No Nuclear Waste Dump in the Flinders Ranges, South Australia
WE OPPOSE A NUCLEAR WASTE FACILITY FOR THE FLINDERS RANGES.
It is disappointing that the state government and opposition would even consider such an atrocity as a nuclear waste dump for our state and invest effort in seriously exploring its feasibility, especially whilst failing to do the same for more environmentally safe and economic ideas to boost South Australia's economy and green attributes, such as solar power.
The Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission Tentative Findings Report contains many generously overstated ambitions, almost no analysis of the environmental, tourism or agricultural consequences with its focus on narrowly supported economic benefits. The media has claimed that there is ‘scientific consensus’ on supporting a waste facility for South Australia, despite there being many scientific professionals disagreeing with it. I urge you to read on, consider my own personal research into the matter and to independently consider the long term economic, health, safety and environmental costs for yourself.
Advocates for the facility have stated that as a state which supposedly ‘benefits’ from uranium mining in its far north, shipping the extracted products out to other countries, that we have a responsibility to deal with the waste created from such products. I disagree; it is questionable whether South Australia actually has benefited from mining as much as we are led to believe, with 83% of all mining profits going to overseas companies according to the Australian Institute’s paper #7, ‘Mining the Truth’ (Richardson, D. Denniss, R. 2011, p. 17). This is a topic that we recently explored at University during our Environment: A Human Perspective course; it is what is known as ‘Privatizing profits, socializing losses’. According to Professor Ian Lowe, Emeritus Professor of Science, Technology and Society at Griffith University and a member of the Royal Commission’s Expert Advisory Committee, the royalties from Roxby Downs uranium mining, for example, only contributes $4 each year for each South Australian. Professor Ian Lowe also describes the prospect of nuclear power and processing as economically unfeasible and describes the storage of waste as being;
“...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". (Green, J. p. 4)
Associate Professor Mark Diesendorf from Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies at the University of New South Wales, describes the Royal Commission’s advocating of nuclear waste storage as being based on insufficient evidence;
“...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."(Green, J. p. 5)
The NFCRC’s report fails to consider the cost, both economic and environmental, of managing a nuclear waste facility over the lifespan of the waste itself; it calculates the profits during the time in which it would be receiving waste, for roughly 89 years, yet ignores the fact that this would need to be managed over the course of 300,000 years. From the report;
“Low level waste mostly contains radionuclides (an atomic nucleus that emits radiation) with short half-lives. This means it requires containment and isolation from the environment for up to a few hundred years to reach background (natural) levels. [...] Intermediate level waste needs a greater degree of containment and isolation than low level waste due to its higher radioactivity and possible higher proportion of long-lived radioactive materials. It requires shielding during storage and transport. It does not generate significant quantities of heat. [...] Following its discharge from a reactor, used fuel comprises ceramic uranium material which remains sealed in its metal cladding. It generates heat and is highly radioactive and hazardous. The principal concern is the potential for radionuclides to migrate from the used fuel into the natural environment, where they could be inhaled or ingested by humans and other organisms. That hazard diminishes over time. Within 500 years, the most radioactive elements have decayed. However, because of its radioactivity, used fuel requires isolation from the environment for many hundreds of thousands of years.”(NFCRC, 2016, p. 15, 16)
The report then acknowledges it is not possible to know the geological and climatic conditions or the social and political stability of the distant future, I guess meaning the majority of the time that the depot will be functioning. But never mind the future, just the next 10 years could see the grounds of the Flinders Ranges proposed site being flooded, according to the traditional Adnyamathanha people, who manage the Yappala Indigenous Protected Area next to Barnidoota, one of the six proposed sites for nuclear waste (Dulaney, M. Feb, 2016). Nearby, is a significantly vegetated creek, Hookina Creek, where traditional owner, Regina McKenzie, said kids enjoyed swimming and camping;
"The amount of archaeology and the amount of heritage that's in this area is way, way too high.
"It's actually the site of our first storyline that runs 70 kilometres from Hawker right down to Lake Torrens, so it's a very significant place for us." – Regina McKenzie, (Gage, N. 24/2/2016)
Being an aboriginal traditional owner is no requirement for feeling a sense of responsibility for the land, with northern SA community’s reportedly torn on the matter.
“The first thing that hit me was safety – we’ve got kids, we’ve been here for three generations and we want to look after their future. What will this do for our price of land, who wants to buy land next to a radioactive waste dump and what will happen to our grain?” - Cameron Scott, local grain farmer in the Pinkawillinie area, (Puddy, R. Burrell, A. Nov. 2015)
“We need to get our community to understand that this is for thousands of years, that once it’s here it’s forever. The Government keeps saying it’s a low-level waste facility yet it’s not, it’s low to intermediate. These fuel rods coming back from France, it’s dangerous. It’s frightening for the health of my children. I don’t know that I’ll feel safe living next to it. We are worried about farming next to it and what that could do to our industry.” – Toni Scott, grain farmer in the Pinkawillinie area
So, as you can see, the Flinders Ranges, Kimba and other areas are not just isolated, dry, empty spaces with no significance to the environment or people. I imagine each of the proposed sites is of equal significance to the surrounding people and wildlife as well.
To summarise thus far, the report has determined that a waste facility is economically profitable, based on selective and limited data, for nearly 100 years. But, what happens after 2130? How does the state ensure the facility is at least economically effective, being at full capacity? Do we build a new facility to take further nuclear waste after completely filling the original? The current proposed facility is described as needing two separate areas; the media tends to describe this as being an above ground facility with the underground compartment directly underneath this building, however the report states;
“An above-ground interim storage facility which temporarily houses purpose-built packages or ‘casks’ made of metal or concrete that contain used fuel and intermediate level waste. The area required is 2.5-4 square kilometres.
A separately located, secure, underground repository facility comprising a series of tunnels into which specially designed canisters containing used fuel and intermediate level waste are deposited for permanent disposal [is also required] .” (NFCRC, 2016, p. 18)
To put this total area in a comparable perspective, the city of Adelaide, forming a square with its boundaries being North, West, South and East Terrace, would form a space just under four square kilometres, almost the size of the proposed waste dump. How much more bushland are we going to justify sacrificing? If a nuclear waste dump can take priority over agriculture, heritage and the homes and refuges of already dwindling wildlife, any excuse to build over natural land could surely prevail! How much space around both facilities would also be required? In addition to the railroad and supersized roads that will be built to transport the fuel from a new port. How will any waste facility, built anywhere, affect the surrounding price of crops, tourism or lifestyle of neighbours whilst harbouring a nuclear waste facility next door? The tentative findings literally analyses NONE of these issues with any depth. Would you be comfortable in letting your child play in the soil or creek next door to a nuclear waste facility? What happens when this facility is full? Do we build over another four square kilometre expanse of land?
A Green’s motion described how the six proposed sites were selected, with landowners being offered four times the market value by the government for their property. Why would the government do this? It seems that there is a lot of cash being proposed for this facility, when it could be spent elsewhere on more worthwhile pursuits to tackle climate change and renewable energy. (Parnell, M. 2015)
But the report also glazes over the possibility of accidents, it seems to take on the view that we are too modern and the operators will be too intelligent, too prepared, for mistakes to occur. It describes two nuclear accidents, the 1986 Chernobyl accident and the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi contamination, as though technology and knowledge on the handling of nuclear materials and its storage has increased so far since then, that future accidents are unlikely. In considering these tentative findings, we have to acknowledge that no other similarly designed waste storage facility has been in operation, in the entire world. If this goes ahead, this will be the first. As Doctor Jim Green states;
“There is no comparable overseas model of commercial trade of nuclear waste for disposal. No real idea how many countries might avail themselves of the opportunity to send nuclear waste to
Australia for disposal, or how much they might send, or how much they might pay. So there's no way of knowing whether revenue would exceed costs.”(Green, J. p. 3)
Concerns about environmental and safety affects of the waste depot are not the result of over-emotional, irrational fears. There are many examples of tragic human error, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in the U.S. state of New Mexico being one; the public was reassured there would only be one accident every 200,000 years of its operation, however in the first 15 years, an incident occurred exposing twenty three workers to unsafe levels of radiation.
The report is also silent on the German nuclear waste depot, Asse, an abandoned salt mine, where water has infiltrated the facility, leading to the exhumation of 126,000 barrels of radioactive waste. Issues regarding this low-intermediate level waste dump surfaced when water leaking from the site tested radioactive. The water has been testing positive for higher than normal radioactivity since the 1980’s, yet only in 2008 has the reality of the area been made public. The successful removal of the waste is expected to take until 2020 to complete; plenty of time for further unexpected issues to arise, such as flooding, collapses and explosive gases. At least if Australia has an issue with rising water tables or infiltrating water in the waste facility, we will know who to call for assistance, since Germany is already dealing with ‘the most problematic nuclear facility in Europe’ as described by Germany’s then environment minister. (Owen, J. 2010)
Another argument that the commission is making in favour of the dump, is that Australia should be focused on cutting greenhouse gas emissions. This will not be achieved by creating a nuclear waste dump. We cannot accept one horrendous environmental consequence in favour of attempting to reduce another, such as carbon emissions, and we must be certain that the proposed beneficial effect would actually occur before relying on it to support the facility. The report actually proposed that if Australia was to accept a nuclear power plant, an idea the report stated repetitively would not be viable, that this is how greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced, not by the nuclear waste facility itself; the popular media has often failed to accurately describe this aspect of the report with many falsely assuming that the motivations behind the waste depot are environmental and safety orientated. Depositing spent fuel into the South Australian ground will not decrease carbon emissions. If the report is aiming to take international fuel, in other words intermediate and high level waste (which is the type of waste downplayed in the public’s view with reports describing the fuel as ‘low’ or the result of medical uses) in order to assist international countries in increasing their use of nuclear and reduce emissions, the report is effectively stating that nuclear use and waste will increase over time world wide as the human population becomes more dependent on this energy source to reduce carbon emissions. Do we really want to support this? I certainly do not. For something which takes hundreds of thousands of years to decompose, I am totally shocked that there are even people considering this as an option, let alone stating it is beneficial environmentally. Nuclear power is not a ‘green’ or environmentally friendly energy source. Supporting the use of nuclear power by alleviating countries of their spent fuel is not positively dealing with climate change; it is swapping one environmental problem for another.
The issue of which type of fuel the depot will take has also caused confusion; it appears the NFCRC is attempting to impose a transparent and factual image, yet many who are attending the meetings in surrounding affected communities, are stating they are being told it will be low level waste only, when the report clearly states that the profits expressed so strongly are actually determined on expected high level nuclear radioactive waste from international power stations and other uses, as stated on page 16, tentative finding number 73 through to 95, in addition to intermediate and low level waste. (NFCRC, 2016)
Even if the waste depot did only receive low level, medical waste, the facility would not be economically viable; medical waste, as described by physician Louise Emmett, only needs to be stored for such a short time that it would hardly make it to the waste facility for dumping, before it breaks down;
“In the vast majority of nuclear medicine practices the storage issue is not particularly current in terms of what we keep is short half life, up to sort of eight days half life, so it would be difficult to take that long distances for storage.” (Baillie, R. 2012)
This quote was taken from a 2012 interview with ABC reporter Rebecca Bailie and described the deceptive and secretive attempts to store nuclear waste on Muckaty cattle station in the Northern Territory and describes the government and nuclear proponents’ spin on the storage of dangerous waste using medical uses as an excuse as a method of breaking down strong public resistance. Clearly, the supporters of the waste dump in 2016 are using the same deceptive techniques. Radiologist Doctor Peter Karamoskos has also pointed out the deception this time round in 2016;
“It is at best misleading and at worst a lie to claim that a large-scale nuclear waste repository such as what is being proposed would be solely justified to handle the minuscule amounts of nuclear medicine waste generated in Australia.” (Parnell, M. 2015)
Further concerns about the true economic benefit (or more likely burden, over the next several hundred thousand years) comes from the Conservation Council’s independent report, finding that South Australia would struggle to acquire 90% of the imported waste and the majority of it remaining unprocessed for future generations to deal with. The Australian Institute’s Dan Gilchrist stating that;
“The plan relies on technology that has never been deployed commercially – not with all the expertise in France or Germany or Japan or the United States.[...] “Nothing in the plan explains what our great-great grandchildren are meant to do with this legacy. Indeed, the plan never mentions the leftover waste, as if it was not worth worrying about. Worse, all the money is spent in the first 50-60 years. Nothing is left to deal with the leftover waste.” (The Australian Institute, Feb, 2016)
After reading articles on the nuclear waste proposal for South Australia, the NFCRC’s report and radio programs, I get the impression that nuclear supporters are attempting to hide the environmental issues of nuclear waste under a smoke screen, claiming that storing waste safely – not necessarily achievable over the hundred thousand year timeframe - is the responsible thing to do for the environment. Loudly pushing nuclear as a forerunner in carbon emission reductions is taking the spotlight away from the real option with realistic potential; solar. The issue with solar is that it gives power to the individuals; solar powered energy has typically been accessed through ordinary individuals investing in their own rooftop panels, as opposed to one or two giant corporations investing in energy production. In other words, why are we hearing so much about nuclear, or how our previous Prime Minister rigorously defended coal? Perhaps it has something to do with those industries being constituted by wealthy, powerful people who stand to lose so much if another perfectly feasible industry, like solar, takes off. This is a quote from John Grimes, passionate fighter for solar power and CEO of the Australian Solar Council, where he describes the coal industry threatened by solar, which I think relates to the nuclear push as well;
“The transformation of Australia’s electricity network to a low carbon network of the future is probably the biggest business opportunity this country’s ever seen, not withstanding what we need to do in agriculture, in transportation, in manufacturing. So in expanding electricity alone, there are huge opportunities as we get a smart, intuitive and green electricity system in place. So, why wouldn’t our leaders see the future and help take us to that place instead of shackling us to the past? Talking always about the interest of the coal industry, it just doesn’t make any sense. [...] Their ruthless determination to do whatever it takes to close this industry down is real, palpable, and if we don’t stand up against it then it will ultimately succeed.” (3CR.855am, July 1015)
My final point is in relation to the recent job losses across the mid north of South Australia; I truly hope that with the reports of the possible closure of Arrium Mining’s steelworks at Whyalla, Leigh Creek’s mine closure and the closing of a Port Augusta power station, that the massive job losses in the area will not mean people are in a more tumultuous time when considering the potential for jobs as a result of the waste dump. I hope that people realise the dump won’t be operational for years and by agreeing to the dump, it will not necessarily mean it will inject job opportunities for them per se. I hope they can consider the environmental and health aspects of the waste dump objectively, despite the employment fears.
3CR. 855am, July, 2015, “The War on Renewables”, 3CR.855am, Community Radio, URL: http://www.3cr.org.au/beyondzero/episode-201507201...
Baillie, R. 2012, “National radioactive waste dump faces resistance”, ABC, URL: http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2012/s3460703.h...
Dulaney, M. Feb, 2016, “Traditional owners in the Flinders Ranges say nuclear waste dump threatens cultural heritage”, ABC, URL: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-02-24/traditional-...
Gage, N. 24/2/2016, “Flinders Ranges communities divided over whether to host Australia’s planned nuclear waste dump”, ABC News, URL: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-02-24/flinders-ran...
Green, J. “Summary of ‘Tentative Findings’ of SA Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission’, Friends of the Earth, URL: http://www.foe.org.au/sites/default/files/Tentative%20Findings%203-page-linked.pdf, http://www.adelaide.foe.org.au/wp-content/uploads/...
NFCRC, February 2016 , “Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission Tentative Findings Report”, , Adelaide, South Australia, URL: http://nuclearrc.sa.gov.au/tentative-findings/
Owen, J. 2010, “Photos: Leaking Nuclear Waste Fills Former Salt Mine”, National Geographic News, URL: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/07/ph...
Parnell, M. Dec. 2015, “The Greens, A Better Way for SA”, URL: http://markparnell.org.au/speech.php?speech=1415
Puddy, R. Burrell, A. Nov. 2015, “Nuclear waste dump in Kimba goes ‘against the grain’, URL: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/nation/nuclea...
Richardson, D. Denniss, R. 2011, “Mining the Truth: The rhetoric and reality of the commodities boom”, Institute Paper No. 7, p. 17, URL: http://www.tai.org.au/sites/defualt/files/Mining%20the%20truth%20IP7_4.pdf
The Australian Institute, Feb, 2016, “Free nuclear power is a fantasy: Report”, The Australian Institute, URL: http://www.tai.org.au/content/free-nuclear-power-fantasy-report