Australian news, and some related international items

South Australian nuclear waste import plan simply cannot succeed

Given the wildly optimistic price for waste modelled by the mid-scenario, not to mention the 56,000 tonnes of waste left over with no costed solution, and with all the uncertainties in developing the new technologies required, the simple conclusion is that this plan is simply all risk with no reward.

No-one else will line up to take advantage of this “once in a lifetime opportunity”, because the opportunity does not exist. The plan simply cannot succeed.

Royal Commission bubble burst

The impossible dream Free electricity sounds too good to be true. It is. A plan to produce free electricity for South Australia by embracing nuclear waste sounds like a wonderful idea. But it won’t work.  THE AUSTRALIA INSTITUTE Dan Gilchrist February 2016

“……NO GOOD OUTCOME The free energy utopia depends on two new, as yet unproven technologies: PRISM reactors, and cheap borehole disposal. The Edwards plan appears to rely on these technologies not only being successfully developed, but remaining entirely in Australian hands. Competition is certainly not addressed in the plan.

 It would be more realistic to assume that other countries would act on the same opportunities, if indeed they arose.
To implement the Edwards plan, Australia would need to spend around $10 billion to set up temporary storage, a reprocessing plant, and a pair of PRISMs. We would also need to import and store spent fuel.
 Furthermore, the importation of spent fuel would likely require a dedicated port and a fleet of specialised ships, and this is not costed in the plan.
The plan calls for spent fuel to begin to be imported and loaded into the dry-cask facility six years after the commencement of construction. It plans for the first PRISMs to be completed four years later. We could reasonably expect to have good data on the costs and methods of borehole storage well within this ten-year timeframe – as would any potential customers.
Having spent $10 billion (not including the cost of shipping or a new port) and ten years, and with several thousand tonnes of spent fuel in storage,42 there are, broadly speaking, two foreseeable outcomes:
1. If borehole and PRISM technologies, having been piloted commercially by Australia, are found to be as cheap and effective as hoped, other countries will have the opportunity to either use them themselves, or undercut our vast profits. It is not realistic to believe that Australia would continue to be paid five to ten times the cost of permanent storage alone. 43 Even if the hoped-for customers were nations that couldn’t use borehole or PRISM technology, a number of other countries could.
 2. If either technology is found to be too expensive for commercial deployment, or to have unforeseen safety problems, Australia will have locked itself into an expensive method of electricity generation with perhaps no longterm solution for the acquired waste.
In short: either the technology works and we face stiff competition, both from other countries and the low costs of the technologies themselves – in which case the numbers in the plan are completely wrong; or the technology doesn’t work as expected – in which case the numbers in the plan are completely wrong.
And in either case, the plan has still failed to cost a permanent solution for 56,000 tons of high-level waste – over 90 percent of the material taken in. The profits from the scheme would be spent in the early decades to subsidise the reactors and lower taxes, leaving future generations with a massive problem, and no plan or money left to deal with it.
There is no good outcome here.
Even if the technology succeeds, the business plan is fatally flawed. It is, in effect, a self-defeating plan. If it works, our customer base and commodity price dries up, killed by the very technologies we would have piloted at our own risk and at great expense.
Given the wildly optimistic price for waste modelled by the mid-scenario, not to mention the 56,000 tonnes of waste left over with no costed solution, and with all the uncertainties in developing the new technologies required, the simple conclusion is that this plan is simply all risk with no reward. No-one else will line up to take advantage of this “once in a lifetime opportunity”, because the opportunity does not exist. The plan simply cannot succeed.

February 13, 2016 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, NUCLEAR ROYAL COMMISSION 2016, reference, South Australia, Submissions to Royal Commission S.A., wastes


  1. love the balloon… Pop goes the weasel.


    Comment by A Green Road Project | February 13, 2016 | Reply

  2. Transforming our economy. Cleaning our energy. Sustaining our future.
    Submission to the South Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission by Senator Sean Edwards.

    A critique

    Dr Dennis Matthews (BScHon, PhD)


    Senator Edwards appears to have no expertise in anything to do with the nuclear industry. His expertise appears to be in salesmanship (eg., auctioneer, land and estate agent) and politics. His “evidence-based” submission therefore heavily depends on others whose independence is uncertain. It is therefore relevant to inquire as to the terms of the collaboration between Senator Edwards and his sources.

    Given the Senators emphasis on an “evidence-based” approach, the credibility of his submission depends heavily on the credibility of those with whom he worked and on the absence of selective “cherry-picking” of data.

    An “evidence-based” approach is at odds with the many assumptions used in the economic models employed in the submission.

    The Senators submission concerns the complete absence of any measure of radioactivity. There are frequent references to $ and kg but there is not a single mention of Bq, Sv, or permissible doses. Given that the controversy over the nuclear industry centres on the inherent radioactivity of the entire nuclear fuel chain from mining to waste disposal, it seems odd that the Senators submission gives no quantitative measure of radioactivity.

    When it comes to safety, the submission follows the lead of the nuclear industry in that it concentrates on safety performance under normal operating conditions and is dismissive of the possibility of catastrophic failure. The Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima catastrophes were deemed impossible until they actually happened. Nor is it reassuring that certain scenarios have been tested. It is the untested scenarios, especially those involving the failure of more than one part of the system (including the operators), that are hardest to test and which are most likely to cause catastrophic failures. Given that the PRISM technology is commercially untested it is difficult to support the Senator’s contention that “the safety of all aspects of this proposal is established beyond question”.

    In stressing the nuclear industry’s distinction between nuclear waste and spent fuel the Senator appears to be trying to minimise the issue of nuclear waste. This smacks of a “don’t mention the waste” sales pitch which leads to internal inconsistencies such as referring to a “facility for the deep disposal of used fuel” and a deep borehole “for used fuel material for disposal”. According to the nuclear industry’s definition, if the material is being disposed then it is no longer spent fuel but nuclear waste.

    It is hard to see how South Australia can be “ideally placed geographically” to potential Asian suppliers (including Japan and China) of spent fuel. Surely, any of the Asian countries mentioned in the submission would be far closer than SA.

    There is confusion in the submission about the PRISM module and the commercial PRISM installation. The module size is given as 311 MWe, whilst the commercial installation appears to be two such modules (622 MWe). This is significant for the economics of the project because of the time taken for demand to utilise the full capacity of the installation. In the meantime, the utilisation factor will be much less than the assumed 90%.


    The foreward claims “there is no taxpayer subsidy behind the proposal”.
    • Apart from the Senators tax-payer funded salary and allowances, there is a significant omission in the proposal, namely insurance. Because of the financial risk associated with the nuclear industry, taxpayers in other countries have had to underwrite insurance. Will this also be the case for the Senator’s proposal? This question was not addressed in the proposal.
    • The Senator does however call for taxpayer-funded support such as “high quality communication and engagement with the community, governmental sectors, and business communities”, a “comprehensive state-wide economic analysis”, and to “engage with probable customers for storage of fuel”.
    • The submission enthusiastically supports the multi-million dollar tax-payer funded Royal Commission into expanding the nuclear industry.
    • Presumably, the tax-payer funded ANSTO, EPA and various tax-payer funded government departments would be carrying out work related to the Senator’s proposal.

    In discussing the pyroprocessing of spent fuel and deep borehole disposal of radioactive waste the energy consumption is not discussed, and there is no assessment of the energy pay-back time of the overall project. This can lead to an incorrect assessment of the whole-of-cycle impact on greenhouse gas emissions.

    In discussing the proliferation of nuclear weapons, the Senator’s submission fails to mention that Australia exports uranium to many nuclear weapons countries and has recently agreed to supply India which achieved its nuclear weapons using uranium from Canada. Canada responded by immediately ceasing to supply India with uranium.

    The Senator refers to the payment of $30billion for commercially untested technology as an “ambitious investment”. It could equally well be described as very high risk gamble. The question arises, who pays if the gamble fails? Undoubtedly, this is a question which has been asked in countries that have previously “invested” in nuclear power and which so far have not seen fit to take the risk.

    The most frequently mentioned hazard associated with using molten sodium as a coolant in a nuclear reactor is the possibility of a hydrogen explosion. The Senator’s submission makes no mention of this potentially catastrophic event.

    Because the PRISM reactor uses fast neutrons then the interior of the reactor may become radioactive. Disposal of the reactor at the end of its useful life is thus an issue which deserves serious consideration from both an economic and an environmental perspective.

    The costing of the PRISM reactor, including the contingency modelling, makes no mention of the frequent cost overruns of commercially tested nuclear reactors. History suggests that for a commercially untested reactor the cost overruns will be much greater than used in the Senator’s submission.


    Comment by Dennis Matthews | February 14, 2016 | Reply

  3. Hi Christina

    please remove the first copy of my critique. Some good friends of mine used my computer and somehow their name ended up on my submission. I fixed the problem and resent the critique under my name.


    Dennis Matthews


    Comment by Dennis Matthews | February 15, 2016 | Reply

    • Shall do so as soon as I can find it


      Comment by Christina MacPherson | February 15, 2016 | Reply

    • Hi Christina

      its the one from emilieyann (feb 14) on this page.



      Comment by Dennis Matthews | February 15, 2016 | Reply

      • Have removed the one from emilieyann (feb 14) and reinstated the other one


        Comment by Christina MacPherson | February 16, 2016

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