Nuclear Royal Commission needs balance

Media Release − 20 April 2015

The SA government's Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission kicks off in Mount Gambier on Monday.

Dr Jim Green, national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth, Australia, said:

"Kevin Scarce promised a 'balanced' royal commission but three of the five members of his 'expert panel' are pro-nuclear, with just one critic. There's nothing wrong with including nuclear advocates on the panel but there should be balance.

"One way or another Kevin Scarce needs to act to restore credibility to the Royal Commission. Otherwise it will be treated with the same ridicule as the Switkowski Review, which was comprised entirely of 'people who want nuclear power by Tuesday' according to comedian John Clarke."

Despite its bias, the 2006 Switkowski Review was sceptical about proposals to expand Australia's role in the nuclear fuel cycle, as was BHP Billiton in its submission to the Switkowski Review (see attachment). Conditions are no more favourable now than in 2006. Despite the hype about a nuclear 'renaissance', the number of reactors has declined over the past decade.

Dr Green said: "Presumably the Royal Commission sees Mount Gambier as a potential site for a nuclear power reactor. The local community should consider the legacy of high-level nuclear waste that would remain in the Mount Gambier region indefinitely since there is no disposal site for high-level nuclear waste in Australia − or anywhere in the world for that matter. The only deep underground nuclear waste repository in the world − in the US state of New Mexico − has been shut down following an underground chemical explosion that spewed radiation to the outside environment and contaminated 22 workers.

"Nuclear power is incredibly thirsty − a single reactor requires 35−65 millions litres of cooling water daily. The huge water intake pipes destroy marine life by the tonnes."

The local community should also consider scientific research linking nuclear reactors to increases in childhood leukemias. UK radiation biologist Dr Ian Fairlie notes that over 60 studies have examined cancer incidence in children near nuclear power plants and more than 70% of those studies found increased cancer rates. Dr Fairlie concludes that "the matter is now beyond question, i.e. there's a very clear association between increased child leukemias and proximity to nuclear power plants".1

"The community of south-east SA also needs to consider the small risk of a catastrophic accident. The costs of the Fukushima disaster in Japan will probably exceed $500 billion − more than enough to ruin not only the local economy but the entire state's economy," Dr Green concluded.

Contact: Jim Green 0417 318 368, [email protected]








The 2006 Switkowski Report said:


"The commercial viability and international competitiveness of a new plant in any part of the nuclear fuel cycle will depend on factors such as capital cost, operating costs, the ability to access technology on competitive terms, the state of the international market, access to the required skill base and the regulatory environment. In the case of enrichment, there are also issues associated with the storage of depleted uranium and nuclear non-proliferation."


"Establishment of conversion is only likely to be attractive if it is associated with enrichment"

"The enrichment market is very concentrated, structured around a small number of suppliers in the United States, Europe and Russia. It is characterised by high barriers to entry, including limited and costly access to technology, trade restrictions, uncertainty around the future of secondary supply and proliferation concerns."


The Switkowski Report concluded that "there may be little real opportunity for Australian companies to extend profitably" into enrichment and that "given the new investment and expansion plans under way around the world, the market looks to be reasonably well balanced in the medium term."


"Fuel fabricators are typically associated with reactor vendors, who supply the initial core and in many cases refuel the reactor."

"The WNA [World Nuclear Association] forecasts that fuel fabrication capacity for all types of LWRs significantly exceeds demand..."


"The complexity of reprocessing plants involving remote handling of highly radioactive and corrosive materials requires expensive facilities and many highly trained staff. ... The only recently constructed commercial scale reprocessing plant (Rokkasho) is estimated to have cost approximately US$18 billion."

"Reprocessing in Australia seems unlikely to be commercially attractive, unless the value of the recovered nuclear fuel increases significantly."


Switkowski Report:


BHP Billiton's submission to the Switkowski Review said:


"Enrichment has massive barriers to entry − including access to technology and approvals under international protocols − and is concentrated with 4 large players: USEC, Areva, Urenco and Tenex, located within the nuclear weapon states of the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Russia respectively. ... We do not believe that conversion and enrichment would be commercially viable in Australia. ... The economics of any Australian conversion, enrichment or fabrication do not look positive, either individually or collectively. The global market is currently well supplied by services providers with strong customer relationships, economies of scale and scope, the necessary deep technological expertise and experience, solid reputations for delivery, and expansion plans in place."


BHP Billiton's major uranium customers "have choices about where to acquire their U3O8" and "these utilities generally regard their spent fuel as an asset − a resource for future reprocessing to produce more fuel input."


"BHP Billiton believes that there is neither a commercial nor a non-proliferation case for it to become involved in front-end processing or for mandating the development of fuel leasing services in Australia. ... We do not believe that conversion and enrichment would be commercially viable in Australia. Nor do we believe any government imposed requirement to lease fuel, as distinct from acquiring uranium would be acceptable to its major customers, all of whom have alternative choices about where to acquire their U3O8."


"BHP Billiton has no intention to use the [Olympic Dam] mine as a basis to begin providing fuel leasing, conversion, enrichment, nuclear power or national or international waste disposal/storage services. ... [U]tilities typically acquire U3O8 and then contract directly with established conversion, enrichment and fuel fabrication service suppliers to meet their specific technical specifications for long periods and often spread supply agreements across a number of suppliers. Customers value this flexibility and choice. ... There is little evidence of a preference for purchasing a "bundled" supply of U3O8, conversion, enrichment and fuel fabrication services and no established market for fuel leasing."

"There is no evidence that a change to current Australian Government policies to facilitate domestic enrichment, fuel leasing and high level waste disposal would lead to significant economic opportunities or reduce proliferation risks in the foreseeable future. ... It would also put at risk our reputation with customers of being a reliable supplier of uranium concentrates and our ability to enter into the long term supply arrangements that underpin expansion of uranium mining. Noting that a nuclear fuel leasing industry − if permitted by the regulatory framework − is most unlikely to be commercially viable, BHP Billiton would strongly oppose any policies to artificially support the premature development of such an industry by requiring BHP Billiton's customers to use Australian conversion, enrichment or fabrication services − or to quarantine reserves to underpin such a domestic capacity in the future. It would put customer relations and the investments those underpin at risk."


BHP Billiton submission to Switkowski Review: