Australian news, and some related international items

Nuclear waste would be stored above ground long before underground facility is built

strandedSA nuclear waste dump plans based on questionable assumptions and lacks public support  support ANALYSIS By Stephen Long  Did you know that South Australia is proposing to store high-level radioactive waste above ground for more than 100 years?

Neither did I, until very recently.

You could be forgiven for not knowing, since this fact has received little, if any, news coverage in South Australia — let alone the rest of the country.

Even the royal commissioner whose inquiry enthusiastically recommended the plan seems to have been unaware of this crucial detail.

Asked on ABC radio back in April whether nuclear waste would be stored above ground “for decades”, Scarce blahthe royal commissioner, retired Rear Admiral Kevin Scarce replied: “That’s not true. That’s not what the scenario is”.

He went on to dismiss a claim about waste being stored above ground for “hundreds of years” that nobody ever made.

scrutiny-Royal-Commission CHAINYet the facts are clear, and set out in detail in the consultants’ report the royal commission relied upon and the royal commission’s report itself.

Under the plan, South Australia will begin importing used nuclear fuel — one of the most hazardous materials made by man — 11 years after giving the go ahead to a nuclear waste depository.

It will import used nuclear fuel at a rate of 3,000 tonnes-a-year for 30 years, then at a rate of approximately 1,500 tonnes a year for the next 50 years or so.

The waste will be stored above ground in a so-called “interim storage facility” (ISF).

Not until year 28 of the project will the process of burying the high-level radioactive waste underground begin; it will continue, at a rate of 1,500 tonnes per annum, for 92 years.

Do the simple maths: the first barrels of high-level waste arrive in year 11 and the last barrels are buried in year 120.

That’s 109 years in which high-level radioactive waste will sit above-ground in “interim” storage.

For many decades, tens of thousands of barrels of highly dangerous material will remain above ground awaiting burial in a “geological storage facility” or GDF.

Why store the waste above ground for so long?

Scarce thanks experts 1This was the only scenario on which the consultants or the royal commission could find that a nuclear storage facility would possibly be financially viable.

Building an underground storage facility in advance of taking the waste would be a prohibitively expensive and loss-making proposition.

Premier Jay Weatherill has preferred not to emphasise the reality that waste would remain above ground for so long as he exhorts the public to “keep an open mind”.

But it may be one reason why a 350-strong “citizens’ jury” voted overwhelmingly to reject the storage of nuclear waste — after hearing from critics a clear explanation of what is involved.

Despite its illustrious title, this jury, unlike a normal one, does not get to decide the verdict.

A thumbs down from the jurors has not convinced Premier Weatherill the proposal is dead.

The royal commission and the State Government have sold the idea on the basis of a consultants’ finding that taking the world’s nuclear waste may deliver, in today’s dollars, more than $51 billion in revenue to South Australia over the 120-year life of the project.

Yet that estimate rests on some questionable assumptions, including that South Australia would receive the high price of $1.75 million dollars a tonne for taking the world’s nuclear waste but that high price would encourage no competition from alternative facilities.

Who came up with the numbers?

conflict-of-interestWould 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?

Dr Charles McCombie and Neil Chapman of the consultants MCM head the advocacy group ARIUS — the Association for Regional and International Underground Storage. They prepared the report in conjunction with Jacobs, a global engineering and consulting firm which has a lucrative nuclear arm and boasts of its “more than 50 years of experience across the complete nuclear asset cycle”.

When I interviewed the royal commissioner last week, he initially denied that the consultants who prepared the modelling — that is the sole basis of the commission’s recommendation in favour of a nuclear waste dump — faced any conflict of interest.

He then said there would have been a conflict of interest had it been the only material the commission had relied upon, but said it was “reviewed by our team of experts and found to be an appropriate estimation of what the costs, risks and benefits might be if we were involved in the storage of waste”.

That is the same “team of experts” who, apparently, recommended the consultants in the first place.

“Our role was to guide [the royal commissioner] on the choice of consultants who would do the work, the methodologies they would use, not to get into the data,” Adelaide University professor Mike Young, who headed the team of experts, told the citizens’ jury.

Weatherill nuclear dreamProposed nuclear dump may never proceed

Even if the South Australian Government could convince the voting public in its state, the plan would require federal approval and changes to the law.

Despite these obstacles, and the questionable economics of the project, Premier Weatherill appears undaunted.

Around the world, those with an interest in the nuclear industry will be keeping a weather eye on his progress.

The lack of geologically-stable facilities for storing nuclear waste is holding back the development of the nuclear power industry worldwide.

If South Australia were to create a repository for the world’s used nuclear fuel, it could provide a huge fillip to global advocates of nuclear power.

South Australia has about 30 per cent of the world’s known uranium reserves.

And a far bigger global nuclear industry would potentially mean a far bigger market for uranium from BHP Billiton’s Olympic Dam mine in South Australia, the largest known single uranium deposit in the world.

There are powerful commercial interests that would benefit if South Australia imports the world’s high-level nuclear waste.

The strength of public opinion stands in their way.

November 10, 2016 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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