This article first appeared on Online opinion
In South Australia, a government appointed panel is considering the Terms of Reference for a Royal Commission into expanding South Australia’s nuclear industry. So far, the membership of this panel has not been made public, with the exception of the Head of the Commission, Kevin Scarce, former Governor of South Australia. Mr Scarce has already expressed support for nuclear industry expansion.
However, we can be grateful to ABC Radio’s “Ockham’s Razor” programme, as it provided the nuclear lobby with a platform for setting out succinctly their intentions. Oscar Archer, a well -known voice for the nuclear industry, explains.
Archer begins with a simplistic story telling us how much carbon is emitted from our household appliances He moves on to suggest, with an analogy about cars – that we should recycle energy. – a “new, clean, economical form of power”.
That alerted me to the expectation that he would be recommending nuclear reprocessing,and sure enough, this followed, immediately afterwards. Australia should get a fleet of PRISM small nuclear reprocessing reactors – Archer’s plan is for these – ” IFS+IFR: Intermediate Fuel Storage and Integral Fast Reactor, namely the commercially offered PRISM breeder reactor from General Electric Hitachi.”
What he means here is the Power Reactor Innovative Small Module
Archer then sets out the sequence of events that would lead to the establishment of this fleet. In Archer’s words “it goes like this. Australia establishes the world’s first multinational repository for used fuel – what’s often called nuclear waste”
However, he notes that “This is established on the ironclad commitment [my emphasis] to develop a fleet of integral fast reactors to demonstrate the recycling of the used nuclear fuel”
Funding for this fleet would be no problem, because “our international partners” would pay for the fleet and the waste repository.
Radioactive wastes from the new nuclear reactors would be no problem, because their half-lives would be only 30 years, (according to Archer) . All this, in solving the wastes problem, would enable a surge in development of conventional nuclear reactors world- wide, which, in turn, would boost our uranium industry.
Archer goes on to explain the safety features of the PRISM nuclear reactors, using the safer sodium coolant, preventing risk of meltdown. These Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) would have to be mass produced. The radioactive wastes would last for only 300 years.
Archer dismisses radiation risks as unimportant, and dismisses proponents of renewable energy as a “vocal minority”.
Finally, Archer reveals the most important step to be taken – “ for Australia to have a shot at this revolution, the first step must be to amend the ARPANSA and EPBC acts. We must remove the restriction on establishment of nuclear installations and set effective regulations under the expanded auspices of our internationally recognised regulatory body, ARPANSA.”
What he means is that Australia must change a federal law, because nuclear power is a protected issue as a ‘A Matter of National Environmental Significance’ under the National Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 . We must change the regulations of Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) . presumably to weaken the restrictions about radiation safety.
All will be achieved as popular support is developed “through outreach and education”
Where to start in examining Oscar Archer’s argument?
Well – the sting in the tale of his plan is really exactly what he calls the first step – the overturning or weakening of Federal and State laws. The Federal Act protects against nuclear reprocessing and expanded nuclear industries. ARPANSA sets safety standards for exposure to ionising radiation. South Australian State Law would have to be overturned, too – under the Nuclear Waste Storage Facility (Prohibition) Act 2000
Many will comment on the idea of Australia as the world’s nuclear waste dump.
Fewer will grasp the significance of Australia making a mass purchase of PRISM nuclear reactors. Now who is going to take that financial risk? He must mean the Australian government, – because for sure no private investor is going to take that on. The USA manufacturers realised that, which is why Westinghouse and Babcock pulled out of making SMRs
The PRISM can’t melt down in the way that conventional nuclear reactors can. However, its essential use of plutonium entails hazardous transport – vulnerability to terrorism and use as a “dirty” bomb. And – finally the PRISM reactor itself becomes radioactive waste requiring security and burial.
There is another, underlying premise here that needs to be examined. This is the premise that it is OK for Australia and the world to continue to consume energy endlessly.The scenario painted here, of Australia’s squillion dollar industry of importing radioactive wastes, and exporting uranium and processed nuclear fuel, assumes that the world will rapidly develop conventional nuclear reactors. But the rationale for the Small Modular Reactors, and all their reprocessing relatives Integral Fast Reactors Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors, is that they are safer than the large “conventional” reactors.
So the whole plan still promotes those less safe reactors!
The plan purports to reduce greenhouse emissions by means of thousands of little reactors, (and big ones) – but their development is so many decades away that it would be too late for climate change action.
We are left with a plan that looks suspiciously as if the troubled nuclear industries of USA, Canada and UK have selected Australia as the guinea pig for a plan to reverse their industries’ present decline.
It is a worry that the South Australian Government is looking to Canada to take part in the Royal Commission. If ever there were a troubled nuclear industry, it is in Canada. The World Bank’s Corrupt Companies Blacklist is Dominated By Canada, because of one company, SNC Lavalin, – exporter of small nuclear reactors.
Dr Stone will be speaking at various events, along with well-known Australian nuclear industry promoters, Ben Heard, Ian Hore-Lacey, Dr Nigel Long.
The nuclear publicity blitz has been pretty much confined to South Australia. But it really is a national issue.
Well, good on the ABC for giving it a national airing, and good on Oscar Archer for spelling out that sequence – providing much food for thought indeed.