Articles about importing nuclear waste
Lots of articles about proposals to dump high level nuclear waste in Australia
Disposal of British RADwaste at home and in antipodean Australia
Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences, Macquarie University
Introduction. Pangea [misappropriated from Wegener (1915): an honest name would be NORTHgea] Australian Resources Pty Ltd (PARPL) plans to export 250,000 tonnes of the North’s RADwaste to an international dump in Australia (2). Jobs and cash soothe Australian qualms about this monumental fill of lethal material in our backyard. My initial reaction to the logical absurdity of PARPL’s claim, that no RADwaste would escape into the biosphere for the next 10,000 years, turned to alarm when some eminent Australians came out in its favour. A permanent repository has eluded Britain and the USA, principally because none of their states or counties wants it, yet PARPL aims higher: they want to impose it on a country without RADwaste of its own, except 4 tonnes from the Lucas Heights research reactor (4), which should be retained on site and not exported to South Australia.
This article is a geopolitical analysis of the North’s plan to dump their RADwaste on Australia, with emphasis on the geological aspects.
British RADwaste at home. The Select Committee (9) concluded: "With the rejection in 1997 of the planning application for a rock characterization facility at Sellafield, as a step towards the development of a deep repository, the U.K. was left with no practical plan for the disposal of its nuclear waste ... phased disposal in a deep repository is feasible and desirable [and] would allow decisions to be taken in a considered way as technical confidence and expertise develop, and would avoid premature decisions which may be difficult to reverse. The future policy for nuclear waste management will require public acceptance. " NIMBY rules in Britain.
After 30 years of confrontation and attrition, the British nuclear lions are lying down with the green lambs. In May 1999, a National Consensus Conference on RADwaste Management organised by the UK Centre for Economics and Environmental Development called witnesses from the nuclear industry, government, regulatory agencies, Ministry of Defence, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, and others (my emphasis). This followed a 2-day discussion forum on Geosciences and radioactive waste disposal organised by the Geological Society of London and the British Geological Survey. Dr David Falvey, Director of BGS, said that "total exclusion of potentially harmful radionuclides from the environment cannot be indefinitely guaranteed...but placement in the right subsurface geological setting can provide a relatively safe...containment." This is an honest indication of the risk to be borne democratically by the country of origin of the waste (Geoscientist 9, May, p. 19, and August, p. 16).
Britain in Australia. Safety first for Britain but not for Australia. The British Government, which owns 100% of British Nuclear Fuels Ltd (BNFL) that in turn owns 80% of PARPL (the Canadian Golder Associates/EHL and the Swiss NAGRA each have 10%) is nominating our wide open spaces for World listing as Terra nuclear. The British High Commission (7) boasts that "the British Government has no control, direct or indirect, over Pangea" and "BNFL makes commercial decisions on its own." The official British policy "that British nuclear waste should be disposed of in Britain" is offset by PARPL’s unofficial policy. Official Australian policy was stated in the unanimous agreement of the Senate (3): "That the Senate notes the statements by the Minister for Industry, Science and Resources (Senator Minchin) on the ABC program ‘Four Corners’ that ‘We’re not interested in nuclear power and we’re not interested in being the world’s nuclear waste dump,’ and that, ‘Australia won’t be that nation that accepts the waste’; and congratulates the Government on this decision not to allow an international nuclear waste dump in Australia like the one proposed by Pangea". The British Government should heed the Senate’s resolution.
We have experience of Britain’s assurances. In their 1950’s and 1960’s atmospheric tests of fission devices at the Monte Bello Islands and at Emu and Maralinga (McClelland et al., 1985), Britain promised the most stringent safety precautions. E.W. Titterton, then professor of Nuclear Physics at the ANU, was appointed by the Australian Government to chair the Atomic Weapons Tests Safety Committee set up to protect Australia. The Commission concluded "Titterton played a political as well as a safety role in the testing program ... He was prepared to conceal information from the Australian Government and his fellow committee members if he believed to do so would suit the interests of the UK Government and the testing program." Sir Macfarlane Burnet had warned of this very dilemma: "any group of men directly concerned with the success of an enterprise will be inclined to minimise danger and to resent any safety precautions which will impede the enterprise." The RADwaste, in particular, was grossly mis-managed; "the treatment of the plutonium-contaminated areas [at Maralinga] ... was inadequate, based on the wrong assumptions, and left the areas in a more difficult state for any future clean-up". Light relief was provided "When Counsel assisting the Commission suggested to Stewart [a British witness] that appropriate places for the minor trials [in which 24.4 kg of plutonium were dispersed by burning or small explosions: Symonds, 1985, p. 557] might have been found in remote parts of Scotland, the witness replied: ‘I doubt if the people owning the estates in Scotland would look on that with very great favour. They are interested in pheasants and deer in Scotland.’ "
The Commission recommended that Britain clean up the environment by isolating the RADwaste. Thirty years after the tests, and more than 10 years after the Commission’s findings, Britain is committing 25m pounds (AUS$60m), by some estimates roughly half the full cost, towards the cleanup at Maralinga.
PARPL carries on regardless. Undeterred by the hostile Senate resolution, PARPL moved its office to Perth, nearer the proposed site. PARPL has engaged Australians to act as the thin edge of the wedge to win Australian acceptance. Dr Peter Cook is "a scientist and chairman of the scientific review group charged by Pangea with auditing the quality and nature of its science" (1). Members were chosen by PARPL apparently for their high standing in Australia as scientific statesmen and entrepreneurs - of those I know of, Dr Cook was recently Director of the British Geological Survey; Professor Brian Anderson is Director of the Research School of Information Sciences & Engineering at the ANU and President of the Australian Academy of Science; Sir Gustav Nossal, a consultant to PARPL, is an eminent director of biomedical research and past President of the Academy; Dr Phil Playford is past director of the Geological Survey of WA. On the TV program which exposed PARPL’s plans (2), Professor Anderson said; "I certainly believe there’s a chance for the proposal to get off the ground ". He went on to say that governments change and a negative position is not sustainable. Sir Gustav Nossal brings his infectious enthusiasm and medical prestige to the task: "We have an opportunity to offer the world an Australian solution to a global problem" (1) and is confident that PARPL’s experts have any risks under control. Apparently, Professor Anderson and Sir Gustav Nossal are swayed by their professional faith in the power of science and scientists to solve all problems.
This expression of scientific absolutism remains undiminished despite nuclear setbacks such as Chernobyl, and local technical failures in Sydney involving last year’s water-boiling exercise and the recent oil spill, non-delivery of gas in Victoria and of electricity in the CBD of Auckland, incidentally the site of the nuclear-connected sinking of the Greenpeace Warrior. This sentiment is a long way from the declaration of the UNESCO-ICSU (International Council for Science) World Conference on Science for the Twenty-First Century in Budapest June 1999 (10). The conference endorsed the idea of a new social contract with natural and human scientists, involving a code of ethics that would take into account not only honesty and human dignity but respect for the global environment and future generations. Science as the cutting edge of exploitation of nature would be balanced by care for the physical body of the Earth, and its practitioners would take a Hippocratic oath. The amazing thing is that this utopian declaration was co-sponsored by the hard-nosed ICSU, who has now added social responsibility to its charter with the express aim of attracting young people back to science. The local member of ICSU is the Australian Academy of Science, whose current and past presidents now have to balance their advocacy of PARPL against ICSU’s declaration. Incidentally, information on challenges to ethics and soundness in the geosciences is given in Welby & Gowan (1998).
Scientific argument for Australia as the proposed international RADwaste dump
The argument, as outlined by Dr Cook (1), boils down to:
1. The world has large amounts of nuclear waste to deal with.
2. Deep geological disposal is the only safe long-term solution.
3. Because waste has long-lived radioactivity, it must be isolated from the biosphere "for hundreds if not thousands of years ".
4. The "right" geology should be very stable with no significant earthquake activity. The ground should be flat and low-lying, the geology simple - old sedimentary basins may be best. The area should not have been glaciated in the recent past or likely to be glaciated in the near future, nor should it be subject to a major increase in rainfall.
5. Political and economic stability in the host country.
Britain, other northern European countries, and Canada (a junior partner in PARPL) are self-exempted by their glacial past, so Australia gets the short straw and PARPL’s undivided attention. But the argument can be turned back on the Northerners. A kilometre of ice above a deep repository would immobilize groundwater while not significantly impeding access for repairs or replenishment. It would be a free natural process simulated at some expense in modern engineering practice by the cryogenic stabilizing of loose ground. In this view, Australia’s non-glacial past (and presumed future) would rule it out as a repository.
"It is, of course, for Australia to decide whether or not economic or other benefits justify accepting some of the world’s radioactive waste", says Cook. But nowhere does he mention the supreme risk of disaster.
Risks. The inevitable risk in the proposal stems from the magnitudes: 250,000 tonnes of enormously dangerous RADwaste in the northern hemisphere 20,000 km from its destined dump in Australia, where it must remain intact for at least 10,000 years. These magnitudes - of tonnage, lethality, distance of transport, and time - entail great inherent risk. Studies to eliminate the perceived risk would be futile. No amount of ingenuity could get around the logic of
250,000 tonnes x 10,000 years x (error > 0) = disaster for Australia.
The only reply from a civil engineer asked to guarantee a bridge or tunnel or any other fixed structure for 100 years, let alone 10,000 years, would be "You’d have to be joking". But Britain, whose backyard is already occupied by "pheasants and deer", is deadly serious.
Dr Cook’s "hundreds if not thousands of years" was disingenuous; even 10,000 years is too short a span. The general rule is that RADwaste is dangerous for ten half-lives of each radioactive nuclide, after which only 0.1% remains (Rogers & Feiss, 1998). On this reckoning, plutonium 239 (half-life 24,400 years) should be stored for 250,000 years and americium 243 for 74,000 years.
Our job as Australian scientists is to apply due diligence to PARPL’s proposal.
Risk to the oceans from transport of nuclear waste. The transport of nuclear waste away from its source, in PARPL’s example to the antipodes, entails an unnecessary additional risk: the viability of the world ocean. Dr Cook (2) argues that the magnitude of the risk "may turn out to be a very small number indeed", and in any case would "be significantly less than the global nuclear risk arising from waste not being stored safely or securely". This inverts the logic: because Northern nations made the waste without having a means of safe storage for it, and they prefer not to pollute their own ground, Australia is fingered as the "safe" place, even though it entails adding the separate global hazard of the 20,000 km voyage. The Uranium Information Centre points out (7) that 160 such voyages from Japan to Europe have proceeded without loss, so why worry? Because a long run of heads has no bearing on the next throw. RADwaste is exceptional because it is extraordinarily toxic. One cargo unaccountably going down would irreversibly damage the biosphere.
If PARPL really believed their proposed repository to be perfectly safe, they would site it at home. Their lust for our wide open spaces compares with the "environmentally harmless exercise" of the 1965-1995 French atomic tests at Moruroa. If the French believed their own words, they would have tested at home. But other folk’s backyards, especially in the distant South, turn out to be the best.
Australian protest against the 1995 round of tests was strident and universal. Nobody, including nuclear entrepreneurs, could resist the free thrill of condemning the French, even though Moruroa was 7,000 km away and the test underground. How odd then that in Australia in 1999, only the politicians have protested against the proposal to dump 250,000 tonnes of RADwaste in the middle of Australia! Eminent biomedical and information scientists have gone out of their way to welcome PARPL. Why? Presumably because the money is right: scientific jobs and science-driven prosperity will accompany PARPL’s promised 1% boost to our GDP. But we have no need to take in the North’s dirty washing. The Australian economy, let alone science, is not on its knees. We should be looking forward to making the world a safer place with specifically Australian projects - to name two: Martin Green’s photovoltaics project at the University of NSW and Doone Wyborn’s hot dry rock geothermal energy project at the ANU.
Earthquakes. According to Dr Cook (5), "if the risk [from earthquakes] appears to be significant then the scientific review group, and no doubt Pangea, will need to be reassured, or the area eliminated from further consideration." If Dr Cook means what he says, then Pangea can go home now. Gaull et al. (1990) identified the proposed site in the Great Victoria Desert as an earthquake source zone (Richter M <5.9), with an offshoot to the Musgrave Ranges with the site of a 1986 earthquake of M 6.0. They estimated that peak ground intensity (Modified Mercalli scale for cities) in the proposed region is VI (some structural damage) and to the east, in the Simpson Desert, VIII (moderate damage). These estimates correspond to a probablility of 10% of being exceeded over a 50-year period and a return period of 500 years. The prediction from 1990 to 2040 is based on records for the past 100 or so years. To be valid, predictions longer than this would require correspondingly long records that sample thousand-year events. Seismologists (and weather prophets) do not predict longer spans, except to point out the greater expected intensity of the 10,000-year event. Crone et al. (1997) caution: "although they may be currently aseismic, faults in stable continental regions [as the Great Victoria Desert] that are favourably oriented for movement in the current stress field could produce damaging earthquakes, often in unexpected places." Inescapably, predictions for the next 10,000 years would find the maximum credible earthquake (Yeats et al., 1997) to be much greater than the maximum recorded over the past 100 years.
Putting the casks in salt won’t help. Salt may act as a long-term cushion to the entombed casks but transmits earthquake waves instantly, and creates other problems, as outlined below.
Movement of groundwater. This also defies valid prediction over the next 10,000 years. Dr Patrick De Deckker (pers. comm.) finds that some 6,000 years ago lakes in Victoria were full to overflowing. Data from the Great Victoria Desert are scanty, but the expected Greenhouse Effect and associated Global Warming would entail rising water tables.
According to PARPL’s plans for Western Australia and South Australia, the favoured burial place for the casks is in the 300-m-thick layer of rock salt in the Officer Basin, which indicates a dry state since deposition 800 million years ago. But the salt has moved into diapirs, as at Woolnough Hills, so casks of RADwaste could eventually pop up, worse for wear, at the surface. When, and even if, this would happen is of course uncertain: nobody can know, but we can be sure the probability is non-zero.
Roedder (1984) found that bedded salt may contain several percent total water in inclusions trapped between or within grains during evaporation. The heat from the RADwaste cask - hot from the radioactivity absorbed in its walls - when introduced into the salt layer "will tend to concentrate at the cask the fluids from inclusions from some distance around. Estimates of the rates and total volumes of fluids that must be dealt with in a repository design are subject to rather large uncertainties." This is hydrothermal brine, so efficacious in leaching and corroding metals. An unforeseeable change in the hydrological regime would lead to the same result.
Do not concentrate. Cogent as they may be, these arguments themselves are overridden by a higher logical rule: don’t put all your eggs in the one basket. The superpowers disperse missile-bombs in silos on land, in submarines in the ocean, and in aircraft in the atmosphere. The rule applies no less to RADwaste. Concentrating international waste in a single site in the Great Victoria Desert would be a huge single target for today’s terrorists or the next 10 millennia’s vandals, and Australians would be the first victims of the fallout.
What to do if you agree with my argument. You should urge the people of WA and SA to press their parliamentary representatives to follow the Senate’s example in giving the British Government’s Pangea their marching orders by refusing exploration and development rights in the region. Only mischief can come from PARPL’s little science and huge budget.
Also, you could urge Britain to avert another round of nuclear opprobrium by withdrawing PARPL and devoting its $50m to a thorough cleanup of Maralinga.
1 P.J. Cook Australian Financial Review early 1999
2 ABC 4 Corners 19 April 99: www.abc.net.au/4corners/stories/s23893.htm
3 Senate resolution 22 April 99: www.tassie.net.au/bobbrown/Media/04-22.htm
4 J.J. Veevers Advertiser (Adelaide) 9 July 1999
5 West Australian 10 July 99; P.J. Cook’s reply 27 July 99
6 ABC Ockham’s Razor 25 July 99:
7 Canberra Times 28 July 1999 and related correspondence
8 quoted in The Bulletin 9 August 1999
9 Select Committee House of Lords
10 www.unesco.org/general eng/programmes/science/wsc/eng/framework.htm
Crone, A.J., Machette, M.N. & Bowman, J.R., 1997, Episodic nature of earthquake activity in stable continental regions revealed by palaeoseismicity studies of Australian and North American Quaternary faults: Australian Journal of Earth Sciences 44, 203-214.
Gaull, B.A., Michael-Leiba, M.O. & Rynn, J.M.N., 1990, Probabilistic earthquake risk maps of Australia: Australian Journal of Earth Sciences 37, 169-187.
McClelland, J.R., Fitch, J. & Jonas, W.J.A., 1985, The report of the Royal Commission into British nuclear tests in Australia: 3 volumes, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra.
Roedder, E., 1984, The fluids in salt: American Mineralogist 69, 413-439.
Rogers, J.J.W. & Feiss, P.G., 1998, People and the earth: basic issues in the sustainability of resources and environment: Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 338 pages.
Symonds, J.L., 1985, A history of British atomic tests in Australia. Department of Resources & Energy, Canberra, 593 pages.
Wegener, A., 1915, Die Entstehung der Kontinente und Ozeane: Viewig, Braunschweig.
Welby, C.W. & Gowan, M.E., 1998, editors, A paradox of power: Voices of warning and reason in the Geosciences: Geological Society of America Reviews in Engineering Geology, XII, 185 pages.
Yeats, R.S., Sieh, K., & Allen, C.R., 1997, The geology of earthquakes: Oxford University Press, NY, 568 pages.
I thank colleagues in the Division of Environmental & Life Sciences, Macquarie University, for references to the literature.
John Veevers is editor of Phanerozoic earth history of Australia (1984) and Billion-year earth history of Australia (2000), a fellow of the Australian Academy of Science (field of interest: Gondwanaland and Pangea), and a member of the Geological Society of Australia, of America, and of London.
Mike Sandiford on ABC:
Q8: How geologically stable is Australia? Can we guarantee safety for say - 200 years, given freak earthquakes like Newcastle and others (one in W.A for instance). Sure I'm aware of our stability - but we have had earthquakes! (Submitted by Don Butcher.)
A: Australia is relatively stable but not tectonically inert, and appears to be less stable than a number of other continental regions. Some places in Australia are surprisingly geologically active.
We occasionally get big earthquakes in Australia (up to about magnitude 7) and the big ones have tended to occur in somewhat unexpected places like Tennant Creek. The occurrences of such earthquakes imply that we still have much to learn about our earthquake activity. From the point of view of long-term waste disposal this is very important, since prior to the 1988 (M 6.8) quake, Tennant Creek might have been viewed as one of the most appropriate parts of the continent for a storage facility.
Australia is not the most stable of continental regions, although the levels of earthquake risk are low by global standards. To the extent that past earthquake activity provides a guide to future tectonic activity, Australia would not appear to provide the most tectonically stable environments for long-term waste facilities. However, earthquake risk is just one of the 'geologic' factors relevant to evaluating long-term integrity of waste storage facilities, and other factors such as the groundwater conditions, need to be evaluated in any comprehensive assessment of risk.
- Mike Sandiford, School of Earth Sciences, University of Melbourne.
Plans for Australia to become world’s nuclear waste dump
Posted On Monday, 18 Apr 2011
Despite the Fukushima disaster, Alexander Downer has come out in support of Australia storing the world’s nuclear waste. Sandi Keane looks at the secret plans developed by John Howard and George W. Bush to turn Australia into the world’s radioactive waste dump, with healthy profits for all. Is this how Tony Abbott plans to pay for “direct action”on climate change?
Downer flips on nuclear waste
From: The Australian
April 08, 2011
FORMER foreign minister Alexander Downer has reignited the uranium debate, saying it would be economically beneficial for Australia to store nuclear waste from other countries.
Store nuclear waste in Australia: Gareth Evans
Amanda Hodge, South Asia correspondent | October 06, 2009
Article from: The Australian
KEVIN Rudd's troubleshooter on nuclear non-proliferation, Gareth Evans, says Australia could make a big contribution by entering the atomic energy fuel trade and taking back all waste derived from the uranium it sells.
The call by the former Labor foreign minister follows that from former ALP prime minister Bob Hawke last month that Australia had to assess a nuclear waste industry as a moral, financial and environmental response to climate change.
Rudd slams door on nuclear waste industry
Christian Kerr | October 07, 2009
Article from: The Australian
THE Rudd government has rejected calls from former Labor foreign minister Gareth Evans for Australia to take back the waste from the uranium it sells.
Oz 'the perfect N-dump'
Nationals leader says WA should take nuclear waste
Article from: The Sunday Times
Joe Spagnolo, political reporter
October 18, 2008
NATIONALS leader Brendon Grylls says WA should accept nuclear waste from around the world, setting his party on a collision course with its Liberal partner. In the first real test of the relationship between Mr Grylls and Liberal leader Colin Barnett, the two clashed over the controversial issue, with the Premier slamming the Nationals' position on nuclear waste.
Bob Hawke in new plug for nuclear waste industry
Paul Kelly, Editor-at-large | August 19, 2009
Article from: The Australian
FORMER prime minister Bob Hawke has called for Australia to assess a nuclear waste industry as a moral, financial and environmental response to climate change.
New laws allow Australia to become world’s nuclear waste dump
The Wilderness Society
29 November, 2006
For the first time, Australia has opened the door to allow nuclear waste from all over the world to be sent to Australia and stored here under changes to laws passed by Federal Parliament last night, The Wilderness Society said.
Changes to the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation Act (1987) were passed by the Senate and legal advice given to TWS shows that the changes now open the way for Australia to become the world’s nuclear waste dump.
“After 50 years of the nuclear industry, there is no proven method to safely store highly radioactive waste anywhere in the world, but Australia has just put up its hand to take it anyway,” TWS Campaigns Director Alec Marr said.
The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation Amendment Bill 2006 allows the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) for the first time to manage and store radioactive waste from overseas.
“This Bill allows ANSTO to manage the commonwealth nuclear waste dump proposed for the Northern Territory. Only last year the Federal Government passed legislation that removes the rights of all Australians to object to this proposed nuclear waste dump,” Mr Marr said.
Nuke dump would earn us acclaim: Morgan
AUSTRALIA'S global status would rise significantly if it became home to an international nuclear waste repository, Reserve Bank board member Hugh Morgan has claimed.
Fissile argument for outback nuke store
Anne Davies, Washington
July 2, 2007
AUSTRALIA should allow nuclear waste to be stored in the outback as part of worldwide efforts to secure fissile material and avert it falling into the hands of terrorists, the former US ambassador on disarmament and weapons of mass destruction, Robert Gallucci, has said.
Costello 'backed' nuclear idea
March 1, 2007
PETER Costello wished former Liberal party treasurer Ron Walker "good luck" when he told him he intended to set up a nuclear company.
The Treasurer said yesterday that he, like Prime Minister John Howard, had been told by Mr Walker last year that he intended to establish a business in the nuclear industry with mining executives Hugh Morgan and Robert Champion de Crespigny.
"It was no great secret," Mr Costello said.
Meanwhile, Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane left open the prospect of Canberra overriding state bans on nuclear activities.
The Federal Government has also set up an interdepartmental committee to fast-track its response to Ziggy Switkowski's nuclear energy review.
As well, a key adviser to the Howard Government on uranium policy, Melbourne businessman John White, registered a nuclear company in October last year.
Mr White headed the Howard Government's uranium industry framework, which recommended a significant expansion of uranium mining in Australia.
Australian Securities and Investments Commission documents show Mr White registered Australian Nuclear Fuel Leasing Pty Ltd only weeks before Mr Switkowski released a draft report recommending Australia builds nuclear reactors.
Mr White said yesterday his group had set up the company to pursue commercial opportunities in countries with established nuclear power industries, not in Australia.
"We aren't focusing on Australia any more," he said. "We received very little interest from the Switkowski review."
Mr White said his decision to set up the company followed a decade of independent work on his nuclear fuel "leasing" concept.
It had nothing to do with the separate business venture pursued in the last six months of 2006 by Mr Walker, Mr Morgan and Mr Champion de Crespigny.
Mr Macfarlane refused to answer a question in Parliament from Labor about whether he would rule out taking over state planning controls on nuclear reactors, saying he looked forward to the Government's response to the Switkowski report.
But Foreign Minister Alexander Downer tried to turn the attack back on Labor, pointing out that the Opposition supported more uranium mining but not nuclear energy.
"What does the Leader of the Opposition think this uranium is going to be used for? Fluorescent-faced watches or something like that? Lava lamps?" Mr Downer said.
Meanwhile, the Greens will maintain pressure on the Government, today raising concerns about the effects on Australian households of a shift towards nuclear energy.
A research paper to be published today says Australian insurance companies do not allow people to take out cover against a nuclear event.
"If the Howard Government intends to build nuclear reactors in Australia, it will expose homeowners to huge financial risk," Greens nuclear spokeswoman Christine Milne said.
The Greens also intended to introduce a private member's bill to improve the public's access to compensation in the event of a nuclear accident.
Howard adviser spurns N-fuel leasing plan
Cath Hart and Joseph Kerr
September 01, 2006
THE Howard Government's key adviser on nuclear safeguards has criticised the concept of leasing nuclear fuel to other countries as "unrealistic" and ineffective against the proliferation of atomic weapons.
Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office head John Carlson warns in a submission to John Howard's nuclear review that the US preference "fails to address the real proliferation risk".
He says cases such as Iraq, North Korea and Iran "show the danger lies, not with diversion of declared materials from safeguarded facilities, but with clandestine nuclear facilities and undeclared materials".
Under the concept of nuclear leasing, countries such as the US, Britain and France would produce and lease nuclear fuel to countries that want to run civilian nuclear power. The fuel suppliers would take back the nuclear waste to prevent it being used to make weapons.
The scheme could ultimately allow uranium suppliers including Australia to send enriched uranium to countries that have not signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, such as India. The Prime Minister wants Australia to dramatically increase uranium exports and has appointed former Telstra chief executive Ziggy Switkowski to head a taskforce to explore moves to enrich uranium rather than simply export it.
US officials have indicated that Australia could have a key role in Mr Bush's plan to lease nuclear fuel around the world. During his May visit to Washington, Mr Howard was briefed on the leasing concept, which advocates claim would minimise the threat of proliferation.
However, Mr Carlson's warnings will be viewed as a reality check for the pro-nuclear lobby.
Mr Carlson said practical issues such as cost, infrastructure, availability of an experienced workforce and substantial lead times were also obstacles to the concept.
"It is unrealistic - it would not be practicable for Australia to manufacture fuel assemblies for all our uranium customers," Mr Carlson said. "It implies, incorrectly, that Australia's current safeguard arrangements are deficient. It fails to recognise major changes taking place on spent fuel management."
The submission comes as a report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute yesterday said a move by Australia into enrichment could spark a regional race in nuclear technology.
Andrew Davies, a theoretical physicist and former analyst with the Defence Department, said if Australia became an enricher of uranium, some countries in the region might feel threatened by Australia's expertise and "be tempted to develop a capability of their own as a balance".
As the world's richest source of known uranium deposits, Australia was originally seen as playing a role as a supplier of uranium to the nuclear powers.
John White, the former head of the Government's uranium industry taskforce, says Australia could play a more substantial role in the process, by enriching the uranium and being directly involved in nuclear leasing.
But Mr Carlson said development of the domestic industry would require an overhaul of regulations and legislation. He said: "Australia lacks a satisfactory regulatory framework for an expanded nuclear industry. This deficiency ... is hardly conducive to nuclear proposals."
ABC RN website, Ockham's Razor program.
Sunday at 8.45am, repeated Wednesdays at 9.45pm
Presented by Robyn Williams
Nuclear Waste Storage in Australia
Sunday 9 October 2005
Dr Geoff Hudson from Melbourne is trained in nuclear physics and he makes the case for using Australia as a storing site for nuclear waste.
Robyn Williams: So, the nuclear option keeps coming back. A few days ago, the former Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, stirred up a gathering of Oxford alumni by saying Australia should consider becoming a repository for other people's nuclear waste. The Labor party replied: probably not. The Coalition was more flexible. But what are the arguments?
Well Geoff Hudson is trained in nuclear physics. He meets his physical colleagues on a regular basis in Melbourne to discuss these matters and most of them are convinced the idea has merit. What do you think? Geoff Hudson.
Transcript at: www.abc.net.au/rn/science/ockham/stories/s1476910.htm
Minister rejects nuclear dump bid
Samantha Maiden and Jeremy Roberts
June 04, 2007
LIBERAL delegates have urged the Howard Government to set up a worldwide nuclear dump as Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane accused the states of hypocrisy, warning that one was keeping nuclear waste in a hospital car park.
The Liberal Party's federal council, on the last day of its three-day conference, yesterday urged the Government to consider establishing a nuclear dump for the world's waste in Australia.
The motion won the support of the Sydney conference's 68 delegates, but Mr Macfarlane said the Government was not about to upgrade plans for a low-level nuclear dump in the Northern Territory.
He instead attacked the Labor states for retaining ad hoc nuclear waste storage sites in capital cities. He said one hospital was keeping nuclear waste in a shipping container in a hospital car park.
South Australian Health Minister John Hill was forced to admit Royal Adelaide Hospital still kept nuclear waste in its basement, more than two years after the Rann Government blocked a federal plan to build a national dump in the state.
But West Australian Premier Alan Carpenter hit back, promising to pass laws to block any federal moves to set up a nuclear facility -- including any reactor -- in his state.
Mr Macfarlane suggested some states lacked a "secure environment" for nuclear waste. "Let me just ask all the states -- what are they doing with their nuclear waste right now ... because I know each state health system has nuclear waste."
The waste includes needles, surgical gowns and nuclear waste used in the treatment of cancer.
"Are they storing it as it's suggested, in one case, in a shipping container in the car park of their general hospital?"
A spokesperson for Mr Macfarlane denied the container was a public health risk, and declined toreveal which state used the container.
Mr Macfarlane accused the states of hypocrisy.
"Why are they frightening people by saying nuclear waste is so dangerous when they are not even storing it in a secure environment in some cases?" He also said nuclear power was one way to tackle climate change, echoing John Howard's support for nuclear power in any future national power generation regime.
Mr Carpenter said his planned legislation to block any federal nuclear push would include a referendum trigger so people would have their say if the federal Government ever tried to override the new state laws.
He said the referendum would ensure a huge political cost for the commonwealth if it tried to usurp the will of the state.
The legislation will also prohibit transporting materials to a nuclear facility site and stop nuclear power being connected to the electricity grid.
Mr Carpenter stopped short of banning uranium mining, but said it would not be allowed while he was Premier.
Nuclear Debate: Part One: The Plan
By: Julie Macken
Wednesday 8 November 2006
In September 2005, the Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, used his Condor Laucke lecture to declare that the death toll from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986 was just 50 people.
Four months later, George W Bush, used his State of the Union address to launch his Global Nuclear Energy Partnership.
Three months after this, on 15 May 2006, Prime Minister John Howard announced from Washington that it was time for Australians to debate the role of nuclear fuel here.
And finally — hot on the heels of the Stern Report — last Saturday, Howard told the Queensland Liberal Party’s annual convention in Brisbane that ‘nuclear power is potentially the cleanest and greenest of them all.’ He added:
We would be foolish from a national interest point of view, with our vast reserves of uranium, to say that we are not going to consider nuclear power — not even going to look at it; we are going to say no to it before the debate even starts … I believe that the world’s attitudes toward nuclear power are changing and I believe that Australian attitudes towards nuclear power are changing.
So what is going on? Why after 10 years, would Howard suddenly appear to get the ‘vision’ about nuclear power? And what, if anything, connects the speeches of Downer and Bush to the demand by the Prime Minister for a nuclear debate?
The short answer is, a lot has been going on behind the scenes, and it is not John Howard who suddenly got the nuclear vision, but his friend George W Bush.
The man who connects all three politicians is Dr John White, chairman of the Federal Government’s Uranium Industry Framework (UIF) and head of the Australian waste company, Global Renewables.
and see also these related articles by Julie Macken
Nation 'best site for N-waste dump'
Dan Box, Tom Richardson
November 07, 2005
AUSTRALIA is the best country to build an international nuclear waste dump, says the former head of Pangea, the British-backed company that tried to build a nuclear facility in outback South Australia.
As pressure grows on Australia to build a desert dump, Charles McCombie, now executive director of the Association for Regional and International Underground Storage, a lobby group campaigning for an international nuclear waste site, plans to visit Sydney next year "and deliberately try to stir the pot".
"You could put a map of Australia on the wall, throw a dart at it and have a 99 per cent chance of finding a site," he said.
Mr McCombie's trip is part of a renewed campaign to re-establish Australia as an international nuclear waste site.
The Northern Territory Government yesterday dropped a proposal to launch a High Court challenge against plans to build a dump in the territory. "It is disappointing that our legal advice has ruled out the option of a challenge against federal government legislation which tramples on the rights of Territorians," Chief Minister Clare Martin said.
Traditional owners from central Australia will head to Canberra today in a bid to stop the proposed low-level nuclear waste dump in their region.
William Tilmouth of the Alcoota Aboriginal Corporation, said: "That land is not vacant. There are over 5000 people living within that area, and the people don't want it poisoned."
Not in our back paddock
Neither the public nor politicians are behind Bob Hawke's proposal to make Australia the world's nuclear waste dump, writes Katharine Murphy
September 28, 2005
TEN years ago, an American research company called Pangea Resources, which was funded by international nuclear industries, developed a top-secret research project identifying possible sites for a high-level nuclear waste dump.
Pangea chose Australia as its favoured option. Australia had all the right elements: the perfect geography to store nuclear waste, stable countryside in remote Western and South Australia and lots of isolated places. It had a strong economy and the required political stability.
Pangea envisaged the $6 billion high-level storage facility as a commercial enterprise, accepting waste from foreign nuclear reactors and possibly from weapons.
The site would have its own purpose-built rail link and port facility and waste would be moved on a fleet of ships built for the purpose.
Pangea's efforts to win high-level backing for its politically explosive baby started with the Hawke-Keating Labor government and continued after the election of John Howard's Coalition. But the project imploded spectacularly in 1998. An environmental group got wind of the dump proposal and made it public. Alarm was immediate and overwhelming. Politicians ran for cover. The idea sank without trace.
But on Monday night Bob Hawke stirred up a political hornets' nest by putting the option - or something similar - back on the national agenda.
Labor has two of its elder statesmen, Hawke and former NSW premier Bob Carr, seemingly determined to drag their reluctant party and the country to a new position in a global debate about nuclear energy. Hawke comes at the debate with an eye for commerce, Carr with an eye on the environment.
"What Australia should do, in my judgment, as an act of economic sanity and environmental responsibility, is say we will take the world's nuclear waste," Hawke said on Monday night in Sydney. "We could revolutionise the economics of Australia if we did this."
Hawke has diverse business interests and his long-time activism on the part of Australia's uranium industry is on the public record. When the Labor Party split bitterly in the 1980s over uranium mining, it was Hawke who glued the party back together and took it forward with his "three mines" policy. The uranium industry was allowed to develop and make an economic contribution to the country. About a year ago, Hawke argued that it was time for the ALP to rip up his legacy. The three mines policy should go, he said, and Australia should board the nuclear cycle and reap the commercial benefits.
Carr, meanwhile, subscribes to the view that nuclear energy must be one of a number of solutions to address greenhouse gas emissions. A committed greenie, Carr annoyed many of his colleagues earlier this year by saying the country needed a rational debate about nuclear power because renewable energy options were not being developed quickly enough.
A nuclear dump proposal to process the world's waste may make a contribution to the economy (Hawke's revolution seems a stretch), but it will certainly require a political revolution to make it happen. Hawke's championing of a high-level nuclear dump is light years ahead of where the Australian public and his former parliamentary colleagues are at.
Underscoring the political sensitivities, Carr ran a mile at the idea of a waste dump being built in his state when he was NSW premier.
Labor's federal resources spokesman, Martin Ferguson - another key player in favour of expanding uranium mining in Australia - wasn't backing the Hawke thought bubble yesterday. "[While] I respect Bob Hawke as a person of intellect, I don't think the Australian community is ready to accept a high-level waste repository," Ferguson says.
But Ferguson believes Australia, like the rest of the world, has to come to terms with the problem of nuclear waste, with our energies best placed in encouraging more research and development and working closely with other countries on the problem.
The Pangea blueprint suggests that a waste dump in Australia can be geologically and economically viable.
According to the Uranium Information Centre, economic modelling commissioned for the axed dump project suggested it could generate export revenues in the order of $US100 billion over 40 years. The facility would pay governments about $US50 billion over 40 years. The numbers were crunched on the assumption that the facility would take 2000 to 3000 tonnes of spent fuel a year and 20,000 cubic metres of intermediate waste, eventually about 20 per cent of the waste from nuclear reactors across the world.
But, politically, the idea is nothing short of a suicide mission. One federal Labor politician told The Australian yesterday: "There might be method in Hawke's madness but, believe me, he's on his own on this one."
The public simply won't buy it, at least not yet and not before the need to move away from traditional energy sources and gamble on new ideas becomes much more acute.
A recent Newspoll taken for SBS television has found that Australia may be slowly warming up to nuclear power but we are a long way off thinking it's a good idea to bring waste home. More than 80 per cent of a national survey group of 1200 say they oppose accepting nuclear waste from countries that buy Australian uranium. Hawke knows he has put his finger firmly on the key fault line in this growing debate.
Australian Conservation Foundation campaigner David Noonan recently challenged Australia's politicians to submit to the postcode test: who would support a nuclear waste dump or a reactor in their electorate? He suspected there would not be many takers, despite signals from many players in the Howard Government that they support nuclear energy in principle.
Environmentalists argue you can't divorce the uranium and nuclear power industry from the problems it creates: waste, the increased risk of nuclear proliferation, damage to the environment and risks to the health and welfare of workers and the wider community.
Despite years of wrangling, Australia has not yet been able to resolve the problem of where to locate a low-level waste facility to store the waste generated by government departments, agencies and hospitals.
After an unseemly squabble, Howard announced in July he would shelve plans to build a low-level radioactive waste repository at Woomera in South Australia.
Now Canberra wants to build a facility on commonwealth land at one of three potential sites in the Northern Territory. Science Minister Brendan Nelson's department will shortly issue a request for tender for field studies to take place at the sites.
The continuing failure to resolve this issue means that low-level radioactive waste is scattered across the country at more than 100 locations, an arrangement that is no doubt less than suitable for the purpose.
According to Nelson's response to a recent question on notice from Ferguson, waste is stored in many places, starting with Woomera and Lucas Heights in outer Sydney. The Department of Defence stores waste in Melbourne, Ipswich, Wodonga, Adelaide, Newcastle, Darwin, Sydney and Nowra. The CSIRO has waste stored in Canberra, Sydney, Adelaide, Mt Gambier, Brisbane and Melbourne. The Australian National University in Canberra also stores nuclear waste.
Even in its proponents' best-case scenario, it's unlikely there'll be a low-level waste dump up and running with all the necessary approvals before late 2011. Meanwhile, the Howard Government is busy pulling out all stops to expand uranium mining to take advantage of the world price for uranium, which has tripled in recent years.
Australia has the largest low-cost deposits of uranium in the world. Australia also sits on the doorstep of the huge Chinese market. China is pressing ahead with building nuclear power stations and markets are opening up in Southeast Asia.
Resources Minister Ian Macfarlane wants Australia's resources giants to be able to cash in on the boom. Many senior figures inside federal Labor and some within the trade union movement agree. But both sides of politics are acutely aware that public anxiety over nuclear waste can bring this push to expand uranium mining undone.
The minerals industry argues Australia should be able to get to a point where uranium is treated like any other commodity.
The chief executive of the Minerals Council of Australia, Mitch Hooke, says Australia doesn't routinely take back fly ash generated by coal-fired power stations or slag from steel making. Not surprisingly, the chief lobbyist for Australia's resources companies says the pain should not be borne exclusively by the uranium mining industry.
Hooke says the industry is committed to "material stewardship", where all elements of the production chain, from miners to manufacturers through to consumers, take their share of responsibility for the environmental consequences of the industry.
Hooke says Hawke's backing for a new high-level dump is "a matter for debate" and that companies will pursue the idea if it is a commercial venture. But he warns any proposal will have to run the gauntlet of complex federal and state government regulations.
- The Howard Government wants more uranium mines and to increase uranium exports to take advantage of booming international demand.
- Mining uranium to fuel nuclear energy is considered by some Australian and international politicians as one solution to greenhouse gas emissions.
- Environmentalists argue you cannot increase uranium mining without having a plan to store nuclear waste.
- Canberra and the states have been unable to agree on building a low-level nuclear waste dump despite years of argument.
- Low-level nuclear waste in Australia is stored at about 100 sites.
- Bob Hawke wants Australia to take high-level nuclear waste from the rest of the world.
- The Australian public is strongly against taking nuclear waste.
Nuclear dump call dismissed
By Nassim Khadem
September 28, 2005
MAKING Australia a dumping ground for the world's nuclear waste is dangerous and politically unacceptable, according to Labor frontbenchers who yesterday rejected the controversial idea put forward by their former leader Bob Hawke.
Mr Hawke has been widely criticised by his party and environmental groups for saying that Labor should abandon the three mines policy on uranium and promote Australia as a safe repository for nuclear waste.
He told Oxford University graduates in Sydney on Monday night that geologically Australia had the safest places in the world for the storage of waste.
But state governments in South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory have passed legislation making it illegal to import and store foreign nuclear waste.
Opposition Leader Kim Beazley said Mr Hawke's idea was against Labor policy and deputy leader Jenny Macklin said it was too risky.
"Australia should not become the political solution for foreign governments getting rid of unpopular nuclear waste," Ms Macklin said.
"There would be significant security and environmental risks with importing and storing large quantities of nuclear waste. Federal Labor regards those risks to the Australian community as unacceptable."
Labor's industry and resources spokesman, Martin Ferguson, said that while he respected Mr Hawke and his comments were scientifically accurate, Australians did not want their nation to become a dumping ground.
"From a geological point of view, Australia is safe. But Bob's views will not be decided on a question of science," Mr Ferguson said. "It will come back to political will and the willingness of the Australian community to think about such an issue, and that willingness is not there …"
Mr Ferguson said Labor's policy already allowed uranium mining. "Whether Labor likes it or not, its policy provides for us to be potentially the biggest exporter of uranium in the world," he said.
Opposition industry spokesman Stephen Smith said he did not believe Australia needed to get into the nuclear fuel cycle or become an international repository of nuclear waste.
"The suggestion that Bob's made is, regrettably from his perspective, contrary to party policy," he said.
Australian Conservation Foundation nuclear campaigner David Noonan called Mr Hawke's idea "undemocratic and dangerous", and would make Australia a greater terrorist target.
"The transport of the waste and any storage or disposal facility would be an extreme risk in terms of terrorist groups that wish to access that high-level nuclear material," he said.
Greenpeace energy campaigner Ben Pearson said transporting nuclear waste into Australia would create potential toxic disasters.
"To be honest, I think that Bob's had a bit of an attack of relevance deprivation syndrome and said something to get himself on the front page," he said.
"The fact is that we have this ongoing inability to find a site in Australia for radioactive waste from our own tiny little research reactor. The idea that somehow we are going to be able to find a site for the nuclear waste output of the entire world is just completely unrealistic."
While Health Minister Tony Abbott praised Mr Hawke's idea, he said Australia had enough difficulty finding a place to dump its own waste.
"It's certainly a visionary proposal but there are many obstacles in its path and the biggest one would be Bob Hawke's own party and the state Labor premiers," he said.
ALP buries Hawke's nuclear waste revolution
By David Humphries and Wendy Frew
September 28, 2005
The Labor Party yesterday rejected out of hand the proposition by the former prime minister Bob Hawke that Australia should store the world's nuclear waste and use the income to enhance the environment.
Geologists and environment groups also warned the proposal was fraught with danger, both in the transport of the waste and the unsolved issue of safe storage.
They said that while age made Australia geologically stable, millions of years of "deep weathering" meant engineers would have to burrow deep into the earth to find the hard rock needed, significantly increasing costs.
Addressing a gathering of fellow Oxford University graduates in Sydney on Monday night, Mr Hawke said Australia was geologically the safest site for nuclear waste storage.
"We would revolutionise the economics of Australia if we do this," he said.
"That does not represent Labor Party policy," was the curt response of the Opposition Leader, Kim Beazley.
The party's environment spokesman, Anthony Albanese, said: "It's an absurd proposition going nowhere."
Some rare political support for the idea came from the Federal Health Minister, Tony Abbott, who described it as "visionary" and said Mr Hawke should go to work on persuading Labor.
"The Government is trying to find a site for a national nuclear repository and we are having enormous difficulty [with Labor states] getting agreement on where we can put our own nuclear waste, let alone getting agreement on where we might put the world's," Mr Abbott said.
A Macquarie University geologist, John Veevers, said the primary objection was the danger of moving waste from its main sources in the northern hemisphere. "You have to move it in boats, and boats sink," Professor Veevers said.
A Labor backbencher, Roger Price, said Mr Hawke's proposal was "a good idea" but the public was not ready for it.
The president of Scientists for Global Responsibility, Dr Bob Hunter, said the proposal was supported by morality and economics.
In a "moral world", he said, Australia would retrieve the spent fuel generated by Australian uranium exports.
But it got little Labor Party support elsewhere.
A Labor frontbencher, Arch Bevis, said Mr Hawke "always had a love affair with the uranium debate" but that "I'm with the party platform on this one - we're not a nuclear dump".
Hawke's nuclear waste idea has merit: Nelson
Last Update: Thursday, September 29, 2005. 8:04pm (AEST)
The federal Science Minister, Brendan Nelson, says there is some merit in former Labor prime minister Bob Hawke's call for Australia to store the world's nuclear waste.
Mr Hawke argues that Australia could make a lot of money out of storing the world's nuclear waste and that the income could be spent on environmental problems and could be given to Aboriginal people.
The current Labor leader, Kim Beazley, has laughed off the idea as not being party policy.
Dr Nelson says Mr Hawke's views could have been better directed.
"Whilst I think there is some merit in the long-term objectives that Mr Hawke has set out, I think the first thing that I'd appreciate is Mr Hawke's assistance in persuading Mr Beazley and the Labor Party and the Northern Territory Government to support a safe repository for intermediate and low-level waste in one of the three remote locations that we've found," he said.
c2002 - Pangea morphed into ARIUS, the Association for Regional and International Underground Storage. The website is: www.arius-world.org
Pangea's non-commercial successor.
Uranium Information Centre 1/3/02
Pangea Resources has taken a step back from any commercial objectives and has ceased operations. However, a new body has been set up to promote the concept of regional and international facilities for storage and disposal of all types of long-lived radioactive wastes. This is ARIUS - the Association for Regional and International Underground Storage, with former Pangea people in management. A key objective is to explore ways of providing shared storage and disposal facilities for smaller users. Membership is open and comprises countries with small nuclear programs as well as industrial organisations with relevant interests.
World nuclear dump ruled out
By Environment Reporter Catherine Hockley
September 7, 2002, pg.5
AUSTRALIA will not be a dumping ground for the world's nuclear waste, the Federal Government reaffirmed yesterday. Science Minister Peter McGauran, in Argentina, rejected suggestions by Swiss group ARIUS that Australia was an ideal site for an international nuclear waste store. "Countries deriving benefits from nuclear technology should make their own arrangements to safely dispose of their nuclear waste," he said. "Under no circumstances will the Federal Government consider involving bodies in Australia's radioactive waste facilities which may be seen as promoting Australian storage or disposal of international nuclear waste."
ARIUS formed out of the disbanded multinational Pangea which wanted to dump up to 75,000 tonnes of overseas waste from disarmed nuclear weapons and nuclear power stations each year in Australia. It nominated outback South Australia and Western Australia as preferred sites. ARIUS spokesman Charles McCombie said this week his organisation was "interested in Australia". "Scientific work to date has confirmed that geologically Australia is an excellent potential host for a safe repository," Dr McCombie said, adding ARIUS's focus was not on Australia at this stage.
"The earlier work of Pangea indicated South Australia probably has excellent sites - as does WA - but ARIUS is currently actively looking for options in neither," he said.
“Nuclear 'no' has its doubters”
Business Review Weekly
Vol. 21, No. 9
March 15, 1999
By Mark Davis
The Australian uranium industry says a new national nuclear policy is needed to allow potentially billions of dollars worth of new projects, including waste reprocessing and disposal, uranium enrichment and, ultimately, nuclear power stations. The need has become urgent, with the presentation to the Government of a formal proposal for a private-sector high-level waste dump that alone could generate hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, the industry says.
Ian Hore-Lacy, general manager of the industry's Uranium Information Centre in Melbourne, says "it is more than ever clear that we need a properly considered national policy on nuclear energy". He says "a strong case for development of a bipartisan national policy" can be made because of recent developments that add to Australia's leading role as a uranium miner.
These include the development of promising enrichment technology by the listed company Silex, which is being funded by the US Government; the US Government's adoption of the Australian Synroc technology for encapsulating high-level waste; the proposed construction of a dump in South Australia for domestic low-level waste disposal; the high-level dump for international waste planned by Pangea Resources; and the possibility of nuclear energy in Australia becoming competitive with coal power.
New federal legislation should also be seen as throwing open the question of an expanded nuclear industry. The legislation, which could allow a privately owned and operated commercial dump, came into force last month mainly to create a new federal nuclear industry regulatory body and to allow the low-level waste dump to go ahead.
National law firm Freehill Hollingdale and Page says the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act has wider implications. Daniel Moulis, a partner in the firm, says: "What we are seeing now is a platform for regulating the industry and extending the boundaries of what can be done in Australia in relation to nuclear waste and nuclear energy, the bringing together of a lot of different and disparate processes."
Pangea's proposal, submitted to the Government early this month, has renewed the bitter national nuclear debate. Its plans encompass a $10 billion dump and associated infrastructure, including ships and a railway from Whyalla, that could return up to $3 billion over its almost 40-year life in royalties to state and federal governments.
Pangea, a US company, is backed by the British Government's nuclear fuel authority, BNFL, the Swiss Government/private-sector waste disposal co-operative Nagra and the US engineering firm Golder Associates. Pangea says its dump could take up to 75,000 tonnes of waste from overseas, including reprocessed weapons-grade material, at 2000 tonnes a year and generate up to $200 billion in export revenue.
Despite the company's close links to the Liberal Party, it has had little success in winning public political support from the Government. The federal Industry, Science and Resources Minister, Senator Nick Minchin, has told Pangea that "regardless of your views about the stability of Australia to host the international nuclear waste repository, the Government has no intention of considering Pangea's proposal".
Minchin has also reiterated that he will not meet Pangea representatives and that the Government has no intention of changing its policy, which forbids the import of high-level waste. Prime Minister John Howard, the South Australian Premier, John Olsen and his Western Australian counterpart, Richard Court, have all publicly opposed the plan. But some Liberals have supported it, including SA backbencher Graham Gunn, whose electorate covers part of the area Pangea is interested in, and WA's Senator Ross Lightfoot.
There are undercurrents swirling around the Pangea proposal that suggest there may be more political support for it than meets the eye. For example, a recent report in the British journal Nuclear Fuel said "Government opposition was not unbending". Other lobbyists for the industry and several state Liberal sources have also told BRW that there is a degree of support for it at some higher levels in the party.
The latest Uranium Information Centre bulletin says of the Pangea plan that "Labor leaders initially reacted with cautious interest due to its non-proliferation implications". Opposition Leader Kim Beazley has said that "we don't want a dump here but we have got to recognise that there are some problems". Countries with nuclear facilities,he has said, should look after their own waste.
The uranium industry in Australia says this should be seen as an equivocal response. Pangea says "a nation that generates waste must be responsible for the safe management and disposal of its waste. However, this does not preclude a country from exporting waste for disposal in another country." Beazley's office says his response is clear, and that the proposal is unlikely to go ahead.
And several people who have been involved in discussions about the proposal say Pangea representatives have hinted strongly that the company has met Beazley or other senior Labor politicians or officials. Beazley's office says he has not been briefed by Pangea. Howard and Minchin officials have stressed that neither has met Pangea or its representatives.
Pangea managing director James Voss says the company "is not seeking a great deal of comfort from any particular government. Our approvals cycle ... to get all the necessary permits is so long that we have to work on a bipartisan basis. We are not at all being aggressive in trying to get the Howard Government or any other government to be supportive of us."
At a recent conference, Pangea Australia president David Pentz said the submission to the Government's Strategic Investments Office was "to initiate discussions which will enable us to more fully assess the feasibility and strategy of our proposal. This will enable us to engage in a dialogue with the Government on the merits of the proposal".
Australia is coming under international pressure to at least discuss the proposal. US President Bill Clinton's special envoy on nuclear waste, Robert Gallucci, is said to have urged the Government to give it the go-ahead. Gallucci met Howard early last year but is reported to have denied discussing the proposal with him, although he believed the White House had been briefed on it. Pangea says it has presented its proposal to US disarmament officials.
The company has spent $15 million on a five-year quest to find a suitable site for its dump, and prefers north-western South Australia, where the Federal Government is already proposing to dispose of its low-level waste. About $13 million of the cash has come from BNFL and $1 million from Nagra.
Most of the waste that would be dumped in Australia under the Pangea plan would come from reprocessed spent fuel from the world's 400-plus nuclear power reactors, but some would also come from reprocessed plutonium from dismantled nuclear weapons. The waste would be transported to Whyalla in purpose-built ships carrying special containers.
It would be transported by a special-purpose rail link to the dump, which would cover up to 20 square kilometres 500 metres beneath a five-square-kilometre security area. The waste would be encapsulated in glass or Synroc and sealed in steel drums.
Pangea is hardly friendless in its campaign. Apart from its British and Swiss Government parentage, it is using a range of influential consultants in Australia, including the prominent scientist Sir Gustav Nossal; a former executive with the Australian Geological Survey Organisation, Peter Cook; and two men close to the Liberal Party, pollster Mark Textor and political strategist Toby Ralph.
Textor and Ralph are highly regarded within the party and outside, and are said to form a tough and effective team: the National Australia Bank recently included them in a group to lobby in favor of banking policy reform. Textor in particular has a reputation in the party as a can-do operator who has the ear of Howard and power brokers such as former party director Andrew Robb and his replacement, Lynton Crosby. Polling by Textor, whom Howard has described as "a very effective pollster for the Liberal Party", played a crucial role in the Liberals' re-election campaign.
The 32-year-old former Northern Territory statistician also has a reputation for taking on the hard jobs: he provided the data that led to the recent sacking of New South Wales Opposition Leader Peter Collins, and his Australian Research Strategies was sub-contracted to provide the Government with research on public attitudes to waterside workers during the waterfront dispute.
Textor has also provided research to the Conservative Party in Britain and the Republican Party in the US and he has conducted polling for the Australian Republican Movement. According to state sources involved in discussions with Pangea in November 1997 and a couple of months later, Textor's presence was a compelling reason for those around Olsen and WA Deputy Premier Hendy Cowan to ensure that both politicians were represented, if at some remove in the case of South Australia.
The involvement of Textor and Ralph is seen by the two states as a continuation of the Federal Government pressure they have been under since the early 1990s to take some form of nuclear waste repository. SA sources say pressure for the low-level waste dump began in earnest under Labor in 1992 when the storage of some external waste at the Lucas Heights reactor in Sydney was ruled to be illegal, and they quote a letter from former Labor Energy Minister Simon Crean's office in support of a South Australian site in 1994.
The choice of South Australia for the low-level site became a fait accompli during the first Howard Government, according to the sources, although there were equally good alternatives in WA and on the New South Wales-Victoria border. The reason, they say, is that SA was regarded as the easiest site politically because of the history of the Billa Kalina area and its surrounds - the big WMC Roxby Downs copper-uranium mine, the Maralinga atomic test site, the Woomera rocket range and the US spy base at Nurrungar.
Some South Australian Liberals believe the Howard Government thought the argument about the low-level repository would give them a good handle on attitudes to the Pangea proposal. The state sources say that although they believed the Pangea team had been talking to at least two senior federal Liberal advisers, they remain convinced that neither Howard nor Minchin has been directly involved. "They indicated that they had been told by the feds to shut up until after the next election," one says. They also indicated that they had the support of the Fairfax media group, publisher of BRW, and the Packer organisation.
Cowan and several officials, including one from Premier Richard Court's office, met the Pangea team, and in SA at least one bureaucrat and an outside adviser met them. Cowan officials say the Deputy Premier told Voss and Textor that public perceptions would prevent the proposal being accepted in WA, that Australia should not be accepting other people's waste and that he absolutely opposed the plan personally.
Sources close to SA Premier John Olsen say he did not see Pangea and has not been officially briefed on the plan. Olsen is said to oppose the idea. Nevertheless, the economic projections presented to the state, which is in difficult economic circumstances, might be enough to change people's minds, the sources say.
Sources in both states say that, in any case, it was indicated to them in November 1997 by Pangea that the Federal Government had told the company that the project could go ahead under federal legislation; no state legislation prevented it, provided environmental regulations were met. The new Nuclear Protection and Safety Act was presented to the House of Representatives in November last year and was passed in December.
A Greens amendment prohibiting the authorising or licensing of types of installations that Australia does not already have, such as nuclear power plants, fuel enrichment and fabrication and reprocessing, was accepted. But a second Greens-sponsored amendment prohibiting nuclear waste storage was defeated. Therefore, Freehills says, the new Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (Arpansa) created by the act will have the power to licence the construction and operation of nuclear waste stores.
The new act "is a critical aspect of the Commonwealth's desire to regulate and enliven activity and debate in the area or atomic energy and nuclear waste", says Freehills, which has several industry clients, including Pangea. But the legislation covers only Commonwealth sites, activities and contractors.
One of the stumbling blocks to disposal of foreign waste is Customs regulations prohibiting the importation of certain radiation sources. But the prohibition is not absolute: radioactive substances can be imported with the permission of Arpansa. Freehills' Daniel Moulis, who is the partner responsible for nuclear waste and site remediation issues, says Australia has agreed to take back its own treated waste. "The real issue that is yet to be decided is whether other countries' high-level nuclear waste can be imported and stored."
Moulis says other significant aspects of the legislation are that the Commonwealth can proscribe state or territory laws, making them inapplicable to the activities of people or activities licensed under the act. It also provides for the right of appeal to the federal Administrative Appeals Tribunal for people refused a licence.
Pangea goes global
Pangea Resources, the company which wants to dump 75,000 tonnes of high-level nuclear waste in Australia, is spreading its wings. A new company, Pangea Resources International, is being set up, and Pangea Resources Australia will become a subsidiary. Countries in southern Africa and South America will be targeted.
Pangea has spent US$ 15 million so far on its Australian venture, and will continue to try to win political support for a nuclear dump in Western Australia. The company says it still plans to put forward a formal proposal to government authorities in 2002.
The establishment of Pangea Resources International can be read two ways. It could reflect a realistic assessment of the slim chances of establishing an international nuclear dump in Australia. Research commissioned in October found that 85% of Australians would support federal government legislation banning the importation of foreign nuclear waste.
Another reading of the establishment of Pangea Resources International is that it is designed to take the political heat off the company, and other nuclear interests, in a sensitive political period. Companies hoping to mine several uranium deposits in Western Australia face a bigger-than-usual public relations problem in that the establishment of a uranium mining industry in the state will facilitate Pange’s dump plan.
“We can’t expect to benefit from exporting uranium if we are not prepared to deal with the waste created from its use”, WA Senator Ross Lightfoot said last year (West Australian, March 26). Similar comments have been made by right-wing media drones and consultants on Pangea’s payroll including Sir Gustav Nossal, the so-called “Australian of the Year”.
Nossal said in December 1998, “Australia, with ... 10% of the (global uranium) market, is already part of the worldwide nuclear power industry and cannot escape its moral obligation to ensure the consequences of uncontrolled nuclear waste are not visited on future generation.”
Pangea may believe its best chance of gaining approval for its Australian venture is to downplay its interest in rural Western Australia for a few years, and make another push should uranium mines be established.
Pangea’s activities have also complicated the government’s plans for a national nuclear dump in northern South Australia. South Australians are understandably concerned that a national dump will open the door to an international dump in the same region. Again, it would seem to suit the interests of Pangea, the federal government and the nuclear industry for Pangea to go to ground for a few years; better still if company goes to Africa and South America. Should a national dump be built in SA, then there is a strong possibility that Pangea will target South Australia for an international dump.
AUSTRALIA "WORLD'S BEST" FOR INTERNATIONAL N-WASTE DUMP
January 27, 1999.
The federal government and the nuclear industry might have hoped the leaked video identifying Australia as the "world's best" site for an international nuclear dump would have made the more modest plan to dump Australia's waste on Aboriginal land in SA more palatable. However the speculation about an international dump had the opposite effect.
Aboriginal groups were shocked by the video, produced by the US-based company Pangea Resources, which identifies land in SA and WA for a massive underground dump for nuclear waste. Some of the land is freehold Aboriginal land and other areas are subject to native title claims.
The federal government has been bullying Aboriginal groups in SA to gain permission for test drilling in the Billa Kalina region, with a view to finding a dump for Australia's stockpile of nuclear waste. However Aboriginal groups - already sceptical - have been all the more reluctant to allow drilling since the Pangea plan was revealed. The prospect of a dump for Australian nuclear waste becoming an international dump is not a welcome one.
The Pangea video was not meant for public viewing. It was obtained by Friends of the Earth in the UK and released to Australian media in December by nuclear campaigner Jean McSorley.
The likelihood of Australia becoming the world's nuclear waste dump in the near future is slim. As the eccentric conservationist David Bellany says, just try putting that proposal in the electoral pipe and smoking it. Nevertheless the proposal has attracted support from scientist Sir Gustav Nossal (who accepted a consultancy assignment with Pangea to push the project forward), right-wing think tanks such as the Institute of Public Affairs, and a number of right-wing media commentators. Mainstream politicians have distanced themselves from the Pangea project, but SA premier John Olsen said he would "have a look" at any firm proposal put to him.
Another supporter is Robert Galluci, president Clinton's special envoy on weapons of mass destruction. US officials confirmed that the Pangea plan is one of three international proposals being circulated in Washington. The other proposals are to dump nuclear waste on Wake Island (in the Pacific) or in Russia.
"The project would have a profoundly beneficial economic impact. Thousands of jobs would be created", the Pangea video promises. Mike Nahan, Executive Director of the Institute of Public Affairs, says nuclear waste storage could generate $25 billion annually on a global scale. Like the prime minister, Nahan appears to have been bitten by the reconciliation bug: "It (the Pangea dump) would probably need to be located on Aborigines' land which would require their permission and, if given, provide much-needed income and jobs."
An accident could give the economy quite a boost, too. An accident involving a release of radioactivity from a container in an urban area could have economic "consequences" in the order of US$2 billion, according to a 1980 study by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Another criterion for the honour of hosting an international nuclear waste dump is a stable, democratic political system. Australia is approaching the centenary of federation. After around 200 000 years, nuclear waste is no more radioactive than many natural geological formations, the Pangea video says. Pencil in a party for the year 202,000.
The video notes that the major risk with geological disposal is waste dissolving in rainwater and migrating. Vast areas of inland Australia are flat, remote, arid, extremely impermeable, and there is very little groundwater according to Pangea. Hence Australia's "world's best" billing.
However the CSIRO published research last week which paints a very different picture. According to CSIRO scientists Dr Jon Olley and Dr Peter Wallbrink, new scientific evidence indicates that since European invasion/settlement, Australians have had a "far more catastrophic impact on their landscape than previously suspected." European settlement "unleashed an episode of erosion, sediment deposition and change in river systems orders of magnitude greater than we have assumed to date", they say.
"There's little doubt modern Australians have underestimated the extent of change we have inflicted on our landscape", says Dr Wallbrink. "In some cases the rates are staggering. We're talking about changing the very face of Australia in comparatively few years, so dramatic is the scale of these events."
Ironically, the CSIRO scientists have used new research techniques including measurements of caesium-137 deposited by nuclear weapons tests in the 1950s.
These findings do nothing to inspire confidence in the stability or safety of a underground dump. They also cast doubt on the wisdom of the federal government's plan to dump Australia's nuclear waste in unlined trenches in the Billa Kalina region of SA.
"International transport of used nuclear fuel has been taking place since the early 1960s covering more than 15 million miles without any incident involving escape of radioactivity", the Pangea video claims. This conflicts with a study conducted by CH2M Hill, a consultancy firm commissioned by the federal government to prepare a report on the Lucas Heights reactor EIS: "Cross-border shipments of radioactive materials are of major concern in North America, as well as in most Western European countries. In the United States, the US Department of Energy made more than 14,000 hazardous materials shipments in 1996. Of this number, 242 resulted in equipment, personnel and/or environmental radioactive materials contamination. During the period from 1971 through 1996, there were 2,379 shipping accidents involving Type A packages, with 219 of these resulting in release of package contents."
The Pangea video acknowledges that hundreds or thousands of kilometres of truck and train transport would be necessary for each shipment. Contrary to Pangea's assurances that this poses no risk, the American Petroleum Institute says that heavy truck accidents occur about 6 times per million miles travelled. Fires occur in 1.6% of all truck accidents and 1% of all train accidents.
"After transportation by rail to the customer country's port a purpose-built ship will carry the cask to a dedicated port terminal in Australia. The ships have many special safety features making them the safest afloat, and both they and the port terminal will use tried and tested technology, ensuring safe operation." If purpose-built ships are the most suitable for spent fuel transport, why does the Australian government send the spent fuel from Lucas Heights in normal cargo ships?
Worldwide, nuclear power plants generate about 14,000 tonnes of spent fuel annually. The current stockpile amounts to some 160,000 tonnes. According to Mary Olsen, from the US Nuclear Information and Resource Service, nuclear power accounts for 95% of the radioactivity generated in the last 50 years from all sources, including nuclear weapons production.
"There is a good degree of consensus worldwide by governments and scientists that geological disposal is the most viable option", the Pangea video claims. Needless to say, if there was scientific and political consensus on the wisdom and safety of "geological disposal" (underground dumps), they would be operating successfully overseas and there would be no push to establish an international dump in Australia.
Overseas experiences are instructive. In the US, a centralised underground dump was first proposed in 1972, and in 1987 Yucca Mountain in Nevada was identified as the preferred site. After a series of delays and cost blow-outs, the expected operation date for the Yucca Mountain dump has been pushed back to 2023, and it is far from certain that the dump will ever operate. A recent economic analysis puts the construction cost at over US$50 billion. As a temporary fix, the government and the nuclear industry hope to establish an "interim" dump on Native American land in New Mexico or adjacent to Yucca Mountain. Between 1991-94, 30 communities refused Monitored Retrievable Storage (MRS) proposals, i.e. temporary dumps.
In Germany, the long-term plan was to build a deep geological dump. As a result of public opposition to the proposed establishment of a permanent underground dump, "interim" dumps were established. The transport of nuclear waste to these sites has generated mass public opposition. In March 1998, a shipment was accompanied by 30,000 police. There were tens of thousands of protesters and more than 1000 arrests.
According to the US Nuclear Information and Resource Service, a scientific advisory body to Canada's nuclear agency recently recommended against underground dumping as scientifically suspect and politically impossible.
So-called "disposal" in underground dumps is an out-of-sight, out-of-mind con job. The least problematic of a bad bunch of options is engineered, above-ground storage at the point of production/use. On-site storage beats centralised stores or dumps because it avoids the risks associated with transportation. On-site storage also forces producers/users to deal with their own mess and this encourages the minimisation of waste production.
Above-ground storage beats underground dumps because: it is easier to monitor above-ground stores; there is a better chance of effective remedial action if problems are discovered; and a greater number of future management options will be available.
Above-ground storage is the best option, but not a good or permanent one. There are security risks, and greater exposure to weather conditions and other hazards. The useful life of dry stores is measured in decades, not millennia. As Jean McSorley says, "There's no environmentally proven way for disposal - nuclear waste means eternal vigilance."
Pangea Resources, and other supporters of the project, have adopted a moralistic tone. Nuclear waste is a "world problem", they say. Rubbish. The nuclear industries of just three countries - the US, France and Japan - account for almost 60% of all nuclear power plants. For every country with nuclear power plants, there are five without.
Another line of argument is that Australia chooses to sell uranium so "we" should accept the waste. But according to a 1998 Newspoll, two thirds of the Australian population oppose the Jabiluka uranium mine, yet the mine proceeds.
Another aspect of the guilt tripping is the argument that the dump would be a safe resting place for plutonium from dismantled nuclear weapons. There's no doubt that the world inventory of plutonium - hundreds of tonnes and increasing steadily - represents a major risk in relation to weapons proliferation. But only a portion of the stockpile is from dismantled weapons. Japan, for example, has amassed a huge stockpile of plutonium, ostensibly for its nuclear power program.
All of the eight nuclear weapons states - the US, UK, France, China, Russia, Israel, India and Pakistan - intend to maintain and in some cases upgrade their arsenals. The argument that dumping a portion of the plutonium stockpile will be a step towards the global disarmament of nuclear weapons is dishonest and opportunistic. Dumping plutonium would represent a technical fix - more accurately a technical non-fix - to the POLITICAL problems such as the intransigence of the nuclear weapons states, and the political and economic causes of militarisation.
In terms of immediate steps, the first demand must be to deactivate the 5,000 nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert around the world - preferably before the millennium bug bites. The next step is immobilisation of fissile material using solid matrices such as concrete or glass.
The dump proposal is not being driven by concerns about weapons proliferation. It is an attempt by the nuclear power industry to dump its waste problems on isolated and politically vulnerable communities in order to increase its chances of survival.
Australia's high-level nuclear waste - the spent fuel from the Lucas Heights reactor in Sydney - is to be sent overseas. Now we have a plan to bring the rest of the world's high-level nuclear waste into Australia. Make sense? This is the logic of the nuclear industry. Got a problem - shift it somewhere else and onto someone else, stall for time, make it look like something's happening.
WA gears up for fight against N-dump
Western Australians are stepping up their campaign against Pangea Resources, the consortium which wants to use rural WA for an international nuclear waste dump, now that the company has established an office in Perth.
Pangea has a three-pronged strategy to drive the proposal forward, encompassing economics ("profitable but not profit driven"), gaining public and political acceptance, and conducting technical studies which, according to a Pangea spokesperson, are "primarily focused on demonstrating safety".
Pangea's efforts to win the safety arguments have been undermined by Professor John Veevers, a fellow of the Australian Academy of Sciences and an academic in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Macquarie University. Veevers has argued against Pangea's plan to turn Australia into "terra nuclear" in several newspapers, on ABC Radio National, and in scientific journals such as Australian Geologist.
Veevers points to research questioning the geological stability of the Great Victoria Desert, the region of WA being proposed for the dump. His research also throws into question claims made by Pangea concerning the risks associated with transportation and long-term storage of high-level nuclear waste.
Veevers wrote in the Australian Geologist, "The inevitable risk in the proposal stems from the magnitudes: ... tonnes of enormously dangerous radioactive waste in the northern hemisphere, 20,000 kms from its destined dump in Australia where it must remain intact for at least 10,000 years. These magnitudes - of tonnage, lethality, distance of transport, and time - entail great inherent risk."
To his technical analysis Veevers added the following comments: "Cogent as they may be, these (technical) arguments themselves are overridden by a higher logical rule: don't put all your eggs in the one basket. The superpowers disperse missile-bombs in silos on land, in submarines in the ocean, and in aircraft in the atmosphere. The rule applies no less to radioactive waste. Concentrating international waste in a single site in the Great Victoria Desert would be a huge single target for today's terrorists or the next 10 millennia's vandals, and Australians would be the first victims of the fallout."
Veevers urges Australians to force politicians to give Pangea its marching orders by refusing exploration and development rights. He says Britain - British Nuclear Fuels Limited is the major backer of Pangea resources - should avert another round of nuclear opprobrium by abandoning the plan for a waste dump in WA and devoting more resources to a thorough clean-up of the weapons testing site at Maralinga.
Pangea's originally proposed building dedicated port and rail facilities if the project proceeds. However Pangea now says that its "state of the art" ships would use a "dedicated and secure" dock at an existing port and that existing rail lines would be used. It also flags the possibility of road transport if rail links are not available.
Pangea has recruited a range of academics, former bureaucrats, right-wing think tanks and columnists to push its proposal. The Fairfax and Packer media empires also support the plan according to "sources" cited in the March 15 Business Review Weekly.
According to Veevers, "Eminent biomedical and information scientists have gone out of their way to welcome Pangea. Why? Presumably because the money is right: scientific jobs and science-driven prosperity will accompany Pangea's promised 1% boost to our GDP."
Most politicians from the major parties have distanced themselves from the proposal. However some Liberal MPs openly support the plan, and a majority of Liberal and National MPs could be persuaded to support the dump according to Ross Lightfoot, a Liberal senator in the federal parliament.
Activists opposing the Pangea plan are attempting to pressure both the federal government and the WA government to enact legislation prohibiting importation of nuclear waste.
Some progress has been made in relation to parliamentary motions. For example on April 22 a motion opposing the Pangea plan was passed unanimously in the federal senate.
However getting legislation enacted is proving to be more difficult. The federal government declined an opportunity to legislate to prohibit the importation of nuclear waste during the passage of a nuclear safety bill last year. The WA state government has also refused to legislate.
The WA Greens are coordinating efforts to win local government support for the campaign against Pangea. A number of local councils have already declared their council areas "nuclear free zones".
The Shire of Chapman Valley has amended its town planning scheme to make it illegal for nuclear materials to be stored, transported or processed in the region and other councils are planning similar moves. Chapman Valley Shire chief executive officer Maurice Battilana said the council took the action to protect its agricultural industry, the biggest revenue earner in the shire.
WA Greens' Senator Giz Watson said in state parliament on August 19, "What concerns me is that a "no" now might turn into a "yes" later, especially when we are talking about enormous financial incentive. The solution is to legislate to prevent this type of proposal. That legislation must be at all levels of government. Local councils are already moving down that track. Legislation is required at state government level and it is also necessary to have legislation at the federal level as there is always a possibility, if a decision were to be taken by a federal government to allow the importation of this waste material, that state authorities would be in an exceedingly difficult position to oppose it."
Pangea has attracted some support from the nuclear industry, such as from the industry funded Uranium Information Centre. However the plan for a waste dump is proving to be a double-edged sword for companies planning to mine uranium in WA. Those companies have to confront, or side-step, the argument that uranium mining in WA will open the door for Pangea.
The connection has been made by Senator Ross Lightfoot, among others. Lightfoot said, "We are not grappling with our global responsibilities - we can't expect to benefit from exporting uranium if we are not prepared to deal with the waste created from its use."
Similarly, WA energy minister Colin Barnett told the WA parliament on April 20 that countries producing uranium have a "moral and international responsibility to take part in the nuclear waste debate".
Troubled times for nuclear dump proponents
Pangea Resources, the company which wants to dump thousands of tonnes of high-level nuclear waste in rural Western Australia, has had to deal with a number of problems since setting up offices in Perth earlier this month.
There has been speculation that British Nuclear Fuels Limited (BNFL), which put in 70 per cent of Pangea's seed funding, may terminate its involvement in the venture. Robin Chapple, research officer with the Anti-Uranium Coalition of WA, said "Sources close to BNFL have indicated a desire to distance themselves from Pangea." Chapple said that Pangea would probably press on with its plan even without the support of BNFL, as it could find other investors.
On September 21, Pangea was publicly berated by BHP for using a picture of a BHP train and rail track in a brochure without seeking permission. BHP expressed concern that readers of the brochure might assume that BHP is prepared to transport nuclear waste on its Port Hedland to Newman rail line, which runs to within 100 kms of an area identified as a potential site for the proposed nuclear dump.
"We have had nothing to do with Pangea and we are not looking for anything to do with them," BHP spokesperson Stedman Ellis said. He said BHP reserved the right to take legal action. However a Pangea spokesperson said the "generic" picture was properly licensed for reproduction.
The Fremantle City Council recently passed a motion calling on the federal government to legislate to prohibit the development and/or construction of any waste facility that might receive, process and/or store imported radioactive material. The motion - which also calls on the federal government to disallow the development of any further uranium mines in Australia - will also be debated at the national assembly of the Australian Local Government Association in late October.
On September 28, the Esperance Council voted 11-0 to oppose storage, transport and processing of nuclear waste in the shire. This followed a council meeting which was addressed by a Pangea spokesperson. Esperance Council president Ian Mickel said, "I thought it was a very professional and slick presentation. If all that was said is to be believed then I would think other countries would be putting their hand up for this."
The opposition of Esperance Council is significant because of the possibility that Pangea might want to build a new port, or use an existing one, at Esperance to import nuclear waste. Pangea hopes to import waste via a "dedicated and secure" dock at an existing port, in contrast to earlier statements that a dedicated port would be constructed to handle nuclear waste shipments.
British government behind nuclear dump plan
March 10, 1999
It has been revealed that the British government is the major backer of Pangea Resources, the company scheming to build an international nuclear waste dump in Australia.
The issue came to public attention in December, with the leaking of a promotional video produced by Pangea Resources. An article published in the industry journal Nuclear Fuel on December 14 reveals that British Nuclear Fuels Ltd (BNFL) is the major financial backer of Pangea and has also provided considerable technical support. BNFL is 100% owned by British government.
Pangea proposes an underground dump which would be able to house 76,000 metric tons of spent fuel, taking 3,000 tonnes annually when fully operational. This is about 20% of the spent fuel generated annually by nuclear power reactors. For comparison, the total capacity of the proposed dump is over 30,000 times the total volume of waste generated by Sydney's Lucas Heights reactor over its lifetime.
According to the Nuclear Fuel article, Pangea was created specifically to explore the possibilities for an international dump, and is a spin-off of the international geotechnical company Golder Associates, which is based in Toronto. Investors in Pangea Resources include BNFL, the Swiss radioactive waste agency Nagra, and the Canadian based company Enterra Holdings Ltd, which is Golder's parent holding company.
The British connection
According to the British paper The Observer (21 February), Britain has the world's second largest store of nuclear power waste (after the US), plus enough stockpiled plutonium for 5000 bombs.
The British nuclear industry's efforts to deal with radioactive waste have been farcical. Historically, reprocessing has been favoured, but residual wastes from reprocessing must still be disposed of. Numerous problems with reprocessing plants, including the decision to shut down the Dounreay reprocessing plant in Scotland, have jeopardised the future of reprocessing in the UK.
In 1998 the British government decided that an underground dump for intermediate level nuclear waste could not be made safe over the lifespan of the waste. This left the nuclear industry's waste management policies "in tatters" according to Dr David Lowry from the Nuclear Control Institute. Failed efforts to establish a permanent dump have cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
In December a British nuclear regulatory agency noted continuing poor management of 70,000 cubic metres of intermediate level nuclear waste held at BNFL's Sellafield site and other sites around the country. In the same month, a report by the British government's Health and Safety Executive concluded that the UK Atomic Energy Authority has been operating nuclear facilities "without clear knowledge of some of the risks" and made 143 recommendations for change.
Small wonder that the industry is looking for an off-shore dump. BNFL acknowledges having invested approximately £5 million in Pangea Resources. A BNFL spokesperson said that the search for a UK dump continues, but other options are being explored including the Pangea Resources proposal.
The strategy of the British nuclear industry - hedging its bets by exploring a range of possible options - is shared by many other countries. Nuclear power utilities the world over have been unable to address the range of technical, economical and political problems posed by nuclear waste. Surveys indicate that dumps are feared even more than nuclear power stations. A French survey found that 94% of respondents would not live near a nuclear waste disposal site.
As nuclear power operators have tried and failed to find a domestic solution to radioactive waste, the so-called "international solution", i.e. dumping waste overseas, has looked increasingly attractive.
German and Swiss nuclear agencies investigated the possibility of locating a dump in China's Gobi Desert in the 1980s. In the mid 1990s, US nuclear agencies were advocating the establishment of a dump on a South Pacific island. German nuclear power utilities have floated the idea of locating a dump in South Africa.
Richard Stratford, director of the US State Department's Office of Nuclear Affairs, advocates an international dump and has suggested countries in the Far East as well as cash-poor former Soviet Union countries.
According to the Environmental News Service (February 8), the Russian Minister of Atomic Energy wrote to the US Energy Secretary Richardson in December, offering to consider a long-term commercial arrangement to import spent fuel from US nuclear power plants into Russia for storage, and the Russian Duma is considering legislation to allow this practice.
The Environmental News Service also reports that Greenpeace leaked documents last year indicating that Russian officials are planning to import nuclear waste from a number of other countries in addition to the U.S.
Pangea Resources search for possible locations turned up four options - Australia, Argentina, China and western South Africa. According to Pangea's chairman Jim Voss, sites in China and South Africa were eliminated because they didn't have the right mix of good geology, strict regulatory regime, and solid democratic politics. Nuclear Fuel reports that initial, informal interest in Australia resulted in the Argentine site being put on the back burner.
More and more information is becoming available on the level of support for the Pangea Resources' proposal within Australia. Jim Voss says Australia suggested the idea of an international dump in 1992, without clarifying whether the suggestion was for a dump in Australia or saying exactly who in Australia made the suggestion.
Detective work by Len Kanaar from Friends of the Earth has uncovered several corporate links between Australian companies and Pangea Resources. For example, two former directors of Pangea Resources are now involved with the Australian gold-mining companies Mogul Mining and Bolnisi Gold. The significance (if any) of the links remains unclear.
The Pangea Resources' proposal has attracted support from right-wing think tanks such as the Institute of Public Affairs and a number of right-wing media commentators. Mainstream politicians have distanced themselves from the Pangea project, but SA premier John Olsen said he would "have a look" at any firm proposal put to him.
Members of the federal government have repeatedly said it is not government policy to allow the importation of radioactive waste, and deny having met with Pangea Resources. A Pangea spokesperson said "We have been puzzled at the reluctance of the Australian government even to hear the story. Given the amount of energy of both sides of politics to present Australia as a favourable investment destination, to not even wish to meet with us is rather inexplicable."
It was reported in The Australian last year that Voss met with government ministers about his ambition to operate the proposed national dump in the Billa Kalina region of South Australia as a private facility. It is unclear whether the international dump proposal was discussed - or if there were any discussions at all in 1998. (As at September 2000, Pangea claims to have no interest in operating national dump/s, and the federal government has ruled Pangea out of any involvement in national dump/s or national stores.)
It has been acknowledged that discussions have been held between Pangea Resources and government bureaucrats about the international dump proposal. The article in Nuclear Fuel cites an Australian "source" who says that the government's opposition is not unbending.
In the Senate on December 10, the Coalition defeated an amendment to a nuclear bill which would have prohibited the construction of nuclear waste storage facilities in Australia.
Certainly Pangea Resources has not been deterred by reactions to its proposal since it was publicly revealed in December. Liberal Party pollster Mark Textor has been testing public opinion for Pangea. The Canberra based form Access Economics was commissioned to prepare a gee-whiz report on the economic benefits of an international dump - $200 billion over a 40 year period, equivalent to $8200 for each of Australia's six million households.
The latest supporter of the Pangea Resources proposal is David Reese, Australia's (so-called) ambassador for disarmament from 1989 to 1990. Reese presents the familiar furphies. Australia is "uniquely placed" to provide a "safe" solution to this "international problem", Reese claims. And by dumping a tiny proportion of the global stockpile of weapons-useable plutonium in Australia, "we may be able to help and contribute to the effort to achieve a safer world free of nuclear weapons." And pigs might fly.
Reese says, "The only attempt to canvass the question dispassionately so far has been by the distinguished scientist Sir Gustav Nossal." However, as Reese well knows, Nossal has already declared a financial interest, having accepted a consultancy assignment with Pangea Resources to push the project forward.
Pangea Resources' promotional video identifies South Australia and Western Australia as having suitable sites. It appears that the greatest interest is in north-west WA. A report in The Australian says that Pangea Resources has earmarked an area 100 kilometres inland in WA.
A WA Greens parliamentarian, Giz Watson, says that an $80 million upgrade on the road from Port Hedland to Marble Bar, and an extension leading a further 132 kms east, is paving the way for the dump.
Watson says the road is the closest distance between a large industrial port and the geological formation currently proposed by Pangea Resources.
A spokesperson for the WA government denied any knowledge of Pangea Resources' proposal, saying the road was being built to service two mines and local Aboriginal communities. However Watson says, "Even the most gullible of us doesn't believe any government, let alone a Liberal economic rationalist government, would spend that much money on the small mining companies which are en route".
No doubt South Australia is still under consideration and would be an even stronger bet if the federal government successfully pushes through a national nuclear dump in the Billa Kalina region.