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
- 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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.