Jon Bok of South Australia’s Nuclear Royal Commission faced tough questions in Coober Pedy

John Bok representing the Royal Commission. Small attendance (5 people) 

This is not a perfect transcript, but is largely accurate. Where you see 1. that means a question from the attendees.

Bok: I’m here to help with providing information for the community, and particularly the Aboriginal community, as the Commissioner looks at risks and opportunities for expanding the nuclear industry in South Australia.

  1. Is there some reason why we are being targeted? We’ve had two Royal Commission community forums, and Roxby Downs hasn’t had one.

Bok:  I’m out an about in the region. I’m going back to Port Augusta in the coming weeks.

  1. You’re not looking at the underground tunnels, are you? – I don’t mean you personally; I mean the government in general.

Bok:  It’s a much broader process. It is my opportunity to meet people who are interested.

  1. AREVA is sending back a shipload of nuclear waste to Australia. What are we going to do with that, when it gets here?

Bok: I simply don’t know. The Commissioner is looking broadly at South Australia.  One question is – should we take nuclear waste in, to South Australia?

I’m not aware if Australia has the obligation to take that waste back. The question is:  is it viable to take back nuclear waste?. The Terms of Reference ask about the feasibility and viability of the four questions .

Some people have knowledge. Some people have strong views. The Royal Commission is looking at answering those questions. We’re talking about the four different parts. – 1. Exploration, extraction and milling. 2. Further processing and manufacture. 3. Electricity generation. Management, storage and disposal of waste.

  1. Are you looking at recycling?

Bok: We’re looking at both thorium and uranium. The technology that we are looking at is that for generating less waste.

  1. There’s the problem of decommissioning reactors. They don’t know how to do this. If there’s a possibility of something going wrong, as in Chernobyl and Fukushima …

Bok. We need to find out what is the community’s tolerance for risk, and what are the benefits.

  1. Why not stick it at Lucas Heights?

The technology that AREVA is using is not even viable. AREVA is going bankrupt.

  1. No private company will touch nuclear – they’ll have nothing to do with uranium , nuclear. If anything happens, who’s going to cover it? No insurance company will take it on.

Bok: There seems to be a perception that waste will be coming. The Commission is looking at the question of whether it is viable to import wastes. That means looking at geological formations…

  1. The government is talking it all down – saying “only a waste dump”.

Bok: The Commissioner is determined to address all the questions in full.

  1. They’ve lost twice, the Federal and State governments, here and in the Northern Territory. It is still illegal, and both Inquiries concluded that it shouldn’t be done. Why not investigate solar energy. It’s just about money.

Bok: I can’t comment on the motivations.  On solar – the Commission must investigate solar and nuclear. Some people argue that nuclear is a low carbon source of energy. We need to see how that stacks up against solar.

I am not privy to the motivations for calling the Royal Commission.  The question of renewables is very much at the forefront.

  1. What about the length of time for nuclear waste to be safe – 50,000 years? What about the threat of terrorism. The Abbott government is going on about terrorism.

Bok: Some people think that the extent of the risk is too much to contemplate. Others think that the benefits might be worthwhile.

Q: It won’t create many jobs, and those will not be for Australians. The publicity pictures are all happy – people smiling- these must come from some nuclear industry propaganda.

Bok: From my perspective – the Commission has to be very clear about the risks, and also about the opportunities. Everything is related to the Terms of reference.

  1. Port Augusta wants to go 100% renewable.

Bok: The Commission is looking at the question: – is renewable energy feasible, and if so, nuclear might not be the answer.

  1. Leaving it to future generations to take care of nuclear wastes…

Bok: We’re having this conversation again.

  1. We’ve had this investigated in the past. The people involved – many have passed away.

Bok: The conversation is going to bed very public, especially in regional and remote areas.

We schedule  (Locations mentioned)  – and next week, smaller communities. We have a break during the school holidays.

  1. Why are you communicating with the Aboriginal community in particular?

Bok: It’s in the Terms of reference to consider them

  1. They’d have to sign Land Transfer Agreements.
  2. (soft voice, at times inaudible) A notice in the paper is not the prime way to communicate with Aborigines. Are you going to the Aged Care Centre – to talk with the Elders.

Bok: I am getting an interpreter – and ploan to go there tomorrow. It is important to the Royal Commission to have the involvement of Aborigines.. Kevin Scarce expects me to put ba strong focus on Aborigines.

  1. Wouldn’t Kevin, as an ex military person, be likely to be biased pro nuclear?

Bok: Everything I’ve seen shows that he is looking at this objectively.

Q: The mining companies are all behind the Royal Commission.

Bok: The Commission and the research team and other experts are in the process of gathering information, getting evidence. It might not result in good news for nuclear. There is a certain level of anxiety in the South Australian community.

  1. the government is backing an expansion of the nuclear industry.

Bok: You have to take a detailed and objective look at all this information. Some people are very much against , some for.  The Commission will look at both of those views.

  1. About submissions. Will some get rejected?

Bok: There’ll be no rejection, The Commission will pay attention to submissions as related to the Terms of Reference.

Questions (missed –   soft voice) –   about thorium.

Bok: It is premature to rule anything in. Uranium technology is much more advanced than thorium.

  1. Thorium exists in abundance – is much less radioactive.
  2. Thorium is still radioactive.

Bok: Thorium is not fully developed. People are very excited about it. It might be  a better alternative in time.

  1. Is it better to wait for thorium?
  2. It’s all about economics. The government is not taking a long term view.

What is your background?

Bok: I worked in Santos, and in ATSIC, in communication with Aboriginal communities. Two years in the mining industry in Western Australia. I understand government and industry. I like to think that I have a pretty well-rounded view.

  1. Certainly more than Kevin.

Bok: I’m trying to get around as much of the State as I  possibly can.

  1. What is the time frame for the Commission?

Bok: Submissions close at the end of July, early August. Hearings to take place later in the year. Some will be held in regional locations, some in Adelaide.

Hearings will be streamed live, unless private, for cultural or commercial reasons, and similarly will be published.

There’ll be  a public review period. The final findings and recommendations will go in the Report to State Government. The Commissioner is determined to provide that Report in May 2016.  The findings and recommendations will be based on the questions in the four Issues Papers


One Response to “Jon Bok of South Australia’s Nuclear Royal Commission faced tough questions in Coober Pedy”

  1. Viv Says:

    Nuclear scientists need to b in the picture throughout…their voices have already said its a bad idea…bringing waste from overseas all the way here…an international treaty was in place ensuring those countries creating the waste stored that waste…think hard about why this agreement was in place. Do we honestly believe we want this stuff here…being transported across our state…kept there for generatiins…it will never not b dangerous.

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