, with its claims of safe, clean, climate-solving energy.

5. Wastes

SMRs are designed to produce less radioactive trash than current reactors. But they still produce long-lasting nuclear wastes, and, in fact, for SMRs this is an even more complex problem. Australia already has the problem of spent nuclear fuel waste, accumulating in one place from the nuclear reactor at Lucas Heights. With SMRs adopted, the waste would be located in many sites, with each location having the problem of transport to a disposal facility. Final decommissioning of all these reactors would compound this problem. In the case of underground reactors, there’d be further difficulties with waste retrieval and site rehabilitation.

6. Location

I have touched on this in the paragraphs on safety, security and waste problems. The nuclear enthusiasts are excited about the prospects for small reactors in remote places. After all, aren’t some isolated communities already having success with small, distributed solar and wind energy? It all sounds great, but it isn’t.

With Australia’s great distances, it would be difficult to monitor and ensure the security of such a potentially dangerous system, of many small reactors scattered about on this continent. Nuclear is an industry that is already struggling to attract qualified staff, with a large percentage of skilled workers nearing retirement. The logistics of operating these reactors, meeting regulatory and inspection requirements and maintaining security staff would make the whole thing not just prohibitively expensive, but completely impractical.

7. Delay

For Australia, this has to be the most salient point of all. Economist John Quiggin has pointed out that Australia’s nuclear fans are enthusing about small modular nuclear reactors, but with no clarity on which, of the many types now designed, would be right for Australia. NuScale’s model, funded by the U.S. Government, is the only one at present with commercial prospects, so Quiggin has examined its history of delays. But Quiggin found that NuScale is not actually going to build the factory, it is going to assemble the reactor parts which have been made by another firm — which firm is not clear.

Quiggin concludes:

‘Australia’s proposed nuclear strategy rests on a non-existent plant to be manufactured by a company that apparently knows nothing about it.’

As there’s no market for small nuclear reactors, companies have not invested much money to commercialise them. Westinghouse Electric Company tried for years to get government funding for its SMR plan, then gave up and switched to other projects.

Danny Roderick, then president and CEO of Westinghouse, announced:

“The problem I have with SMRs is not the technology, it’s not the deployment — it’s that there’s no customers. The worst thing to do is get ahead of the market.” 

Russia’s programme has been delayed by more than a decade and the estimated costs have ballooned.

South Korea decided on SMRs, but then pulled out, presumably for economic reasons.

China is building one demonstration SMR, but has dropped plans to build 18 more due to diseconomics of the scheme.

There’s a lot of chatter in the international media about all the countries that are interested, or even have signed memoranda of understanding about buying SMRs, but still with no plans for actual purchase or construction.

Is Australia going to be the guinea pig for NuScale’s small and medium reactor scheme? If so, when? The hurdles to overcome would be mind-boggling. The start would have to be the repeal of Australia’s laws: the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999 Section 140A and the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act 1998. Then comes the overcoming of State laws, much political argy-bargy, working out regulatory frameworks, import and transport of nuclear materials, finding locations for siting reactors, Aboriginal issues, community consent and waste locations. And what would it all cost?

In the meantime, energy efficiency developments, renewable energy progress and storage systems will keep happening, getting cheaper and making nuclear power obsolete.

What’s more chilling: watching Chernobyl or cogitating on the cost of going nuclear?

This first appeared on  Michael West Investigative Journalism on 20 june 19

The sudden push by the Murdoch media and Coalition right-wingers to overturn Australia’s nuclear power ban ignores the chilling economic cost —  huge public subsidies, storing radioactive waste for thousands of years, the heavy costs of decommissioning and, potentially, radiation-related health costs. Veteran nuclear writer Noel Wauchope reports on the popular TV series, Chernobyl, and the economics of nuclear power.

THE frightening TV miniseries “Chernobyl” could put a few Australians off the idea of nuclear power but nuclear economics might turn out to be the bigger scare.

It is bad news for the Minerals Council of Australia and nuclear lobbyists, that Chernobyl has now arrived on some Australian TV screens, but pro-nuclear advocates are continuing to push their campaign anyway.

The miniseries “Chernobyl” has just finished in Europe and USA, outdoing “Game of Thrones” in popularity. HBO’s Chernobyl topped film and TV database IMDB’s list of the greatest 250 TV shows of all time.  The first episode was screened on 12 June, 2019 in Australia, on Foxtel.

The series has had a big impact. It was highly praised by numerous reviewers but criticised by pro-nuclear lobbyists, and infuriated some Russian politicians.

The series graphically tells a shocking story of disaster, of official secrecy and cover-up. It must, surely, have its effect on public opinion about nuclear power.

But, perhaps not in Australia, as it is showing only on Foxtel — and so not available to most Australians.

The latest public opinion poll indicates a slight increase in public support for nuclear power, with an Essential poll finding that 44 per cent of Australians support nuclear power plants and 40 per cent oppose them. However, it is noted that 60 per cent don’t want to live near one.

The Coalition’s renewed push for nuclear power

In March this year, 11 Coalition MPs (Andrew Broad, James Paterson, Tony Pasin, Tim Wilson, Chris Back, Craig Kelly, Eric Abetz, Andrew Hastie, Warren Entsch, Bridget McKenzie and Rowan Ramsey) urged then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to put nuclear power on the table as an electricity source for Australia. That call is now repeated by  Queensland and Coalition MPs calling for an inquiry into the feasibility of nuclear power in Australia.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he is open to considering nuclear power if it can stand on its own two feet. Energy Minister Angus Taylor told The Guardian on 12 June 2019 he wouldn’t rule out revising Australia’s nuclear ban “when there is a very clear business case which shows the economics of this can work”. Two days later, Environment Minister Sussan Ley also told The Guardian she was open to the review considering a removal of the ban.

But — are the economics of nuclear power viable for Australia?

When even Australia’s former top nuclear promoter has doubts, it doesn’t look promising. In an interview in The Age on 11 January 2018, Dr Ziggy Switkowski admitted that “the window for gigawatt-scale nuclear has closed” and renewables were now a more economically viable choice:

“With requirements for baseload capacity reducing, adding nuclear capacity one gigawatt at a time is hard to justify, especially as costs are now very high (in the range of $5 billion to $10 billion), development timelines are 15+ years, and solar with battery storage are winning the race.”

The 2016 South Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission found that that nuclear power is not economically viable in Australia. Peter Farley of the Institution of Engineers wrote in RenewEconomy on 4 February, 2019:

“As for nuclear the 2,200 MW Plant Vogtle [in the US] is costing US$25 billion plus financing costs, insurance and long term waste storage. … For the full cost of US$30 billion, we could build 7,000 MW of wind, 7,000 MW of tracking solar, 10,000 MW of rooftop solar, 5,000MW of pumped hydro and 5,000 MW of batteries. … That is why nuclear is irrelevant in Australia. It has nothing to do with greenies, it’s just about cost and reliability.”

How viable is nuclear power elsewhere?

Nuclear economics in America is really a tale of woe. You hardly know where to start, in trying to assess how much this industry is costing communities and tax-payers. There are the attempts to save the nuclear industry via subsidies. There are the continuing and ever-increasing costs of radioactive wastes.  There are the compensation payments to workers with radiation-caused illnesses, $15.5 billion and counting, and the legal battles over where to put the wastes. Needless to say, really, America is not initiating any new nuclear “big build”. The much touted “Small Modular Nuclear Reactors” are turning out to have no market and little prospect of being economically viable.

Compensation for nuclear workers

The UK nuclear industry is in the doldrums with repeated postponement of new projects – Hinkley Point C, Wylfa Newydd, Moorside, Sizewell C, Oldbury B and Bradwell B. See chart below:

Schedule for new nuclear reactors, UK (chart courtesy http://www.no2nuclearpower.org.uk/new-reactors/)

The 2018 forecast for future clean-up of Britain’s aging 17 nuclear power stations has blown out to £121 billion which has had to be spread across the next 120 years. As  the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority’s Nuclear Provision project must be discounted to a “today” value using rates laid down by HM Treasury and linked to government borrowing costs (adjusted for inflation), this results in a discounted provision of £234 billion.

France’s Flamanville nuclear project is taking years, remains bogged down with costly problems. Electricite de France (EDF)  has financial woes but hopes to save itself by switching from nuclear to renewables. France’s former nuclear giant AREVA went bankrupt and has changed its name to Orano and Framatome — and French tax-payers are still caught up in Areva/Orano costly legal corruption scandals.

Canada is up for increasing costs for managing its nuclear wastes. Interestingly, Canada abandoned its nuclear project for producing medical radioisotopes and now leads in non nuclear production of these isotopes.

India had grand plans for nuclear power, but has cut these back, and recently cancelled 57 reactors. It continues to have problems and many outages, at its huge Kudankulam nuclear station.

Of course, nuclear proponents will point to Russia, and to China. Well, for these totalitarian states, it’s almost impossible to get information on nuclear costs. Both countries are enthusiastically trying to market their nuclear technology overseas. Russia keeps offering “generous” funding to the buyer countries. But will those countries end up with big debts? Reuters reports that in China,

“No new approvals have been granted for the past three years, amid spiralling costs”

So — what does it all mean for Australia?

Those of us able to view Chernobyl may well ponder on the health and environmental risks of nuclear power.

Australia’s right-wing pro-nuclear zealots may well claim that nuclear power is the cleanest and safest source of electricity. But they’re unlikely to claim that nuclear power will solve climate change, given most are climate sceptics. Nor are they likely to consider a CARBON PRICE — the only way nuclear will stack up against gas and coal, according to the  Australian Nuclear Association.

 

Questioning the ‘medical reason’ for a nuclear waste dump in Kimba, South Australia

This first appeared on Online Opinion 1 August 2018

Small rural communities in South Australia are being told that it’s their patriotic duty to save Australia’s nuclear medicine – by allowing a nuclear waste dump in their area. Farming families who support the Federal Government’s plan to set up a radioactive are comfortable not only with the promise of continued economic benefit to their local area, but with the thought of the benefit to the health system of the whole of Australia.

But is this true?

According to parliamentary papers by Holland and James, and Richard Yeeles, the radioactive waste resulting from Australian use of medical isotopes is only a very small fraction of the overall Lucas Heights’ wastes, all of which could easily be stored indefinitely at Lucas Heights. Lucas Heights already has a secure purpose built facility, near to where the isotopes are produced and used. No dangerous transport of wastes is needed.

Regarding nuclear medicine, the vast majority of medical isotopes are very short-lived. They decay on the medical facilities’ premises until their radioactivity is negligible. They can then be disposed of in the normal waste stream (sewers, landfill etc) according to set standards. There is no need for a new nuclear waste facility for these isotopes.

As to cancer treatments, most cancer radiotherapy uses X-rays, which do not produce any waste at all. A very small proportion of cancer treatments need radioactive materials, which also are too short-lived to require a remote repository. A tiny number are legally required to be sent back to the (overseas) supplier once used up.

Nevertheless, the National Radioactive Waste Management Facility taskforce (NRWMF)’s information campaign in Kimba, has focused almost entirely on the medical aspect, emphasising the application of radio-isotopes in Australian hospitals. The NRWMF gives minimal information about the type, amount, and location of facility bound radioactive wastes, and specifically does not include what percentage results from actual Australian medical use.

The Department of Innovation, Industry and Science (DIIS) constantly promotes ANSTO’s ‘nuclear medicine production for Australian usage’, despite the fact that most of it goes overseas. When questioned by (then) Senator Scott Ludlam (Senate Economics Legislation Committee Session May 2017); The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO)’s CEO Adi Paterson informed us that last financial year 80% of ANSTO’s diagnostic medical isotope production consisted of Molybdenum 99. Of this, only 28% was used in Australia whilst 72% was exported.

The fact that the proposed nuclear waste facility will co-locate Intermediate Level Waste (ILW) with Low Level Waste (LLW) is barely mentioned. The Kimba community has not been informed that the ILW to be co-located at the site is much more highly radioactive and has to be isolated for thousands of years compared with hundreds of years for LLW. There are no plans presented for long-term storage or final disposal of this waste.

ANSTO has ambitions to dominate the world’s market for medical isotopes. This is dubious anyway, as other countries have advanced production systems, with an increasing trend towards modern non-nuclear production in cyclotrons, creating no nuclear wastes.

Using a nuclear reactor to manufacture radio isotopes creates a significant amount of ILW. ANSTO’s business decision assumes it will not have to pay for the disposal of the waste produced, even though it will need securing for many thousands of years. The cost of storing this waste is borne by the taxpayer and the community hosting it: this cost is not factored in to the market price for these isotopes

The reactor’s spent nuclear fuel constitutes High Level Wastes (HLW). These are sent to UK and France for reprocessing. Subsequently, Australia gets back a vitrified fission product-High Level Wastes compacted residues, which by the way are not physically Australian waste material.

The National Radioactive Waste Management Facility in its concept design design shows 2 LLW storage buildings, and 3 ILW ones.

It has not been made clear to the Kimba community that the predominant purpose of the nuclear waste facility is the “temporary” storage of ILW. There is no indication of how long “temporary” is going to mean.

Nuclear medicine will continue in Australia, regardless of whether or not this radioactive waste facility is built. The facility is not essential for Australia’s health system.

A Senate Committee is currently inquiring into the Selection process for a national radioactive waste management facility in South Australia. They will report back on August 14th. The local community will be voting on the proposal on August 20th.

In submissions to the Senate, several Kimba farmers are enthusiastic about the nuclear waste facility. Some other, opposing, submissions are sceptical of the NRWMF’s propaganda campaign. For example, Colin Mitchell (Submission No. 25) calls for an independent body to research the issue and assess the management of Australia’s nuclear wastes. Mitchell comments:

By failing to properly inform the communities about the co-location of the intermediate level waste the consultation process leaves itself open to the charge of deceit and thus undermines trust in the process and the agencies conducting the process as well as the government.