Answer Points to Nuclear Royal Commission on Importing Nuclear Waste
Submissions Issues Paper 4 (Storage and Disposal of Waste)- Noel Wauchope
4.1 Are the physical conditions in South Australia, including its geology, suitable for the establishment and operation of facilities to store or dispose of intermediate or high level waste either temporarily or permanently?
Earthquake hazard: For either temporary or permanent storage of radioactive wastes, South Australia poses great risks. While the whole State has a small earthquake hazard zone, there are large sections which have an increased earthquake hazard. Particularly in the South of the State (1)
Risk to precious artesian water. While the South of the State has earthquake risks, almost the entire of the rest of the State covers the Great Artesian Basin. (2)
Effectively, this means there is almost no part of South Australia that could safely store radioactive trash for decades, let alone for thousands of years.
4. 3 What would the (overseas) holders of radioactive wastes be willing to pay for disposal and storage of radioactive wastes in South Australia?
This question really has no answer. At present every country with nuclear facilities is struggling with the unanswered question of what do do with their radioactive trash. Even Finland, which has built a 500 metre deep burial place, will not have enough space for their accumulating radioactive trash. So far, there is no room for Fennovoima’s waste in the Onkalo repository in Olkiluoto. (3)
At this stage there are no proposals for exporting nuclear waste. Royal Commissioner Kevin Scarce, in his recent report on the Commission’s overseas visit, said “We haven’t done the financial study”. When anyone does do the financial study, they will need to factor in the financial costs of insurance, of security for hundreds, thousands, of years, as well as of environmental degradation.
Another factor would be the comparison of the commercial value of renewable energy not pursued, tourist and agricultural opportunities lost as government money went into fostering nuclear schemes rather than South Australia’s more positive activities.
4.4 What sorts of mechanisms would need to be established to fund the costs associated with the future storage or disposal of either Australian or international nuclear or radioactive wastes?
A mechanism has been put forward by Oscar Archer. (4) In Archer’s words “it goes like this. Australia establishes the world’s first multinational repository for used fuel – what’s often called nuclear waste” he wants the funding to be provided by “our international partners”, on condition that “This is established on the ironclad commitment [my emphasis] to develop a fleet of integral fast reactors to demonstrate the recycling of the used nuclear fuel” This would be a highly unsatisfactory arrangement. As the nuclear industry now struggles to fund these as yet not developed Generation IV reactors – South Australia would find itself locked in – in a sort of blackmail position, to buying a technology that very likely has no future.
4.5 What are the specific models and case studies that demonstrate the best practice for the establishment, operation and regulation of facilities for the storage or disposal of nuclear or radioactive waste?
The massively expensive 500 metre deep bunker being developed in Finland is so far the only facility that has appears to have relative safety, but that can accomodate only some of Finland’s radioactive trash . Meanwhile in USA, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant has been as disaster. (5)
4.6 What are the security implications created by the storage or disposal of intermediate or high level waste at a purpose-built facility?
In the short term (i.e a period of decades) the above ground concrete containers are vulnerable to terrorist attack. In the long term , i.e. thousands of years, deep waste reposiitories run risk of climate and seismic events, as well as possible terrorism. They need to to be guarded virtually forever, or else, as they are forgotten, pose risks to future generations.
4.9 Bearing in mind the measures that would need to be taken in design and siting, what environmental risks would the establishment of such facilities present?
Climate change continues to increase risks of extreme weather events, and it is possible that seismic activity, already a risk, would increase.
4.10 What are the risks associated with transportation of nuclear or radioactive wastes for storage or disposal in South Australia?
Extreme weather, transport accidents that would spread ionising radiation , terrorist attack.
4.12 Would the establishment and operation of such facilities give rise to impacts on other sectors of the economy?
In the past, countries like France accepted the risks of nuclear power, and their other industries thrived. Now, even in France, there is concern about polluting industries. For some time after the Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe, the French wine industry was severely depressed., because the wine growing regions were squarely in the path of the ionising radiation fallout. (6) There is concern in Washington State about the impact of Hanford nuclear waste facility on the wine industry. (7)
(5) 1 6 June 2014, ‘Fire and leaks at the world’s only deep geological waste repository’, Nuclear Monitor #787, www.wiseinternational.org/node/4245 222 27 Nov 2014, ‘New Mexico nuclear waste accident a ‘horrific comedy of errors’ that exposes deeper problems’, The Ecologist,
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