Archive for the ‘National’ Category

Australia’s Parliamentary Inquiry in Generation IV nuclear reactors: analysing submissions

May 25, 2017

Should Australia invest funds and resources in developing Generation IV nuclear reactors? Online opinion, 

By Noel Wauchope, 23 May 2017 Without any fanfare, with no media coverage, Australia’s Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCOT) is presently considering Australia signing up to the International Framework for Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems (GIF), which will commit this nation to take part in developing new nuclear reactors.Dr Adi Paterson, CEO of the Australia Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, signed up to this GIF Framework last year. However, that does require confirmation by the Australian government. Hence there was the need for the JSCOT Committee to at least take a look at it, before the government completes the membership. Apparently there is no need for public discussion, or probably even Parliamentary discussion.

This Committee very quietly invited submissions, and very few were in the know about this. Now the received submissions have been published – at http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Joint/Treaties/NuclearEnergy/Submissions.

Anyway, it looks as if ANSTO is the driving force behind this process, and judging by the submissions received, the nuclear lobby was in the know, even if the public was not. Fourteen submissions were received. Of these, eleven were strongly pro- nuclear, and three were opposed. The opposing submissions came from Friends of the Earth (FOE), (jointly with the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF ), Medical Association For The Prevention of War (MAPW), and myself, (I came upon the Parliamentary website just by chance).

In assessing these submissions, of course, I have to admit to bias on my part. Still, I think that any reader would find that there is one submission that stands out for clarity, and a detailed, factual discussion of the GIF plan. That is the one written by Jim Green and Dave Sweeney, for FOE and ACF.

Green and Sweeney respond to assertions made in ANSTO’s National Interest Analysis. They question claims that the new reactors reduce weapons proliferation risks, are economic, efficient, and solve waste problems. They rebuke the claim of ANSTO that “a significant expansion in nuclear power production is underway “, listing the overall decline in nuclear power growth, with the exception of China. They discuss at length the very long time frame expected even by nuclear industry experts, before any Generation IV reactors could be commercially viable.

They go on to discuss each of the six proposed new nuclear reactors, giving a detailed history of the attempts to develop each, and factual information that refutes those claims made by ANSTO. For all of their statements, Green and Sweeney provide evidence and references.

The Medical Association for Prevention of War (MAPW)’s submission questions the government’s high subsidising of ANSTO, and points out the poor prospects for private investment in new nuclear power. It refutes the argument that Gen IV reactors would solve the nuclear waste problem, quoting analysis by the US National Academy of Sciences. They discuss the history of attempts to develop Gen IV nuclear reactors: ” a track record of repeated failure and massive cost”. They discuss the direct and indirect costs, and ANSTO’s secrecy about nuclear costs. Safety and reliability issues, and proliferation risks, are examined. They also point out that the recent Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission (NFCRC) was not supportive of new nuclear technology. The Commission proposed:

…monitoring and reporting” of new designs, not participation in research and active subsidization. The Royal Commission also places emphasis on economic value for nuclear power generation, which is clearly entirely absent from fast reactor operations.

My own submission also discusses non-proliferation, nuclear waste, and claims about climate change, but it focuses on the lack of public information and discussion. In view of Australia’s laws prohibiting the development of nuclear power in Australia, I find it disturbing that the government is about to put money and resources into developing new nuclear reactors.

Now – to the eleven pro nuclear submissions. In general these faithfully repeat the claims made by ANSTO, stressing the value of Australia participating in an international forum. (e.g: submission from Australian Nuclear Association)

Now – to the eleven pro nuclear submissions. In general these faithfully repeat the claims made by ANSTO, stressing the value of Australia participating in an international forum. (e.g: submission from Australian Nuclear Association)

  • Most submissions praise ANSTO and universities ANU and UNSW for their expertise.
  • Then there’s the claim that nuclear power will decarbonise the economy. (submission by The Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE)). (and from Barrie Murphy)
  • Joining GIF will increase the visibility of Australia’s cutting-edge research (from Nuclear Engineering Research Group, School of Electrical Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, UNSW Sydney)
  • Would increase Australia’s ability to influence international policy – will increase the international status of ANSTO and Australia’s universities. (from Warren Centre for Advanced Engineering)
None of these submissions discussed the proposed reactors or provided any evidence for those claims…….http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=19049

Australia to join in developing Generation IV nuclear reactors, WITHOUT ANY PUBLIC DISCUSSION??

May 18, 2017

Submission to:  Inquiry: The Generation IV Nuclear Energy – Accession. by Noel Wauchope, 24 April 2017

First of all, I find it very strange that this agreement has been signed up to in advance, not by any elected representative of the Australian Parliament, but by Dr Adi Patterson CEO of the Australia Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, apparently pre-empting the results of this Inquiry!

I find it disturbing that this Inquiry is being held without any public information or discussion. Are we to assume that the decision to join this “Charter” is being taken without prior public knowledge?

It is a pretty momentous decision. According to the World Nuclear Association the 2005 Framework agreement “formally commits them (signatories) to participate in the development of one or more Generation IV systems selected by GIF for further R&D.”

The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 currently prohibits the development of nuclear power in Australia. Nuclear power cannot be approved under either the EPBC Act or the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act 1998.  These prohibitions are, as I understand it,  supported by all major parties in Australia?

This would be an extraordinary step for Australia to take, especially in the light of the recent South Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission (NFCRC) pro-nuclear Royal Commission, which, while recommending South Australia for an international nuclear waste dump, nevertheless stated that

The recent conclusion of the Generation IV International Forum (GIF), which issued updated projections for fast reactor and innovative systems in January 2014, suggests the most advanced system will start a demonstration phase (which involves completing the detailed design of a prototype system and undertaking its licensing, construction and operation) in about 2021. The demonstration phase is expected to last at least 10 years and each system demonstrated will require funding of several billion US dollars. As a result, the earliest possible date for the commercial operation of fast reactor and other innovative reactor designs is 2031. This timeframe is subject to significant project, technical and funding risk. It extends by six years a similar assessment undertaken by GIF in 2002. This means that such designs could not realistically be ready for commercial deployment in South Australia or elsewhere before the late 2030s, and possibly later.”

This was hardly a ringing endorsement of Generation IV nuclear reactors.

The South Australian Citizens Jury, Community Consultations, numerous economists, and the S.A. Liberal Party all rejected that nuclear waste plan, as not economically viable.  A huge amount of preparation was done by the NFCRC in investigating the phases of the nuclear Fuel Cycle (more accurately Chain) to arrive at their rather negative view of Generation IV nuclear reactors.

That makes it all the more extraordinary that the Australian government would be willing to sign up so quickly to ANSTO’s request that Australia put resources into these untested, and so far, non-existent nuclear technologies.

I hope that the Committee is aware of the present financial troubles of the giant nuclear corporations, such as AREVA, Toshiba, and Westinghouse Electric. Nuclear power is turning out to be a financial liability wherever it is not funded by the tax-payer, (as in China and Russia). (1)

The World Nuclear Association describes the Generation IV International Forum (GIF) as countries for whom nuclear energy is significant now or seen as vital in the future. Australia’s situation in no way fits these criteria.

Nuclear energy is not significant now in Australia, and even the NRCRC nuclear proponents do not see it as vital for Australia’s future. It is almost laughable, that right now, renewable energy systems are taking off in Australia – both as large solar and wind farms, and as a huge increase in small decentralised systems such as home and business solar panel installations.

That’s where Australia should be putting its resources of human energy, talent, and funding.

The claims made by the nuclear lobby, ANSTO and some politicians, notably Christopher Pyne and Julie Bishop, about Generation Iv nuclear reactors, do not stand up to scrutiny:

Non proliferation “-   Furthering Australia’s non-proliferation and nuclear safety objectives.” The well-known claim that a “conventional” nuclear bomb cannot be made from these new types of reactor, might be true, to a certain extent. However, IFRs and other plutonium-based nuclear power concepts fail the WMD proliferation test, i.e. they can too easily be used to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons. The use of thorium as a nuclear fuel doesn’t solve the WMD proliferation problem. Irradiation of thorium (indirectly) produces uranium-233, a fissile material which can be used in nuclear weapons.  These materials can be used to make a “dirty bomb” – irradiating a city or other target.  They would require the same expensive security measures that apply with conventional nuclear reactors.

If the purpose in joining the GIF is to strengthen non-proliferation and safety – why is ANSTO the implementing agent not the Australia Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office?

Solving nuclear waste problem? Claims that these new nuclear reactors will solve the problem of nuclear wastes are turning out to be spurious. For example, Nuclear energy startup Transatomic Power has backed away from bold claims for its advanced reactor technology after an informal review by MIT professors highlighted serious errors in the company’s calculations. (2) Even at the best of times, the “new nuclear” lobby admits that their Gen IV reactors will produce highly toxic radioactive wastes, requiring security for up to 300 years.
The Integral Fast Reactor is called “integral” because it would process used reactor fuel on-site, separating plutonium (a weapons explosive) and other long-lived radioactive isotopes from the used fuel, to be fed back into the reactor. It essentially converts long-lived waste into shorter lived waste. This waste would still remain dangerous for a minimum of 200 years (provided it is not contaminated with high level waste products), so we are still left with a waste problem that spans generations. (3)

Climate change. The claim that new nuclear power will solve climate change is spurious. This ignores life-cycle CO2 emissions

Nuclear energy is not zero carbon.

Emissions from nuclear will increase significantly over the next few decades as high grade ore is depleted, and increasing amounts of fossil fuels are required to access, mine and mill low-grade ore.

To stay below the 2 degrees of global warming that climate scientists widely agree is necessary to avert catastrophic consequences for humans and physical systems, we need to significantly reduce our emissions by 2050, and to do this we need to start this decade. Nuclear is a slow technology:

The “Generation IV” demonstration plants projected for 2030-2040 will be too late, and there is no guarantee the pilots will be successful.

Nuclear Economics. For “a time when significant expansion in nuclear power production is underway” – this is a laughable falsehood. In reality, nuclear power economics are in a state of crisis, most notably in America, but it is a world-wide slowdown. (4)

The vagueness of the Generation IV International Forum (GIF) agreement is a worry. Australia is to formally commit to participate in the development of one or more Generation IV systems selected by GIF for further R&D.  Surely Australia is not going to sign up to this, without any detail on what kind of research, what kind of reactor, what amount of funding we would be committing to the GIF.

And all this without any public discussion!

  1. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/apr/11/toshiba-losses-uk-moorside-nuclear-plant-westinghouse
  2.  https://www.technologyreview.com/s/603731/nuclear-energy- startup-transatomic-backtracks-on-key-promises/
  3. https://skeptoid.com/episodes/4555
  4.  http://reneweconomy.com.au/nuclear-industry-crisis-29735/

Generation IV nuclear reactors for Australia?- Useless for waste disposal, astronomically expensive for tax-payers

May 15, 2017

Here’s another fine submission to Australia’s Parliamentary Inquiry into Australia joining the Framework Agreement for Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems . This one blows out of the water any idea that these so far non existent reactors could solve any nuclear waste problem, or be in any way economically viable.  It also throws the spotlight on The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO). Just how much of tax-payers’ money is going to this secretive organisation?

The latest reason for generation IV reactors centres on the unsolved problem of how to safely dispose of spent nuclear fuel. The proposition is that plutonium and other long lived transuranics in reactor fuel (that like plutonium also create a disposal problem) could be used up in so called “burner” reactors.

Analysis by the US National Academy of Sciences found this proposal to have such very high cost and so little benefit that it would take hundreds of years of recycling to reduce most of the global inventory.

Should ANSTO propose collaboration can occur without further cost to the taxpayer, then a funding review should be conducted to establish what research is already being done by ANSTO, at what cost, for what purpose and at whose behest. With an average loss of A$200 million annually, ANSTO should be able to provide disaggregated accounts for both transparency and accountability.

Generation IV Nuclear Energy – Accession  Submission Medical Association for Prevention of War  (MAPW) PO Box 1379, Carlton VIC 3053 Australia (03) 9023 195 m. 0431 475 465 e. eo@mapw.org.au w. http://www.mapw.org.au

Executive Summary

MAPW recommends strongly against Australia becoming a party to this agreement. There is no proposal for Australia to get a nuclear power program.

This framework agreement applies to technologies that are economically, socially, environmentally, and from a nuclear security perspective, very dubious. Generation IV reactors are an assortment of proposed technologies that have been put forward over the last 70 years, tried and failed.

ANSTO is already very heavily subsidised by the Australian government, and extending its operations into this research sphere will require further scientific effort, expertise and funding. This is highly inappropriate given the current major constraints on government spending, and the urgent need to focus research energies on realistic, financially viable and proven measures to contain emissions from electricity generation.

Collaboration would mean taxpayer subsidies would go to an industry which has already wasted many billions in public funds and resulted in major adverse legacies. No private industry is prepared to invest in this research without large government subsidies because none are prepared to lose so much money.

It is also clear that Australia has no policy to use these long promised and never commercially delivered reactors. Therefore any involvement just subsidises those who hope to use them. If Australia wishes to expand its nuclear expertise, then research into “non nuclear waste” generating technologies (such as those to produce medical isotopes) would be much more productive and also be of positive benefit to the Australian population.

Background

Objectives of GIF Framework Agreement

1)The objective of this Framework Agreement is to establish a framework for international collaboration to foster and facilitate achievement of the purpose and vision of the GIF: the development of concepts for one or more Generation IV Systems that can be licensed, constructed, and operated in a manner that will provide a competitively-priced and reliable supply of energy to the country(ies) where such systems may be deployed, while satisfactorily addressing nuclear safety, waste, proliferation and public perception concerns.

2) Collaboration under this Framework Agreement shall be conducted only for peaceful purposes and in accordance with non-proliferation objectives and the Parties’ international obligations relating thereto; and on the basis of equality, mutual benefit, and reciprocity.

The Generation IV International Forum notes in its introduction:

For more than a decade, GIF has led international collaborative efforts to develop next generation nuclear energy systems that can help meet the world’s future energy needs. Generation IV designs will use fuel more efficiently, reduce waste production, be economically competitive and meet stringent standards of safety and proliferation resistance. Generation IV Nuclear Energy – Accession

The Gen IV International Forum guidelines aim for a lifecycle cost advantage over other energy sources and to have a level of financial risk comparable to other energy projects.

However the reality is dismal track record for both objectives. Fast neutron reactors providing easy access to plutonium for weapons.1

Statements that collaboration under the agreement will “only be used for peaceful purposes” clearly ignore the evidence from past use of this technology. An estimated $100 billion has been spent on development over more than six decades, with no commercially viable model found.2

Justifications for Generation IV systems

In the 1960’s there was concern was that global uranium supplies were limited. At this stage generation IV reactors were described as “breeder” reactors, aiming to solve long term energy supply problems by requiring much less uranium. But exploration since then has shown there are ample reserves of uranium globally. Russia and India have been two of the nations most concerned about uranium supply in the past, and continue to be among the nations most heavily subsidising these systems, despite changes in global availability of cheap uranium ore.

The next justification given for generation IV research was the difficulties arising from storing and disposing of spent fuel wastes from standard light-water reactors. The storage issues could be partially ameliorated by reprocessing, which separates out the one percent plutonium in the spent fuel. This does not remove the problem of ultimate disposal, but does provide a short term measure and defers the very difficult issue of how to safely dispose of spent nuclear fuel.

It was planned that the plutonium separated out could then be used as fuel for fast neutron reactors. However the increase in spent fuel reprocessing has significantly increased stockpiles of weapons grade plutonium.1 This clearly represents an increase in risk of proliferation of nuclear weapons.

The latest reason for generation IV reactors centres on the unsolved problem of how to safely dispose of spent nuclear fuel. The proposition is that plutonium and other long lived transuranics in reactor fuel (that like plutonium also create a disposal problem) could be used up in so called “burner” reactors. These would hypothetically leave behind mostly shorter lived isotopes that would be much less of a disposal problem.

Analysis by the US National Academy of Sciences found this proposal to have such very high cost and so little benefit that it would take hundreds of years of recycling to reduce most of the global inventory.3

In addition an economic analysis of reprocessing versus direct disposal of spent nuclear fuel found uranium found that uranium would need to cost more than $340 /kg to favour the use of fast reactors on a financial basis

  1. 3. The current price of uranium (March 2017) is $54/kg.

Generation IV reactors – a track record of repeated failure and massive cost

The unbridled optimism and powerful lobbying of the nuclear industry have been sadly let down over the many decades of investment in research in this area. Promises of electricity that was “too cheap to meter” have failed to materialise. Global nuclear capacity is one tenth of what was projected in the early 1970s. As can be seen from the 2010 table below, [on original]  the vast majority of fast reactors have been shut down.4

Since this table was published:

In September 2016 the Japanese government abandoned plans to restart the Monju fast breeder reactor, due to many failures. These include sodium coolant leakage and fires, accidents and failure to conduct safety inspections on safety critical equipment. The Japanese government had spent US$12 billion, and in 2012 it was estimated decommissioning would cost US$3 billion.56

India’s Department of Atomic Energy has promised construction of hundreds of fast neutron reactors, yet its test reactor (FBTR) took 26 years from planning approval to operation, and design work for a larger prototype (PFBR) started in 1985 and construction started in 2004. It has yet to start operating.

China has an experimental 20Mwe fast reactor, which has operated for less than one month in the 63 months from start up in 2010 to October 2015. Plans for a 600MWe and a 1000Mwe reactors have yet to be approved. According to the World Nuclear Association, at best China may have one commercial scale reactor by 2034.7

Russia has three fast reactors in operation and has announced plans for 11 reactors in the next 14 years, but their nuclear program (like India) has a history of very ambitious projections that fail to materialise. The current economic crisis in Russia means it is likely most new reactors will be cancelled.8

Germany, the UK and the US have all cancelled their prototype fast reactors, and France is considering a fast reactor but will not decide until the end of the decade.

Cost Issues

Economists classify costs as direct and indirect.

Direct Costs of fast reactors have been outlined, with an estimated over US$100 billion spent over six decades on development with no commercially viable model found.9

5 Running Monju reactor for 10 years would cost gov’t 600 billion yen extra August 29, 2016 Mainichi Japan http://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20160829/p2a/00m/0na/017000c accessed 25th April 2017

6 Decommissioning of troubled fast-breeder reactor Monju would cost 300 billion yen February 16, 2016 Mainichi Japan http://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20160216/p2a/00m/0na/005000c accessed 25th April 2017

7 World Nuclear Association, China’s Nuclear Fuel Cycle 6th December 2016 http://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/country-profiles/countries-a-f/china-nuclear-fuel-cycle.aspx accessed 22 April 2017

8 Slivyak , V. Russia is planning new reactors but prospects are murky August 2016 Nuclear Monitor https://www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/829/nuclear-monitor-829-24-august-2016 accessed 22nd April 2017

9 Cochran, T.B. et al. It’s Time to Give Up on Breeder Reactors Bulletin of Atomic Scientists http://thebulletin.org/2010/may/its-time-give-breeder-reactors accessed 22 April 2017 Generation IV Nuclear Energy – Accession

In Australia the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) is a statutory body of the Australian government. It would be the Implementing Agent in the framework agreement. The enthusiasm of this organisation for this agreement needs to be carefully weighed up by looking at cost and benefit.

In the 2015-16 financial reports ANSTO received A$156.7 million from the government in both the 2015 and 2016 financial years, and additionally had deficits of A$56.3 million and A$40.9 million respectively. So in the two most recently reported financial years, the government is already spending A$213 million and A$198 million annually on nuclear issues.10 Given the current climate of budget deficits and fiscal restraint it seems highly inappropriate to commit further expenditures, especially to an endeavour with such high costs and such a conspicuous lack of success. Interested parties however continue to push for increased role and subsidies, regardless of the likely outcomes.

Should ANSTO propose collaboration can occur without further cost to the taxpayer, then a funding review should be conducted to establish what research is already being done by ANSTO, at what cost, for what purpose and at whose behest. With an average loss of A$200 million annually, ANSTO should be able to provide disaggregated accounts for both transparency and accountability.

Allison MacFarlane, former chair of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, recently made this sarcastic assessment of fast reactor technology: “These turn out to be very expensive technologies to build. Many countries have tried over and over. What is truly impressive is that these many governments continue to fund a demonstrably failed technology.”11

Even the South Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission found the outlook for the deployment of fast reactors and other innovative designs had many significant challenges.

“Presently there are no operational fast reactors or other innovative designs that can be used to validate their potential for commercial deployment. Several countries have research and development programs for improved fast reactors, with some being in place since the 1950s, with significant challenges still to be overcome before commercial operation is achieved.”12

Indirect costs can also be referred to as opportunity costs. Any resources put towards this Framework Agreement means those resources cannot be directed to other crucial areas. Given the

10 Annual Report of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) for the period 1 July 2015 to 30 June

  1. September 2016 http://www.ansto.gov.au/Resources/Publications/AnnualReports/index.htm accessed 5th March 2017

11 Stapczynski,S. and Urabe,E. Japan’s Nuclear Holy Grail Slips Away With Operator Elusive 1st June 2016 https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-05-31/nuclear-holy-grail-slips-away-from-japan-with-operator-elusive accessed 25th April 2017

12 South Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission Report 6th May 2016 South Australian Government http://nuclearrc.sa.gov.au/ accessed 25th April 2017

clear need for emissions reduction in energy production, committing resources to renewable energy and developing energy storage would be far more likely to have a successful commercially viable outcome, without the major safety issues, nuclear proliferation risks and unsolved very long term toxic waste issues inherent in fast reactors. Existing light-water reactors are already too expensive compared with other forms of energy production.

131415 Even if eventually a commercial model was developed, the likelihood of fast reactors providing cheaper electricity than existing reactors is very remote, given their complexity, and major reliability and safety problems.

If the motivation of the government is to be a good global citizen, it could deliver a demonstrable benefit much more cost effectively and safely by subsiding reputable foreign aid organisations to deliver projects such as vaccination of children, or famine relief in East Africa.

Safety issues

Fast reactors have particular safety problems that have been a major factor in why they are so often shut down for long periods. Existing fast reactors use liquid metals such as sodium for coolant, which reacts violently with water and burns if exposed to air. Sodium fires have been responsible for shut downs in a large proportion of countries who have experimented with fast reactors. Indeed, in the 30 years of operating Russia’s BN-600, it has had over 30 incidents connected with sodium leaks and fires.16

Reliability issues

The vast majority of demonstration fast reactors have been shut down for most of the time that they should have been generating electricity. It is very difficult to maintain and repair equipment that is immersed in sodium, given the already described properties that make sodium likely to explode or catch fire when exposed to water or air. To undertake repairs the fuel has to be removed, the sodium drained and the entire system very carefully flushed to remove any residual sodium. This means repairs can take months or years. The world’s only commercial-sized fast reactor, France’s

13 Sophie Vorrath & Giles Parkinson 26 November 2015 Nuclear priced out of Australia’s future energy equation in new report Renew Economy http://reneweconomy.com.au/nuclear-priced-out-of-australias-future-energy-equation-in-new-report-67465/ Accessed 25th April 2017

14 Nuclear power The dream that failed 12 march 2012 The Economist http://www.economist.com/node/21549936 accessed 28th April 2017

15 Next-Generation Nuclear Reactors Stalled by Costly Delays February 2nd 2017 Bloomberg Markets https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-02-02/costly-delays-upset-reactor-renaissance-keeping-nuclear-at-bay accessed 28th April 2017

16 Galina Raguzina August 4th 2014 Holy grail or epic fail? Russia readies to commission first plutonium breeder against uninspiring global track record http://bellona.org/news/nuclear-issues/nuclear-russia/2014-08-holy-grail-epic-fail-russia-readies-commission-first-plutonium-breeder-uninspiring-global-track-record accessed 25th April 2017 Generation IV Nuclear Energy – Accession

Superphenix, was famous for its lengthy shutdowns. Its lifetime capacity factor (from time of grid connection in January 1986 to shut down in December 1996) was less than 7 % of what is would have been had it operated at full capacity. Japan’s Monju, the UK Dounreay and Prototype Fast Reactors and the US Enrico Fermi 1 Demonstration reactors similarly had very extensive shutdowns. Russia’s smaller BN-600 has done better, but only because of a willingness to continue to operate despite multiple sodium fires.

Proliferation risk

Fast reactors require the separation of plutonium from spent fuel. Any increase in this process increases access for creation of nuclear weapons, by both state and non-state actors. Indeed, India used plutonium from its fast reactor program to create its first nuclear weapon. This happened despite signed undertakings that India’s reactor technology would only be used for peaceful purposes. India continues to refuse to put its fast reactors under international safeguards so that plutonium production cannot be monitored.17 The significance of keeping their fast reactor outside of the safeguards regime has not been lost, especially on Pakistan. France used its Phenix fast reactor to make weapons grade plutonium.

Australia’s position on nuclear energy

The recent South Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission made a detailed exploration of the prospects of Australia commencing a nuclear power program.12 The Royal Commission found:

“Taking into account the South Australian energy market characteristics and the cost of building and operating a range of nuclear power plants, the Commission has found it would

not be commercially viable to develop a nuclear power plant in South Australia beyond 2030 under current market rules.

Given the prospect that new reactor designs, and in particular smaller reactors, might be viably integrated in the Australian electricity network, the Commission recommends that the South Australian Government also collaborate with the Australian Government to commission expert monitoring and reporting on the commercialisation of new nuclear reactor designs that may offer economic value for nuclear power generation.”

It is of note that the Royal Commission proposed “monitoring and reporting” of new designs, not participation in research and active subsidization. The Royal Commission also places emphasis on economic value for nuclear power generation, which is clearly entirely absent from fast reactor operations.

17 Ramana, M.V. A fast reactor at any cost: The perverse pursuit of breeder reactors in India 3rd November 2016 http://thebulletin.org/fast-reactor-any-cost-perverse-pursuit-breeder-reactors-india10124 accessed 25th April 2017 Generation IV Nuclear Energy – Accession

Research is open access

The hypothesis that being a party to this Framework Agreement would keep Australia “in the loop” and on top of the science is deeply flawed. This is publicly funded civilian nuclear research which is published in peer reviewed articles, so any interested party can get access to the science. If it is not accessible then we have to assume a) it involves weapons research; or b) it is unlikely to withstand peer scrutiny. Either way, as an important member of the IAEA, Australia can avail itself of the evolving research without participation – the two are not contingent.

Should Australia wish to increase its expertise in the nuclear research field, it would be of much greater benefit to research into “non nuclear waste” generating technologies (such as those to produce medical isotopes). Cyclotron manufacture of isotopes is the fastest growing branch of nuclear medicine. Such research would lend itself to international collaboration and most importantly have outcomes that are much more achievable and would actually be of benefit to the Australian population.

Conclusion

With any proposal, it is always worthwhile to closely examine the underlying motivation of the parties advocating for change, and who exactly is likely to benefit. Given Australia has no plans to have a nuclear reactor, and that all legitimate research in this area will be publicly accessible, it is difficult to see any community benefit in Australia participating. After 60 years of research there is still no commercially viable fast reactor, and these reactors pose major nuclear proliferation and safety hazards. No matter how elegant the physics behind the process, the outcomes have been very poor.

In an era of fiscal restraint, subsidising research on clearly failed, expensive and dangerous technologies is not in the public interest. Australian scientific effort, expertise and funding would be much better focused on areas where there will be a real benefit to the Australian community.

1 Cochran, T. B. et al. Fast Breeder Reactor Programs: History and Status February 2010

https://www.google.com.au/search?q=Cochran%2C+T.+B.+et+al.++Fast+Breeder+Reactor+Programs%3A+History+and+Status+&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&client=firefox-b&gfe_rd=cr&ei=HNr-WPOTEqHM8gf_3YH4Ag accessed 22 April 2017

2 Cochran, T.B. et al. It’s Time to Give Up on Breeder Reactors Bulletin of Atomic Scientists http://thebulletin.org/2010/may/its-time-give-breeder-reactors

3 Bunn, M. et al. The economics of reprocessing vs. direct disposal of spent nuclear fuel January 2005 Nuclear Technology 150 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/237772055_The_economics_of_reprocessing_vs_direct_disposal_of_spent_nuclear_fuelaccessed 25th April 2017

4 Cochran, T. B. et al. Fast Breeder Reactor Programs: History and Status February 2010

Destroyed! – the very poor case for Australia to develop Generation IV nuclear reactors

May 13, 2017

Today, I am taking the unusual step of publishing an entire submission. That’s because it is so good.  The nuclear lobby pulled a swifty on Australians, by having government and media very quietly do what is sure to be a “rubber stamp” job on Australia joining up to the Framework Agreement for Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems.

They allowed a very short time for submissions to the Parliamentary Inquiry. The nuke lobby must have been in the know, as they put in 11, whereas there were only 3, (one mine) critical of the plan.

Fortunately the critical ones contain compelling information. So, here, in full, is the:

Submission from Friends of the Earth Australia and the Australian Conservation Foundation .

Contacts:

• Jim Green (Friends of the Earth, Australia) jim.green@foe.org.au, 0417 318 368

• Dave Sweeney (Australian Conservation Foundation) dave.sweeney@acf.org.au, 0408 317 812

Contents

1. Introduction and Response to National Interest Analysis

2. Generation IV Reactor Concepts ‒ Introduction

3. Decades Away

4. Purported Benefits

5. French Government’s IRSN Report

6. US Government Accountability Office Report

7. The Slow Death of Fast Reactors

8. Integral Fast Reactors

9. Thorium 10. Small Modular Reactors 11. Fusion Scientist Debunks Fusion

  1. INTRODUCTION AND RESPONSE TO NATIONAL INTEREST ANALYSIS Friends of the Earth Australia and the Australian Conservation Foundation welcome the opportunity to make a submission to this inquiry and would welcome the opportunity to appear before a hearing of the Committee.

The Committee will likely receive submissions promoting the construction of Generation IV reactors in Australia and it is therefore worth noting comments by the SA Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission in its May 2016 Final Report: “[A]dvanced fast reactors and other innovative reactor designs are unlikely to be feasible or viable in the foreseeable future. The development of such a first-of-a-kind project in South Australia would have high commercial and technical risk. Although prototype and demonstration reactors are operating, there is no licensed, commercially proven design. Development to that point would require substantial capital investment. Moreover, electricity generated from such reactors has not been demonstrated to be cost competitive with current light water reactor designs.”1

Here we provide brief responses to a number of comments in the National Interest Analysis (NIA).2

The NIA asserts that participation in the Generation IV International Forum (GIF) will further Australia’s non-proliferation and nuclear safety objectives. No evidence is supplied to justify the tenuous assertion. There is much else that Australia could do ‒ but is not doing ‒ that would demonstrably further non-proliferation objectives, e.g. a ban on reprocessing Australian Obligated Nuclear Materials (AONM); a reversal of the decision to permit uranium sales to countries that have not signed or ratified the NPT; or refusing uranium sales to countries that refuse to sign or ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. There is much else that Australia could do ‒ but is not doing ‒ that would demonstrably further safety objectives, e.g. revisiting the decision to sell uranium to Ukraine in light of the ongoing conflict in that country, refusing to supply uranium to nuclear weapon states that are not fulfilling their NPT obligations, insisting that uranium customer countries establish a strong, independent regulatory regime (as opposed to the inadequate regulation in a number of customer countries, e.g. China, India, Russia, Ukraine and others).

Nuclear non-proliferation would also be far better realised by active Australian engagement in the current UN process around the development of a nuclear weapons ban treaty. Instead Australia has spurned this pivotally important initiative and is refusing to participate. If Australia is serious about its international standing, our representatives would be at the table in New York.

The NIA states that ongoing participation in GIF will help Australia maintain its permanent position on the IAEA’s 35-member Board of Governors. ANSTO routinely makes such arguments ‒ in support of the construction of the OPAL reactor, in support of the development of nuclear power in Australia, and now in support of Australian participation in GIF. Australia has held a permanent position on the IAEA’s Board of Governors for decades and there is no reason to believe that participation or non-participation in GIF will change that situation.

The NIA asserts that accession to the Agreement and participation in GIF will have important economic benefits. No evidence is supplied to justify that tenuous assertion. There are no demonstrated economic benefits from participation in GIF ‒ however there are clear costs.

The NIA states that the “costs of participation in the System Arrangements will be borne by ANSTO from existing funds.” ANSTO should be required to provide a detailed account of past expenditure relating to this Agreement and anticipated future expenditure.

The NIA states that ongoing participation in GIF “will improve the Australian Government’s awareness and understanding of nuclear energy developments throughout the region and around the world, and contribute to the ability of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) to continue to provide timely and comprehensive advice on nuclear issues.” Those arguments are tenuous, especially given that little about GIF is secret.

The NIA states that “Generation IV designs will use fuel more efficiently, reduce waste production, be economically competitive, and meet stringent standards of safety and proliferation resistance.” Those false claims are rebuked in later sections of this submission.

The NIA states that the success of Australia’s bid for membership of GIF was based in part on ANSTO’s “world-class capabilities and expertise” in the “development of nuclear safety cases.” ANSTO should be asked to justify that assertion. ANSTO could also be asked whether, based on its “world-class” expertise in nuclear safety, whether it considers it is appropriate for Australia to sell uranium to countries with demonstrably inadequate nuclear regulatory regimes, e.g. China, India, Russia, Ukraine and others.

The NIA asserts that “a significant expansion in nuclear power production is underway or under consideration by a number of countries, including several in the Asia Pacific region.” In fact:

  • Globally, nuclear power has been stagnant for the past 20 years.
  • For the foreseeable future, there is zero likelihood of a “significant” nuclear expansion of nuclear power and there will be an overall decline unless growth in China matches the decline elsewhere. Declines can be predicted with great confidence in North America, across all EU countries combined, in Japan, and in numerous other countries and regions ‒ and a very large majority of the world’s countries (about five out of six) are nuclear-free and plan to stay that way.
  • No country in the Asia Pacific or South East Asia is seriously planning to introduce nuclear power. The only country that was seriously planning to introduce nuclear power in the region ‒ Vietnam ‒ abandoned those plans last year.

The NIA states that Australia’s participation in GIF falls within the existing functions of ANSTO under Section 5 of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation Act 1987. The Joint Standing Committee on Treaties should assess whether Australia’s participation in GIF is consistent with legislation banning nuclear power in Australia (the EPBC and ARPANS Acts). 2.

2. GENERATION IV REACTOR CONCEPTS ‒ INTRODUCTION (more…)

Secretive push to get Australia to join Generation IV nuclear reactor development

May 13, 2017

The Parliamentary Committee Inquiry on Australia joining the Framework Agreement for International Collaboration on Research and Development of Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems has now published the submissions that it received.

As this Inquiry has been kept quite secret from the media and the public, it is not surprising that nearly all of the submissions have come from companies and individuals with either a very clear, or a vested, interest in the nuclear industry.

For the moment, I will just single out one that particularly interested me. This is from SMR Nuclear Technology Pty Ltd .  They don’t actually have much to say about Small Modular Nuclear Reactors, but just go on to fulsome praise of Generation IV nuclear reactors in general, and of ANSTO.:

…….SMR Nuclear Technology Pty Ltd is an independent Australian specialist consultancy established to advise on the siting, development and operation of safe nuclear power generation technologies, principally Small Modular Reactors (SMRs). Two of SMR-NT’s directors were senior managers at ANSTO and have a good understanding of the facilities and capabilities of ANSTO…..

SMR Nuclear Technology Pty Ltd most warmly supports Australia acceding to the Framework Agreement for International Collaboration on Research and Development of Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems as extended by the Agreement extending the Framework Agreement for International Collaboration on Research and Development of Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems” more http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Joint/Treaties/NuclearEnergy/Submissions

SMR Nuclear Technologies sounds pretty much like ANSTO in disguise.

They dropped a little hint of what ANSTO is up to, in their previous, (rather weak and contradictory) submission to the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission, in which they stated: “Thorium is now being revisited, particularly in China. Australia (ANSTO) is assisting with this work” –  http://nuclearrc.sa.gov.au/app/uploads/2016/03/SMR-Nuclear-Technology-Pty-Ltd-30-07-2015.pdf

We didn’t know that the Australian tax-payer was funding thorium nuclear reactor development in China, did we?

The continued move by the nuclear lobby to have South Australia as a radioactive trash dump

May 13, 2017

By Annie McGovern. 23rd April 2017  (this is an extract from the Adelaide Forum held very recently, to discuss this question) “….ENDNOTE  These observations have been gleaned from a fairly
random search for relevant information which was also confined by the time available to process and present these findings. These are offered at this time as an additional body of information that may help fill some of the gaps in the thrust to force further nuclear energy production and waste disposal on the people of S. A.

Amongst the many recommendations of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission there were 3 major points which raise concerns regarding the possible imminent changes to Legislation in S.A. The Royal Commission has urged the State Government to fast-track these Legislative changes, even though there are no current viable plans for any nuclear industry developments in S.A. at this time.

  1. Modification of the State Waste Dump Prohibition Laws. This Legislation was almost immediately amended following presentation of the Royal Commission’s findings, to allow Government spending on proposals for the Waste Dumps. The further question of approval of nuclear waste dumps in S.A. was put to the Labour State Conference and became a stalemate to which no decision could be made. Progress of changes to Legislation on this proposal was interrupted.
  1. Legislation that would allow contracts of Uranium sales to be tied to obligations on S.A. taking back the resultant waste. The Royal Commission sees this possibility as an enhancement to capture sales of Uranium, despite there being no approval for waste disposal in S. A. at this time, and, the fact that no such facility would be capable of fulfilling the contract until well into the future. The Royal Commission appears to be determined to place the people of S.A. into an intractable situation where industry is forcing obligation through contractual arrangements. However, a caveat might be placed on such contracts that are not plausible…an explicit caveat and the risk is borne by the signing parties. A letter of advice is provided to the signatory and the Annual AGM of companies involved informed of this unethical business practice.
  2. Legislative changes to allow Nuclear Power production. Despite there being no overt plans for these developments within the foreseeable future, the Royal Commission is encouraging making changes now for future development. The absence of a ready nuclear waste disposal dump has historically been a constraint on Australia and the world in the development of greater Nuclear ambitions. Reports of illegal dumping and covert placement of radioactive waste abound both here and across the world. Reports of French waste being held at Lucas Heights and American wasteat Pine Gap are recent additions to these claims.Despite peoples’ efforts over many generations to call for and act on Peaceful Principles in our World, Environmental Sustainability and Productivity based on Need rather than Greed, capitalism and its theory of perpetual growth continues to drive forward in an overtly destructive manner.The continued focus on South Australia to perpetuate the nuclear travesty on our planet is acknowledged through this Forum and collectively we stand against this invasion. We walk with the Protectors of Country with Respect for Life.

Submissions until 28 April to Australian govt’s secret nuclear inquiry, but nobody knows about this

April 26, 2017

The gift of the ‘GIF’: Generation IV International Forum, Independent Australia,  19 April 2017 The Turnbull Government has quietly signed Australia up to the GIF Framework Agreement for the development of Gen IV nuclear reactors and is currently conducting a Parliamentary Inquiry of which most of us are unaware, writes Noel Wauchope.

YOU HAVE probably never heard of the “GIF”.

I hadn’t, until just this week when by chance, I heard of the Parliament Inquiry into the Framework Agreement for International Collaboration on Research and Development of Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems.

The Committee consists of nine Liberal MPs, six Labor and one Green.

That inquiry is being held now and the Committee calls, or more correctly, whispers, for submissions by 28 April 2017.

It is all about the GIF — Generation IV International Forum. The Australian Government signed up to this, in 2016, without any public discussion.

What is The Generation IV International Forum (GIF)?

An international collection of 14 countries: Argentina, Brazil, Canada, France, Japan, South Korea, South Africa, the UK and the USA (original charter members, 2005); Switzerland, Euratom, China, Russia and Australia (signed later).

The World Nuclear Association describes the collection as countries for whom:

‘ … nuclear energy is significant now and also seen as vital for the future’.

What is the 2005 Framework Agreement AKA “the charter”?

According to the World Nuclear Association the 2005 Framework Agreement:

‘ … formally commits them [signatories] to participate in the development of one or more Generation IV systems selected by GIF for further R&D.’

Australia signed the charter on 22 June 2016 represented by Dr Adi Patterson, COE of the Australia Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO). — pending this Joint Standing Committee on Treaties review. ANSTO is to be the implementing agent.

When the Australian Government quietly signed up to the GIF, it made no commitment to any particular action towards developing new nuclear reactors.  Other countries – including Japan, Canada, France, South Korea – have committed to working on particular types of Generation IV reactors. Australia might be expected to not only fully sign up as a member of the charter but perhaps also to provide funding and resources to develop one or more types.

Australia’s signing of the GIF

Media reports indicate Australia made a bid, or approach, to join GIF. The active seeking out of such an agreement that is at odds with public opinion, at odds with the current government’s policy position on nuclear power and is inconsistent with Australian laws, which prohibit the use of this technology, is astounding…….

ANSTO makes a number of questionable assumptions about Australia joining in developing new nuclear reactors. For example, ANSTO claims that it would ‘further Australia’s non-proliferation and nuclear safety objectives’, and ‘further strengthen our claim as the most advanced nuclear country in SEAP’ and will position Australia to develop Generation IV reactors.

There are so many questions about — one hardly knows where to start:…….https://independentaustralia.net/politics/politics-display/the-gift-of-the-gif-generation-iv-international-forum,10215#.WPbL2mlNX7g.twitter

Australian public unaware of government’s secret sign-up to developing Generation IV Nuclear Reactors

April 26, 2017

Under the radar: Parliamentary Committee preparing for Australia to sign up to more participation in developing new nuclear reactors 

Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCOT) inquiry into the Agreement for Research and Development on Generation IV nuclear reactors that Australia signed in June 2016, without any public discussion .
Inquiry Homepage: Submissions close 28 th April 2017 Inquiry Homepage: http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Joint/Treaties/NuclearEnergy
There are six reactor technologies described as Gen IV. A 2014 industry update on the road map for development of these 6 technologies can be seen here. In short all 6 technologies are in the ‘viability’ (conceptual) or ‘performance’ (engineering) phase. The earliest prediction for the development of a prototype would be 2022, but it’s expected it will take much longer.
What are Gen IV (Generation IV Reactors) ? There are six reactor technologies described as Gen IV. A 2014 industry update on the road map for development of these 6 technologies can be seen here. In short all 6 technologies are in the ‘viability’ (conceptual) or ‘performance’ (engineering) phase. The earliest prediction for the development of a prototype would be 2022, but it’s expected it will take much longer.
What is the 2005 Framework Agreement aka ‘the Charter’? According to the World Nuclear Association the 2005 Framework agreement “formally commits them (signatories) to participate in the development of one or more Generation IV systems selected by GIF for further R&D.” Australia signed the ‘Charter’ on 22 nd June 2016 –by Dr Adi Patterson COE of the Australia Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation. (pending this JSCOT review). ANSTO is to be the implementing agent.
Australia’s signing of the GIF Media reports indicate Australia made a bid or approach to join GIF. The active seeking out of such an agreement that is at odds with public opinion, at odds with the current
Governments policy position on nuclear power and is inconsistent with Australian laws which prohibit the use of this technology is astounding.

What the Gov’t said in 2016 in relation to joining GIF:
Christopher Pyne, said:

“Australia’s invitation to join this important global project marks an exciting opportunity to be at the forefront of global innovation in the nuclear industry.” He added, “Inclusion in the GIF further strengthens Australia’s position as a nation that has the research muscle to deliver innovations on the global stage. It reinforces the governments 1 $billion National Innovation and Science Agenda, encouraging our best and brightest researchers to collaborate with international experts.”


Julie Bishop said in relation to joining GIF 

“Australia has firm non-proliferation goals and nuclear safety objectives, and contributing to the global conversation on this level is an opportunity to assist in the research that is making nuclear technologies safer around the world in the long term.”

Australians should reject the government’s secret joining in Generation IV Nuclear Systems – Submissions due by 28 April

April 18, 2017

Submissions received until 28 April by Parliamentary Committee

Right now a Parliamentary Committee is considering Australia’s further involvement in the ‘Charter’  or   Framework Agreement for International Collaboration on Research and Development of Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems. The Committee consists of 9 Liberal MPs, 6 Labor, and one Green.

Australia secretly signed the ‘Charter’ on 22 nd June 2016 – signed by
Dr Adi Patterson COE of the Australia Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation. (pending this JSCOT review). ANSTO is to be the implementing agent.

The An international collection of 14 countries: Argentina, Brazil, Canada, France, Japan, South Korea, South Africa, the UK and the USA ( original charter members 2005) Switzerland, Euratom, China, Russia and Australia (signed later)  . The World Nuclear Association describes the collection as countries for whom nuclear energy is significant now or seen as vital in the future.

When the Australian government quietly signed up to the GIF, it made no commitment to any particular action towards developing new nuclear reactors.  Other countries, including Japan, Canada, France, South Korea, have committed to working on particular types ofGeneration IV reactors Australia might be expected to not only fully sign up as a member of the Charter, but perhaps also to provide funding and resources to develop one or more types.

Involvement of various countries in developing particular types of new nuclear reactor

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

February 4, 2017

heardben

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.

——————————————————————————–

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.