Transcript by Noel Wauchope, 20 May 2015 This transcript is a reliable account of the proceedings, but is not word for word accurate. As far as possible, I have used the exact words.
KEVIN SCARCE: My name’s Kevin I have also here members of my team – Greg Ward, Wes Taylor, Mary – . About three months ago the governmnet decided that they wanted an inquiry into the nuclear fuel cycle, so they decided on a Royal Commission. I have the Terms of Reference..I am responsible to investigate this. My job is to answer the four questions in the Terms of reference. By the end of this process I will deliver a Report to government, by 6th May 2016.
The reasons for this Royal Commission are:
1. It’s an independent inquiry
2. The second reason for a Royal Commission is that it is evidence-based. There is a lot of feeling in the community, about the nuclear fuel cycle. It is important to unearth the facts and also to examine the risks, – so that we have a basis for progress. We can think of this as an opportunity for the future.
3. Thirdly – the purpose to unearth facts. Royal Commissions are a trusted venue for unearthing facts.
First I’ll talk about we mean by the nuclear fuel cycle, and what we are attempting to do n this year long examination of the nuclear fuel cycle. I’ll talk about the processes of that cycle.Then about how you can help. I’ll talk about the process we are going to use to engage the community. The nuclear fuel cycle entails the mining and processing of uranium, manufacturing of nuclear fuel, and power generation , and storage of wastes – the costs and the risks –
Why South Australia? Australia has 30% of the world’s uranium supply, 80% of that n South Australia. So there’s a comparative advantage for South Australia in terms of uranium mining.
The first Term of Reference; does it make sense to expand our exploration and mining of uranium?
We will look at the world demand for uranium – the opportunities, the costs and benefits to the community, the economy and the environment.
We are also interested in thorium. Thorium purportedly has advantages over uranium. It doesn’t create the same wastes, doesn’t enable nuclear explosions such as what happened at Fukushima, it’s not useful for nuclear weapons. It is a potential opportunity for the future. Part of our Term Of Reference is to look for the opportunities for thorium in this State. But this is only at the potential stage. We are yet to see a thorium nuclear reactor.
The second Term of Reference. What are the opportunities to value add? We look at the opportunities and costs for communities, the environment and the economy. We as a group don’t have enough evidence to form a view. I can see benefits, risks, costs – we need to have the data to prove it one way or the other. We have to gather the data, develop our recommendations, and present our recommendations in our report.
The second Term of Reference – can we add value to our existing uranium industry? That will mean substantial infrastructure. I will show the required infrastructure.
The third Term of Reference. Power Generation. This is the most complex part of the cycle. for us. Does it make economic sense? Can renewables provide us with that baseload of electricity for the future? We have t think of providing the electricity that we need now – and in 10-20 years’ time. It would take 20 years if we go ahead with nuclear power generation. What is the effect of continuing to use coal power to provide baseload power in the future?
The fourth Term of Reference. Management and storage of wastes. Wastes come in a lot of categories. Some of you have had treatment with radioisotopes. Medical wastes are – gloves, nuclear equipment – low level wastes – the lowest category. At the other end of the scale is the spent fuel from nuclear power generation., that will remain active for thousands and thousands of years. But – with progress – we see 3rd Generation reactors – much more efficient in use of fuel, and soon 4th Generation ones might generate much less wastes. . Fast neutron reactors utilise almost all of the nuclear fuel. This is a promise yet to be delivered.
How would you store that waste? What measures needed to protect the environment? The nuclear reprocessing process finishes the cycle. The first part of the cycle – at Beverley and other mines, whee they get uranium out of the ground – we look to see where there’s an opportunity to expand that in the future – expand use of yellowcake (shows slide) When we enrich uranium, we take it up from useful fuel of only 1% to 3% useful. Reprocessing takes it up to a higher percentage.
Demonstrating the process – from mining to reprocessing – we look for the opportunity to expand mining in the future, Value adding is the in the overseas infrastructure that increases the energy availability from uranium hexafluoride – converting it to small pellets. 3 or 4 of these pellets would power a house for several years. The pellets are encased into zirconium in stainless steel rods and inserted into the reactor. They are replaced every 3-4 years. They might then go to waste, or reprocessing will re-use these rods. With some modern technologies the fuel rods don’t need to be taken out of the reactor – but this technology is yet to be developed.
Nuclear wastes (shows slides) Two methods. Wet storage for two years until the rods have cooled. Intermediate dry storage in concrete and copper cylinders – kept there until the final stage. None of these processes are conducted in Australia.
Question here female: What about Lucas Heights?
SCARCE: (shows slide) Lucas Heights produces 15-20% of the world’s medical isotopes. The current reactor has been operating for 3-4 years. Before that there was a reactor for 50 years.Lucas Heights has had reactors for 50 – 60 years Lucas Heights is in an outer Souther suburb of Sydney.
(Slide) This is the sort of infrastructure required to reprocess. It is capital intensive. It takes uranium and re-enriches it.
(Slide) Above ground storage in concrete containers is doted around South Australia.-l ow level and intermediate storage above ground.
(Slide) In Finland there is deep down storage – 500 metres underground, will store wastes for thousands of years. There are many methods, The Australian method is to encapsulate wastes in crystalline rock. It must be in geologically stable areas, requiring specific geological conditions. This is a process of understanding, that we need to look at car
(Slide) This gives a hint of where nuclear reactors are in the world today – 340 reactors, and 70 being built. That’s the nuclear fuel cycle.
How do we manage that?
We’ve developed 4 papers, one on each part of the cycle.
1. Exploration and Mining What are the costs and benefits – environmental, community and economic?
Question here: Who is we?
SCARCE: We being the Commission. We have 5 world leaders on these issues, both for and against. Then we will call in experts that we need.
Female Questioner– .(inaudible) .. about the evidence?
SCARCE: The question is – do we expand uranium mining? It’s essential not to go back over what was done in the past – but look to what can be done in the future. What are the risks and opportunities for expansion?
Female questioner. Will there be a Commission on renewables? What is your background?
SCARCE: On renewables – I’ll go back to that. The Commission needs someone to be independent. I am a naval officer. I have been Governor of this State. We have to have someone who is neither for nor against. We have got to have someone to bring the community together.
Female questioner: How are you paid?
Male voice intervenes – Let Kevin continue
SCARCE: We’ll examine all 4 questions of the Terms of Reference. We will gather the data to answer these questions.
1. Expanding existing mining
2 Value adding – adding processing
All of these papers pose series of questions. It’s a complex subject. We try to simplify it and make data available.
3. Electricity generation. We are not looking just at nuclear power. Also we look at renewables. We need to look at all the technologies – solar, solar thermal, geothermal. Can they provide baseload power? What industries might we attract to the State if we had the right power base for the future, not just nuclear? Does it make sense o develop nuclear processing for electricity generation?
South Australia has a comparative advantage because of all the uranium that we have in the ground. Where does the State have opportunities? If you think that renewables can deliver clean green energy, tell us.
4. Wastes – what are the methods and the risks? We need to do the economics. We have storage issues here in Australia. The Federal government has a proposal out for those who might store waste.
Female questioner. We have investigated this before, and decided against it. 5 years ago the decision was made not to have nuclear waste importing. Aren’t you going over the same questions again ?
SCARCE: I can’t answer about the Northern Territory. In 2017 we are going to lose 12000 – 13000 jobs in car manufacturing. It seems to me to be the right time to ask ourselves the question doe sit make sense to expand the cycle. Where does the State have opportunities for the future?
Female questioner. South Australia can have a green image. People are looking for a healthy environment for the future. I have worked for 5 years in electricity development in Switzerland I have seen this in Europe. …..
SCARCE: I urge you to write a submission and put that forward in a submission,
Now we’ve got the papers. We have set the 3 months to put these questions forward. We’re developing open community forums to develop issues, to discuss the major elements arising from the submissions we’ve received and from our own research. I expect that we will spend several days on each of the four processes. We hope to be out in the community, engaging the community. This is not the first and only engagement in the process, Then there is our website. All papers, all the submissions will be on this website. It is a quite transparent process.
We encourage all submissions to be made public. I am not interested in submissions that cannot be made public. Where there is a defined commercial interest that might not be published. Some Aboriginal submissions might not be published, for cultural reasons.
Male questioner: …. about Fukushima…
SCARCE: – talks about exaggeration of effects of Fukushima – clams of thousands of deaths.There were no deaths at Fukushima – yet. What we have to figure out – the consequences and probability of serious consequences – is it worth it?
Female questioner: You are putting the costs and the burdens on to future generations?
SCARCE: An dthe opportunities and potential benefits. I’m not suggesting that the consequences are not serious. We have to measure the seriousness against the probability of accidents.
Female questioner: Where does the money come from?
Interjection from a male voice – asks this questioner: Do you live in Coober Pedy? She replies; I have done.
SCARCE: Let’s go to the facts. these are questions that must be asked – if it’s an issue to unearth – (He repeats encouragement to put these matters in a submission)
Female questioner:Financially – why did Roxby not go ahead with their planned expansion a few years ago? You want to dig up more uranium?
SCARCE: I said I wanted to look at the costs and the risks. By all means, have the debate. Look at the State when it’s 27 million, and look at where opportunity exists in the future – if it’s in renewables.
Interjection from a male voice: I don’t think we’re going to get a sensible argument here, so we can move along.
Female questioner: In regional development across South Australia – what part?
Male questioner: Why is South Australia picked for this? We’ve had Maralinga – nuclear explosions. To run nuclear power you gotta have a bloody lot of water. Are they gonna pull it out of the Great Artesian Basin like the mob that’s doing all the fracking? It seems to me that in our nuclear age of independence we’ve got a lot of sun. We have 364 days of sun. We just seem to be picked. It just seems to all go out of our State to interstate or overseas.
If there’s a bomb or an earthquake….. WE got big companies down South. Here in Coober Pedy we got no say at all.
SCARCE: I’m looking at the potential for opportunities of the future. We in South Australia have uranium. WE have world class uranium in South Australia. Is there an opportunity to add value to it before we send it overseas? We look at the costs and benefits. WE can talk about world’s best practice – only if we are convinced that the safety of this part of the process makes sense for our State.
Male questioner: We’re talking about shipping the wastes back to South Australia. I’m on my way out – got kids, grandkids. In 20 years time we all won’t be here.
SCARCE: Is there opportunity to value add to it here before it goes overseas? Nowhere in our Royal Commission Terms of Reference are we asked to identify locations. We are asked to see if it is economic, if it makes sense for our State. We should ask, get the data, assess the potential for our State.
Male questioner: I’ve got great grandkids. No matter what you people say – all the bloody experts – I need to talk this over with my grandkids.
In 20 years’ tim eI won’t be here. By the time this does get on the ground we won’t be here to say we regret it – none of this will be recorded.
SCARCE: I hope that with this process we will get an understanding of the opportunities, risks and benefits.The issue here is to have the discussion we need to have – get the facts – make sure that we have a common understanding.
Male questioner. I get the feeling it’s not about us. It’s about money. There’s a misty fog in my brain about this. You put a wind turbine up – and people complain – health worries.. Our wind farms – most of the energy goes to bloody Victoria. Nuclear – to me – is not a good way to go.
SCARCE: Keep an open mind, either way, and don’t be afraid to ask
Questioner: I’m not afraid to ask – but who owns Roxby? They’re Australian? Who owns it?
Female questioner – question on banning uranium mining….
SCARCE: We will answer each of the 4 Terms of Reference. We might come to a very different conclusion on each one.
Female questioner: Most nuclear plants in other countries are reaching the end of their life. Lots have to be decommissioned. Some have to be extended. What happens when they have to be decommissioned? Where do we get then facts? We can’t get the facts now. Nobody talks about it.
SCARCE: We will visit those countries. No doubt after the Fukushima accident there was a loss of confidence in the nuclear industry. I don’t know how Germany can get their power
Female questioner. I can tell you. Solar.
SCARCE: We’ll go and find that data. If wind and solar can provide baseload power for the future we might not need nuclear. How do you generate the power for the future. send us submissions.
Male questioner (identifies himself as member of a mining company): I asked the question to a Member of Parliament,about nuclear power. He said “Nuclear power is far too expensive”. We’ve been trying to find a waste site for the past 10 years.
Question on tax payer money given from Federal Govrenmnet to the State for a nuclear waste dump.
SCARCE: I’ve not seen that data – that says that nuclear is too expensive. Get the data and we can answer that question . I don’t know about that. I’m not going outside of my Terms of Reference. As far as I know the State government doesn’t have a site. I am not aware of it. It is a Federal government responsibility.
Female questioner: UK has had nuclear power for 50 years, and no explosions. In this inquiry, will you be able to get information from UK?. They must be doing something right.
SCARCE: We plan to go overseas at the end of this month – to visit Taiwan – Norway – Finland – to see the waste disposal system – to France to look at the modern technology – they are very much into reprocessing. We go to UK,- their regulatory framework is as good as any in the world. We g to UAE to look at the regulatory framework that they have developed within a very short time period. We will also see people who are against nuclear power.
Female questioner: In view of what has been said today, what will happen to all our uranium if it isn’t used, in the future?
SCARCE: It comes down to the question – can we make a better opportunity with it?. We want submissions, a smuch evidence as possible. It’s back to seking data – to form a view.
Female questioner: I wonder if it should be all closed down (Roxby?). Should it be developed in some other way?.
SCARCE: The State government has made it clear – we are not examining current uranium mining. We’re charged with looking to the future – what can be done with uranium, with thorium.
Male questioner: South Korea has come up with a special process of coal burning that produces almost no CO2.
SCARCE: We will be looking at that and at all the technologies for the future – the power sources of the future, not just nuclear. It makes sensethat if we contnue to use coal we need to collectively come to a decision on what to do about CO2 and the environment. I ma not saying that nuclear is the answer.
Male questioner: In China, every 8 days they start a new coal -fired generation plant, and they’re not stopping this until 2030.
SCARCE: They are also producing 20-30 new nuclear reactors.
Male questioner: How much pollution is there from China’s coal?
SCARCE: that’s a good question. I am not answering that.
Male questioner: In your travels, will you look at Chernobyl and the devastation there?
SCARCE: Yes, we need to look at Chernobyl, and ask – what happened, and why it happened, and look at the consequences.
Male questioner: There are easier and cheaper ways to get power. Are yu having any more consultations at Coober Pedy?
SCARCE: We will come back with our findings. We have to serve all of South Australia.
Male questioner – suggest 7 pm is a better time to start…
SCARCE:Ask any of our team . No more questions. Than kyou. It’s lunchtime. You can ask Wes, Greg, any of our team, over lunch.