Nuclear Waste Storage Will Benefit South Australia, Says Royal Commission

It was announced today that the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission has found 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.

The Commission was set up by the South Australian Government in March 2015 to investigate the potential for South Australia to participate in further exploration and extraction of uranium, enrichment of uranium, nuclear power generation and the storage and disposal of radioactive and nuclear waste.

Leading experts have now spoken out about the findings of the commission.

Ian Lowe, Emeritus Professor of Science, Technology and Society at Griffith University and former President of the Australian Conservation Foundation was a member of the Royal Commission's Expert Advisory Committee.

"The crucial finding of the Royal Commission is that community consent would be essential to the successful development of any nuclear fuel cycle activities,"he says. "It says 'Long-term political decision-making, with bipartisan support at both state and federal government levels, would be a prerequisite'. It is difficult to see how bipartisan support at both levels would be achieved for South Australia being more deeply involved in the nuclear industry.

"It notes that uranium mining currently contributes relatively little to South Australia. Despite Roxby Downs being one of the largest uranium producers in the world, its royalties are about $4 a year for each South Australian. The Commission sees little prospect of local processing of uranium and correctly observes that nuclear power is not economically feasible. The Switkowski report in 2007 found that significant public subsidies would be needed to make nuclear power economic in Australia."

"The most serious proposal in the Commission’s tentative findings is that SA should consider setting up shop as a destination for radioactive waste from countries like Japan, Taiwan and South Korea," he says. "The Commission believes that this could be a profitable operation, but that belief is based on generous assumptions about the willingness of those countries to pay for the removal of their waste."

"Independent analysis by The Australia Institute questions those assumptions and concludes the operation would probably not be profitable. The Commission also notes 'there are no operating models for the commercial transfer of used fuel for disposal. Any proposal to store and dispose of used fuel in South Australia would require agreements between customer countries and both the federal and state governments'. That is a big hurdle, as is the acknowledgement that 'any development would require sophisticated planning and consent-based decision-making, acknowledging the particular interests and experiences of regional, remote and Aboriginal communities"

"So the report gives a red light for nuclear power, a tentative amber light for expanding uranium mining, a red light for further processing of uranium for export, then a very tentative and heavily qualified amber light for the SA State government’s concept of setting up as the destination for east Asia’s radioactive waste."

Associate Professor Nigel Marks,a Research Fellow in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Curtin University says the report revealed "Stunningly good advice today from the SA Royal Commission into the Nuclear Fuel Cycle."

"The main conclusion is that significant economic opportunities exist for the storage and disposal of spent nuclear fuel, aka, radioactive waste. For years Australia has been at the forefront of nuclear storage technology through it’s world-renowned Synroc program at the Australian Nuclear Science & Technology Organisation, ANSTO."

"Australia offers a technically literate workforce familiar with the demands of the task, tremendous experience in mining and some of the most suitable geological conditions in the world. Together, they make a powerful combination which offers rich rewards to the first state or territory willing to pick up the challenge. Kudos to the Weatherill government for facing down the fear-mongers and looking to the future for South Australia."

Associate Professor Mark Diesendorf, Associate Professor in Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies at the University of New South Wales said "The Royal Commission’s report acknowledges that nuclear electricity is not commercially viable in South Australia. However, it expresses great enthusiasm for the management and disposal of overseas-produced high-level and intermediate level nuclear wastes in South Australia. It supports a combination of above-ground interim storage of dry casks together with underground 'permanent' storage."

"The rationale for this economically risky scheme is slender, being based on the quantities of wastes held in temporary storage by countries with nuclear power stations. The report is not troubled by the fact that no country, not even the USA, has so far succeeded in building and operating an underground waste dump."

"It fails to address the points raised by the Australia Institute, questioning, for example, why nuclear countries would pay to export their wastes when it may be cheaper to manage them at home. The economic analysis justifying this scheme is a single 2016 study, most of whose assumptions are not stated in the Commission’s report. The Commission discusses the alleged benefits of this scheme, while failing to acknowledge the economic risks of Australia managing high-level wastes for hundreds of thousands of years by means of unproven technologies and social institutions."

Professor Jim Falk, a Professorial Fellow at the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, University of Melbourne and an Emeritus Professor at the University of Wollongong, says "This report should not provide much cause for optimism amongst thoughtful members of Australia’s pro-nuclear lobby. As with the previous Switowski report a decade ago, this report makes clear that nuclear energy generation and further fuel processing including enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing will be uneconomic in Australia without major changes in the Australian and world market."

"Oddly, the report settles on high-level nuclear waste storage as the opportunity for South Australia. This is odd given the decades long process (from as early as 1984) for the Commonwealth in trying to find an acceptable location to store Australia’s existing low- and intermediate-level nuclear waste. This couples with the Commission’s insistence that any extension of nuclear activities should have both bipartisan political support and the consent of the community."

"Prior experience, especially in Australia, and also in many other parts of the world including the USA, reflects long standing and widespread concerns about the safety of storing nuclear wastes completely isolated from the environment for the many centuries required. Given this, it would be fair to characterise any government which sought to open the way to waste storage and disposal in Australia as at best 'courageous' and perhaps less politely, as 'very politically foolish'".

"Good to have the thorough and unbiased consideration by the Royal Commission," says Ian Hore-Lacy, a Senior Research Analyst at the World Nuclear Association. "The recommendation regarding SA providing storage and repository for high-level nuclear wastes is practical and predictable on any scientific and economic basis."

"The findings regarding nuclear power are surprisingly non-committal, though the caveats suggest that a more positive picture may emerge if Australia gets serious about greenhouse gas emission reduction, and improves the interconnection between SA and the eastern states. It is also unduly negative about small reactors given those operating and under construction at the moment in China, Russia and Argentina."

Tony Irwin, Chartered Engineer, Chair of Engineers Australia Sydney Division Nuclear Engineering Panel, Technical Director of SMR Nuclear Technology Pty Ltd and visiting lecturer at the Australian National University says, "The South Australia Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission had a wide scope, the whole of the nuclear fuel cycle was examined including mining, enrichment, power generation, and waste. The Royal Commission received 243 submissions, visited nuclear facilities overseas and held 4 months of public hearings with 128 expert witnesses from Australia and overseas."

"The findings show 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. Nuclear power has greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to other low emissions technologies like wind and solar and it would be wise to plan now to ensure its availability."

"Although not commercially viable at present, due mainly to the characteristics of the current National Electricity market (NEM), there is value in having nuclear as an option that can be readily be implemented. Small Modular reactors (SMRs) would be attractive for small grids like South Australia."

"There is a highly profitable opportunity to establish a storage facility for global used fuel coupled with a longer term disposal facility. Australia would derive a reputational and financial benefit by assisting other countries in providing a solution for used fuel."

University of Sydney Associate Prof. Reza Hashemi-Nezhad said "I do not agree with the statement that 'There is international consensus that geological disposal is the best technical solution for the disposal of used fuel' (section 74, page 16 of the report). If it is so, why after about 70 years is there still continuous debate about the viability and safety of geological disposal."

"Handling and storage of the international spent nuclear fuel is going to produce major environmental and security challenges. I do not believe that South Australians or Australians as a whole can be convinced to accept converting a part of Australia into a nuclear waste dump for other nations."

"However as we have clearly stated in our submission to 'The Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission', the only logical way forward is establishment of a nuclear incineration facility based on THORIUM FUELED ACCELERATOR DRIVEN Systems (TFADS). Such facilities will eliminate highly toxic and long-lived nuclear waste materials and, at the same time, will produce massive amount of energy (electricity)."

"A TFADS will be a subcritical system, free of nuclear criticality accidents such as that in Chernobyl. TFADS can be used safely for incineration of national and/or international nuclear waste (used fuel), in an environmentally friendly manner while producing massive amounts of wealth for South Australia."

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    If I'm not mistaken, that dirty Victorian coal mine needs public subsidies to stay economically viable. Better it be a nuclear plant, than a coal plant. (better it be neither, but if you have to choose...)

    If they allow SA to store the shit, then they should also have the right to build a power station or two. The latest Nuke power stations are far safer than the old ones.

      Why would build a nuclear power station?
      It's the most expensive option for generating power.

        Because it's incredibly clean relative to coal - and clean is a priority in light of the damage being done through emissions - and has a much higher capacity than other clean alternatives.

          ^This^ Exactly this.

          so is a 200 square kilometre solar array, far cleaner, and with lots of night-time power storage options we could power the entire country for the forseeable future

            Australian logic: We have lots of land with long duration of intense sunlight so lets build more coal power plants!

            Last edited 15/02/16 6:10 pm

            I don't have the science handy, but I recall solar being considered less reliable than nuclear, even on a grand scale like that. Also, distance is a factor. Electricity is kinda lossy - you need to build the plants near where you're using it.

            Still, it'd be good to see some of that desert used up by projects like that.

            200 square kilometre solar arrayThe maintenance alone on that sized array would be far more expensive. I'm all for solar, but let's just take affordable steps until it matures.

            we could power the entire country for the foreseeable future
            Not even for 12 hours straight

          Its also what's consider 'Base load power'
          Rain or dry, night or day or windy or still it still continues unabatted producing "reasonably clean" energy. It's reliable.
          That said I'd still rather have the cleaner options. Build mega dams!

      Did you miss the bit that said the generating electricity using nuclear power could not be economical without SUBSTANTIAL public money?

        I doubt that is true. More like the company that owns it, demands assistance from the government to keep it über profitable.
        Nothing like a good reason to rort public money.

    Nuclear Waste Storage Will Benefit South Australia, Says Royal Commission
    "It will really lift the tone of the place," Commission added.

      Like Tom Sawyer whitewashing the fence, once Victoria sees it being successful, no doubt they'll try to steal a nuclear waste dump from SA too.

    As long as we charge two arms and three legs for the storage.

    There is always a business case for takeing care of someone else's rubbish but why would you want to, when there are lots of other opportunities for jobs that aren't so potentially hazardous yo people and the environment.

    South Australia needs something, needs anything. That place hasn't gone forward since the 90's. Truth be told, the 80's. I use to live there and recently went back for a visit and nothing's changed. Not even the house prices. I was also amazed that everything shuts down at 7.30, even supermarkets. It was like going back in time. My son lives there and I told him to move as soon as he's finished his uni studies as there's no jobs there for him, or for anyone. Shame really.

      I live in SA. What you are saying is rubish. While it is much more relaxing and low stress city, Adelaide ahs plenty to offer in terms of housing, education and entertainment. It is considerably much more child friendly than Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane.
      Supermarkets do not shut down until 9pm on Mon-Fri, local independant shops open til 7-10pm on other days, plus we have a number of Coles shops that open 22-24hrs a day.

        Maybe it depends on what area but I was amazed so many places shut so early and started late compared to Melbourne. The small supermarket across the road from where I was staying didn't open till 10.30 on a Sunday. Bottle shops closed early too. Spend some time in Melbourne and check out the difference.

    Great, turn Australia into the world's toilet. That's sure to make us a popular tourist destination and be great for our international reputation.

    If people have no way to safely get rid of nuclear waste in their OWN countries then they shouldn't be using nuclear material to begin with.

    Last edited 15/02/16 6:44 pm

      What, you mean the waste from the uranium WE provided? Or how about the waste from nuclear medicine or xray machines or nuclear powered devices that WE use? Im not saying im all for it, what i am saying is that maybe you should know what you are on about.
      Aside from that, just dump it in Adelaide. Its not like you could make the place any worse.
      Just kidding!
      (Sort of....)

        Who cares who provided it? We don't hold MacDonalds responsible for the rubbish some idiot throws on the street. This "provider responsibility" is not a factor in any other industry. it's a ridiculous argument specifically designed to try and guilt Australians into accepting world toilet responsibilities.

        Last edited 16/02/16 1:23 pm

          Admittedly McDonalds products are toxic, but you really can't compare the two, or any other non-nuclear product either. Nuclear waste will make you very unhappy, which is why they want to put it in a friggin big hole in the desert. Who cares who provided it? that's another quandary now isn't it. All civilised countries use it one way or another, it actually saves lives when used properly. You need to check your personal priorities if you think mining the stuff is a bad idea.

      On the one hand wouldn't it be better that all radioactive waste was stored in a geologically stable location where it could lay safe for 250K years than being stored in volatile places like Japan? I remember a documentary where they baked the radioactive waste into small ceramic balls. The balls where were each quite low in radioactivity and made the stuff safe(r) to handle.

      On the other hand, I agree with you that if you can't appropriately deal with your waste then you shouldn't be generating any in the first place.

    Thorium again the panacea...can anyone point to a commercial plant that has actually been built and is actually profitable? You cannot trust industry cost projections, only real-world demos. Surely TDADS systems must be planned everywhere if they are so clean and where are they?

    There is a highly profitable opportunity to establish a storage facility
    It's profitable to take other people's dangerous rubbish that they don't want at home? No suprises there.

    However, why on earth would we want to, especially when as a nation we haven't been able to agree upon having nuclear power reactors? If we were producing nuclear power, disposing of our own waste, and were happy to take on other country's waste, ok no worries.... But otherwise, I can see a shit storm a brewin'!

    Money for fcking up our environment for tens of thousands of years... Yep, this will pass without our consent.

    For everyone else but the Government, we can see that the benefit does NOT outweigh the risks.

      Uhm... fucking up the environment how? Waste storage is pretty safe unless there's an earthquake, which makes our continent actually one of the most environmentally responsible places in the world to store the waste.

        How does it get there though? As @bigcheez77 points out, transport is a dangerous factor, made worse by the isolated location and long distances- So it's actually not very environmentally responsible at all.
        The reality is that there are a lot of places as geologically stable as Australia, what really makes Australia attractive as a storage facility is that: 1. We are politically stable, and: 2. We are a long way away- i.e. there are a lot of places in the US that are great storage locations but the residents don't want it there, for obvious reasons.
        This is precisely why Australia is a bad choice: having us as an option encourages countries not to deal with their waste safely and responsibly, instead they can chuck it away, dangerously transporting it thousands of kilometres away to somewhere they can forget about it.

          Transport's the only objection I can think of. The NIMBY patrol exists everywhere and should be outright ignored. Real impacts, real facts only.

          And if we're also more politically AND geologically stable, even better. If the safest place to store something is here even after transportation is factored in, then why not? Because NIMBY too?

          If having someplace safer to store waste encourages a switch from coal to nuclear, then that's actually a good thing.

            You've ignored the objections you don't like in order to justify on going nuclear power generation. This exemplifies the nuclear issue nicely: Just conveniently forgetting about the issues, in a nice "geologically stable" hole somewhere. It's almost funny.

              Not liking the 'NIMBY' objection isn't the only reason to discard it. It's also because the NIMBY complaint is characterized by not being grounded in any reasonable fears about statistical probability or facts, but on baseless fears and ignorance.

              So if your accusation is that I've ignored emotional objections without any factual reasoning behind them, I would actually hope everyone would do that.

              Pandering to fear and ignorance is bad policy. Effective policy, for sure. Popular too! Elections have been won on baseless fearmongering. But it's inherently damaging and immature and absolutely worthy of dismissal. Pandering to fear and ignorance is why we have such beat-ups about immigration which leads us to extreme measures such as attracting criticism on humanitarian grounds from the UN. It's why climate change deniers and anti-vax'ers sway distrustful hearts and minds, and it's why people continue to click on banner ads claiming that a fucking grandmother in the 'burbs has stumbled upon a miracle cure for aging which doctors are somehow jealous of and trying to keep hidden because instead of being dedicated professionals who care about the health and safety of their charges, they hate her because she might crack open their big pharma money-making conspiracy.

              Note that I haven't ignored the very real and legitimate issue of transportation, but rather said that IF we can offer a safer long-term solution even after the transportation risks are taken into account, then we absolutely should. See quote from my above comment:
              If the safest place to store something is here, even after transportation is factored in, then why not?

    as a south aussie, this news makes me sad.
    i would rather they launch that shit into space, than dump it here on our planet somewhere.

    This was brought up in the mid 90s and Australia poo pooed it then due to the risks involved shipping the worlds waste here and then transporting it from the coast to the middle of nowhere.

    a lot of people seem to not understand that the waste is far less radioactive than the uranium or plutonium that is dug up and used in the reactors in the first place..

    Doesn't seem to be anything good about this entire article. Granted that nuclear energy has come a long way in terms of safety and storage capacity, but we don't want to pay for it and we don't want to have to suffer the consequences if something happens to the facility!

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