Dr Andrew Allison challenges The Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission’s reckless Tentative Findings
The proposal is that we should accept waste before the repository has been completely built and tested. This proposal is so reckless, as to be negligent. We would face the very real risk of being left with high-level nuclear waste, and no technology to properly handle it.
The plan [outlined in The Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission’s Tentative Findings] seems extraordinary. It is proposed that we should give ourselves a waste problem in the hope that we, unlike everyone else, could solve it – like a person who takes up smoking just to prove they can quit.
INTRODUCTION One of the Key Tentative Findings of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission is that: “The storage and disposal of used nuclear fuel in South Australia is likely to deliver substantial economic benefits to the South Australian community. An integrated storage and disposal facility would be commercially viable and the storage facility could be operational in the late 2020s.” 
I argue that this finding is open to challenge on technical, and economic grounds. I point out that no country has yet successfully operated a permanent high-level nuclear waste storage facility, without incident, for any substantial length of time. This includes technologically advanced nuclear nations, such as the USA, and Russia. These countries have been generating nuclear waste for over fifty years and yet they have still not solved the waste storage problem. It is stretching credibility to the limit to imagine that a non-nuclear country, like Australia, could succeed where the USA and Russia have failed.
No country has ever operated a high-level nuclear waste storage facility, as a commercial enterprise. It is doubtful that anybody ever will, because the service is impossible to price. No markets exist for this type of service. …….
WASTE DISPOSAL TECHNOLOGY IS STILL EXPERIMENTAL At the Media Conference on 15th February 2016 for the release of the “Tentative Findings” Report, Commissioner Kevin Scarce stated, “We’ve had waste now for 50, 60 years. There has not been an international solution yet.” It is difficult to reconcile this admission, with the advocacy of a nuclear waste repository in South Australia. ……
THE NUCLEAR FUEL “CYCLE” IS INCOMPLETE The basic problem, with the concept of a nuclear fuel “cycle” is the segments have not yet been joined up to form an actual cycle. The global capacity for reprocessing is inadequate. Many nuclear countries are not reprocessing at all. This means that spent fuel is piling up as waste. This compounds the problem with waste disposal, which is also inadequate. …….. For over fifty years, most nuclear material has moved on a one-way journey from mines, through reactors, to temporary storage facilities. The fraction of material that has been bred, reprocessed, and then used as fuel is very small. It is misleading to call the chain of transformations a “cycle” until more technology has been developed……..
THE WASTE REPOSITORY PROPOSAL VIOLATES EXISTING AGREEMENTS AND AUSTRALIAN LAWS ……
THE PROPOSAL FOR AN INTERIM STORE IS COMPLETELY NEGLIGENT The most alarming part of the Tentative Findings is in section 89, where an “interim store” is proposed: “imports of used fuel with interim storage and associated revenues commencing at year 11 after the project decision”.
The proposal is that we should accept waste before the repository has been completely built and tested. This proposal is so reckless, as to be negligent. We would face the very real risk of being left with high-level nuclear waste, and no technology to properly handle it
I am amazed that a government would even entertain such an outrageous proposal. We live in an era where it is argued that governments cannot operate, power utilities, water distribution, trains, bus services, banks, and communications services. At the same time, it is being proposed that the government of South Australia, alone in the history of the world, can acquire the expertise to operate a successful nuclear waste storage facility, and we are so confident of the ability of the government that we don’t even have to wait for the facility to be completed and tested, before accepting high-level nuclear waste. This seems to be extremely contradictory, and risky, to me.
ECONOMIC BENEFITS ARE UNCERTAIN AND MAY NOT BE WELL DISTRIBUTED Jacobs  published a disclaimer on their work which states: “In no part of this report does Jacobs, either explicitly or implicitly, make any recommendation or endorsement of the viability or otherwise of the Project.” Despite this, the “Tentative Findings” Report proposes a nuclear waste case using cost estimates that Jacobs say “are conceptual in nature” and that “… should only be regarded as no better than -50% to +100%”. This is a major contradiction. In my view, the pricing of commercial nuclear waste disposal is very speculative.
There is no marketplace for the international transfer of liability for high level waste. There is no known price that can be confidently used in a business case analysis. These points are all admitted in the “Tentative Findings” of the Royal Commission. There is no overseas commitment to the price used in the Jacobs’ analysis. The pricing is completely speculative. ……
This highlights a basic contradiction of the proposal. If the technology works then South Australia will face competition in a competitive market. If the technology does not work then South Australia may well be left with waste, and no means of storing it safely.
CONCLUSION The “Tentative Findings” Report proposes establishing a high-level international nuclear waste dump in South Australia. At best, this proposal seems to be reckless. We should not become an early adopter of this experimental and hazardous technology.
No prudent government should force these risks, associated with highlevel nuclear waste, onto their people, in perpetuity, merely in the pursuit of uncertain short-term financial gain.
To paraphrase Richard Dennis, of the Australia Institute: Australia is a lucky country, without any high-level nuclear waste. The plan [outlined in The Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission’s Tentative Findings] seems extraordinary. It is proposed that we should give ourselves a waste problem in the hope that we, unlike everyone else, could solve it – like a person who takes up smoking just to prove they can quit. ……http://nuclearrc.sa.gov.au/app/uploads/2016/04/Allison-Andrew.pdf
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