South Australia’s nuclear flight of fancy -a problem for National Labor

Tweedle-NuclearSouth Australia’s future role in the nuclear industry, The Saturday Paper, 8 Aug 15  PHILIP DORLING The South Australian government’s flirtation with nuclear energy threatens to turn its relationship with federal Labor into a ticking time bomb. South Australia was in the news this week thanks to Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s announcement of a new naval construction plan that, if implemented, will see Adelaide confirmed as Australia’s naval shipbuilding hub.
Behind the headlines, however, South Australia’s emerging nuclear ambitions may ultimately prove to be a more significant development, politically and economically, for the state and the nation.
 In the hopes of nuclear industry advocates, a technological alliance with Japan, South Korea and Taiwan on nuclear power, fuel recycling and waste storage could bring in $28 billion for South Australia. It’s a bold vision in which the state could be transformed into the “Saudis of the South.” If nothing else, it’s likely to generate plenty of political heat. …….

Debate on naval shipbuilding and the still undecided future submarine program will certainly continue, fuelled by the parlous state of South Australia’s economy. ………

Weatherill says unemployment “consumes all of the attention of the South Australian government and the cabinet”, and it was against this background that the premier unexpectedly announced in March the establishment of a Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission.

The premier said the inquiry would facilitate debate on “what role our state can and should play in the fuel cycle for the peaceful use of nuclear energy”……

While the premier’s announcement attracted relatively little attention or analysis outside South Australia, its national significance should not be underestimated.

Weatherill is a leader in Labor’s Left faction that has historically opposed nuclear power and other involvement in the nuclear fuel cycle.

While Labor has long accepted uranium mining, the party’s national platform retains a commitment to “prohibit the establishment of nuclear power plants and all other stages of the nuclear fuel cycle in Australia”.

The South Australian Labor government previously opposed proposals for the establishment of a nuclear waste repository in the state. However, reservations about nuclear industry appear to have evaporated in the wake of further, politically fatal, rises in unemployment. …….

Weatherill last year received a report commissioned by former employment and science minister Tom Kenyon, which argued that setting up a nuclear waste repository near Woomera could reap billions for the local economy. Business SA’s chief executive Nigel McBride argued that Japan and South Korea would pay handsomely to store their nuclear waste in the state’s outback.

Manning [Flinders University associate professor Haydon Manning] observes that the royal commission’s brief is “far broader than anything I expected. It appears to reflect a major shift in thinking within the Weatherill government and potentially puts his government on a collision course with federal Labor.” ….

As a former Australian naval attaché in Washington [Royal Commissioner Kevin Scarce] also saw much of the United States Navy, which has a long record in the operation of naval nuclear reactors in its submarine fleet and aircraft carriers.

Significantly the royal commission enjoys strong bipartisan support from Liberal opposition leader Steven Marshall, and from the federal Coalition government. …..

During an interview on ABC Adelaide, commissioner Scarce has observed that while fourth-generation reactors would be very safe, their commercial availability is uncertain.

“I certainly wouldn’t think based on what we’ve seen to date that they’ll be available much before 2040,” he said. …..

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