Australian news, and some related international items

Bill Fisher spells it out on nuclear waste – Submission to #NuclearCommissionSAust

submission goodBill Fisher Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission – Submission – All Issues

Introduction I frequently make submissions to parliamentary enquiries on matters nuclear: most recently the Enquiry into Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament and the Enquiry into expansion of the Roxby mine. My submission is usually among the large majority (about 90%) opposed to uranium mining and export. The usual 90% majority is usually ignored! The 10% who are listened to are uranium industry representatives, governments and government departments, and a few scientists who are on the payroll of the uranium industry or the government. While this is a significant problem in the case of federal governments, it is far worse in South Australia, where the Roxby Downs Indenture Act is designed to override virtually all other legislation, and government departments which are supposed to monitor mining and export also act as promoters and protectors of the industry…..

(On nuclear wastes) 
Fuel leasing Even BHP Billiton admits there is no commercial case for fuel leasing or front-end processing (submission to the Switkowski Review, 2006). Even the promoters and industry-boosters admit there is a risk of proliferation. Dangerous, unwanted – any belief in short-term financial gain is delusional……..
Radioactive Waste Spent nuclear fuel is massively more radioactive than mined uranium. It takes 200,000 years for that spent fuel to decay to the radioactivity of the original ore. Every year, power plants worldwide produce 12,000 tonnes of spent fuel. The mass and volume matter very little compared to its toxicity, longevity, heat-generation and plutonium content. For over 60 years the industry has been promising a method for safe disposal of this waste. It has always been ‘just around the corner’, ‘about to be developed’. Only some delusional governments have continued to believe these broken promises; like, apparently, the South Australian Government.
After 60 years of broken promises, there is not one repository anywhere in the world for the disposal of high-level waste. There is one deep underground repository for long-lived intermediate- level waste, in New Mexico, USA. In 2014, a heat-generating chemical reaction ruptured one storage barrel, the air filter system failed, 22 workers were exposed, the repository is shut for 4 years and will cost $500million to restore. Safety analysis predicted one radiation-release accident in 200,000 years; now it looks more like an (estimated) 13,000 such accidents in 200,000 years. And that has to be just a wild guess. How many barrels last 200,000 years? My guess is none at all. Hell, the average barrel doesn’t even last 200 years (as a handy benchmark, that is about how long white settlers/invaders have been destroying the environment which had been better managed by the indigenous people for thousands of years) – and the average barrel isn’t expected to contain material of this toxicity. How long can we expect governments to keep us and our environment safe from this extremely toxic stuff? Based on the experience at WIPP, New Mexico, USA, about 10 to 15 years. That is how long it took from the opening of the repository to the beginning of complacency and cost-cutting.
That would never happen here, of course(?) It has already. In the late 1990s, the Australian government ‘cleaned-up’ the Maralinga nuclear test site. The government called it ‘world’s best practice’. It breached Australian standards for the management of long-lived nuclear waste. The truth always seems so elusive when we look at the nuclear industry. In 2011 – yes, that is 10 to 15 years after the latest ‘promise’ – a survey found 19 of the 85 contaminated debris pits had suffered erosion or subsidence.
There are basically 2 ways radioactive waste could be ‘dumped’ in outback South Australia: in a deep underground repository or at or near the surface. Given the lazy thinking and eagerness for easy financial returns characteristic of current governments, digging a deep underground repository – with the expense that involves – is very unlikely. That at least should save our groundwater, already so massively threatened and abused by allowing the Roxby mine free access to trillions of gallons of fossil water. The mound springs I was able to drink from and swim in 20 years ago no longer exist. That’s the fault of the South Australian Government & its Indenture Act. That leaves a shallow or surface repository. Presumably, we and our environment will be ‘protected’ from this extremely toxic waste by some kind of substantial building. Last time I looked, the longest surviving man-made buildings were the pyramids in Egypt – about 3,000 years old. Most modern structures are not intended to last anywhere near that long – and they don’t!
The plight of hapless authorities trying to contain the radiation from Chernobyl and Fukushima should warn us not to trust any snake-oil salesman telling us this stuff which remains deadly for 200,000 years can be kept isolated from our environment for anything like that long. We live in an age our parents could hardly have imagined where governments routinely renege on firm commitments made by previous governments. An age where our environment and its protection is of such little account that landholders in the Murray-Darling river system who are upstream from poor South Australia are permitted to build dams big enough to retain more fresh water than the capacity of Sydney Harbour.
Has the South Australian Government even heard of the precautionary principle? Briefly, it says if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or the environment, unless there is scientific consensus that it is not harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking the action. ………….

December 19, 2015 - Posted by | Submissions to Royal Commission S.A.

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