Opposition growing to dumping the world's nuclear waste in South Australia

No Waste Dump For South Australia

A group of activist Australian Catholic nuns have joined in questioning the proposal to import high-level nuclear waste into Australia. As the Sisters of St. Joseph celebrate 150 years since their foundation in Australia, they write of their “fear that the proposed sites for the storage of this high-level waste are likely to be on Aboriginal lands”. “These are some of the most vulnerable and sacred lands in Australia, and the proposal is clearly in direct conflict with the interests of many Indigenous communities. South Australians have strong memories of the Maralinga lands of the Pitjatjantjara, Yankunyjatjara peoples being used for the British nuclear tests of the 1950s and 1960s. Even after four ‘cleanups’, we know that dangerous materials, including plutonium, lie in shallow burial pits,” the Josephites write on their website.

“The announcement by the South Australian Royal Commission that Australia should welcome high-level radioactive waste from other countries is profoundly troubling. Not one country in the world - not even the USA - has been able to successfully contain its own high level radioactive waste.”


"The Commission discusses the alleged benefits, while failing to acknowledge the economic risks of Australia managing high-level wastes for hundreds of thousands of years by means of unproven technologies and social institutions,” commented Prof. Ian Lowe, Emeritus Professor of Science, Technology and Society at Griffith University, and a member of the Royal Commission's expert advisory committee.


Lowe argues: "The crucial finding of the Royal Commission is that community consent would be essential to the successful development of any nuclear fuel cycle activities. It says "Long-term political decision-making, with bipartisan support at both state and federal government levels, would be a prerequisite". It is difficult to see how bipartisan support at both levels would be achieved for South Australia being more deeply involved in the nuclear industry.


"It notes that uranium mining currently contributes relatively little to South Australia. Despite Roxby Downs being one of the largest uranium producers in the world, its royalties are about $4 a year for each South Australian. The Commission sees little prospect of local processing of uranium and correctly observes that nuclear power is not economically feasible. 


"The most serious proposal in the Commission’s tentative findings is that SA should consider setting up shop as a destination for radioactive waste from countries like Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. The Commission believes that this could be a profitable operation, but that belief is based on generous assumptions about the willingness of those countries to pay for the removal of their waste. Independent analysis by The Australia Institute questions those assumptions and concludes the operation would probably not be profitable. The Commission also notes "there are no operating models for the commercial transfer of used fuel for disposal. Any proposal to store and dispose of used fuel in South Australia would require agreements between customer countries and both the federal and state governments". That is a big hurdle, as is the acknowledgement that "any development would require sophisticated planning and consent-based decision-making, acknowledging the particular interests and experiences of regional, remote and Aboriginal communities.


"So the report gives a red light for nuclear power, a tentative amber light for expanding uranium mining, a red light for further processing of uranium for export, then a very tentative and heavily qualified amber light for the SA State government’s concept of setting up as the destination for east Asia’s radioactive waste."


Such comments are reiterated by other scientists, environmentalists and community members, who point out high-level waste remains toxic and has to be isolated for hundreds of thousands of years, other countries do not want the responsibility for their own storage of dangerous materials, the science is questionable,  the long-term effects of the Chernobyl and Fukushima experiences have demonstrated the grave risks to land, water supplies and people, the unknown dangers of groundwater contamination have not been examined, transport accidents are a real possibility. 


Responses from other experts:

Richard Blandy, Adjunct Professor of Economics in the Business School at the University of South Australia: I believe that the Royal Commission has got this wrong and that South Australia should not use part of its land mass as a dump for highly radioactive used fuel from overseas nuclear reactors (called “high level waste”) which, in the Royal Commission’s own words, “requires isolation from the environment for many hundreds of thousands of years. The reason why South Australia should not allow a nuclear dump within its borders goes to the heart of cost-benefit analysis involving many generations of people, literally tens of thousands of generations, in this case. Cost-benefit analysis works well when the costs are up front and the benefits accrue into the future. But it falls apart when the benefits are up front and the costs accrue into the future. This is the case with the proposed high level nuclear waste dump.”


John Willoughby, Professor Emeritus, Flinders University, and a member of Doctors for the Environment Australia: "From the health point of view, the risks are largely borne by those who work in the nuclear industry and, perhaps because the risks are not high, the report does not adequately address them. Employees involved in the processing would have to accept increased health risks. The impact on life and health from a major release of radioactivity from nuclear accidents is severe and immediate. Safety problems cannot be excluded: in existing repositories overseas (Germany and US), water ingress occurred in one, and failure in cooling systems caused an explosion in another. Both required expensive remediation. Radiation toxicity is the primary reason so much care is required in dealing with nuclear material and why safe disposal of radioactive waste is critical. As the royal commission report says, “Used fuel requires isolation from the environment for many hundreds of thousands of years”."


Associate Professor Mark Diesendorf, Associate Professor in Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies at the University of New South Wales: "The Royal Commission’s report acknowledges that nuclear electricity is not commercially viable in South Australia. However, it expresses great enthusiasm for the management and disposal of overseas-produced high-level and intermediate level nuclear wastes in South Australia. It supports a combination of above-ground interim storage of dry casks together with underground ‘permanent’ storage. The rationale for this economically risky scheme is slender, being based on the quantities of wastes held in temporary storage by countries with nuclear power stations. The report is not troubled by the fact that no country, not even the USA, has so far succeeded in building and operating an underground waste dump.


"It fails to address the points raised by the Australia Institute, questioning, for example, why nuclear countries would pay to export their wastes when it may be cheaper to manage them at home. The economic analysis justifying this scheme is a single 2016 study, most of whose assumptions are not stated in the Commission’s report. The Commission discusses the alleged benefits of this scheme, while failing to acknowledge the economic risks of Australia managing high-level wastes for hundreds of thousands of years by means of unproven technologies and social institutions."


Professor Jim Falk, Professorial Fellow at the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, University of Melbourne and an Emeritus Professor at the University of Wollongong: "This report should not provide much cause for optimism amongst thoughtful members of Australia’s pro-nuclear lobby. As with the previous Switowski report a decade ago, this report makes clear that nuclear energy generation and further fuel processing including enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing will be uneconomic in Australia without major changes in the Australian and world market.


"Oddly, the report settles on high-level nuclear waste storage as the opportunity for South Australia. This is odd given the decades long process (from as early as 1984) for the Commonwealth in trying to find an acceptable location to store Australia’s existing low- and intermediate-level nuclear waste. This couples with the Commission’s insistence that any extension of nuclear activities should have both bipartisan political support and the consent of the community.


"Prior experience, especially in Australia, and also in many other parts of the world including the USA, reflects long standing and widespread concerns about the safety of storing nuclear wastes completely isolated from the environment for the many centuries required. Given this, it would be fair to characterise any government which sought to open the way to waste storage and disposal in Australia as at best "courageous" and perhaps less politely, as "very politically foolish.""


The leader of The Greens in the parliament of South Australia, Mark Parnell MLC, contends that the findings of the inquiry were a foregone conclusion. “As predicted when the Royal Commission was established, the Greens knew that this process was all about softening South Australians up for SA to become the world’s nuclear waste dumping ground.”

Parnell cites the Commission’s own arguments against the plans:
The uranium reprocessing market is uncertain and there is no opportunity for commercial development. Nuclear power for SA is not commercially viable in the foreseeable future. 


Parnell contends that the tentative findings on the nuclear waste dump are based on dubious economics, heroic assumptions and a big dose of guess work.  “The Commission has identified a problem that lasts hundreds of thousands of years and proposed a solution with income that lasts just a few decades, but with costs lasting virtually forever.  If anything goes wrong in the future – we’re on our own.” A petition against nuclear dumping in South Australia can be signed here.


Another Greens politician, Scott Ludlam, a Senator for Western Australia, noted that 'For over two decades the remote Aboriginal communities have been targeted to host the nation's nuclear waste'.


“There are no longterm storage solutions for nuclear waste, which is why the Australian Greens believe that nuclear industry activities should be ceased entirely. Each nation must responsibly deal with their nuclear mistakes, not transport their toxic waste ‘out of sight out of mind.'


“The old parties have legislated to impose nuclear waste upon unwilling communities across Australia. The Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta senior women in South Australia and the Traditional Owners from the Muckaty region in the Northern Territory have defeated plans to impose radioactive waste on their lands.


“It is essential that Australia's disgraceful history of targeting Aboriginal communities to host our 60-year legacy of spent reactor fuel is never repeated again.


“The Greens propose the Commonwealth Government immediately establish an independent inquiry on Radioactive Waste Management to undertake a deliberative process that is procedurally fair, scientifically rigorous, and properly informed.


“The Labor-Liberal preferred response to nuclear waste management is ‘out of site out of mind'; in the past this has meant targeting remote Aboriginal communities. The Greens have stood with Traditional Owners in South Australia and the Northern Territory to defeat those plans.” The Labor (opposition) and Liberal (government) parties have voted together against a Senate motion acknowledging the opposition of six shortlisted communities as a nuclear waste dump. The federal Labor Leader Bill Shorten has praised the work of the Royal Commission. South Australia has a Labor government.


Further Information:

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Anti-nuclear opinions don’t count for much with SA’s elitist Royal Commission.
Comments from Nuclear Royal Commissioner, Kevin Scarce, show that the elitist and dismissive processes that dominated the Commission’s early days are still alive and well.
“Clearly the Commission doesn’t want to hear from ordinary South Australians. At the outset, they refused to accept submissions that weren’t sworn before a JP (including mine) and now they are devaluing submissions from concerned South Australians.” said Greens SA Parliamentary Leader, Mark Parnell MLC.  

On radio on 31 March Mr Scarce described 850 submissions to the Commission’s Tentative Findings as “computer-generated views” and “spam”. He also said “you can’t do anything with them because they’re expressing opinions as opposed to going with the tentative findings”.
“What the Commissioner conveniently ignores is that the ONLY rationale for an international nuclear waste dump in South Australia is its supposed economic advantages. The economic case for the dump is derived from the assumptions and opinions of consultants. However, if ordinary South Australians dare to present “opinions”, then the Royal Commission “can’t do anything with them”.
“Barely two weeks after the close of public submissions and six weeks before handing down its final report, the Royal Commissioner appears to have already locked himself into the waste dump idea saying, “I’m convinced it’s safe”.
“When it comes to economic criticism, the Commissioner appears to value the number of economists involved and the number of pages they write as key considerations. He promised to “take apart piece by piece” the economic analysis of The Australia Institute, whilst acknowledging that the Commission’s own economic analysis was based on assumptions because there is no equivalent operating facility to compare it with and after 50 – 60 years of nuclear waste, “no one has found a solution yet.”
“Commissioner Scarce has consistently emphasised the need for community support, yet seems oblivious to the elitist approach taken by the Commission which devalues those South Australians whose support is needed if any of the Commission’s ideas are to be taken seriously”, concluded Mark Parnell.

Black Mist, White RainAustralian and Marshall Islander nuclear test survivors demand a ban on nuclear weapons

“Black Mist White Rain” Speaking Tour

4-7 April 2016

Four Indigenous women from South Australia and the Marshall Islands are touring four Australian cities over four days to speak about how nuclear testing has impacted their lives, and why a treaty banning nuclear weapons is urgently needed.

Sue Coleman-Haseldine, Kokatha-Mula, and Abacca Anjain-Maddison, Republic of the Marshall Islands, spoke to more than 150 governments at the Third Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons in Vienna, December 2014. They are joining forces again to bring their personal
stories to Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.

“The bombs have destroyed a large part of Australia and despite several attempts it will never be safe or clean. There are many Aboriginal people who cannot go back to their ancestral lands and their children and their children’s children and so on will never know the special religious places it contains,” says Sue Coleman-Haseldine.

Coleman-Haseldine and Anjain-Maddison will be joined by Rosemary and Karina Lester, the daughters of Yankunytjatjara elder Yami Lester, who was blinded by the Totem 1 nuclear test at Emu Field in 1953. Rosemary Lester on the nuclear testing conducted in South Australia: “Many people died immediately, but others are living with chronic health issues, cancers and disabilities. Not to mention depression, the painful loss and trauma suffered mentally, the psychological and social damage, and watching loved ones’ lives diminish. It has eroded our culture and further marginalised our people.”

Britain conducted 12 major nuclear weapons tests in Australia between 1952 and 1963 at Monte Bello Islands, Emu Field and Maralinga. The United States conducted 67 nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands between 1946 and 1958, including the 15-megatonne “Castle Bravo” test at Bikini Atoll, which was 1,000 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, and exposed thousands of people to radioactive fallout.

“Marshallese people endured the loss of traditionally-held land and marine resources without negotiation or compensation; (and) were exposed to fallout contamination compromising the environmental health of individual and communities,” says Abacca Anjain-Maddison.

In the wake of Three Conferences on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, 127 nations have endorsed a Pledge to “fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons”. A UN-endorsed working group to take forward nuclear disarmament negotiations is meeting over three sessions during 2016, and is expected to lay the groundwork for negotiations to begin on a nuclear weapons ban treaty.

“While the Republic of the Marshall Islands is holding nuclear weapons states accountable in the International Court of Justice for their failure to disarm, the Australian government continues to justify the utility of the nuclear threat. The time is overdue for us to join the international majority in banning nuclear weapons”, said Gem Romuld, of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons- Australia.

The Tour Schedule:

Monday April 4 in Adelaide

Tuesday April 5 in Melbourne

Wednesday April 6 in Sydney

Thursday April 7 in Brisbane

More detail is available at www.icanw.org/au/bmwr

Please contact tour organiser Gem Romuld to arrange interviews with the speakers and/or representatives of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons:

gem@icanw.org  / 0421 955 066 /  www.icanw.org.au