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

This article first appeared on Independent Australia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

This article first appeared on Online Opinion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But what if they are wrong?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pie in the sky! – I hear your cry.

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dayne Eckermann writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Mixed motives in South Australia’s nuclear waste import plan

This article first appeared on Online Opinion   [included links]

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

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

The earlier NFCRC report “Tentative Findings” stated that:

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

The NFCRC’s final recommendation is that :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or so it would seem.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The NFCRC is not recommending Oscar Archer’s plan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.


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.  


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.


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.


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.

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


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