Minerals Council of Australia’s nuclear misinformation

October 2021 — Friends of the Earth Australia has advised the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) that we intend to systematically expose all of the MCA’s nuclear misinformation until such time as the MCA chooses to stop promulgating nuclear misinformation. We will also pressure MCA member companies to stop the MCA promulgating nuclear misinformation or to withdraw their membership.


Small nuclear reactors, huge costs

Jim Green, RenewEconomy, 11 Oct 2021, https://reneweconomy.com.au/small-nuclear-reactors-huge-costs/

Even by the standards of the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA), the new report published by the country’s most influential coal lobby on the subject of small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) is jiggery-pokery of the highest order.

Why would a mining industry body promote SMRs? After mining for some years — or at most decades — no company would want to take on the responsibility of decommissioning a nuclear reactor and managing high-level nuclear waste for millennia. No companies are cited in the report expressing interest in SMRs to power their mining operations.

Perhaps the MCA – which infamously provided the lump of coal for Scott Morrison to wave around in parliament – thinks that promoting nuclear power will slow the transition from fossil fuels to renewables, and believes that it is in the interests of some of its member companies to slow the transition.

If so, the timing of the report isn’t great, coming in the same week as the Business Council of Australia’s report which argues for a rapid, renewables-led decarbonisation, and Fortescue’s announcement that it plans to build the world’s largest green energy hydrogen manufacturing facility in Queensland.

Perhaps the MCA is doing the bidding of the (mostly foreign-owned) uranium mining companies operating in Australia? The MCA’s CEO Tania Constable said: “Australia should take advantage of growing international interest in nuclear energy and look to expand its already significant uranium sector.”

Perhaps … but there’s no evidence that the two companies mining uranium in Australia — BHP (Olympic Dam) and Heathgate Resources (Beverley Four Mile) — are lobbying for nuclear power. And Australia’s “already significant” uranium industry could hardly be more insignificant — it accounts for about 0.2 percent of Australia’s export revenue and about 0.01 percent of all jobs in Australia.

Bob Carr’s atomic bombshell

The MCA report also came in the same week as Bob Carr’s striking about-face on nuclear power. Having previously supported nuclear power, Carr wrote in The Australian: “In 2010 one enthusiast predicted within 10 years fourth-generation reactors and small modular reactors would be commonplace, including in Australia. None exists, here or abroad.”

The MCA report says SMRs are an “ideal fit” for Australia, citing their enhanced safety, lower cost than large-scale nuclear reactors or equivalent energy production methods, and lower waste production than current reactors.

It’s all nonsense. The safety claims don’t stack up. Nor do the claims about waste. Academic M.V. Ramana notes that “a smaller reactor, at least the water-cooled reactors that are most likely to be built earliest, will produce more, not less, nuclear waste per unit of electricity they generate because of lower efficiencies.” And a 2016 European Commission document states: “Due to the loss of economies of scale, the decommissioning and waste management unit costs of SMR will probably be higher than those of a large reactor (some analyses state that between two and three times higher).”

SMRs have a similar capacity to many existing coal and gas-fired power plants in Australia, the MCA report states, so would make an ideal replacement. Back to Bob Carr:

“Where is the shire council putting up its hand to host a nuclear power plant? Harder to find than a sponsor for a high-temperature toxic waste incinerator. Nobody in the Hunter Valley has urged nuclear for the Liddell site, even on the footprint of this coal-fired power plant scheduled to close. And not even invoking the prospect of a small modular reactor that 10 years back was the vanguard of the nuclear renaissance. About to be planted across the Indonesian archipelago and the rest of Asia, we were promised. Today they exist only on the Rolls-Royce drawing boards they have adorned since the 1970s.”

Economics

The MCA said in June 2020 that SMRs won’t find a market unless they can produce power at a cost of A$60-$80 per megawatt hour (MWh). That’s a big problem for enthusiasts because there’s no chance whatsoever that SMRs will produce power in that cost range.

An analysis by WSP / Parsons Brinckerhoff, prepared for the 2015/16 South Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission, estimated a cost of A$225 / MWh for a reactor based on the NuScale design, about three times higher than the MCA’s target range.

CSIRO estimates SMR power costs at A$258-338 / MWh in 2020 and A$129-336 / MWh in 2030.

Russia’s floating nuclear plant is said to be the only operational SMR in the world, although it doesn’t fit the ‘modular’ definition of serial factory production. A 2016 OECD Nuclear Energy Agency report said that electricity produced by the Russian floating plant is expected to cost about US$200 (A$273) / MWh, about four times higher than the target range cited by the MCA and more expensive than power from large reactors (US$129-198 / MWh). Completion of Russia’s floating plant was nine years behind schedule and construction costs increased six-fold.

Yet, despite a mountain of evidence that SMRs won’t come close to producing power in the A$60-80 / MWh range, the new MCA report asserts that “robust estimates” using “conservative assumptions” suggest that SMRs will produce power at a cost of A$64-77 / MWh by 2030.

One wonders who the MCA think they’re kidding.

The MCA report was written by Ben Heard, who recently closed his ‘Bright New World’ nuclear lobby website and now works with Frazer-Nash. Heard promotes Canadian SMR-wannabe Terrestrial Energy in the MCA report but does not disclose his role on the company’s advisory board. Heard also contributed two chapters on nuclear power to a 2020 book titled ‘An Australian nuclear industry: Starting with submarines’.

Dr Jim Green is lead author of a 2019 Nuclear Monitor report on SMRs and national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth Australia.

———-

Follow-up correspondence with the MCA:

Dear Tania [Constable – MCA CEO), just to let you know as a courtesy that I’m going to do my best to publicly expose all of the MCA’s nuclear misinformation from now on. It’s been going on for too long. Also, you should make yourself aware of Ben Heard’s track record of promulgating nuclear nonsense and his consistent failure to declare relevant interests, e.g. last week’s MCA report promotes Terrestrial Energy but doesn’t disclose Heard’s position on the company’s advisory board. My initial response to last week’s MCA report is copied below.

regards, Jim Green / FoE

————-

Dear Dr Green,

Thank you for your email of 11 October. I am surprised that you are so concerned about the MCA commissioning a piece of work that provides a serious look at small modular reactors in the Australian context. You may not agree with the report, but to claim the MCA has engaged in ‘nuclear misinformation’ is fundamentally incorrect.

MCA publications are based on leading-edge research and analysis.  Dr Heard has produced a heavily referenced report including three pages of references and end notes.  He is one of Australia’s leading authorities on nuclear energy. His engagement and relationships with a number of nuclear technology providers is a testament to that expertise.

The MCA has long advocated that Australia needs a technology driven and neutral approach to address climate change.  Reaching net zero emissions by 2050 – which the MCA supports – poses a number of challenges. Having available all technologies capable of meeting that challenge is imperative, and this includes nuclear, CCS, renewables and storage, along with offsets for difficult-to-abate sectors.

I understand your long term opposition to nuclear power.  However, a clear majority of Australians are open to a serious discussion about it. This should be based on clear-eyed assessments.  As such, Small Modular Reactors in the Australian Context provides a timely contribution to that discussion.

Yours sincerely, Peter Kos / MCA

————

Dear Peter, clearly you haven’t read my response to Heard’s paper – copied below.

To pick just one point, you know as well as I do that this is laughable: “robust estimates” using “conservative assumptions” suggest that SMRs will produce power at a cost of A$64-77 MWh by 2030.

Please make sure that MCA CEO Tania Constable knows that I plan to public expose all of the MCA’s nuclear misinformation from now on.

I’ve put your pathetic response on the FoE website.

Jim Green / FoE

P.S. If the MCA is serious about climate change, why did you provide Coalition MPs with a lump of coal to wave around in Parliament?


Australia’s coal and nuclear lobbies have just recruited a new puppet

By Noel Wauchope, 25 January 2019

https://independentaustralia.net/environment/environment-display/australias-coal-and-nuclear-lobbies-have-just-recruited-a-new-puppet,12313

Newly-appointed Mining Council CEO Tania Constable has been championing nuclear power at a time when we should be discussing renewables, writes Noel Wauchope.

WHAT BAD TIMING. Only in dictatorships – Russia and China – is nuclear power thriving. In the Western world, it’s problematic due to costs and waste issues. As for coal, even China is working to phase it out.

In Australia, renewable energy is going ahead in leaps and bounds. Our coal-loving Liberal Coalition Government is so on the nose, they’ll be forgotten men within a few months.

But never mind, Australia’s fossil fuel and nuclear lobbies are on the propaganda trail and they’ve just recruited a new puppet, Tania Constable. Appointed as CEO of the Mining Council in July last year, Ms Constable’s first job is to mouth the standard pro-coal and nuclear platitudes. Here she goes …

A headline in the 22 January edition of The Daily Telegraph reads: ‘Heatwaves proof positive Australia needs nuclear’.

In the article, Constable says: “Energy costs are rising and renewables can’t meet all our needs but a new generation of clean reactors could.”

‘Heatwaves proof positive Australia needs nuclear’? No, Tania, proof positive that Australia needs solar air conditioners. She seems unaware of the fact that nuclear power is highly water intensive, and subject to shutdowns due to hot weather.

Ms Constable mourns that: “The influx of part-time power sources such as wind and solar which make it more difficult for older baseload power stations to operate will likely see the early closure of a number of them well before 2030.”

So, it’s renewable energy’s fault that coal is not doing well? She goes on to enthuse about “baseload” power — coal, of course. But that’s seen as a myth, nowdays, as reliable power is no longer synonymous with coal.

She has a bash at the AEMO and CSIRO: “[They] missed a golden opportunity of lowering power prices, ensuring reliability and lowering emissions through advanced coal technology.”

She doesn’t mention the high costs of this advanced coal technology, needing government subsidy and the fact that it’s not all that clean anyway.

Now she gets to her main point – changing the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 – which happens to be due for review this year.

“The removal of four words — ‘a nuclear power plant’ — in Section 140A(1) (b) would allow nuclear industries to be considered for development in Australia.”

Ms Constable writes approvingly of nuclear power in countries around the world – not a mention of the financial problems of nuclear power development in UK and USA, and Japan, too. Not a mention of the nuclear waste problems.

She is even more approving of the “new nukes”:

“Nuclear energy has changed significantly. There is now a family of new technologies – small modular reactors – leading the way in cost. These are readily deployable and produce zero emissions.”

There is now a family of new technologies — small modular reactors? But these reactors do not actually exist in a physically tried and tested operating form, and are far from being deployed as Ms Constable implies.

As to “leading the way on costs”, this is a pretty meaningless statement. Many experts have investigated this question, always coming up with the conclusion that these small reactors could be economical only if they were ordered en masse. This factor poses difficult problems in the market, and tax-payer funding would be essential. The necessity for safety measures also runs counter to the need to cut costs.

As for “zero emissions”, there remains the problem of the entire fuel cycle, from mining of thorium through transport, to the reactor and its waste disposal. Unlike sun and wind power, the fuel must continue to be mined and transported.

And here comes the real, though actually fanciful, push:

“Nuclear power is also behind the new generation of innovative nuclear start-ups, such as Bill Gates’s TerraPower and Transatomic out of MIT. Australia, with its educated workforce, established uranium mines, nuclear research and university sectors and strong non-proliferation credentials, would be a partner of choice for private venture capital-funded new nuclear energy.”

Let’s look at this enthusiastic statement.

First of all, Bill Gates has just had the door slammed on his TerraPower project. He’s closed it down for now, but hopes to find a country that will back it.

Secondly, Transatomic has also had a big setback. Its nuclear start-up folded, in disarray.

This company was spruiked by an enthusiastic young woman, Leslie Dewan. The nuclear lobby seems to pick them for the poisoned chalice of propaganda work.

Read more by Noel Wauchope at antinuclear.net and nuclear-news.net and follow her on Twitter @ChristinaMac1.


Nuclear depression: brother, can you spare US$25.7 billion?

Nuclear power is affordable, says the Minerals Council. But the market (and power companies) beg to differ.

Bernard Keane, 1 Sept 2017

crikey.com.au/2017/09/01/nuclear-depression-brother-can-you-spare-me-us25-7-billion/

Fans of nuclear power might have got excited this morning when they read that the Minerals Council of Australia had produced an “analysis” on how it was time to end the prohibition on nuclear power plants in Australia.

“Analysis” calls to mind a sober assessment of the pros and cons, some consideration of evidence, an exploration of issues commonly raised on a subject, but alas, the “analysis” or, as it’s termed, “policy paper” from the Minerals Council is more like a brochure.

As always, we went immediately to the (short) bit about the costs of nuclear power, given the long history of nuclear power plants running hundreds of per cent and decades over budget and schedule. According to the Minerals Council’s “policy paper”:

“Nuclear power is affordable. All baseload power projects are capital intensive, but countries that invest in nuclear plants – and there are 58 reactors under construction today – will have assets that generate large amounts of power for 60 years at a stable cost.”

One has to feel a little sad for the MCA that between the presumed finalisation of this “policy paper” and today, there have been some unhappy developments. That “58” figure is based on the International Atomic Energy Association’s list (which is actually 57, but that’s OK), which includes two reactors under construction in the United States. But that is likely soon to be zero reactors under construction in the United States. At the start of August, one of the projects shut down: the VC Summer power plant in South Carolina,, which was already 35% built, will be abandoned. And two days later, the firm building the Vogtle project in Georgia admitted (another) blowout in the cost — to $25.7 billion for two reactors.

The original Vogtle cost was projected to be $14 billion, as Fox News helpfully pointed out, so the near-doubling of the budget isn’t actually too bad by nuclear standards. The usual delay in the project, by at least two years, was also announced. There’s a widespread expectation Vogtle will now be cancelled as well. But the cost blowouts at the two projects were so massive, they bankrupted nuclear reactor company Westinghouse Electric earlier this year. And on Wednesday, a Florida energy company abandoned plans for a new nuclear power plant in that state and will instead invest in a massive new solar plant and battery storage.

In July, the company charged with building the proposed Hinkley Point nuclear power plant in the UK revealed the cost had blown out from £18 billion to £20.3 billion and would be delayed by 15 months. The British Audit Office has warned the final cost may well be £50 billion.

And in case you think cost blowouts and project delays are purely a result of NIMBY Westerners and extreme environmental red tape, China, which is engaged in a substantial ramp-up of its nuclear reactor capacity and doesn’t have to worry about pesky things like community opposition or the rule of law, has also encountered multi-year delays.

Sadly none of this made it into the Minerals Council’s brochure. You might think that’s simply because it wants to mindlessly spruik the interests of the uranium mining industry, but we would never accuse the MCA of such a thing.


The Minerals Council of Australia pushing zombie ideas

John Quiggin, 4 Sept 2017

http://johnquiggin.com/2017/09/04/the-minerals-council-of-australia-pushing-zombie-ideas/

Fighting zombies is a tiresome business. Even when you think you’ve finally killed them, they bounce back as often as not. But it has to be done, and there are some benefits. When you see a supposedly serious person or organization pushing zombie ideas, it’s an indication that nothing they put out should be presumed to be serious.

There can be few zombies more thoroughly undead than nuclear power in general, except for the idea that nuclear power is a sensible option for Australia. The strongly pro-nuclear SA Royal Commission demolished this zombie so thoroughly that it should have taken a decade at least to regenerate.

But here’s the Minerals Council of Australia, which has taken a break from promoting coal to push the idea that Australia needs a nuclear power industry and that the biggest obstacle is a legal prohibition imposed in 1998. The supporting “analysis” is riddled with absurdities, some of which have already been pointed out. I’ll give my own (incomplete) list over the fold

Most obviously, there’s the statement that 58 nuclear reactors are currently under construction. As anyone who’s been paying attention could tell them, that number was 66 not long ago. The decline reflects the abandonment of half-built projects like the VC Summer plant in North Carolina and the fact that some long overdue projects like Watts Bar, started back in 1973, have been completed, while new starts have slowed to a crawl.

That’s only going to accelerate. China currently has 23 plants under construction, but they haven’t approved a new one in eighteen months. Other countries with projects under construction, but no recent approvals include the US and France. Unless something changes, the completion of current projects will cut the number under construction in half within a few years.

Then there’s the claim that nuclear power is affordable. There’s no reference to the dismal record of the existing industry. Instead, the MCA is relying on vaporware: “Small modular reactors (SMRs) are close to commercialisation in the US. A Nu-scale 50MWe SMR, for example, is projected to cost around US$250 million. Three of these would cost and produce around the same amount of power as the largest wind farm in the southern hemisphere – and it would be reliable, synchronous, on-demand power.”

The reality is that the NuScale SMR doesn’t exist even as a prototype. Any estimate of the costs of such a reactor is purely speculative. The SA Royal Commission looked hard at SMRs and concluded they weren’t a viable option now or in the foreseeable future.

Showing patent bad faith, the MCA quotes the Royal Commission’s claims about the potential for a nuclear waste dump (an idea that has been abandoned) but ignores the more significant finding that nuclear power, including SMRs is hopelessly uneconomic for Australia.

Even more startling is the suggestion that we should follow the example of Canada which supposedly has a thriving nuclear industry. The reality is that nuclear power in Canada has been a failure, with massive cost overruns and frequent breakdowns. After spending at least a billion in subsidies, the Canadian government sold its nuclear energy business for a mere $15 million in 2011. It’s highly unlikely that Canada will ever build another nuclear plant.

Then there’s a reference to some real vaporware, notably including Transatomic a startup backed by Peter Theil. Google reveals that Transatomic had to back away from its inflated claims by a factor of more than 30. An honest mistake, apparently, but not promising as a basis for Australian energy policy.

Regardless of whether the prohibition on nuclear energy is lifted, it’s not going to happen in Australia, or most other countries. The real lesson from this episode is that any analysis coming out of the MCA should be treated with extreme scepticism. In particular, the next time an MCA spokesperson pops up to say that we need coal-fired power indefinitely into the future, remember their similar, and patently false, claims about nuclear power.

Kevin Scarce’s nuclear ignorance and misinformation

OMG Scarce literally has no idea what he is talking about

Kevin Scarce tells Sky News that ‘small modular reactors’ (which don’t actually exist) “don’t go critical” … in which case they won’t produce any power!

And it gets dumber … Kevin says SMRs have “natural aspiration”. Here’s a definition: Aspiration is the medical term for a person accidentally inhaling an object or fluid into their windpipe and lungs.”

Scarce is trying to say that SMRs are risk free because of passive safety. Which is nonsense.

Or perhaps he is trying to say that small reactors aspire to be … big reactors?

Scarce has literally no idea what he is talking about.

Response to Kevin Scarce’s nuclear ignorance and misinformation

Media Release ‒ Friends of the Earth Australia ‒ 25 October 2021

Comments by Dr. Jim Green, national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth Australia:

“Kevin Scarce led the 2015/16 South Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission. His claims in News Corp papers today (and a Sky News interview) are dripping with ignorance.

“Scarce calls for a Royal Commission into nuclear energy, but we’ve already had one. Scarce should know ‒ he was the Royal Commissioner. The 2016 report found that nuclear power generation “would not be commercially viable in SA under current market rules”.

“The Royal Commission called on the SA government to lobby for the repeal of federal laws banning nuclear power. That recommendation was rejected by the Weatherill Labor Government. More recently, the SA Liberal Government’s 2019 submission to a federal nuclear inquiry said that “nuclear power remains unviable now and into the foreseeable future.”

“What makes Scarce think he is qualified to comment on whether or not Australia can reach a net zero emission target by 2050 without nuclear power? Scarce has net zero expertise and net zero qualifications to comment on the matter. Scarce appears to be ignorant about a wealth of relevant research on Australia’s renewable energy potential such as the Business Council of Australia’s recent report which argues for a rapid, renewables-led decarbonisation.

“Scarce also appears to be ignorant about progress in South Australia, with the SA Liberal Government not only ruling out nuclear power as being unviable now and into the foreseeable future, but also enthusiastically pursuing a goal of net 100% renewables by 2030.

“Scarce doesn’t even know what his own Royal Commission said. He claims that small modular reactors are lower cost than large-scale nuclear generation. In fact, the Royal Commission found that power produced by small modular reactors based on the NuScale design would cost a hopelessly uneconomic A$225 per megawatt-hour. To put that into context, the Minerals Council of Australia says that small modular reactors won’t find a market unless they can produce power at a cost of A$60-$80 per megawatt hour.

“Renewables coupled with storage are cheaper than nuclear as CSIRO found in a 2020 report:

* Nuclear (small modular): A$258-338 per megawatt hour.

* Wind or solar PV with 2‒6 hours storage (battery or pumped hydro): A$84‒151 per megawatt hour.

“Likewise, Peter Farley, a fellow of the Australian Institution of Engineers, concludes that Australia can get equivalent renewable power plus backup power (e.g. pumped hydro or battery storage) for one-third of the cost of nuclear power, in one-third of the time.

“Scarce’s handling of the Royal Commission was deeply biased and disgraceful. For example its main recommendation was that SA should establish a nuclear waste import and dumping business but Scarce’s report said almost nothing about the chemical explosion which shut down the only deep underground nuclear waste repository in the world, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plan in the USA.

“The farcical engineering of a positive economic case to proceed with the nuclear waste import plan was ridiculed by ABC journalist Stephen Long. After the Royal Commission, the SA Parliament released a report by the Nuclear Economics Consulting Group which noted that the Royal Commission’s economic analysis failed to consider important issues which “have significant serious potential to adversely impact the project and its commercial outcomes”.

“Friends of the Earth would welcome the opportunity to publicly debate Scarce to expose his nuclear ignorance and misinformation,” Dr. Green concluded.


Defeated plan to import foreign high-level nuclear waste to South Australia

INTRODUCTION

  • In the late 1990s, an international consortium called Pangea Resources secretly schemed to establish a high-level nuclear waste dump in Australia. Pangea’s corporate video was leaked to Friends of the Earth. The dump plan was overwhelmingly opposed by the Australian public and it attracted very little if any political support. Pangea gave up in the early 2000s. You can read more about Pangea here.
  • In 2015, the South Australian government established a Royal Commission to investigate business opportunities across the nuclear fuel cycle. The Royal Commission was deeply biased. Royal Commissioner Kevin Scarce – himself ignorant, gullible and biased – said he would run a ‘balanced’ Royal Commission but an overwhelming majority of his staff appointments and appointments to the advisory panel were pro-nuclear. Either he was lying when he said his Royal Commission would be balanced, or he can’t count. Either way it was an unedifying experience.
  • Despite its multiple levels of pro-nuclear bias, the Royal Commission rejected almost all of the proposals it considered on economic grounds (uranium enrichment, nuclear power, etc.) But it did promote the idea of importing vast amounts of intermediate- and high-level nuclear waste to South Australia as a money-making venture.
  • Then in 2016 the SA government initiated a ‘Know Nuclear’ statewide promotional campaign under the guise of ‘consultation’, promoting the Royal Commission’s proposal to import 138,000 tonnes of high-level nuclear waste (spent nuclear fuel from power reactors) and 390,000 cubic metres of intermediate-level waste.  As with the Royal Commission, the ‘Know Nuclear’ process was deeply biased.
  • The SA government established a Citizens’ Jury in late 2016, comprising 350 SA people. As with the Royal Commission and the ‘Know Nuclear’ process, the Citizens’ Jury process was biased and tried to push participants towards voting ‘yes’ to the proposal to import nuclear waste.
  • But in November 2016, two-thirds of the Citizens’ Jury voted ‘no’. The nuclear dump plan quickly collapsed. The SA Liberal Party Opposition said they would actively oppose the nuclear waste import plan. The head of the Business SA lobby group said the proposal was ‘dead’. The influential Nick Xenophon Team said they would actively oppose the plan.
  • In November 2016, after the Citizens’ Jury emphatically rejected the dump plan, SA Premier Jay Weatherill proposed a statewide referendum. But that plan did not progress and in June 2017 the Premier said the plan was ‘dead’.
  • In October 2017, a cross-party SA Parliament Joint Committee on the Findings of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission released its report with just one recommendation: ‘That the South Australian Government should not commit any further public funds to pursuing the proposal to establish a repository for the storage of nuclear waste in South Australia.’
  • The SA Parliament’s Joint Committee released a report by the Nuclear Economics Consulting Group (NECG) which noted that the Royal Commission’s economic analysis failed to consider important issues which “have significant serious potential to adversely impact the project and its commercial outcomes”; that assumptions about price were “overly optimistic” in which case “project profitability is seriously at risk”; that the 25% cost contingency for delays and blowouts was likely to be a significant underestimate; and that the assumption the project would capture 50% of the available market had “little support or justification”.
  • A book (and e-book) was released in February 2018 celebrating the successful campaign against the nuclear waste plan ‒ to read it online click here.
  • The most sickening aspect of the debate was the role of paid pro-nuclear propagandists masquerading as environmentalists – classic ‘greenwashing’. The worst culprit was Ben Heard, whose ‘progressive environment group’ (i.e. corporate front group) ‘Bright New World’ accepts secret corporate donationsand continued lobbying for a nuclear dump even as it became clear there was no Aboriginal consent.

HOW SOUTH AUSTRALIANS DUMPED A NUCLEAR DUMP

Jim Green, RenewEconomy, 15 June 2017, http://reneweconomy.com.au/south-australians-dumped-nuclear-dump-70197/

Last November, two-thirds of the 350 members of a South Australian-government initiated Citizens’ Jury rejected “under any circumstances” the plan to import vast amounts of high-level nuclear waste from around the world as a money-making venture.

The following week, South Australian (SA) Liberal Party Opposition leader Steven Marshall said that “[Premier] Jay Weatherill’s dream of turning South Australia into a nuclear waste dump is now dead.” Business SA chief Nigel McBride said: “Between the Liberals and the citizens’ jury, the thing is dead.”

And after months of uncertainty, Premier Weatherill has said in the past fortnight that the plan is “dead”, there is “no foreseeable opportunity for this”, and it is “not something that will be progressed by the Labor Party in Government”.

So is the dump dead? The Premier left himself some wriggle room, but the plan is as dead as it possibly can be. If there was some life in the plan, it would be loudly proclaimed by SA’s Murdoch tabloid, The Advertiser. But The Advertiser responded to the Premier’s recent comments ‒ to the death of the dump ‒ with a deafening, deathly silence.

Royal Commission

It has been quite a ride to get to this point. The debate began in February 2015, when the Premier announced that a Royal Commission would be established to investigate commercial options across the nuclear fuel cycle. He appointed a nuclear advocate, former Navy man Kevin Scarce, as Royal Commissioner. Scarce said he would run a “balanced” Royal Commission and appointed four nuclear advocates to his advisory panel, balanced by one critic. Scarce appointed a small army of nuclear advocates to his staff, balanced by no critics.

The final report of the Royal Commission, released in May 2016, was surprisingly downbeat given the multiple levels of pro-nuclear bias. It rejected ‒ on economic grounds ‒ almost all of the proposals it considered: uranium conversion and enrichment, nuclear fuel fabrication, conventional and Generation IV nuclear power reactors, and spent fuel reprocessing.

The only thing left standing (apart from the small and shrinking uranium mining industry) was the plan to import nuclear waste as a commercial venture. Based on commissioned research, the Royal Commission proposed importing 138,000 tonnes of high-level nuclear waste (spent nuclear fuel from power reactors) and 390,000 cubic metres of intermediate-level waste.

The SA Labor government then established a ‘Know Nuclear’ statewide promotional campaign under the guide of ‘consultation’. The government also initiated the Citizens’ Jury.

The first sign that things weren’t going to plan for the government was on 15 October 2016, when 3,000 people participated in a protest against the nuclear dump at Parliament House in Adelaide.

A few weeks later, on November 6, the Citizens’ Jury rejected the nuclear dump plan. Journalist Daniel Wills wrote: “Brutally, jurors cited a lack of trust even in what they had been asked to do and their concerns that consent was being manufactured. Others skewered the Government’s basic competency to get things done, doubting that it could pursue the industry safely and deliver the dump on-budget.”

In the immediate aftermath of the Citizens’ Jury, the SA Liberal Party and the Nick Xenophon Team announced that they would actively campaign against the dump in the lead-up to the March 2018 state election. The SA Greens were opposed from the start.

Premier Weatherill previously said that he established the Citizens’ Jury because he could sense that there is a “massive issue of trust in government”. It was expected that when he called a press conference on November 14, the Premier would accept the Jury’s verdict and dump the dump. But he announced that he wanted to hold a referendum on the issue, as well as giving affected Aboriginal communities a right of veto. Nuclear dumpsters went on an aggressive campaign to demonise the Citizens’ Jury though they surely knew that the bias in the Jury process was all in the pro-nuclear direction.

For the state government to initiate a referendum, enabling legislation would be required and non-government parties said they would block such legislation. The government didn’t push the matter ‒ perhaps because of the near-certainty that a referendum would be defeated. The statewide consultation process led by the government randomly surveyed over 6,000 South Australians and found 53% opposition to the proposal compared to 31% support. Likewise, a November 2016 poll commissioned by the Sunday Mail found 35% support for the nuclear dump plan among 1,298 respondents.

Then the Labor government announced on 15 November 2016 that it would not seek to repeal or amend the SA Nuclear Waste Storage Facility (Prohibition) Act 2000, legislation which imposes major constraints on the ability of the government to move forward with the nuclear waste import proposal.

Economic claims exposed

Implausible claims about the potential economic benefits of importing nuclear waste had been discredited by this stage. The claims presented in the Royal Commission’s report were scrutinised by experts from the US-based Nuclear Economics Consulting Group (NECG), commissioned by a Joint Select Committee of the SA Parliament.

The NECG report said the waste import project could be profitable under certain assumptions ‒ but the report then raised serious questions about most of those assumptions. The report noted that the Royal Commission’s economic analysis failed to consider important issues which “have significant serious potential to adversely impact the project and its commercial outcomes”; that assumptions about price were “overly optimistic” in which case “project profitability is seriously at risk”; that the 25% cost contingency for delays and blowouts was likely to be a significant underestimate; and that the assumption the project would capture 50% of the available market had “little support or justification”.

The farcical and dishonest engineering of a positive economic case to proceed with the nuclear waste plan was ridiculed by ABC journalist Stephen Long on 8 November 2016: “Would you believe me if I told you the report that the commission has solely relied on was co-authored by the president and vice president of an advocacy group for the development of international nuclear waste facilities?”

The economics report was an inside job, with no second opinion and no peer review ‒ no wonder the Citizens’ Jury was unconvinced and unimpressed.

Prof. Barbara Pocock, an economist at the University of South Australia, said: “All the economists who have replied to the analysis in that report have been critical of the fact that it is a ‘one quote’ situation. We haven’t got a critical analysis, we haven’t got a peer review of the analysis”.

Another South Australian economist, Prof. Richard Blandy from Adelaide University, said: “The forecast profitability of the proposed nuclear dump rests on highly optimistic assumptions. Such a dump could easily lose money instead of being a bonanza.”

The dump is finally dumped

To make its economic case, the Royal Commission assumed that tens of thousands of tonnes of high-level nuclear waste would be imported before work had even begun building a deep underground repository. The state government hosed down concerns about potential economic losses by raising the prospect of customer countries paying for the construction of waste storage and disposal infrastructure in SA.

But late last year, nuclear and energy utilities in Taiwan ‒ seen as one of the most promising potential customer countries ‒ made it clear that they would not pay one cent towards the establishment of storage and disposal infrastructure in SA and they would not consider sending nuclear waste overseas unless and until a repository was built and operational.

By the end of 2016, the nuclear dump plan was very nearly dead, and the Premier’s recent statement that it is “not something that will be progressed by the Labor Party in Government” was the final nail in the coffin. The dump has been dumped.

“Today’s news has come as a relief and is very much welcomed,” said Yankunytjatjara Native Title Aboriginal Corporation Chair and No Dump Alliance spokesperson Karina Lester. “We are glad that Jay has opened his ears and listened to the community of South Australia who have worked hard to be heard on this matter. We know nuclear is not the answer for our lands and people – we have always said NO.”

Narungga man and human rights activist Tauto Sansbury said: “We absolutely welcome Jay Weatherill’s courageous decision for looking after South Australia. It’s a great outcome for all involved.”

Reflections

The idea of Citizens’ Juries would seem, superficially, attractive. But bias is inevitable if the government establishing and funding the Jury process is strongly promoting (or opposing) the issue under question. In the case of the Jury investigating the nuclear waste plan, it backfired quite spectacularly on the government. Citizen Juries will be few and far between for the foreseeable future in Australia. A key lesson for political and corporate elites is that they shouldn’t let any semblance of democracy intrude on their plans.

The role of the Murdoch press needs comment, particularly in regions where the only mass-circulation newspaper is a Murdoch tabloid. No-one would dispute that the NT News has a dumbing-down effect on political and intellectual life in the Northern Territory. Few would doubt that the Courier Mail does the same in Queensland. South Australians need to grapple with the sad truth that its Murdoch tabloids ‒ The Advertiser and the Sunday Mail ‒ are a blight on the state. Their grossly imbalanced and wildly inaccurate coverage of the nuclear dump debate was ‒ with some honourable exceptions ‒ disgraceful. And that disgraceful history goes back decades; for example, a significant plume of radiation dusted Adelaide after one of the British bombs tests in the 1950s but The Advertiser chose not to report it.

The main lesson from the dump debate is a positive one: people power can upset the dopey, dangerous ideas driven by political and corporate elites and the Murdoch press. Sometimes. It was particularly heartening that the voices of Aboriginal Traditional Owners were loud and clear and were given great respect by the Citizens’ Jury and by many other South Australians. The Jury’s report said: “There is a lack of Aboriginal consent. We believe that the government should accept that the Elders have said NO and stop ignoring their opinions.”

Conversely, the most sickening aspect of the debate was the willingness of the Murdoch press and pro-nuclear lobbyists to ignore or trash Aboriginal people opposed to the dump.

Dr Jim Green is the national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth Australia and editor of the Nuclear Monitor newsletter.


SA NUCLEAR ROYAL COMMISSION IS A SNOW JOB

Jim Green, 29 April 2016, RenewEconomy, http://reneweconomy.com.au/sa-nuclear-royal-commission-is-a-snow-job-18368/

The South Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission (RC) will release its final report on May 6. It was established to investigate opportunities for SA to expand its role in the nuclear industry beyond uranium mining.

Before his appointment as the Royal Commissioner, Rear Admiral Kevin Scarce said little about nuclear issues but what he did say should have excluded him from consideration. Speaking in November 2014 at a Flinders University guest lecture, Scarce acknowledgedbeing an “an advocate for a nuclear industry”. Just four months later, after his appointment as the Royal Commissioner, he said the exact opposite: “I have not been an advocate and never have been an advocate of the nuclear industry.”

Other than generalisations, and his acknowledgement that he is a nuclear advocate, Scarce’s only comment of substance on nuclear issues in his 2014 lecture was to claim that work is “well underway” on 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.” Had he done just a little research, Scarce would have learnt that Lockheed Martin’s claims about its proposed compact fusion reactor were met with universal scepticism and ridicule by scientists and even by nuclear industry bodies.

So the SA government appointed Scarce as Royal Commissioner despite knowing that he is a nuclear advocate who has uncritically promoted discredited claims by the nuclear industry. Scarce appointed an Expert Advisory Committee. Despite claiming that he was conducting a “balanced” RC, he appointed three nuclear advocates to the Committee and just one critic. The bias is all too apparent and Scarce’s claim to be conducting a balanced inquiry is demonstrably false.

Given the make-up of the RC, it came as no surprise that numerous questionable claims by the nuclear industry were repeated in the RC’s interim report released in February. A detailed critique of the interim report is available online, as is a critique of the RC process.

The RC’s interim report was actually quite downbeat about the economic prospects for a nuclear industry in SA. It notes that the market for uranium conversion and enrichment services is oversupplied and that a spent fuel reprocessing plant would not be commercially viable. The interim report also states that “it would not be commercially viable to generate electricity from a nuclear power plant in South Australia in the foreseeable future.”

In a nutshell, the RC rejected proposals for SA to play any role in the nuclear fuel cycle beyond uranium mining. But that still leaves the option of SA offering to store and dispose of foreign high-level nuclear waste (HLW) and the RC strongly promotes a plan to import 138,000 tonnes of HLW for storage and deep underground disposal.

SA as the world’s nuclear waste dump

The RC insists that a nuclear waste storage and dumping business could be carried out safely. But would it be carried out safely? The RC ought to have considered evidence that can be drawn upon to help answer the question, especially since Kevin Scarce has repeatedly insisted that he is running an evidence-based inquiry.

So what sort of evidence might be considered? The experience of the world’s one and only deep underground nuclear waste dump ‒ the Waste Isolation Pilot Plan (WIPP) in the U.S. ‒ is clearly relevant. And Australia’s past experience with nuclear waste management is clearly relevant, with the clean-up of nuclear waste at the Maralinga nuclear test site in SA being an important case study.

But the RC completely ignores all this evidence in its interim report. We can only assume that the evidence is ignored because it raises serious doubts about the environmental and public health risks associated with the proposal to import, store and dispose of HLW.

WIPP is a case study of a sharp decline in safety and regulatory standards over a short space of time. A chemical explosion in a nuclear waste barrel in February 2014 was followed by a failure of the filtration system, resulting in 22 workers receiving small doses of radiation and widespread contamination in the underground caverns. WIPP has been shut down for the two years since the accident. Costs associated with the accident are likely to exceed US$500 million. A U.S. government report details the many failings of the operator and the regulator.

At a public meeting in Adelaide Town Hall in February 2016, Scarce said that WIPP was ignored in the RC interim report because it involved different waste forms (long-lived intermediate-level waste) of military origin. In fact, the waste that the RC recommends that SA import is vastly more hazardous than the waste managed at WIPP, so Scarce’s argument is hard to fathom.

Moreover the RC has overlooked the fundamental lesson from the WIPP fiasco – initially high safety and regulatory standards gave way to complacency, cost-cutting and corner-cutting in the space of just 10–15 years. The RC notes that HLW “requires isolation from the environment for many hundreds of thousands of years”. How can Scarce be confident that high safety and regulatory standards would be maintained over centuries and millennia when WIPP shows that the half-life of human complacency, cost-cutting and corner-cutting is measured in years or at most decades?

There is no logical reason to believe that the SA government would perform any better than the U.S. government. On the contrary, there are good reasons to believe that nuclear waste management would be more difficult here given that the U.S. has vastly more nuclear waste management expertise and experience than Australia.

While completely ignoring the world’s one and only existing deep underground nuclear waste dump, the RC talks at length about deep underground repositories under construction in Finland and Sweden. According to the RC’s interim report, those two countries “have successfully developed long-term domestic solutions” for nuclear waste. But in fact, neither country has completed construction of a repository let alone demonstrated safe operation over any length of time.

Mismanagement of radioactive waste in SA

The RC has also ignored the mismanagement of radioactive waste in SA. A radioactive waste repository at Radium Hill, for example, “is not engineered to a standard consistent with current internationally accepted practice” according to a 2003 SA government audit. And the ‘clean-up’ of nuclear waste at the Maralinga nuclear test site in the late 1990s was a fiasco:

  • Nuclear engineer Alan Parkinsonsaid of the ‘clean-up’: “What was done at Maralinga was a cheap and nasty solution that wouldn’t be adopted on white-fellas land.” (See Parkinson’s videos here and here.)
  • Scientist Dale Timmons saidthe government’s technical report was littered with “gross misinformation”.
  • Dr Geoff Williams, an officer with the Commonwealth nuclear regulator ARPANSA, saidthat the ‘clean-up’ was beset by a “host of indiscretions, short-cuts and cover-ups”.
  • Nuclear physicist Prof. Peter Johnston (now with ARPANSA) notedthat there were “very large expenditures and significant hazards resulting from the deficient management of the project”.

The RC’s interim report claims that “South Australia has a unique combination of attributes which offer a safe, long-term capability for the disposal of used fuel”. But SA has a track record of mismanaging radioactive waste (Radium Hill, Maralinga, etc.) and no experience managing HLW. The RC’s claim that SA has “a mature and stable political, social and economic structure” needs to be considered in the context of the longevity of nuclear waste. Australia has had one profound political revolution in the past 250 years (European invasion) and is on track for 1,200 political revolutions over the 300,000-year lifespan of nuclear waste.

Economics

The RC’s interim report presents speculative and implausible figures regarding potential profits from a nuclear waste storage and dumping industry. The Australia Institute crunched the numbers presented in the interim report and wrote a detailed factual rebuttal. Scarce responded on ABC radio on 31 March 2016 by saying that the RC will “take apart” the Australia Institute’s report “piece by piece”. When asked if such an aggressive attitude was appropriate, Scarce said: “I’m a military officer, what would you expect?”

And that says all that anyone needs to know about Rear Admiral Kevin Scarce and his Royal Commission. Critics are taken apart piece by piece, or ignored altogether. On the other hand, Scarce uncritically repeats Lockheed Martin’s discredited claims about its ‘compact fusion reactor’ and the RC’s interim report repeats many other nuclear industry falsehoods. Scarce ignores the mismanagement of radioactive waste in SA (Radium Hill, Maralinga etc.) and he ignores the failure of the world’s only deep underground nuclear waste dump while claiming that Sweden and Finland “have successfully developed long-term domestic solutions” by partially building deep underground dumps.

A year ago the Adelaide Advertiser published a Friends of the Earth letter likening the RC to a circus and Kevin Scarce to a clown. Events over the past year have only confirmed the illegitimacy of the RC. The RC’s bias would be comical if the stakes weren’t so high, particularly for Aboriginal people in the firing line for a HLW dump.

The Aboriginal Congress of South Australia endorsed the following resolution at an August 2015 meeting:

“We, as native title representatives of lands and waters of South Australia, stand firmly in opposition to nuclear developments on our country, including all plans to expand uranium mining, and implement nuclear reactors and nuclear waste dumps on our land. We view any further expansion of industry as an imposition on our country, our people, our environment, our culture and our history. We also view it as a blatant disregard for our rights under various legislative instruments, including the founding principles of this state.”

The Aboriginal-led Australian Nuclear Free Alliance is asking organisations in Australia and around the world to endorse a statement opposing the plan to turn SA into the world’s nuclear waste dump. Organisations can endorse the statement online at www.anfa.org.au/sign-the-declaration

Dr Jim Green is the national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth, Australia.

 

Bob Carr – Nobody’s really interested in the nuclear option

Bob Carr, 7 Oct 2021, The Australian, https://www.theaustralian.com.au/commentary/nobodys-really-interested-in-the-nuclear-option/news-story/b401d6f4a8bdd7126b5e82db54cdf088
Australians may be open to nuclear power, as evidenced by Tuesday’s Newspoll. But nuclear is not open for them.
Globally the industry is moribund. “The dream that failed,” says The Economist magazine, concluding it needs government money for life support.
In 2010 one enthusiast predicted within 10 years fourth-generation reactors and small modular reactors would be commonplace, including in Australia. None exists, here or abroad.
More damning, the industry lacks a single example in a Western country of a new power plant being built remotely on time and budget. According to the World Nuclear Industry Status Report, 94 plants were to come on line across the next decade but 98 get decommissioned. Yet 48 of those to be built are to be in China. Remove them and that leaves 46 coming online and – stubborn fact – 98 being decommissioned in the rest of the world.
In 2019, for the first time, renewable sources, excluding hydro, generated more power than nuclear.
In Australia nuclear attracts not the remotest investor interest. If nuclear were an option a merchant bank or superannuation fund might be manoeuvring to own the space. They might have formed a consortium with a miner and a construction company or two, with a brace of lobbyists at work. It’s not happening.
The contrast with the surge to renewables is stark. Andrew Forrest and Mike Cannon-Brookes are prepared to put their own funds into a vast solar farm in the Northern Territory and Forrest to make a huge commitment to hydrogen. There is no single investor with a comparable zest for nuclear power, either high net worth individual or institution.
Ziggy Switkowski produced a report on nuclear power for John Howard in 2007. It was to be the foundation of Australian nuclear power, a decades-long dream. Even with a partiality for the industry Switkowski could only conclude nuclear power, at double the price of coal and gas, would require a price on carbon – and even additional government subsidy.
Three prime ministers – Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull, Scott Morrison – have not reopened the debate. For his part, by becoming chair of Crown in August, Switkowski seems to demonstrate more confidence in gaming-based tourism than the commercial potential of the nuclear fuel cycle.
I argued a pro-nuclear case within the Labor Party and scorned what I saw as the left phobia against the nuclear option. Like British scientist James Lovelock I thought coal more destructive and nuclear the bridge to the era of renewables.
But it’s now clear nuclear is lumbering, subject to breakdowns and cripplingly expensive. New renewable sources such as wind and solar increased by 184 gigawatts last year while nuclear grew by only 2.4GW. The number of active reactors has barely changed since the 1980s.
France was the poster child. But no new reactor has been connected to its grid since 1999. It closed its pressurised water reactor in 1991 and followed by terminating two fast breeder reactors and a small heavy-water reactor.
Poor reliability plagues the fleet. On any day at least four plants are at zero output because of technical failures. The average per plant is a month per year at zero production. But investment in upgrades faces competition from renewables and tough new EU energy efficiency standards.
Not even Scandinavian efficiency can provide a happy pro-nuclear narrative. Finland became the first country in western Europe to order a new nuclear reactor since 1988 but it’s running 13 years late, plagued with management and quality control issues, bankruptcies and investor withdrawals.
Who could have the faintest confidence that Australia could throw up a nuclear reactor with more panache – exceeding with efficiency not only the Finns but the British with their delays and cost blowouts and the Americans with their construction disasters in Georgia and South Carolina?
Doing big complex projects is hardly an Australian competitive edge. Think of the 50 years opining about a second Sydney airport, or – killer fact – the fumbling with submarines.
Where is the shire council putting up its hand to host a nuclear power plant? Harder to find than a sponsor for a high-temperature toxic waste incinerator.
Nobody in the Hunter Valley has urged nuclear for the Liddell site, even on the footprint of this coal-fired power plant scheduled to close. And not even invoking the prospect of a small modular reactor that 10 years back was the vanguard of the nuclear renaissance. About to be planted across the Indonesian archipelago and the rest of Asia, we were promised. Today they exist only on the Rolls-Royce drawing boards they have adorned since the 1970s.
Nuclear enthusiasts and fellow travellers like me once said of solar it’s the greatest future source of power and always will be. Solar investors may aim that rhetorical dart at small modular reactors and, indeed, the nuclear sector as its energy share, for years stagnant, proceeds to go backwards.
Bob Carr is the longest-serving premier of NSW and a former Australian foreign minister.

Nuclear submarines for Australia?

Friends of the Earth petition to stop nuclear subs

IPAN petition


Useful reports and articles

Decommissioing of nuclear submarines

International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, 2022 report, ‘Troubled Waters: Nucler Submarines, AUKUS and the NPT’

David Noonan, Nov 2021, Submission to Joint Standing Committee on Treaties

AUKUS nuclear subs and Tomahawk cruise missiles in a ‘Defence Federal Election’ (David Noonan, Sept. 2021)

Australian Nuclear Free Alliance (ANFA) statement opposing submarines (Oct 2021)


Nuclear good, batteries bad: Morrison’s subs deal is thin edge of wedge

Jim Green, RenewEconomy, 17 September 2021

https://reneweconomy.com.au/nuclear-good-batteries-bad-morrisons-subs-deal-is-thin-edge-of-wedge/

In 2019, a federal government-dominated parliamentary committee released a report on nuclear power titled ‘Not without your approval’. The report emphasised that nuclear power would not be pursued without community support.

But now, the government has secretly decided that Australia will acquire nuclear submarines, with or without your approval, and any consultation will be tokenistic. This is the DAD ‒ Decide, Announce, Defend ‒ approach which is the antithesis of good government. We only need to go back to the 2016 decision to purchase French-designed submarines to see how poor decisions can be made even when tens of billions of taxpayers’ dollars are at stake.

Rex Patrick ‒ a South Australian Senator and former submariner ‒ said: “The main question about @ScottMorrisonMP’s nuclear sub announcement is simple. Why should we expect his Ministers and Defence bureaucrats to do any better with this deal than their previous procurement disasters? No grounds for confidence there.”

Despite the government’s secrecy and obstinacy, the plan for nuclear subs could easily collapse for any number of reasons including economics (eight nuclear subs will cost north of A$100 billion, and decommissioning and waste management could cost just as much), the availability of comparable or superior options, and public and political opposition.

Alternatives

Because the internal discussions and international negotiations have been secret, we have no way of knowing whether alternative options have been properly considered. These include the options of building fewer submarines (or none at all), and advanced lithium-ion battery technology.

The Coalition’s attitude towards batteries for energy storage has been hostile and ignorant, and there’s no reason to believe that consideration of advanced battery submarine propulsion has been any more adult.

A majority of Coalition MPs support repeal of federal laws banning nuclear power even though it is vastly more expensive than renewables ‒ and significantly more expensive than renewables plus backup stored power.

Put this all together in the mind of Defence Minister Peter Dutton and it’s a culture war: nuclear good, batteries bad, own the libs.

Simplistic, ideological thinking appears to go beyond the Coalition culture warriors. I’m told by the author of a book on Australian submarines that “there’s a phenomenon I refer to as “nuclear zealotry” which seems to be alive and well in parts of the Australian submarine community”.

Nuclear power

All countries operating nuclear submarines ‒ the five ‘declared’ weapons states plus India ‒ have both nuclear power and weapons. Then Defence Minister Christopher Pyne noted that in 2019 that Australia would be the only country in the world with nuclear submarines but no domestic nuclear industry to back them up. Hence the earlier preference for non-nuclear subs.

Building a domestic nuclear industry to support nuclear submarines would be astronomically expensive and problematic in other respects.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison insisted that the nuclear submarine proposal won’t translate into a push for nuclear power plants in Australia. But within hours of the AUKUS announcement, the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) called for the repeal of laws banning nuclear power in Australia ‒ laws which might need to be amended to accommodate nuclear subs.

“Now that Australia is acquiring nuclear submarines which use small reactors, there is no reason why Australia should not be considering SMRs [small modular reactors] for civilian use,” the MCA said, adding that SMRs “will provide some of the cheapest zero emission 24/7 power available.”

Even by the standards of the pro-coal, pro-nuclear, anti-renewables MCA, that’s a grotesque lie. Power from SMRs would be far more expensive than that from conventional nuclear ‒ which is far more expensive than renewables. Hence the paucity of investment in SMRs and the insistence of would-be developers that taxpayers should shoulder the risk.

The far-right culture warriors will argue that it is absurd to pursue submarine reactors but not land-based reactors for power generation. They will argue that it is absurd to pursue military reactors but not civil reactors.

Sane Coalition MPs understand that nuclear power is hopelessly uneconomic and a political non-starter. Their patience and resilience will be tested as the nuclear culture wars drag on and on.

Nuclear weapons

Does the government secretly want to bring Australia closer to a nuclear weapons capability via a nuclear submarine program? Does that partly explain why the Morrison government refuses to sign the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and has actively undermined the Treaty at every step? (In the late 1960s, John Gorton’s government actively pursued a nuclear power program and Gorton later acknowledged a hidden weapons agenda. Gorton opposed Australia signing the UN’s Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.)

Nuclear submarines would certainly bring Australia closer to a nuclear weapons capability, whether or not that is part of the plan. At a minimum, staff trained for a nuclear submarine program could later find themselves working on a weapons program.

The northern suburbs of Adelaide would become Australia’s second hub of nuclear expertise along with the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation’s research reactor site south of Sydney. (ANSTO’s predecessor, the Australian Atomic Energy Commission, was heavily involved in the push for nuclear weapons in the 1960s.)

Will the Morrison government insist on some degree of technology transfer as part of the submarine negotiations, such that Australia develops some degree of nuclear reactor manufacturing capability? That will be a test of the government’s true intentions, but of course the negotiations will be conducted in secret and the rest of us can only speculate.

Will Australia’s pursuit of nuclear subs encourage other countries to do the same? Will Indonesia take steps to move closer to a nuclear weapons capability as Australia deliberately or inadvertently does the same? If so, Indonesia will likely seek to acquire nuclear subs or nuclear power or both.

Uranium enrichment

Most nuclear subs use highly-enriched uranium (HEU) fuel. The use of HEU fuel in nuclear subs is a huge problem, accounting for a majority of the non-weapons use of HEU.

So, will Australia insist on the use of low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel ‒ which is still problematic since it presumes the existence and operation of enrichment plants, but is preferable since LEU cannot be used directly in weapons? If so, what are the implications for submarine performance, reactor lifespan and refuelling requirements, etc.? Or will we contribute to the proliferation of HEU?

There will be another push for uranium enrichment in Australia. In the mid-2000s, then Prime Minister John Howard likened uranium enrichment to value-adding to the wool industry ‒ an absurd comparison since enrichment provides a direct pathway to fissile material for weapons, in the form of HEU.

Australia’s involvement in enrichment R&D began in 1965 with the ‘Whistle Project‘ in the basement of Building 21 at Lucas Heights. Those in the know were supposed to whistle as they walked past Building 21 and say nothing about the enrichment work.

The government claims that the pursuit of nuclear-powered subs won’t undermine the UN’s Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). But a decade ago, Australia colluded with the US to take a sledgehammer to the NPT by allowing nuclear trade with (and uranium sales to) India, a violation of the NPT principle of prohibiting nuclear trade with non-NPT states.

And even if the NPT is not further weakened by the pursuit of nuclear-powered subs, immense damage can be and often is done within the framework of the NPT. The proliferation of HEU is a case in point.

Nuclear waste

The government has been silent about disposal of the high-level and intermediate-level nuclear waste generated by a nuclear submarine program.

No country in the world has a repository for high-level nuclear waste. The only deep underground nuclear waste repository in the world ‒ the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in the US, for disposal of long-lived intermediate-level nuclear waste ‒ was shut down from 2014 to 2017 following a chemical explosion in a waste barrel, with costs estimated at $2 billion.

Waste from a nuclear submarine program would be dumped on Aboriginal land, as is the case with the federal government’s current plan to dump Australia’s nuclear waste at Kimba in SA despite the unanimous opposition of Barngarla Traditional Owners.

It speaks volumes about the crude racism of the federal and SA Coalition governments that they are prepared to ignore unanimous Aboriginal opposition to a nuclear dump. The federal government even fought to exclude Traditional Owners from a so-called ‘community survey’. SA Labor’s policy is that Traditional Owners should have a right of veto over any proposed nuclear facility including a nuclear waste dump.

The high-level and long-lived intermediate-level nuclear waste generated by nuclear submarines would cost many billions of dollars to dispose of, based on cost estimates overseas.

For example, the cost estimate for a high-level nuclear waste repository in France is A$40 billion. The US government estimates that to build a high-level nuclear waste repository and operate it for 150 years would cost A$130 billion. The South Australian Nuclear Fuel Royal Commission estimated a cost of A$145 billion over 120 years for construction, operation and decommissioning of a high-level nuclear waste repository.

It is highly unlikely that the government has considered these massive long-term costs in its secret deliberations. Submarine decommissioning is also likely to be an expensive and potentially dangerous nightmare for future generations to grapple with.

Dr. Jim Green is the national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth Australia.

Nuclear powered submarines for Australia

Comments by Dr. Jim Green

National nuclear campaigner, Friends of the Earth Australia

jim.green@foe.org.au, 0417 318368

16 September 2021

Following secret deliberations, the Morrison government has announced that Australia will acquire nuclear-powered submarines.

Alternatives

Because the process has been entirely secret, we have no way of knowing whether alternative options have been properly considered. These include the options of building fewer submarines (or none at all), and advanced lithium-ion battery technology to power submarines (South Korea’s choice after 30 months of comprehensive evaluation).

Weapons / security

Nuclear powered submarines typically use highly-enriched uranium (HEU) fuel. This would undermine global efforts to phase out the use of HEU because of WMD proliferation and security concerns.

The Nobel Peace Prize-winning International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons notes: “Military nuclear reactors in Australia would present a clear nuclear weapons proliferation risk and become potential sites for nuclear accidents and radiological contamination long into the future.”

The government wants to build nuclear submarines in suburban Adelaide. Does that put a target on our back? Is it prudent to build nuclear submarines in a city of 1.3 million people? What alternative locations have been considered, if any?

Does the government secretly want to bring Australia closer to a nuclear weapons capability with a nuclear submarine program? Do such deliberations explain why the Morrison government refuses to sign the UN’s Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and has actively undermined the Treaty at every step? (In the late 1960s, John Gorton’s government actively pursued a nuclear power program and Gorton later acknowledged a hidden weapons agenda. Gorton actively opposed Australia signing the UN’s Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.)

Broader nuclear industry?

Then Defence Minister Christopher Pyne noted that in 2019 that Australia would be the only country in the world with nuclear submarines but no domestic nuclear industry to back them up.

All countries operating nuclear submarines (the five ‘declared’ weapons states plus India) have both nuclear power and weapons.

Building a domestic nuclear industry to support nuclear submarines would be astronomically expensive and problematic in other respects. Nuclear power is vastly more expensive than renewables ‒ and significantly more expensive than renewables plus backup stored power (batteries, pumped hydro storage, etc.)

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese says that Labor support for nuclear submarines is conditional on there being no requirement for a domestic civil nuclear industry (among other conditions).

Nuclear waste

The government has been silent about disposal of the high-level and intermediate-level nuclear waste generated by a nuclear submarine program.

No country in the world has a repository for high-level nuclear waste. The only deep underground nuclear waste repository in the world ‒ the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in the US, for disposal of long-lived intermediate-level nuclear waste ‒ was shut down from 2014 to 2017 following a chemical explosion in a waste barrel, with costs estimated at $2 billion (clean-up, lost income etc).

Waste from a nuclear submarine program would be dumped on Aboriginal land, as is the case with the federal government’s current plan to dump Australia’s nuclear waste at Kimba in SA despite the unanimous opposition of Barngarla Traditional Owners. It speaks volumes about the crude racism of the federal and SA Coalition governments that they are prepared to ignore unanimous Aboriginal opposition to a nuclear dump. The federal government even fought to exclude Traditional Owners from a so-called ‘community survey’. SA Labor’s policy is that Traditional Owners should have a right of veto over any proposed nuclear facility including a nuclear waste dump.

Economics

The high-level and long-lived intermediate-level nuclear waste generated by nuclear submarines would cost tens of billions of dollars to dispose of, based on cost estimates overseas. For example, the cost estimate for a high-level repository in France is A$40 billion. The US government estimates that to build a high-level nuclear waste repository and operate it for 150 years would cost A$130 billion. The South Australian Nuclear Fuel Royal Commission estimated a cost of A$145 billion over 120 years for construction, operation and decommissioning of a high-level nuclear waste repository.

It is highly unlikely that the government has considered these massive long-term costs in its secret deliberations.

Democracy

A 2019, a federal government-dominated parliamentary committee released a report on nuclear power titled ‘Not without your approval’. The report emphasised that nuclear power would not be pursued without community support.

But now, the federal government has secretly decided that Australia will acquire nuclear submarines and any consultation will likely be tokenistic. This is the DAD ‒ Decide, Announce, Defend ‒ approach which is the antithesis of good government.

Despite the government’s secrecy and obstinacy, the plan for nuclear submarines could easily collapse for any number of reasons ‒ economics, the availability of superior options, public and political opposition etc.

Premier Marshall should stand up for our State: Reject the federal Liberal’s unlawful, unfair, unsafe and unnecessary nuclear waste dump plan for SA

David Noonan, July 2021

Premier Stephen Marshall must stand up for South Australia’s interests and push back on federal Liberal government imposition of an unlawful nuclear waste dump in our State.

The Premier has a duty to respect and uphold the law in SA that prohibits the import, transport, storage and disposal of nuclear waste in our State. 

The NUCLEAR WASTE STORAGE FACILITY (PROHIBITION) ACT 2000 was passed by the SA Parliament under the leadership of Liberal Premier John Olsen and strengthened by Labor Premier Mike Rann:

  • The objects of this Act are to protect the health, safety and welfare of the people of South Australia and to protect the environment in which they live by prohibiting the establishment of certain nuclear waste storage facilities in this State.

As Premier you should give all South Australian’s a Say and take action to instigate a required public inquiry into the impacts of a nuclear waste storage facility on the environmental and socio-economic wellbeing of this State. 

The NUCLEAR WASTE STORAGE FACILITY (PROHIBITION) ACT 2000, Section 14 states:

  • If a licence, exemption or other authority to construct or operate a nuclear waste storage facility in this State is granted under a law of the Commonwealth, the Environment, Resources and Development Committee of Parliament must inquire into, consider and report on the likely impact of that facility on the environment and socio-economic wellbeing of this State.

The Port of Whyalla is targeted for shipments of ANSTO nuclear fuel waste and communities along proposed nuclear waste transport routes across our State all have a right to have a Say.

Nuclear waste dumping is a Human Rights issue for our fellow Indigenous South Australian’s. As Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Stephen Marshall should support the Barngarla People’s right to say No to nuclear waste storage on their country:

  • The “United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People” (2007) Article 29 calls on States “to ensure that no storage or disposal of hazardous material shall take place in the lands or territories of indigenous peoples without their free prior and informed consent.”

The federal Liberal government proposes to ship and truck nuclear waste across SA into indefinite above ground storage in a fancy shed at Napandee on Eyre Peninsula – without any capacity or even a plan for its eventual permanent disposal.

SA’s clean green reputation, and our prime agricultural lands and farming communities, deserve better than untenable imposition of toxic nuclear wastes in a shoddy reckless federal plan to park and dump wastes that require isolation from the environment for 10,000 years.

95 per cent of Intermediate Level Waste (ILW) in Australia are owned by Commonwealth government agencies, the vast majority is produced and held at ANSTO’s Lucas Heights reactor facility in Sydney – where it should stay in secure extended storage.

  • The federal Budget provided $60 million for further decades of extended storage capacity for ILW at ANSTO Lucas Heights, building onto the operation of existing stores to 2026.
  • In 2015 a separate Interim Waste Store for ANSTO nuclear fuel waste was built at Lucas Heights with a design capacity for 40 years. This store received a shipment of reprocessed nuclear fuel waste from France in 2015 and is intended to now receive a shipment from the UK in 2022, and is safety rated to 2055.
  • The CEO of the federal nuclear regulator ARPANSA stated in evidence to a Senate Inquiry in 2020: “Waste can be safely stored at Lucas Heights for decades to come.”

The federal Liberal government proposes to bring all these nuclear wastes to SA, along with decades of ANSTO’s further proposed nuclear waste production and future shipments of ANSTO reprocessed nuclear waste from France.

Premier – Stand up for our State!

By David Noonan, a Voice of the No Dump Alliance https://www.nodumpalliance.org.au

For updates: see Adelaide group Don’t Dump on SA https://www.facebook.com/dontdumponsa

No Radioactive Waste Facility for Kimba District https://www.facebook.com/noradwastekimba

And https://www.facebook.com/nodumpalliance

Please Sign: the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) sign on letter to federal Minister Pitt

Sign the open letter to Keith Pitt: Don’t dump radioactive waste facility on regional communities (acf.org.au)

Support the Barngarla People:

Barngarla: Help us Have a Say on Kimba” to fund a legal challenge (judicial review)

Fundraiser by Barngarla People : Barngarla: Help us Have a Say on Kimba (gofundme.com)

The Barngarla People are the Traditional Custodians over much of the Eyre Peninsula, including the proposed site for a National Radioactive Waste Management Facility (NRWMF) in South Australia.

Despite being Native Title Holders, we never received the right to vote in the official ballot, used to assess broad community support. 

The Barngarla People do not support the building of an NRWMF at Kimba and deserve to have our voice heard by the Federal Government.

Help Us Protect Country:

We need your support to continue fighting to protect this land and the local community.

see Traditional owners can challenge nuclear waste dump on Country | NITV (sbs.com.au) 23 June

EPBC Review – media release

Nuclear status quo in federal environmental law review

Mineral Policy Institute and Friends of the Earth Australia

Media Release ‒ 20 July 2020

National and state environment groups have given a cautious welcome to the continuation of long-standing protections against nuclear risks in the current statutory review of the Environmental Protection Biodiversity Conservation Act – Australia’s federal environmental laws. The interim report released today has stated that the Commonwealth should maintain the capacity to intervene in uranium mining and made no recommendation to change existing prohibitions on nuclear activities, including domestic nuclear power.

Civil society groups made a joint submission to the EPBC review calling for the retention of the long standing ban on nuclear power and continuing federal oversight of uranium mining. The EPBC review committee’s interim report has flagged an intention to continue both protections despite lobbying from the Mineral Council of Australia to weaken these.

However, environment groups are concerned about a possible weakening of uranium mining regulations flagged in the interim report. Associate Professor Gavin Mudd, Chair of the Mineral Policy Institute, said: “The interim report proposes the further devolution of uranium mining regulation to states and territories, coupled to the establishment of ‘National Environmental Standards’. An obvious risk is that the standards will be weak, enforcement will be deficient as is already the case, and devolution will weaken the already inadequate oversight of uranium mining.”

“Uranium mining is different to other types of mining. Australia’s uranium mining sector has been dominated by license breaches, accidents, spills and a persistent failure to rehabilitate as promised. The last thing we need is a weakening of regulations and oversight. Apart from SA and NT every state and territory have a ban or prohibition on uranium mining. It is unsafe and unpopular and needs greater scrutiny, not less,” Assoc. Prof. Mudd said.

The Review’s interim report makes no recommendation to repeal the long-standing prohibition on domestic nuclear power. “Nuclear power is expensive, dangerous and unpopular,” said Dr Jim Green, national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth Australia. “The prohibition in the EPBC Act reflects this. Nuclear is thirsty, produces high level nuclear waste for which there are no safe storage options and produces materials that can be diverted into nuclear weapons. It is a profound security and safety risk. And nuclear power is absurdly expensive.”

“Recent comments from the current Environment Minister and Opposition Leader show a clear bipartisan rejection of nuclear power. There is broad opposition among civil society as shown through a joint statement by over 60 organisations representing millions of Australians. Given the lack of social license for nuclear power in Australia we welcome the continuation of this prudent prohibition,” Dr Green said.

Following the Australian uranium-fuelled Fukushima nuclear disaster the UN Secretary General called for all uranium producing countries to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of the industry. Groups have called on the Morrison government to now hold an independent review of the uranium sector.

NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro’s nuclear falsehoods

Correcting the nuclear falsehoods of NSW Deputy Premier and Nationals leader John Barilaro. Mr. Barilaro has been repeatedly provided with factual information so there is no excuse for his ignorance.

March 2020

Contact: Jim Green, FoE Australia national nuclear campaigner, jim.green@foe.org.au

Mr. Barilaro: Nuclear power is “probably the cheapest cost to the average Australian household”.

Facts:

* Nationals Senator Matt Canavan acknowledges that nuclear power is “very expensive”.

* Industry insiders and lobbyists freely acknowledge that nuclear power is suffering from an economic crisis that could prove to be terminal.

* Nuclear power is in decline worldwide and a growing number of countries are phasing out nuclear power including Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Belgium, Taiwan and South Korea.

* Laws banning nuclear power have saved Australia from the huge costs associated with failed and failing reactor projects in Europe and North America, such as the twin-reactor project in South Carolina that was abandoned in 2017 after the expenditure of at least A$13.4 billion, bankrupting Westinghouse. That expensive fiasco could so easily have been replicated in NSW if not for the prudent legal ban.

* There are many other examples of shocking nuclear costs and cost overruns, including:

‒ The cost of the two reactors under construction in the US state of Georgia has doubled and now stands at A$20.4‒22.6 billion per reactor.

‒ The cost of the only reactor under construction in France has nearly quadrupled and now stands at A$20.0 billion. It is 10 years behind schedule.

‒ The cost of the only reactor under construction in Finland has nearly quadrupled and now stands at A$17.7 billion. It is 10 years behind schedule.

‒ The cost of the four reactors under construction in the United Arab Emirates has increased from A$7.5 billion per reactor to A$10‒12 billion per reactor.

‒ The cost of the only two reactors under construction in the UK has increased to A$25.9 billion per reactor. A decade ago, the estimated cost was just A$4 billion. The UK National Audit Office estimates that taxpayer subsidies for the project will amount to A$58 billion.

Mr. Barilaro: “As I write this piece, a further 50 nuclear reactors are being built globally (450 reactors currently operate in 31 counties) including in Finland, France, the UK, China and Canada.”

Facts:

* The number of power reactors under construction has fallen steadily from 68 in 2013 to 49 as of Feb. 2020.

* As noted above, reactors under construction in Finland, France and the UK have been subject to catastrophic cost overruns.

* There has only been one reactor construction start in China in the past three years. The number of reactors under construction in China has fallen from 20 in 2017 to 10 now. Renewables generate twice as much electricity in China as nuclear power.

* No reactors are being built in Canada.

Mr. Barilaro on small modular reactors (SMRs): “Given their size and efficiency, their waste is minimal (new advancements in technology continues to address the waste issue)”.

Facts:

* SMRs would produce more nuclear waste per unit of energy produced compared to large reactors.

* A 2016 European Commission document states: “Due to the loss of economies of scale, the decommissioning and waste management unit costs of SMR will probably be higher than those of a large reactor (some analyses state that between two and three times higher).”

* Mr. Barilaro’s “new advancements” (‘Generation IV’ concepts) have failed spectacularly and have clearly worsened nuclear waste management problems (see p.42-43 of our joint submission to the NSW inquiry).

Mr. Barilaro: “The compact nature of SMRs means they need close to only 5 per cent of the nuclear fuel required for large conventional reactors.”

Fact: As the South Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission report noted: “SMRs have lower thermal efficiency than large reactors, which generally translates to higher fuel consumption and spent fuel volumes over the life of a reactor.”

Mr. Barilaro: SMRs are “becoming very affordable”.

Facts:

* Every independent economic assessment finds that electricity from SMRs will be more expensive than that from large reactors.

* SMRs will inevitably suffer from diseconomies of scale: a 250 MW SMR will generate 25% as much power as a 1,000 MW reactor  but it will require more than 25% of the material inputs and staffing, and a number of other costs including waste management and decommissioning will be proportionally higher.

* A December 2019 report by CSIRO and the Australian Energy Market Operator concluded that wind and solar power, including two to six hours of storage, is two to three times cheaper than power from small reactors per unit of energy produced. Nuclear lobbyists dispute the construction costs that underpin this estimate but, in fact, they are a neat fit with real-world construction costs (as opposed to self-serving industry speculation). Indeed the CSIRO/AEMO estimate is lower than the average cost of small-reactor projects in China, Russia and Argentina.

* SMRs in China, Russia and Argentina are, respectively, 2, 4 and 23 times over-budget. None could be described as “very affordable”.

Mr. Barilaro: SMRs “are now on the horizon”.

Facts:

* A handful of SMRs are under construction (half of them to power fossil fuel mining operations in the Arctic, the South China Sea and elsewhere).

* Private sector investment has been pitiful and the main game is to find governments reckless enough to bet billions of taxpayer dollars on high-risk projects. SMRs under construction are all being built by government agencies.

* The prevailing scepticism is evident in a 2017 Lloyd’s Register report based on the insights of almost 600 professionals and experts from utilities, distributors, operators and equipment manufacturers. They predict that SMRs have a “low likelihood of eventual take-up, and will have a minimal impact when they do arrive”.

* Likewise, a 2014 report produced by Nuclear Energy Insider, drawing on interviews with more than 50 “leading specialists and decision makers”, noted a “pervasive sense of pessimism” regarding SMRs.

Mr. Barilaro: SMRs are “not as water hungry as traditional nuclear power plants, because they use air or sand to cool the core.”

Facts:

* SMRs will likely use as much water per unit of energy produced compared to large reactors ‒ possibly more due to lower thermal efficiencies. Nuclear power, large or small, is incredibly thirsty: a typical large reactor consumes 35‒65 million litres of water per day. Gas cooling creates its own set of problems and inefficiencies, leading to higher costs ‒ that is why a very large majority of reactors are water-cooled.

* Sand to cool a reactor core? Perhaps he means sodium ‒ which has caused a number of fires in fast neutron reactors. Sand has only been used as a desperate measure in the event of major accidents, e.g. Chernobyl.

Mr. Barilaro: “We want to see investment in renewables but we know it’s not giving us the baseload.”

Fact: Some renewables provide baseload (e.g. hydro, bioenergy, geothermal) and intermittent renewables coupled to storage are effectively baseload. (Our supplementary submission to the NSW inquiry lists relevant literature.)

Mr. Barilaro: Nuclear power has “zero emissions”

Fact: The claim is false.

Mr. Barilaro: “The vast majority of us are not aware of the technological changes the industry has gone through for the past 45 years.”

* The ‘advanced’ nuclear power sector is dystopian because of its contribution to carbon emissions, troublesome nuclear waste legacies, and weapons proliferation.

* The ‘advanced’ nuclear power sector isn’t advancing. Many ‘advanced’ reactor projects are promoted ‒ there are lists of them, even lists of lists ‒ but meaningful funding, from governments and industry alike, is lacking.

Mr. Barilaro: “Last year, I attended and spoke at a global seminar in the US on the next generation of nuclear energy systems”.

Facts:

* Not everything said at nuclear industry conferences turns out to be true!

* Westinghouse said in 2006 that it could build an AP1000 reactor for as little as A$2 billion but the actual cost of AP1000 reactors under construction in the US state of Georgia is 10 times higher.

* EDF said it could build an EPR reactor in the UK for A$4 billion but the cost of the two EPR reactors now under construction in the UK is A$25.9 billion per reactor, a more than six-fold increase.

Mr. Barilaro: “While Australia’s future energy issues continue to go round in circles, the world is moving forward.”

Facts:

* Nuclear power is in decline worldwide and continues its downhill slide from its historic peak of 17.6% of global electricity generation in 1996 to 10.1% now.

* Renewable electricity generation has doubled over the past decade and now accounts for over 26% of global electricity generation.

Mr. Barilaro: SMRs “can be buried to withstand almost any physical or natural disaster.”

Facts:

* SMRs will be subject to the same risks as large reactors.

* Burying reactors below-grade would add a new set of problems as identified by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission:

“Potential fire and explosion hazards: below-grade facilities present unique challenges, such as smoke/fire behavior; life safety; design and operation of the HVAC [heating, ventilating, and air conditioning] system and removal of waste water.

“Potential flooding hazards: below-grade reactors and subsystems raise concerns with regard to hurricane storm surges, tsunami run-up and water infiltration into structures.

“Limited access for conducting inspections of pressure vessels and components that are crucial for containing radiation, such as welds, steam generators, bolted connections and valves.”

Mr. Barilaro: “Rolls-Royce is currently leading a consortium to build SMRs and install them in former nuclear sites in the United Kingdom. The company plans to build between 10 and 15 of these stations by 2029.”

Facts:

* Rolls-Royce sharply reduced its small-reactor investment to “a handful of salaries” in 2018 and is threatening to abandon its R&D altogether unless the British government agrees to an outrageous set of demands and subsidies.

* There are disturbing connections between small reactor projects and nuclear weapons proliferation. Rolls-Royce provides one example: part of the company’s sales pitch to the British government includes the argument that a civil small-reactor industry in the UK “would relieve the Ministry of Defence of the burden of developing and retaining skills and capability” for its weapons program.

Mr. Barilaro: SMRs “can be mass-produced in an off-site factory, shipped to locations, and then assembled.”

Fact: No SMRs are being produced in an off-site factory. No such factories are being built.

Mr. Barilaro: “If we can mine uranium, we can embrace nuclear as tomorrow’s solution to deal with the climate change crisis of today.”

Facts:

* Uranium’s contribution to Australia’s economy is negligible (0.2% of export revenue, 0.01% of employment).

* NSW has no economic uranium deposits as the NSW Parliamentary inquiry acknowledged.

* A 2018 analysis by Australian economist Prof. John Quiggin concludes that it would be “virtually impossible” to get a nuclear power reactor operating in Australia before 2040. More years would elapse before nuclear power has generated as much as energy as was expended in the construction of the reactor. Thus it would be a quarter-century or more before nuclear power could even begin to reduce greenhouse emissions in Australia (and then only assuming that nuclear power displaced fossil fuels).

Mr. Barilaro: “This is going to test those who claim to be focusing and worried about the climate change emergency. If it is an emergency we need urgent and immediate actions. … Small modular reactors will provide exactly that.”

Facts:

* SMRs are at an early developmental stage. They are not a short-term proposition.

* In 2019, the Climate Council ‒ comprising Australia’s leading climate scientists ‒ issued a policy statement concluding that nuclear power plants “are not appropriate for Australia – and probably never will be”. The statement continued: “Nuclear power stations are highly controversial, can’t be built under existing law in any Australian state or territory, are a more expensive source of power than renewable energy, and present significant challenges in terms of the storage and transport of nuclear waste, and use of water”.


Premier must stand up to Barilaro on nuclear power

Sydney Morning Herald editorial, 11 March 2020

Deputy Premier John Barilaro has issued another ultimatum to the NSW government, this time over his obsession with starting a nuclear industry, but it is high time Premier Gladys Berejiklian called his bluff. Mr Barilaro is demanding that cabinet endorse a report by an upper house parliamentary committee backed by One Nation which recommends lifting the ban on uranium mining and nuclear power generation that has been in place since 1986. If cabinet refuses, he is threatening that he and perhaps the whole National Party will go their own way and vote in favour of a bill to that effect. The Herald reported on Monday that some cabinet ministers who oppose nuclear power are threatening to respond by quitting if Ms Berejiklian caves in.

The question of whether NSW can or should develop a nuclear industry is complicated. In theory, mining uranium could earn money and nuclear power generation could help reduce emissions. In fact, both face huge practical problems.

Of course, the Northern Territory and South Australia already mine uranium. But there is little reason for NSW to follow them now because, quite apart from concerns over waste storage, safety and proliferation, the business case is very weak. As the upper house report says, the state does not have any proven commercial deposits of uranium and, since the Fukushima disaster in Japan, the global market for uranium has been depressed. The conservative government in Western Australia ended its ban on uranium mining in 2010 but no new mines have opened.

Similarly, the prospects are also poor for nuclear power generation here any time soon. Nuclear reactors are very expensive and would take decades to build. By most reckonings, they cannot compete on cost with renewables – backed up by battery storage – or pumped hydro. Private companies will not build them without subsidies from taxpayers.

Given those practical issues, it is hard to understand why Mr Barilaro has joined One Nation’s crusade for nuclear power. Cynics would argue that his main goal is shielding the coal industry by delaying other more immediate and practical forms of action to reduce carbon emissions. And for Mr Barilaro, it might be a political winner. He might steal One Nation’s thunder and win the support of older regional voters and radio shock jocks who have a vendetta against those they see as renewables-loving green hippies.

But Mr Barilaro’s nuclear adventure risks doing damage to the government including a repeat of what happened to the Howard government in 2007 when it campaigned on nuclear power. The ALP pointed out that because plants require enormous amounts of water, they would have to be located on the coast. That went down like a lead balloon with voters and that was before Fukushima.

With a two-seat majority, Ms Berejiklian is more than usually dependent on her Coalition partner. Over the past year, Mr Barilaro has been able to extract some questionable concessions from her on water policy and regional jobs in the energy sector.

But she must not allow policy on such an important issue to be driven by a minority of Nationals MPs and the whims of One Nation backbenchers. As Premier, it should be Ms Berejiklian who sets the priorities of the state’s energy policy.

This is a good chance for Ms Berejiklian to stamp her authority on the government. Mr Barilaro has backed down in the past. He knows how much he and his party need to be in government. His bark is often worse than his bite.

Letter to SA Liberal MPs 2020

Friends of the Earth letter to all SA Liberal MPs

18 February 2020

We are writing to recommend an urgent rethink of the SA Government’s positioning regarding the proposed National Radioactive Waste Management Facility (NRWMF) near Kimba, for the following reasons:

It is unconscionable for the SA Government to be supporting a facility that is unanimously opposed by the Barngarla Traditional Owners.

The federal government excluded Barngarla Traditional Owners from the ‘community ballot’ held last year and even went so far as to contest a court case initiated by Traditional Owners regarding their exclusion.

The Barngarla Determination Aboriginal Corporation initiated a separate, confidential postal ballot, conducted by Australian Election Company. This resulted in 100% of respondents voting ‘no’ to the proposed nuclear facility. Not one Barngarla Traditional Owner supported the nuclear facility.

The Barngarla Determination Aboriginal Corporation (BDAC) wrote to the Federal Government stating:

This unanimous “No” vote demonstrates that there is absolutely no support at all within the Barngarla community for the NRWMF. BDAC has requested that given the first people for the area unanimously have voted against the proposed facility that the Minister should immediately determine that there is not broad community support for the project. In light of this total rejection of the NRWMF by the Barngarla people, it is BDAC’s responsibility to continue to give voice to the profound concerns Barngarla traditional owners have regarding the NRWMF, and to take whatever steps are necessary to oppose the NRWMF being located on Barngarla Country.”

The SA Labor Party argues that traditional owners should have a right of veto over nuclear projects given the sad and sorry history of the nuclear industry in SA, stretching back to the British atomic bomb tests. Deputy Leader of the Opposition Susan Close says that SA Labor is “utterly opposed” to the “appalling” process which led to the recent announcement regarding the Kimba site. Compare that to the Federal Government, whose mind-set seems not to have advanced from the ‘Aboriginal natives shall not be counted’ clause in the Constitution Act 1900. As Barngarla Traditional Owner Jeanne Miller says, Aboriginal people with no voting power are put back 50 years, “again classed as flora and fauna.”

The SA Government should support Barngarla Traditional Owners in their current struggle.

To do otherwise would be unconscionable and would inevitably result in a strong, sustained negative reaction from South Australian citizens and voters for years to come.

To support the nuclear facility despite the unanimous opposition of Barngarla Traditional Owners would be to drag South Australia back into the 18th century.

Kimba is a community divided

Former federal resources minister Matt Canavan previously said in Parliament that 65% support would meet the Government’s requirement for ‘broad community support’. Ironically, he qualified that statement by noting that other factors would need to be taken into account including the views of traditional owners. In 2016, the Department’s Principal Advisor Bruce Wilson said the Minister would need “at least that [65%], if not more” before proceeding with a siting decision.

But only 54.8% of eligible voters supported the proposed nuclear facility in the Kimba ballot held last year, well short of the 65% benchmark. If the results of the Barngarla ballot are combined with the government-initiated ballot, the overall level of support falls to just 43.8% of eligible voters (452/824 for the Kimba ballot, and 0/209 for the Barngarla ballot).

Kimba and Eyre Peninsula residents opposed to the proposed nuclear facility are determined to keep fighting. Barngarla Traditional Owners are determined to keep fighting. Environmentalists, trade unions, medical and public health groups, church and faith groups, and many other South Australians are determined to keep fighting.

Only 4% of South Australia is arable land. It is of deep concern that a nuclear waste facility in the area could be allowed to jeopardise the agricultural industry. Indeed the proposal to site a nuclear waste repository and store in Kimba is a clear breach of the National Health and Medical Research Council’s Code of Practice for Near-Surface Disposal of Radioactive Waste in Australia, which states that “the site for the facility should be located in a region which has no known significant natural resources, including potentially valuable mineral deposits, and which has little or no potential for agriculture or outdoor recreational use”.

The Federal Government’s claim that 45 jobs will be created is a cruel hoax. It is wildly inconsistent with comparable facilities overseas.[1] It assumes that Australian workers are at least 10 times less productive than workers at comparable facilities overseas.[2] Successive Federal Governments have claimed there would be zero, six or 15 jobs. Then the number magically tripled last year to 45 jobs ‒ just as the $10 million bribe was tripled to $30 million.

This is a statewide issue that will not go away

South Australians have greater ambitions for our state than to be someone else’s nuclear waste dump. This has been proven time and time again:

  • In 2004, after a six-year battle, the Howard government abandoned plans for a national nuclear waste dump near Woomera.
  • In 2016, the plan to import intermediate- and high-level nuclear waste from around the world was abandoned in the face of public and political opposition.
  • Last year, the Federal Government abandoned plans for a national nuclear waste facility near Hawker in the Flinders Ranges in the face of fierce opposition from the local community including Adnyamathanha Traditional Owners.

Each of those successful campaigns began from a standing start. Momentum was built and sustained until the proposal was abandoned. Momentum will continue to build until the Federal Government abandons its latest proposal to establish a national nuclear waste dump and store in SA. Surely it would be in the best interests, and is the responsibility of, the SA Liberal Government to support South Australians rather than falling in line behind the Federal Government.

A March 2015 survey commissioned by the Advertiser found just 15.7% support for a nuclear waste dump. A 2018 poll found just 35% support for a ‘national nuclear and radioactive waste dump in outback SA’ and 55% opposition. Those strongly opposed to a nuclear and radioactive waste dump in the 2018 poll outnumbered those strongly in support by a factor of three (41:14).

Long-lived intermediate level waste would be stored in SA ad infinitum

The Federal Government repeatedly refers to a facility for ‘low-level waste’. Yet the Government itself has acknowledged that, measured by volume, 30% of the waste is long-lived intermediate-level waste (LLILW). Measured by radioactivity ‒ a far more important criterion than volume ‒ well over 90% of the waste is LLILW.

This LLILW is destined for ‘interim’ above-ground storage at Kimba pending the establishment of a deep underground repository somewhere else. No site has been found for deep underground disposal of the LLILW. Indeed the Government has not even begun a site selection process, nor does it have any plans to initiate a site selection process. Overseas experience is not promising. Countless plans for deep underground nuclear waste repositories have been abandoned, sometimes after the expenditure of many millions or in some cases billions of dollars. The only operating deep underground disposal site in the world − the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico – was closed for three years after a chemical explosion in February 2014, with costs amounting to approx. A$3 billion.

The claim that LLILW would be removed from ‘interim’ storage at Kimba after around 30 years is implausible and deceitful. The federal regulator ARPANSA has repeatedly noted that the LLILW could be stored above-ground “for more than a century”[3] ‒ but no such acknowledgement has ever been made by the Federal Government.

LLILW would remain stored above ground in SA ad infinitum ‒ a clearly unacceptable situation.  An overwhelming majority of the LLILW is currently stored at the Lucas Heights site, 30 kms south of Sydney, operated by the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO). There is no reason to move LLILW from Lucas Heights for storage in SA. Australia’s nuclear expertise in concentrated at Lucas Heights ‒ not in Kimba. Security at ANSTO’s facility is vastly superior than would apply at a store in Kimba. According to Matt Canavan, 93% of the (low-and intermediate-level) waste destined for a nuclear waste ‘facility’ is currently stored at Lucas Heights.

South Australia’s Nuclear Waste Facility (Prohibition) Act 2000 ‒ an initiative of the Olsen Liberal Government ‒ was legislated specifically to prevent the imposition of intermediate-level nuclear waste facilities. The Marshall Liberal Government should honour that legacy and use all available legal and political initiatives to put a stop to the absurd proposal to move LLILW from above-ground storage at Lucas Heights to above-ground storage at Kimba.

Conclusion

South Australians are greatly indebted to Steven Marshall, Rob Lucas and other Liberal Party members for your strong role in putting an end to the ill-considered scheme to turn SA into the world’s high-level nuclear waste dump. We are indebted to you for continuing the transition to a low-carbon, renewable energy-based energy sector in SA.

We would enthusiastically welcome a repositioning regarding Canberra’s latest plan to dump nuclear waste in SA.

The Federal Government may have the legal power to impose a nuclear waste facility, but history has repeatedly shown that a sustained, concerted campaign can and will succeed.

References:

[1] The Australia Institute, 2018, ‘Down in the dumps, Economics of a national radioactive waste management facility’, https://tinyurl.com/svvroej

[2] https://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=19959&page=0

[3] See section 4 in the submission posted at https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/foe/pages/199/attachments/original/1497932543/FoE_ACF_CCSA_submission_Kimba_June_2017-final.pdf

Bird deaths at Olympic Dam

Evaporation ponds at BHP’s Olympic Dam mine are killing hundreds of birds

Hundreds of birds are dying each year after mistaking Olympic Dam’s evaporation ponds for wetlands. Environment campaigners want the miner to stop using them.

Clare Peddie, Science Reporter, The Advertiser

July 10, 2019

https://www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/south-australia/evaporation-ponds-at-bhps-olympic-dam-mine-are-killing-hundreds-of-birds/news-story/1b886e4946f87fb7a729e201282f5cfb

Conservationists want BHP to stop using evaporation ponds at Olympic Dam that kill hundreds of birds, including threatened species.

They want BHP to cancel plans for a new pond and phase out 146ha of existing ponds, which are used for the disposal of acidic waste water.

It’s the second time in a month that concerns raised by conservationists have threatened to block a major infrastructure project.

In June, Birdlife Australia said the planned electricity interconnector between SA and NSW would destroy remaining habitat for the critically endangered black-eared miner bird.

Scientist and environment campaigner David Noonan says it’s shocking that birds are drowned, choked or scalded by BHP’s highly acidic, toxic wastewater.

“They see this as a wetland in an arid region as they’re travelling through,” he said. “They’re typically poisoned by contact, they die on site or they’re poisoned and die later.”

BHP found 224 dead birds during weekly monitoring in the 2017-18 financial year and that included 39 banded stilts, a vulnerable species in SA.

The number of dead birds found annually has hardly changed since 2011-12, when the banded stilt, red-necked avocet, whiskered tern, grey teal, black swan, hoary-headed grebe, little pied cormorant and silver gull were affected.

A BHP spokesman said methods to deter them such as wiring, gas guns and flashing lights haven’t worked but the company continues to explore new deterrent options.

“Extensive monitoring of birdlife in the Roxby Downs region shows the vast majority of birds visiting the area go to water sources other than Olympic Dam’s tailings and evaporation facilities,” he said.

“Notably, the average number of birds observed at Olympic Dam has remained relatively low for the past several years, and short-term increases have been linked to environmental conditions such as heavy rainfall rather than …new facilities.”

Plans for a huge open cut mine that were shelved in 2012 would have required a phase-out of evaporation ponds, but BHP says that condition is no longer relevant or applicable to current growth and expansion of the underground mine.

BHP is preparing to make a submission to both state and federal governments for a sixth evaporation pond.

A separate submission on a the new tailings storage facility – about the size of the Adelaide CBD and ten storeys high – has already been made, triggering an Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act referral, as in the case of the endangered bird in the path of the interconnector.