Dubious arithmetic by Nuclear Fuel Chain Royal Commission

South Australia blanket

SA’s nuclear debate: The sums don’t add up but the danger is very real, argues Craig Wilkins Craig Wilkins, Conservation Council SA, The Advertiser July 28, 2016  NUCLEAR DOSSIER SPECIAL REPORT: Everything you need to know about SA’s nuclear debate

LET’S be clear: the Nuclear Royal Commission is pushing a plan to make money by importing into our state high-level radioactive waste from overseas nuclear reactors.

Most people think it’s about burying this waste deep in the SA Outback.

  • That’s not the half of it. Before then, waste cargo ships will enter our waters at least once a month for the next 70 years.
  • After unloading, the waste will be stored above ground a few kilometres inland from our coastline for the next 80 years.
  • Fifty thousand tonnes will be stockpiled in this above-ground site for around 20 years even before we know the underground dump will work.

The scale in creating the world’s largest nuclear dump site is staggering. So are the risks. It will change our state forever.

Central to the Royal Commission’s grand waste plan is an eye-popping revenue number.

However, Commissioner Scarce’s numbers are so huge it raises an equally big question: if there is so much profit in taking the world’s nuclear waste, why aren’t other countries or states rushing to do it?

Something just doesn’t add up. Either the money’s not there, or it’s a hell of a lot harder to do safely. The answer is: it’s both.

As there is no international market for high-level nuclear waste, any revenue or profit modelling is simply guesswork and assumption.

 So why has the Commission only requested economic modelling from one consultant with a keen interest in seeing the nuclear industry expand? Economists can’t agree what interest rates will be in three months, let alone the price of nuclear waste in 70 years.

The Conservation Council of SA commissioned leading economic think tank The Australia Institute to take a deeper look at the numbers.

Far from making a motza, they found it could actually end up costing us money. Their view is backed by Professor Dick Blandy, respected Professor of Economics at the UniSA Business School.

The nuclear industry is notorious for massive cost over-runs. There are huge doubts about how much other countries are willing to pay, and how much demand there will be in the future. Also unknown is the economic impact on our other vital industries like food, wine and tourism. And taxpayers will need to spend hundreds of millions of dollars even before we know if it will proceed.

We are being told there are super-safe options for storage. We are also being told we can make enormous windfall profits.

The problem is, the gold standard level of safety the SA public rightly expects will take decades to achieve, and be ridiculously expensive, if it can be done at all.

We can try for the highest standard of safety, or we can make money, but we can’t have both.

There is no doubt there is a great deal of concern in our state about our economy and jobs for our children. But a decision for us to become the world’s nuclear waste dump should not be made in fear or desperation.

A nuclear dump is not our only choice. If we are willing to invest billions, there are many better options worth exploring, with far lower risks and many more jobs.

Taking the world’s nuclear waste is a forever decision – once we decide to do it there is no going back. We can’t change our minds or send it somewhere else. Neither can future generations of South Australians.  As a proud state we can do much better. Craig Wilkins is the Conservation Council SA’s chief executive

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