Nuclear propagandist Ben Heard caught out in shoddy misinformation on nuclear waste importing plan

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The only way to avoid gambling hundreds of millions or billions of SA taxpayers’ dollars would be in the wildly improbable scenario that potential client countries would take that gamble.

Taipower clearly states that it would not consider sending waste to another country unless and until that country has developed a repository. Yet the economic case developed by Jacobs and MCM collapses if revenue (and waste) is not received before construction of a repository.

Finally, Mr Heard’s promotion of fast breeder reactors is beyond stupid….. Most of the countries that invested in fast breeder reactors have given up, deciding not to throw good money after bad. Last year, Japan decided to give up on the Monju fast breeder reactor, a fiasco that will cost Japanese taxpayers A$17.3 billion in construction, operation and decommissioning costs despite the fact that the reactor rarely operated.

The Royal Commission completely rejected proposals advanced by Heard and others for ‘advanced fast reactors’, noting in its final report that such reactors are unlikely to be feasible or viable in the foreseeable future; that the development of such a first-of-a-kind project would have high commercial and technical risk

Friends of the Earth Australia has today written to all Members of the SA House of Assembly and Legislative Council, and SA political representatives in the Federal Parliament, responding to the latest round of misinformation from those proposing to turn SA into the world’s high-level nuclear waste dump.

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To: Members of the SA House of Assembly and Legislative Council

From: Jim Green
National nuclear campaigner
Friends of the Earth, Australia     Feb. 3, 2017

EXPOSING THE LATEST MISINFORMATION FROM THE NUCLEAR WASTE DUMP LOBBY

Dear Members of the SA House of Assembly and Legislative Council,
The Advertiser has today run an article including false claims from nuclear lobbyist / uranium industry consultant / PhD student Ben Heard that Jay Weatherill’s plan to turn SA into the world’s high-level nuclear waste dump could be pursued without the need to gamble hundreds of millions or billions of dollars with no guarantee of any return on the investment.

Mr Heard is quoted saying that the “notion of high upfront cost to South Australia is a persistent and deliberate lie first peddled by deceitful environmental groups and now, sadly, taken up by the Liberal Party.”

In fact, the necessity of gambling hundreds of millions or billions of dollars ‒ without the slightest guarantee of any return on the investment ‒ is clearly spelt out by Jacobs, the economics consulting firm commissioned by the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission.

Jacobs Project Manager / Consultant Tim Johnson told the SA Joint Select Committee that “total expenditure prior to the decision to proceed” is likely to be from around A$300 million to in excess of A$600 million, depending on the timing of the decision to proceed. (Letter to Joint Standing Committee, 5 July 2016.)

Dr Johnson told the Joint Select Committee that the project entails very significant economic risks: “It isn’t a risk-free process to go into this. There is a very significant risk.” Yet the nuclear waste dump lobby persist with the fabrication that the project can be pursued without economic risks.

Jacobs noted the potential for initial outlays in the billions in its report for the Royal Commission: “Under the cash-flow assumptions of the baseline, where no revenues ahead of delivery are assumed (a deliberately conservative assumption), there is an initial outlay of A$2.4 billion (real) in net terms.” (Jacobs, Paper 5, sec 4.4, Cash flow profile for the baseline, p.205.)

Any suggestion that the nuclear waste dump project could be a quick fix for the SA economy were dispelled by the Royal Commission’s report, which stated (emphasis added): “Careful characterisation over several decades is required to confirm the suitability of the geological conditions.”

The only way to avoid gambling hundreds of millions or billions of SA taxpayers’ dollars would be in the wildly improbable scenario that potential client countries would take that gamble. If anyone needs any convincing as to the improbability of that scenario, it came late last year in correspondence from the Taiwanese government’s energy and nuclear agencies. As Daniel Wills reported in The Advertiser: “TAIWAN’S state-owned energy company has bluntly rejected Investment and Trade Minister Martin Hamilton-Smith’s claim the country would consider paying to help set up a nuclear waste dump in SA, saying in a letter that it “hereby declares this is a false information”.”

Taipower clearly states that it would not consider sending waste to another country unless and until that country has developed a repository. Yet the economic case developed by Jacobs and MCM collapses if revenue (and waste) is not received before construction of a repository. The Final Report of the Royal Commission states (p.300) (emphasis added): “Figure J.8 also demonstrates that a facility configuration scenario is viable only with the establishment of a surface interim storage facility capable of accepting used fuel prior to construction of geological disposal facilities. Configurations 3 and 4, which did not include interim storage facilities (see Table J.1), did not generate profits because of the delay in receiving waste and associated revenues.”

Taiwan’s Atomic Energy Council is clearly sensitive to SA public opinion, pointing to the Citizen Jury’s rejection of the proposal and noting that: “Without the understanding and support from Australian … nuclear waste storage cannot be developed.”

The nuclear waste dump lobbyists are hanging on to the ludicrous proposition that potential client countries will gamble hundreds of millions or billions of dollars on a waste dump plan that is:
* Opposed by three political parties in SA (Liberals, Greens, NXT) and by many within the ALP.
* Opposed by a majority of South Australians (e.g. 31% support vs. 53% opposition in the SA Government’s statewide consultation process; and a November 2016 poll commissioned by the Sunday Mail found just 35% support.)
* Opposed by a vast majority of Aboriginal Traditional Owners on whose land the high-level nuclear waste dump would necessarily be located. (The SA government’s Community Views Report said: “There was a significant lack of support for the government to continue pursuing any form of nuclear storage and disposal facilities. Some Aboriginal people indicated that they are interested in learning more and continuing the conversation, but these were few in number.”)
* Rejected by two-thirds of the 350-strong Citizens’ Jury “under any circumstances”.

Taiwan has clearly stated that it has no intention of gambling vast sums of money on a nuclear dump in SA and it is equally improbable that any other potential client country would do so. In which case South Australians would need to gamble hundreds of millions or billions of dollars on a project with no guarantee of any return on the investment.

Late last year, Mr Heard had to correct a statement falsely claiming that most South Australians support the high-level nuclear dump plan and he begins 2017 with another falsehood. He should have the decency to apologise to the Liberal Party and to environment groups for his latest falsehood and slander. Interestingly, the statement falsely claiming that most South Australians support the high-level nuclear dump plan was endorsed by SA’s Chief Scientist, Dr. Leanna Read. Shamefully, the state’s chief fact-checker didn’t bother to check her facts.

Mr Heard also conveniently ignores real-world experience with nuclear waste projects:
* Estimates of the clean-up costs for a range of (civil and military) UK nuclear sites including Sellafield have nearly doubled from a 2005 estimate of £56 billion (A$91.6 billion) to over £100 billion (A$163.6 billion)
* In 2005, the French government’s nuclear waste agency Andra estimated the cost of a deep geological repository at between €13.5 and €16.5 billion (A$19.0‒23.2 billion). In 2016, Andra estimates the cost of the repository at between €20 billion to €30 billion (A$28.1‒42.2 billion). As with the UK, the latest French estimates are nearly double the earlier estimates.
* Between 2001 and 2008, the estimated cost of constructing the Yucca Mountain high level nuclear waste repository in the USA and operating it for 150 years increased by 67%, from US$57.5 billion to US$96.2 billion (A$75.1 billion ‒ $125.7 billion). Yucca Mountain was abandoned – so the USA wasted US$13.5 billion (A$17.6 billion) and still doesn’t have a repository.

The Nuclear Economics Consulting Group report commissioned by the SA Joint Select Committee concluded that the nuclear waste import project could be profitable under certain assumptions but the report then raises serious questions about most of those assumptions. The NECG report notes that the Royal Commission’s economic analysis didn’t even consider some important issues which “have significant serious potential to adversely impact the project and its commercial outcomes”; that assumptions about price are “overly optimistic” and if that is the case “project profitability is seriously at risk”; that the 25% cost contingency for delays and blowouts is likely to be a significant underestimate; and that the assumption the project would capture 50% of the available market had “little support or justification”.

Finally, Mr Heard’s promotion of fast breeder reactors is beyond stupid. For all the rhetoric about Generation IV fast breeder reactors, and the US$100+ billion invested worldwide, only five such reactors are operating worldwide (three of them experimental) and only one is under construction (in India). Most of the countries that invested in fast breeder reactors have given up, deciding not to throw good money after bad. Last year, Japan decided to give up on the Monju fast breeder reactor, a fiasco that will cost Japanese taxpayers A$17.3 billion in construction, operation and decommissioning costs despite the fact that the reactor rarely operated.

The Royal Commission completely rejected proposals advanced by Heard and others for ‘advanced fast reactors’, noting in its final report that such reactors are unlikely to be feasible or viable in the foreseeable future; that the development of such a first-of-a-kind project would have high commercial and technical risk; that there is no licensed, commercially proven design and development to that point would require substantial capital investment; and that electricity generated from such reactors has not been demonstrated to be cost competitive with current light water reactor designs.

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