Archive for the ‘business’ Category

“Chernobyl” is scary. The costs of nuclear power are even more scary

June 23, 2019

What’s more chilling: watching Chernobyl or cogitating on the cost of going nuclear? Michael West Investigative Journalism Jun 20, 2019,  The sudden push by the Murdoch media and Coalition right-wingers to overturn Australia’s nuclear power ban ignores the chilling economic cost —  huge public subsidies, storing radioactive waste for thousands of years, the heavy costs of decommissioning and, potentially, radiation-related health costs. Veteran nuclear writer Noel Wauchope reports on the popular TV series, Chernobyl, and the economics of nuclear power.

THE frightening TV miniseries “Chernobyl” could put a few Australians off the idea of nuclear power but nuclear economics might turn out to be the bigger scare.

It is bad news for the Minerals Council of Australia and nuclear lobbyists, that Chernobyl has now arrived on some Australian TV screens, but pro-nuclear advocates are continuing to push their campaign anyway.

The miniseries “Chernobyl” has just finished in Europe and USA, outdoing “Game of Thrones” in popularity. HBO’s Chernobyl topped film and TV database IMDB’s list of the greatest 250 TV shows of all time.  The first episode was screened on 12 June, 2019 in Australia, on Foxtel.

The series has had a big impact. It was highly praised by numerous reviewers but criticised by pro-nuclear lobbyists, and infuriated some Russian politicians. ………

The Coalition’s renewed push for nuclear power

In March this year, 11 Coalition MPs (Andrew Broad, James Paterson, Tony Pasin, Tim Wilson, Chris Back, Craig Kelly, Eric Abetz, Andrew Hastie, Warren Entsch, Bridget McKenzie and Rowan Ramsey) urged then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to put nuclear power on the table as an electricity source for Australia. That call is now repeated by  Queensland and Coalition MPs calling for an inquiry into the feasibility of nuclear power in Australia.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he is open to considering nuclear power if it can stand on its own two feet. Energy Minister Angus Taylor told The Guardianon 12 June 2019 he wouldn’t rule out revising Australia’s nuclear ban “when there is a very clear business case which shows the economics of this can work”. Two days later, Environment Minister Sussan Ley also told TheGuardian she was open to the review considering a removal of the ban.

But — are the economics of nuclear power viable for Australia?

When even Australia’s former top nuclear promoter has doubts, it doesn’t look promising……….

How viable is nuclear power elsewhere?

Nuclear economics in America is really a tale of woe. You hardly know where to start, in trying to assess how much this industry is costing communities and tax-payers. There are the attempts to save the nuclear industry via subsidies. There are the continuing and ever-increasing costs of radioactive wastes.  There are the compensation payments to workers with radiation-caused illnesses, $15.5 billion and counting, and the legal battles over where to put the wastes. Needless to say, really, America is not initiating any new nuclear “big build”. The much touted “Small Modular Nuclear Reactors” are turning out to have no market and little prospect of being economically viable……

The UK nuclear industry is in the doldrums with repeated postponement of new projects – Hinkley Point C, Wylfa Newydd, Moorside, Sizewell C, Oldbury B and Bradwell B……The 2018 forecast for future clean-up of Britain’s aging 17 nuclear power stations has blown out to £121 billion which has had to be spread across the next 120 years……

France’s Flamanville nuclear project is taking years, remains bogged down with costly problems. Electricite de France (EDF)  has financial woes but hopes to save itself by switching from nuclear to renewables. France’s former nuclear giant AREVA went bankrupt and has changed its name to Orano and Framatome — and French tax-payers are still caught up in Areva/Orano costly legal corruption scandals.

Canada is up for increasing costs for managing its nuclear wastes. Interestingly, Canada abandoned its nuclear project for producing medical radioisotopes and now leads in non nuclear production of these isotopes.

India had grand plans for nuclear power, but has cut these back, and recently cancelled 57 reactors. It continues to have problems and many outages, at its huge Kudankulam nuclear station. ….

Russia keeps offering “generous” funding to the buyer countries. But will those countries end up with big debts? Reuters reports that in China“No new approvals have been granted for the past three years, amid spiralling costs” ……….



Global nuclear lobby doesn’t care if South Australia’s radioactive trash dump is not economically viable

August 26, 2016

toilet map South Australia 2

The global nuclear lobby surely does not care about whether or not the South Australian nuclear waste importing scheme is economically viable. Their fairly desperate need is to sell nuclear reactors to those countries that don’t already have them. In particular, the ‘small nuclear” lobby sees an urgency now, with ‘big nuclear’ failing, to get their industry happening.

A commitment by an Australian State to take in nuclear waste could do the trick for them – as Oscar Archer put it – by unblocking the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle.

Mixed motives in South Australia’s nuclear waste import plan. Online Opinion, Noel Wauchope, 23 Aug 16  In South Australia the continued nuclear push focusses solely on a nuclear waste importing industry. Yet that might not be economically viable. Behind the scenes, another agenda is being pursued – that of developing new generation nuclear reactors.

First, let’s look at the message. The message from the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission (NFCRC) is clearly a plan to make South Australia rich, by importing foreign nuclear wastes. …..This theme has been repeated ad nauseam by the NFCRC’s publicity, by politicians, and the mainstream media.…..

Whereas other countries are compelled to develop nuclear waste facilities, to deal with their waste production from civil and military reactors,that is not a necessity for Australia, (with the exception of relatively tiny amounts derived from the Lucas Heights research reactor).

So, the only reason for South Australia to develop a massive nuclear waste management business is to make money.

If it’s not profitable, then it shouldn’t be done.

Or so it would seem.

There is another, quieter, message. When you read the Royal Commission’s reports, you find that, while the major aim is for a nuclear waste business, in fact, the door is kept open for other parts of the nuclear fuel chain………

Nowhere in the NFCRC report, do they make a link between establishing the waste repository and planning for nuclear reactors. It is as though the two projects are not related. But they are.

The clearest explanation of this came early in 2015, just as the NFCRC was starting, in an ABC Radio National talk by Oscar Archer. He outlined a plan:

Australia establishes the world’s first multinational repository for used fuel – what’s often called nuclear waste. This is established on the ironclad commitment to develop a fleet of integral fast reactors …The development of the intermediate repository and the first reactors is funded by our international partners……

By unblocking the back end of the nuclear fuel cycles for our international partners and customers, rapid development in conventional Generation III+ nuclear technology receives a strong boost …

Each PRISM “power block”, or set of twin reactors, adds 622 megawatts of saleable zero-carbon generation to Australia which further improves the revenue position. …….The transition to PRISM world-wide is under-way on the back of Australia’s pioneering embrace of this technology with support of key partners.

Archer’s plan is significant because it illustrates a very important point about South Australia’s nuclear waste plan – IT SOLVES A GLOBAL NUCLEAR INDUSTRY PROBLEM. Both in ‘already nuclear’ countries, especially America, and in the so far non nuclear counties, such as in South Asia, the nuclear industry is stalled because of its nuclear waste problem. In America, the “new small nuclear”, such as the PRISM, technologies (Power Reactor Innnovative Small Module) cannot even be tested, without a definite waste disposal solution. But, if South Australia provided not only the solution, but also the first setting up of new small reactors, that would give the industry the necessary boost……..

Once Australia has set up a nuclear waste importing industry, the nuclear reactor salesmen of USA, Canada, South Korea, will have an excellent marketing pitch for South Asia, as the nuclear waste problem has been removed from their shores.. And South Asia is exactly the market that the NCRC has in its sights. The NFCRC eliminated most of the EU, Russia, China, North America as customers. This was explained by Dr Tim Jacobs, of Jacobs Engineering, (financial reporters to the NFCRC), at the recent hearing of the South Australian Parliamentary Joint Committee on Findings of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission .

Globally, the ‘conventional’ nuclear reactor business is struggling, The ever escalating costs of USA’s nuclear reactorsbeing built, of France’s Flamanville reactor, and most notable lately, Britain’s Hinkley C nuclear fiasco, have cast a gloom over ‘big nuclear reactors’

However, this is quite good news for the ‘small nuclear’ lobby. In the USA, the charge is led by Bill Gates, and a bunch of billionaires, who work to get governments, and taxpayer funding to support their novel nuclear reactor projects. In Britain, the nuclear charity (yes, it has charity status!) the Alvin Weinberg Foundation , and 33 new nuclear companies are practically ecstatic at the news that Teresa May’s government is having doubts about Big Nuclear.

Australia has its own cadre of small nuclear enthusiasts. These individuals have, in a short period of time, achieved world recognition as advocates for the various types of new small nuclear reactors. On the international scene, leading lobbyists are the Breakthrough Institute, with their Ecomodernist Manifesto. (They put in a submission to South Australia’s NFCRC), and Australian lobbyists Barry Brook and Ben Heard……..

South Australia’s government is influenced by a strong nuclear lobby push and the Royal Commission advocacy for solving that State’s present financial problems by a futuristic nuclear waste repository bonanza scheme.

The global nuclear lobby surely does not care about whether or not the South Australian nuclear waste importing scheme is economically viable. Their fairly desperate need is to sell nuclear reactors to those countries that don’t already have them. In particular, the ‘small nuclear” lobby sees an urgency now, with ‘big nuclear’ failing, to get their industry happening.

A commitment by an Australian State to take in nuclear waste could do the trick for them – as Oscar Archer put it – byunblocking the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle. The NFCRC plan also promises the chance of a market in Australia for the mini nuclear reactors.

Uranium mining companies come and go; taxpayers cop the clean-up costs

July 28, 2016


Taxpayers to foot the bill for mine closures, Independent Australia  26 July 2016 Mine rehabilitation – to avoid toxic seepage – is a costly business which taxpayers look likely to fund, writes Michael West.

MINING COMPANIES and regulators have gravely underestimated the costs of mine rehabilitation, leaving taxpayers in the gun for billions of dollars in clean-up costs, says Rick Humphries.

He should know. Humphries was Rio Tinto’s top adviser on land use before heading up mine rehabilitation for base metals groupMMG.

The environmental scientist has since “switched sides” to consult for conservation groups on mine closure.

Humphries told us in an interview last week:

“The problem is there is a very large and growing environmental liability and if it’s not put in check it will cost taxpayers dearly, and result in large scale degradation of national resources.”

There are some 50,000 abandoned mine sites in Australia. Many are small and old. Others though, such as Century Zinc Mine, Ranger Uranium and the first of the mega coal mines to close – Anglo American’s Drayton and Rio Tinto’s Blair Athol – are large, toxic and present a formidable challenge to close properly.

The humongous Ranger and Century open cut voids alone, will cost around $750 million to $1 billion to rehabilitate and the residual risks and liabilities for their parent companies (Rio Tinto and MMG) are as yet unknown. 

What has been missing in the clean-up debate so far, however, is specifics, detailed research that is of particular company exposures. It is only when investors come to grips with the costs of closure that company directors and regulators will properly address the challenge, says Humphries.

So he has been doing the rounds of stockbrokers and institutional investors in recent days with analysis of Oz Minerals, MMG, ERA’s Ranger Mine, Rio Tinto’s Blair Athol Mine and Australia’s dirtiest power generation assets, the YallournHazelwood and Loy Yang brown coal mines in Victoria.

It’s “heads we win, tails you lose”

Humphries’ report, Mine Rehabilitation and Closure Cost – a Hidden Business Risk, sheds light on the caprice and inaccuracy of closure provisions and how mining companies account for their liabilities……….

Risks and costs of mine closure are poorly understood

The case of Century raises serious questions over the accuracy of the provisions for MMG’s other assets, says Humphries, and it illustrates (along with the ERA case study below),

“… that mining companies have a habit of systemically underestimating the real cost of closure because the complexity, risks and costs of mine closure are poorly understood.”

ERA’s Ranger Uranium mine is the classic case of escalating cost estimates. Humphries details the continual revision of estimates over the years from $149 million in 2008 to more than $600 million this year. Rio Tinto’s Blair Athol mine enshrines a different challenge entirely, that of a major mining group flogging a depleted asset to a small player with little ability to fund a clean-up.

The deal is not done yet but an agreement was struck a few weeks ago for Rio to sell its Blair Athol coal mine to a small ASX-listed company TerraCom. The mine was sold for $1, including Rio’s slated $79 million clean-up liability.

But as the Humphries report notes, the financial assurance calculated by the government’s methodology comes up with a rehab cost of twice that, $160 million.

IEEFA director Tim Buckley describes this as a “heads we win, tails you lose” scenario for TerraCom’s promoters. The company has $150 million in debt and no equity and its success rides on a bounce in the price of thermal coal. It has risen lately but, as Buckley says, thermal coal appears to be in structural decline………

The Humphries Report illuminates the challenge for the mining sector and state governments and it contains just five case studies……

For the environment, the risks are clear, the Mary Kathleen uranium mine, once controlled by Rio, was rehabilitated and relinquished in 1986, winning an award for technical excellence at the time. The waste dump has since failed and the liability and attendant costs now reside with Queensland taxpayers.

Mary Kathleen, whose AFL side once won three regional premierships, is now a ghost town. Radioactive waste has seeped into the water systems.

This article was originally published on under the title ‘Mine voids: big party, now for the hangover’ and has been reproduced with permission. You can read more from Michael on his website and follow him on Twitter @MichaelWestBiz,9280

A money losing venture – importing nuclear waste to South Australia

June 8, 2016

South Australia mirage

Real juries hear both the Prosecution and Defence cases in open court. What I fear is that my fellow citizens selected for citizen’s jury duty will get to read and hear only what the State Government wants them to read and hear, so that they will give Premier Weatherill the “social licence” he wants in order to proceed with the dump.

South Australians do not need to mortgage their descendants’ future by building a high level nuclear dump in order to make ends meet. The alleged riches that the dump has been claimed to bring are a mirage, but the long-term risks are not.

How a high-level nuclear waste dump could lose money June 7 2016  The economic case for a high level nuclear waste facility in South Australia is far from convincing, writes Richard Blandy. 

The Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission delivered its report early in May. I submitted my InDaily article on the Royal Commission’s tentative findings to the inquiry for its consideration. I received no acknowledgement, but I know that the article was discussed within the royal commission’s processes. It does not appear to have had any substantive effect on the report.

Having read the relevant sections of the report, I continue to believe that South Australia should not use part of its land mass as a dump for highly radioactive used fuel from overseas nuclear reactors (sp-called “high level waste”) which, in the royal commission’s own words, “requires isolation from the environment for many hundreds of thousands of years”.

The only reason why most South Australians would give a high level nuclear waste dump even a second’s thought is because it is being sold to them as a financial bonanza – a no-risk economic lifeline to a state down on its luck. Something for nothing.

In the summary of its report, the royal commission says that a high level waste dump “could generate more than $100 billion income in excess of expenditure over the 120-year life of the project (or $51 billion discounted at 4 per cent)”. Note that the report says “could”, not “would”.

But, in Appendix J, the report says that “applying a commercial pre-tax discount rate of 10 per cent the net present value of profits to the State would amount to $11.5 billion”. This is a big reduction from the headline number in the summary of $100 billion.

Also in Appendix J, the report says the commission undertook sensitivity analysis of the value of the dump if less of the world market for used fuel were captured and the price was lower. The royal commission concluded that: “Under these scenarios, the project achieved lower profits than the baseline scenario, but remained highly viable.”

On the page following that statement, Figure J.6 shows that at a price for dumped nuclear fuel equal to Swedish costs of constructing a nuclear waste dump, and assuming half or more of the world’s available high level nuclear waste came to South Australia, the dump would have a net present value of profits of about $5 billion.

At a world price for dumped nuclear fuel equal to Finnish costs of constructing such a dump, the dump would have a net present value of profits of only about $2.5 billion.

In fact, if South Australia’s dump could only attract a quarter of the world’s high level nuclear waste, at prices equal to Swedish or Finnish costs of construction (approximately A$1.13m/tonne of heavy metal and A$0.65m/tonne of heavy metal, respectively), our dump would lose money and would have a negative net present value.

The reason why the royal commission says our dump could make more than $100 billion income in excess of expenditure is because a high price to dump used fuel has been chosen of A$1.75m/tonne of heavy metal.

The commission’s precise thinking on this point is worth quoting:

“Based on detailed analysis, the Commission considers that a reasonable baseline price for the purpose of assessing viability would be A$1.75m/tHM for used fuel. This is based on a reasonable baseline ‘willingness to pay’ estimate of A$1.95/tHM less A$0.2m/tHM to account for costs incurred by customers in preparing and delivering the waste to South Australia.
The financial modelling derived the baseline ‘willingness to pay’ figure of $A1.95m/tHM as a mid-point between the estimated highest and lowest willingness to pay.”

The truth, therefore, is that the price that the royal commission has chosen for its “baseline” analysis is a guess, based on its estimates of the costs that some countries might face to dispose of their waste themselves.

Economics I teaches that price equals marginal cost in a profit maximising competitive market – not “willingness to pay”. “Willingness to pay” is some price above the actual market price that varies from buyer to buyer. Only a perfectly discriminating monopoly supplier could charge each country a price equal to their willingness to pay.

We should not continue to entertain the fantasy that we have been given a “Get Out of Jail” card in the shape of building a high level nuclear waste dump in South Australia.

Is South Australia likely to be a global monopoly provider of high level nuclear waste dump services? This is not plausible.Many countries are going to build geological disposal sites for high level nuclear waste including, as the report notes, Belgium, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States of America. Four case studies examined by the royal commission itself – Belgium, Finland, Sweden and Switzerland – are located in crowded Europe, confront difficult terrain and heavy rainfall. The United States itself has a huge program of nuclear waste disposal. Further, the global “accessible market” for high level nuclear waste (in the commission’s parlance) excludes India and China.

Why are these countries not going to open up their own waste depositories to other countries? They have already decided to build nuclear dumps for their own purposes and have already found locations. The marginal cost of extending their dumps to take in high level nuclear waste from other countries will be low. They will be able to subsidise their own domestic waste disposal programs by taking in nuclear waste from other countries at a price above or equal to their low marginal cost.

The international price for dumping high level nuclear waste in the market that will form is very likely to be well below the average cost of Sweden and Finland, which are, in turn, far below the price used to predict huge profits from a dump in South Australia. In which case South Australia’s high level nuclear waste dump will be unviable, because it will have to cover all of its costs from sales, not just its marginal costs.

As if anticipating this prospect, the royal commission left itself an “out”, when it said: “The facility would not be developed unless the proponent could secure a pre-commitment of used fuel volumes at a price to fully fund the development of the project”.

I hope that the citizen’s jury that is being chosen to consider whether there is a “social licence” to proceed with a high level nuclear waste dump in South Australia will be allowed to read my articles, let alone have me speak to them. We should not continue to entertain the fantasy that we have been given a “Get Out of Jail” card in the shape of building a high level nuclear waste dump in South Australia.

Real juries hear both the Prosecution and Defence cases in open court. What I fear is that my fellow citizens selected for citizen’s jury duty will get to read and hear only what the State Government wants them to read and hear, so that they will give Premier Weatherill the “social licence” he wants in order to proceed with the dump.

South Australians do not need to mortgage their descendants’ future by building a high level nuclear dump in order to make ends meet. The alleged riches that the dump has been claimed to bring are a mirage, but the long-term risks are not.

As the royal commission’s report itself says: “A person standing one metre from an unshielded used fuel assembly would receive a lethal dose of radiation in a few seconds… used fuel requires isolation and containment from the environment for at least 100,000 years.”

This is safe? I don’t think so.

Richard Blandy is an Adjunct Professor in the Business School at the University of South Australia and a weekly contributor to InDaily.

Overseas junket of South Australia’ s pro nuclear businessmen and politicians to support Royal Commission’s nuclear waste dump goal

April 25, 2016


Business SA chief Nigel McBride, who will join the tour, told InDaily the delegation would examine “what most people regard as a state-of-the-art piece of engineering [in terms of a] high-level waste repository”. “We don’t want to see people rely on fear and oozing-green Simpsons-cartoon-like imagery”

SA leaders to tour key nuclear sites, Committee for Adelaide, 25 Apr 15    A high-powered delegation of South Australian business leaders and parliamentarians will jet off to Europe next month to visit key nuclear sites in a bid to facilitate a community debate on the merits of expanding the state’s role in the nuclear fuel cycle.

The trip was organised after consultation with Kevin Scarce’s Royal Commission, which last month handed down tentative findings outlining a multi-billion-dollar economic boon if SA established a high-level nuclear waste dump.

The delegation – to be capped at 10, plus prospective MPs and their staff – was organised by the Committee for Adelaide, an independent think-tank of community leaders, and will likely include representatives from environmental business consultants Golders, property group Knight Frank, engineering consultancy Mott MacDonald and Business SA, among others.

Committee for Adelaide general manager Matt Clemow told InDaily the tour would take in France, Finland, the UK and possibly Sweden, and was designed “to understand the issues and opportunities involved in the nuclear fuel cycle with specific focus on safety, alignment with agriculture and tourism, and associated industry regulations”.
“From the very start, one of the key purposes of the Committee for Adelaide was for industry to take a leadership role in important decisions,” he said…….
The tour also aims “to create a cohort of SA people who have experienced the operations of the nuclear fuel cycle and will be able to contribute to the public discourse”.

The delegation – whose members will pay their own way – departs in late April, returning the day before Scarce hands down his final recommendations on May 6……

 Business SA chief Nigel McBride, who will join the tour, told InDaily the delegation would examine “what most people regard as a state-of-the-art piece of engineering [in terms of a] high-level waste repository”.

“We don’t want to see people rely on fear and oozing-green Simpsons-cartoon-like imagery”

“I also personally want to talk about sovereign funds, and how they can work in situations where this kind of industry can be created,” he said…….

Pro-nuclear Labor whip Tom Kenyon is likely to join the delegation, while Liberal whip Peter Treloar confirmed: “I’ve had a couple of my Opposition colleagues express some interest in it.”

Treloar himself says he has been “very supportive of the RoyalCommission and very interested in it”.

He wrote on his blog in October after visiting the Lucas Heights reactor in NSW: “It’s my personal view that we shouldn’t sugar-coat the fact that we have a struggling state economy – an expanded nuclear industry presents us with a unique opportunity to turn around our economic fortunes.”

However, he told InDaily: “I can’t fit this trip in my schedule.”

Liberal MP Adrian Pedrick has also expressed an interest, but is yet to “fully commit”…….

Nuclear Industry an “unacceptable risk” says Australian Ethical Super

January 6, 2016


Logo Australian EthicalAustralian Ethical Super  Dr Stuart Palmer, Head of Ethics Research at Australian Ethical. 6 Jan 16 
We agree that the nuclear energy is a complex issue given the need to transition globally to low-emissions power. However, Australian Ethical has a strong negative screen on nuclear power for a range of reasons including:
· frequent association with nuclear weapons manufacture;
· radioactive pollution from uranium mines;
· the intractability of radioactive waste;
· the potential for catastrophic failure of nuclear power stations;
· security risks associated with the operation of nuclear power stations, and with the transport and storage of nuclear waste.
In our view these concerns outweigh the potential climate change benefits of nuclear power. Even with new generation nuclear plants we still consider the level of risk to be unacceptable, particularly given rapid advancements in renewable energy and storage technology.
I hope this information is helpful in explaining our approach.

Nuclear fuel leasing is an economic non-starter for Australia

November 9, 2015


Wasting Australia’s future on nuclear fantasies Jim Green, 9 Nov 2015, RenewEconomy

The appointment of nuclear power advocate Alan Finkel as Australia’s next Chief Scientist led to speculation that the federal Coalition government might be softening up Australians for the introduction of nuclear power.

But that speculation is likely misplaced. Finkel’s comments were actually quite nuanced and at least as supportive of renewables as nuclear power.

The Coalition is split on nuclear power. There are strident supporters such as foreign minister Julie Bishop, while others see it as an economic non-starter, a political liability, and a potential threat to their mates in the fossil fuel industries.

Much the same could be said about the ALP. Both the Coalition and the ALP are sitting on the fence for the time being, waiting for the South Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission to release its final report in May 2016.

At least some people in the Coalition and the ALP would be dimly aware of what’s actually happening in the energy sector. Globally, renewables are going gangbusters − renewable electricity generation has doubled over the past decade and costs have come down sharply.

Renewables account for 22.8% of global electricity generation (hydro 16.6% and other renewables 6.2%) while nuclear power accounts for 10.8%. The share of renewables is increasing while nuclear’s share is falling and is well down from the historical peak of 17.6% in 1996.

Nuclear power has been stagnant and costs are increasing. Planned ‘European Pressurised Reactors’ (EPR) in the UK provide the most striking example. A decade ago, it was anticipated that one of these reactors would cost A$4.3 billion. The current estimate is over six times greater at $26.2 billion. Current cost estimates for EPRs under construction in France and Finland are three times greater than the original estimates, and the reactors are many years behind schedule.

Nuclear fuel leasing

While sceptical about the prospects for nuclear power in Australia, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has given cautious support to the idea of a nuclear fuel leasing industry in Australia.

Such an industry would involve uranium mining, conversion (to uranium hexafluouride), enrichment (increasing the ratio of uranium-235 to uranium-238), fuel fabrication, and disposal of the high-level nuclear waste produced by the use of nuclear fuel in power reactors overseas.

In Turnbull’s words, “we have got the uranium, we mine it, why don’t we process it, turn it into the fuel rods, lease it to people overseas, when they are done, we bring them back and we have got stable, very stable geology in remote locations and a stable political environment”.

Regardless of its merits, a nuclear leasing industry is an economic non-starter. That much is clear from the data provided in the latest edition of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Nuclear Technology Review. The report notes that global conversion capacity of 76,000 tonnes uranium comfortably meets demand of 60,000–64,000 tonnes. Global enrichment capacity of 65 million separative work units per year comfortably meets demand of 49 million units. And fuel fabrication capacity of 17,500 tonnes uranium far exceeds demand of 10,000−11,000 tonnes.

Of course, sustained and significant nuclear power growth would boost demand for nuclear fuel cycle industries such as conversion and enrichment. But despite an awful lot of rhetoric about a nuclear ‘renaissance’ there are fewer operating reactors today than there were a decade ago.

And it’s doubtful whether new reactors will outnumber closures over the next 20 years. Steve Kidd, an independent consultant and economist who worked for the World Nuclear Association for 17 years, noted earlier this year that the “picture of the current reactors gradually shutting down with numbers of new reactors failing to replace them has more than an element of truth given the recent trends.” The International Energy Agency predicts a “wave of retirements” with almost 200 reactor shut downs by 2040.

Profits from nuclear waste?

It’s no secret that the driving force behind the South Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission is the idea that the state could make billions from storing or disposing of high-level nuclear waste for power reactors around the world.

Accepting nuclear waste might be profitable. Or it might not. Proponents are talking up the billions that might be made by making Australia the world’s nuclear waste dump but they have said little about costs. Since the volume of waste would presumably be large (as a commercial venture), the cost of a deep underground repository for high-level nuclear waste would likely be in the tens of billions of dollars. Plans for a high-level waste repository in Japan may be comparable: the estimated cost is ¥3,500 billion (A$40.8 billion).

The U.S. wasted over $10 billion on the plan for a deep geological repository for nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain in Nevada before abandoning the project. In 2008 the US Department of Energy estimated that the cost of construction and operation of Yucca Mountain over a 150 year period would be US$96 billion (A$135 billion).

And the waste would need to be monitored and problems addressed for millennia: it takes about 300,000 years for the radioactivity of spent nuclear fuel to fall to that of the original uranium ore. The annual cost of monitoring waste might be modest; the costs over millennia would be anything but.

Explosion in deep underground repository

The idea that nuclear waste can be safely disposed of in a deep underground repository has been shot to pieces by an explosion in the world’s only deep underground repository for nuclear waste − the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in the US state of New Mexico.

In February 2014, radiation leaks were detected and 23 workers were subjected to low-level internal radiation exposure. The cause was later determined to be a chemical explosion which compromised one of the radioactive waste barrels stored underground, followed by a failure of the filtration system which was meant to ensure that radiation in underground caverns did not reach the outside environment. The total cost to fix up the mess will approach $1 billion, and WIPP will be shut for at least four years.

Robert Alvarez, a former assistant to the US energy secretary, noted that a safety analysis conducted before WIPP opened predicted that one radiation release accident might occur every 200,000 years. But WIPP has been open for just 15 years and it is on track for over 13,000 radiation release accidents over a 200,000 year period.

Fires at radioactive waste dumps

Just nine days before the February 2014 explosion at WIPP, another accident took place at the same repository. A truck hauling salt caught fire, consuming the driver’s compartment and the truck’s front tyres. Six workers were treated at the nearest hospital for smoke inhalation and another seven were treated at the site. A report by the U.S. Department of Energy said the root cause of the fire was contractor’s “failure to adequately recognize and mitigate the hazard regarding a fire in the underground.”

Two other fires have recently threatened nuclear waste dumps in the U.S. A smouldering underground landfill fire, burning since 2010, has come within 400 metres of a nuclear dump in Missouri, and on October 24 a faulty switch started a grass fire which came within 70 metres of the nuclear waste before it was doused.

On October 18, a fire broke out at a radioactive waste dump in Nevada. The site has 22 low-level radioactive waste storage trenches. A video supplied by the private operator shows bursts of smoke and dirt flying from several explosions. County officials and law enforcement agencies declared an emergency. A state fire inspector surveyed the site following the fire and found  “heavily corroded” 55-gallon drums in and around one of the nuclear waste trenches. Two waste drums were found outside the fence line.

Maralinga fiasco

Is there any reason to believe that Australia would manage nuclear waste any more responsibly than the US? No. Is there any reason to believe that things might be worse in Australia? Yes. The US has a wealth of nuclear expertise at its disposal; Australia has comparatively little.

Moreover, Australia has its own troubled history dealing with long-lived nuclear waste. In the late-1990s, the Australian government carried out a clean-up of the Maralinga nuclear test site. It was done on the cheap and many tonnes of plutonium-contaminated debris remain buried in shallow, unlined pits in totally unsuitable geology.

A number of scientists with inside knowledge of the Maralinga project publicly noted their concerns. Nuclear engineer Alan Parkinson said of the ‘clean up’: “What was done at Maralinga was a cheap and nasty solution that wouldn’t be adopted on white-fellas land.” US scientist Dale Timmons said the government’s technical report was littered with “gross misinformation”.

Geoff Williams, an officer with the Commonwealth nuclear regulator ARPANSA, said the ‘clean up’ was beset by a “host of indiscretions, short-cuts and cover-ups”. Nuclear physicist Prof. Peter Johnston said there were “very large expenditures and significant hazards resulting from the deficient management of the project”.

Barely a decade after the Maralinga ‘clean-up’, a survey revealed that 19 of the 85 contaminated debris pits have been subject to erosion or subsidence.

Australia’s track record feeds back into the economic debate.  Some − perhaps many − countries would surely think twice about entrusting nuclear waste to a country that has proven that it is not up to the task.

Jim Green is the national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth and editor of the World Information Service on Energy’s Nuclear Monitor newsletter.

Many decades to cleanup Ranger uranium mine. Taxpayers to cop these costs?

July 1, 2015

as Ranger was authorised by the Commonwealth Government under 1953 Atomic Energy Act which primarily allowed the uranium to be used for military purposes, the Commonwealth and, ultimately the taxpayers, could be liable for the clean up if ERA was bankrupted.

Ranger-pitERA faces closure after uranium miner’s expansion plans shelved by Rio Tinto, ABC News, 30 June 15  By business reporter Stephen Letts Sorry history, uncertain environmental legacy Apart from the discharge of a million litres of radioactive slurry in 2013, Ranger has a sorry history of accidents with more than 200 environmental incidents being reported to government agencies since 1979.

Just how much Ranger’s clean-up will cost is open to question. Under existing legislation, once the lease expires early in 2021, ERA has five years to complete the rehabilitation program.

Gavin Mudd, a senior lecturer in environmental engineering at Monash University with a long standing interest in Ranger, argues there are problems calculating the final cost as it depends on a number of choices, including how long is an adequate period of monitoring radioactivity levels.

The level of radioactivity around the site is unlikely to be safe any time soon given the half-life of uranium-238 is 4.5 billion years. The half-lives of other principal radioactive components of mill tailings, thorium-230 and radium-226, are shorter at about 75,000 years and 1,600 years respectively, but it’s a rather academic distinction.

Currently there is not a stipulated period for monitoring levels of radiation at the site once the rehabilitation is completed. However, Dr Mudd said a monitoring program should be run over decades rather than years.

“Fifty years would be a good start,” he said.

“The $500 million is the basic truck and shovel number, just the earthworks part of the rehabilitation.

“Sufficient money needs to be put in a fund that will pay for on-going monitoring and I haven’t seen that done yet.”

That leaves a big question mark over what will happen if ERA runs out of cash according to Dr Mudd.

“If ERA ran out of money before the rehab was finished and went bankrupt, who picks ups the tab?” he asked. Dr Mudd argues that the existing rehabilitation fund has always been a small fraction of the total cost, because ERA maintained it was a profitable company and could cover the costs.

The mounting losses and depressed prices bring that argument into question.

Dr Mudd said, as Ranger was authorised by the Commonwealth Government under 1953 Atomic Energy Act which primarily allowed the uranium to be used for military purposes, the Commonwealth and, ultimately the taxpayers, could be liable for the clean up if ERA was bankrupted.

“A lot of the day-to-day regulatory stuff is handled by the

Northern Territory Government, so it’s difficult to say where the liability lies (if ERA was bankrupt),” Dr Mudd noted.

“I’d much rather have cash in a trust to cover it, rather than have taxpayers potentially foot the bill,” he said.

If there has been one constant at Ranger, Dr Mudd said it has been that ERA has failed to invest in good processes as decisions were constantly delayed “waiting for the next big thing”.

“A new water treatment plant would have only cost $10 to 15 million back in 2002,” Dr Mudd said.

“The cost of mine closures, clean-ups and retrofitting other technology since then is probably more than a billion dollars.”

“Mining stopped in Pit 1 back in 1994, but has only now been finally closed, about two decades later.”

Traditional owners demand ‘comprehensive clean up plan’

The traditional owners – the Mirrar people – are reluctant to discuss Ranger’s closure, apart from issuing a statement welcoming the decision.

“As things stand today we will not support any extended term of mining at Ranger beyond 2021,” the statement said.

“We take this position because of our experience of 30 years of environmental and cultural impacts at Ranger.

“We need to see a concrete and comprehensive commitment and plan for the clean up of Kakadu; that commitment and planning needs to start today.”……..

Shares in Energy Resources of Australia (ERA) lost more than 48 per cent of their value – the death spiral?

June 19, 2015

ERA shares in death spiral as prospects slashed, SMH, June 15, 20 Peter Ker The uranium miner operating beside Kakadu National Park may have zero chance of restarting mining at the site, according to UBS analyst Glyn Lawcock.

Speaking after shares in Energy Resources of Australia (ERA) lost more than 48 per cent of their value on Friday, Mr Lawcock said the decision to abandon plans for an expansion of the Ranger mine warranted a downgrading of the stock to a “sell” rating.

Many ERA shareholders were doing just that on Monday, with the stock falling a further 25.4 per cent or 17¢ to close at 50¢.

ERA shares were worth $1.29 at market close on Thursday, prior to ERA announcing that it would not go ahead with an underground expansion at the Ranger mine. That expansion, called “Ranger 3 Deeps”, was the only chance of future mining at Ranger, where mining of the third pit ceased in 2011……

Rio Tinto has offered to cover the shortage of funds to complete the rehabilitation, but it is believed that offer is conditional on ERA ruling out any further development at Ranger, something ERA is not yet willing to do……

The funding shortfall for the rehabilitation is believed to be close to $200 million, although Mr Drew speculated it could be as high as $500 million.

Uranium prices have been depressed since the Fukushima nuclear meltdown in March 2011, and that weakness was one of the major reasons why the underground expansion was abandoned….

Rio Tinto facing $300M writedown, landed with costs of Ranger uranium mine cleanup

June 13, 2015

Rio Tinto mulls $300M writedown as uranium mine expansion cancelled,  Cecilia Jamasmie | June 12, 2015 Mining giant Rio Tinto (LON, ASX:RIO) is contemplating to take a writedown of about $300 million after its subsidiary Energy Resources of Australia (ASX:ERA) decided to cancel plans to expand a uranium mine.

ERA, in which Rio has a 68.4% stake, said on Thursday that it would not proceed with the final feasibility study of its Ranger 3 Deeps uranium project in Australia’s Northern Territory, citing weak market conditions.

The decision underscores the ongoing strains in the nuclear industry following the Fukushima meltdown in 2011, which prompted Japan to mothball its 43 operable reactors, causing uranium prices to drop as a result of a worldwide supply glut……..