Australian news, and some related international items

Senator Barbara Pocock demolishes the arguments put up for small nuclear reactors, and for nuclear submarines

There is a long list of reasons why the $368 billion spend proposed for AUKUS is a terrible idea, but it’s not least that the government has no viable solution to care for the weapons-grade nuclear waste and keep us safe.

Senator BARBARA POCOCK (South Australia) : THE SENATE CHAMBER SPEECH, Wednesday, 22 March 2023

“The proposal for nuclear power for Australia is wrong on many counts. Small modular nuclear power generation is too expensive, it’s not operating commercially and it’s a distraction from what we have to really get on with, which is a very fast move to renewables. We senators in this place have a responsibility to consider realistic proposals to advance citizens’ interests, not run impractical, risky, uncommercial proposals up the flagpole on behalf of, in this case, nuclear industry spruikers.

Last time I looked, only two small modular reactors were in operation on the planet, one in China and one Russia. In both cases the cost blowouts have been huge. Many other such next-generation nuclear reactors have been cancelled as people have worked out that renewables are the cheaper, more-reliable way forward.

But I want to especially focus on what Senator Canavan has raised, and that’s the question of nuclear waste disposal. The truth is that finding a permanent solution for the safe storage of nuclear waste arising from power generation remains a big, dangerous problem everywhere—a very expensive problem. The UK has 70 years of waste, 260,000 tonnes of it, from its nuclear power plants, in unsafe temporary storage. It’s a major problem for that country and its citizens.

The US nuclear industry has similarly been plagued by dangerous leaks and failures. No long-term solution exists in the US for waste from power generation or from nuclear powered submarines.

South Australians have had some experience with these issues. In 2016 our citizens had a very close look at a proposal that we take the world’s nuclear power waste and store it. We were promised an income stream of $51 billion. That’s a lot of money, but South Australians said no. The world’s largest citizens jury of 350 South

Australian citizens read the fine print. They saw that the proposal was for temporary storage for above-ground for more than a century. They said no to the false promise of huge incomes but especially to the safety risks and the fact that those who spruik nuclear power never offer a long-term waste solution that is safe and that will last the 100,000 years that is needed.

First Nations people across South Australia in particular said no. They remember Maralinga. This is a national challenge of long standing.

Since Australia first started producing nuclear waste, 70 years ago, five successive governments have tried and failed to find a suitable place for the permanent storage of our relatively small quantities of low-level and intermediate-level waste. Low-level waste, arising from medical use, must be stored safely for 300 years, and it’s nowhere near as dangerous as intermediate waste, but no community in this country has agreed to take and store that waste. Intermediate-level waste, arising from research at Lucas Heights, must be safely stored for 10,000 years. The previous government began a process towards that storage at Kimba, and it’s been bitterly disputed at every step of the way since, opposed by farmers, by community members and by First Nations people.

The Barngarla people are currently in the Federal Court fighting the current government, which is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to oppose the voice of the Barngarla people.

In the case of AUKUS, the fuel from decommissioned submarines is nuclear weapons grade, and it requires military-scale security. It must be stored safely not for 300 years, not for 10,000 years, but for 100,000 years, and neither the UK nor the US have been able to find permanent storage solutions for their own submarine waste. So, given that successive governments have continuously failed to manage much-less-dangerous radioactive waste in Australia, our government would find it very difficult in this country to find a solution to dispose of nuclear waste or AUKUS submarine waste. Traditional owners of the future in particular should have a say and a veto about any such proposal.

There is a long list of reasons why the $368 billion spend proposed for AUKUS is a terrible idea, but it’s not least that the government has no viable solution to care for the weapons-grade nuclear waste and keep us safe.

The Australian public is right to be sceptical and concerned about waste disposal in relation to AUKUS. There is no plan, and the same argument applies to any ill considered, expensive adventurism around nuclear power.

Our children need practical, affordable action on renewable energy that cuts carbon pollution, not pies in the sky that generate toxic waste for which there are no safe solutions.”


March 26, 2023 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, politics

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