Uncertainty about the clean-up of Ranger uranium mine in Australia’s Northern Territory

June 12, 2017

Environment and Communications Legislation Committee 23/05/2017 Estimates
ENVIRONMENT AND ENERGY PORTFOLIO
Clean Energy Regulator

Full Transcript: http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;adv=yes;orderBy=customrank;page=0;query=Dataset%3AcomSen,estimate%20Dataset_Phrase%3A%22estimate%22%20CommitteeName_Phrase%3A%22environment%20and%20communications%20legislation%20committee%22%20Questioner_Phrase%3A%22ludlam,%20sen%20scott%22;rec=5;resCount=Default

CHAIR: I welcome the Office of the Supervising Scientist.

Senator LUDLAM: I understand that ERA is in the process of starting to get on with closing the Ranger uranium mine in Kakadu and have notified stakeholders—presumably including yourselves—that they are intending to vary the way that they are depositing the tailings back into pit 3, and that they are proposing to change from an aerial tailings deposition to subaqueous deposition. For the non-specialists, could you describe maybe in plain English the difference in technique they are proposing.

Mr Tayler : The previous tailings deposition methodology had tailings being dredged from the tailings dam and tailings coming from the mill being deposited onto a beach, essentially. The new methodology that ERA is proposing involves depositing tailings through water; hence the subaqueous versus subaerial. Essentially, it was being put onto a tailings beach; the new method will be depositing it through the water column itself.

Senator LUDLAM: Is the decommissioning of the mine being treated as a nuclear action under the EPBC Act?

Mr Tayler : No.

Senator LUDLAM: Can you describe for us why not?

Mr Tayler : I would prefer that questions specific to the EPBC Act were directed to the Environmental Standards Division, or we could take it on notice if that is okay.

Senator LUDLAM: I think that is fair enough. If you can take it on notice, but I guess the answer is not going to come from you, is it? I think we have already let these people go.

Mr Tayler : Yes, it is a legal point, and I would not want to comment on that in case I got it wrong.

Senator LUDLAM: That is fine. I understand there is an interception trench, which intersects the saline plume coming out from under the tailings storage facility. We have been asking your predecessors in this office for years about this. My understanding is that ERA is currently monitoring that plume of saline water. There is a certain amount of dewatering that is being done. How long is it expected that monitoring and dewatering operations would continue beyond 2020?

Mr Tayler : In relation to the seepage—

Senator LUDLAM: In 2026, I beg your pardon. In relation to the monitoring of that saline plume and the dewatering.

Mr Tayler : Specifically related to the tailings dam?

Senator LUDLAM: Yes.

Mr Tayler : That is not information that we currently have. It is on ERA’s work program to conduct some detailed groundwater modelling of the TSF footprint. The TSF will not be decommissioned for several years yet, so I could not give you a specific answer to that question at this time.

Senator LUDLAM: When is the expected decommissioning date for the tailings storage facility?

Mr Tayler : I would have to take that on notice for the exact date. I believe it was towards the end of the rehabilitation process, which would put it in the 2024-25 period, but I will confirm that for you.

Senator LUDLAM: I will tell you what the purpose of these questions is: we have a plume of saline water that ERA was a bit reluctant to concede even existed, seeping out from under the dam, carrying goodness knows what other processed chemicals and radionuclides and whatever with it. We have the company with interception trenches, possibly bores, trying to get a sense of how much water is falling out the bottom of the TSF. We have an interception trench which is allowing them to remove some of that water and presumably process it and clean it up. That is a very active process of maintenance. How long is it anticipated to last?

Mr Tayler : Yes, I understand the question. At this stage, I do not have sufficient information to answer that question.

Senator LUDLAM: In terms of a yes/no. Is that because you do not have it at the table or you do not think that knowledge exists at this time?

Mr Tayler : I do not think that knowledge exists at this time. We need ERA to complete some proposed groundwater modelling. That will model the movement of that plume. That will give some indication of how long that plume will take to move, how long it will take to dilute and what management, if any management, will be required. That work has not yet been undertaken.

Senator LUDLAM: It is 2017. How does the ERA not know that already? I have been asking about this for about eight years, and this was an issue way before I came along.

Mr Tayler : Operationally, I think the issue has been quite well managed. We can provide an update on that if that would be helpful. From a long-term closure sense, the focus has been on looking at the groundwater impacts from the pits. Further work is still required on quantifying exactly what is beneath the TSF and what that may look like in the future.

Senator LUDLAM: So they still do not really know what is coming out from underneath the dam?

Mr Tayler : In an operational sense, we know very well exactly what is moving now. How that will behave over the long term into the future is not yet quantified.

Senator LUDLAM: Could you provide us with an estimate of how much water is seeping out from under the TSF every year? We have had order of magnitude estimates going back a couple of years.

Mr Tayler : For the whole dam? I would have to take that on notice.

Senator LUDLAM: Thank you. What I am trying to find out is whether that process is still going to be underway beyond 2026 or if it is within the company’s work plan that it is all well and truly done.

To 11 June – Nuclear and Climate news

June 10, 2017

of interest:   Radiological and nuclear incidents – the IAEA database

In the anglophone world, nuclear and climate are not top of the news at the moment, but are lurking not far beneath it. Terrorism events enhance the concern about radiation – “dirty bombs” etc.  Theresa May’s unsatisfactory result at the British election makes it harder for her to negotiate the exit from the European Atomic Community (“Euratom”). In America the unfolding saga of the the sacked FBI director Comey, and the  investigation into Michael Flynn and the Trump election campaign, has now revealed Flynn’s involvement in a truly weird nuclear marketing scheme.

As for climate change action – well, China is taking over the leadership. China and California are setting up their own climate accord. A joint commitment to fight climate change – European Union and China. America is really “still in it” as More than 1,000 U.S. governors, mayors, investors, universities, and companies  pledge to meet the goals of the Paris agreement.

AUSTRALIA

Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel released his report on future energy planning. I think that the report is good. It is real realpolitik, in the light of all of Australia’s political conflicts about energy. The report just might let PM Malcolm Turnbull actually get some energy planning happening – nothing extreme in its promotion of renewable energy, nothing that would promote the coal power industry, while allowing it to die quietly. Nuclear is not mentioned, nor is it condemned.

NUCLEAR.  South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill declares the nuclear waste importing plan “dead”

ANSTO’s Dr Adi Paterson signed Australia up to New Nuclear club with NO Parliamentary discussion!   Senator Scott Ludlam asked inconvenient questions at Senate Estimates Committee about Australia’s role in nuclear weapons ban negotiations.    Australia’s diplomats called “weasels” on Australia’s stand against nuclear weapons ban treaty

Senator Scott Ludlam asked inconvenient questions at Senate Estimates Committee on the cleanup of the Ranger uranium mine

ENERGY  

CLIMATE CHANGE. Traditional Owners fighting Adani mine query Labor’s support for Native Title Bill  Adani announces “green light” for expanded coal mine, but still hasn’t got the finance. Adani ‘investment decision’ meaningless without Indigenous consentReligious leaders in active opposition to Adani coal mine project.

INTERNATIONAL

NORTH KOREA. Defiant North Korea vows to continue its nuclear weapons development. No answer in sight, to North Korea’s march toward nuclear capability.

EUROPELeaders of Germany, France and Italy reject Trump’s suggestion of renegotiating Paris climate accord.

USA.

JAPANIbaraki nuclear research facility under scrutiny after accident; gas suspected in rupture. 5 Workers Exposed to Radioactive Materials at Oarai Nuclear Research Facility in Ibara. Decommissioning of Monju Fast-Breeder Reactor Accepted by Fukui Governor,

Fukushima. Thyroid Cancer Plagues Fukushima Evacuees, But Officials Deny Radiation to Blame. Fukushima town, Namie to receive compensation.  Trial of Three Key Tepco Executives Starting. 80% of voluntary evacuees not yet returned to Fukushima Prefecture.

UK. Dangerous cargo of radioactive trash flying from Scotland to South Carolina.

GERMANY. German Chancellor Merkel says budget not affected by court ruling to refund nuclear taxes.

RUSSIA. Legacy of improperly managed radioactive sites across Russia.

INDIA. The high cost of new Units 5, 6 at Kudankulam Nuclear power – most of it owed to Russia

BRAZIL. Brazil following US in rolling back climate protections.

AFRICA. Solar lamps tackling poverty and ill-health in Africa.

ANTARCTICA. Massive crack in Antarctic ice shelf is near to breaking.

 

June 2, 2017

As I write, the world is reacting to Donald Trump’s announcement  that America will withdraw from the Paris climate agreement.  We knew this was coming, but it is still a shock. USA, under Barack Obama was, along with China, a world leader, at least symbolically, in the struggle to save the planet from catastrophic climate change. (Andy Borowitz of the New Yorker, has an original opinion on this.)

AUSTRALIA

Issues about climate change, and of the Adani coal project dominate the news at present.

NUCLEAR Meanwhile important nuclear issues are going on, under the radar. There are the Western Australian planned uranium projects of Yeelirrie and Wiluna

CLIMATE. Donald Trump is a “climate criminal” – Australian reaction to the USA climate deal pullout. Massive implications for Australia, in new report on sea level rise.  Sea level rise threatening Australia’s East Coast holiday beaches.

New South Wales EPA must review procedures for managing contaminated land

Uncertainty about future of existing Indigenous Protected Areas..

RENEWABLE ENERGY Ross Garnaut – green energy will be win-win for South Australia. Australian States lead in move towards renewable energy boom.   Solar power plant for Northern Territory Aboriginal community -cuts reliance on diesel. Telstra funding construction of $100 million solar farm in northern Queensland. If Glencore wants cheap energy for Mt Isa, it should go solar. Josh Frydenberg predicts ‘big battles’ within Coalition after Finkel review

INTERNATIONAL

Donald Trump excelling himself in policies to ruin not only America, but the world.

Climate deniers hijacking a climate science conference in Rome.

If USA moves into Crimea, Russia prepared to use nuclear weapons.  North Korea ramps up nuclear warning to USA. Danger of conflict between USA and North Korea: North Korea has 100 Unidentified Nuclear Facilities.

EUROPE‘s nuclear power stations aging – nearing retirement: Nuclear transboundary consultations.

USA.  

UK.The danger of catastrophic cyberattack on UK’s Trident nuclear submarines. Britain’s exit from European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) – a real damper on UK’s nuclear industry.   Theresa May govt plans to weaken climate action rules.

SOUTH KOREA. South Korea soon to announce plans to phase out nuclear power.

BELARUS. Europe should not turn a blind eye to the developing nuclear threat in Belarus.

INDIA. India going into debt to Russia, for expanded Kudankulam nuclear plant ? A victory for Indian farmers, as nuclear power proposal shifted from coastal district of Gujarat. As solar costs plunge, India rethinks coal projects.

SOUTH AFRICA. Nuclear power company Eskom wants a blank cheque from the South African government. South Africa’s anti nuclear movement renews its campaign.

CHINA. China suspends permits for new coal plants.

JAPAN.  Nuclear storage crisis grows as reactor restarts continue.  UN Rapporteur Received Reports that Japan Media Avoids Covering Ongoing Fukushima Nuclear Disaster; Reporter Demoted-Salary Reduced for Writing About Fukushima.   Toshiba to present UNAUDITED accounts at the company’s AGM next month.

SWEDEN. In Sweden, civil society can influence nuclear waste decisions.

SPAIN. A promising first: hybrid wind power storage plant in Spain using batteries.

POLYNESIA. Declassified: Polynesia  vastly affected by radioactivity from French nuclear bomb testing.

 

Australian govt plans imposing nuclear waste on South Australian rural community

May 29, 2017

28 May 2017, Submission by David Noonan, B.Sc., M.Env.St.  To:Senator The Hon Matthew Canavan  RE: Proposed Federal government imposition onto community in South Australia of an illegal “100 year” Store for ANSTO’s “10 000 year” irradiated Nuclear Fuel Wastes.

Storage of nuclear wastes affects the rights, interests and safety of all South Australians and is prohibited in our State under the Nuclear Waste Storage (Prohibition) Act 2000.

Proposed imposition of ANSTO reactor nuclear wastes is a major public interest concern in SA and detracts from public trust and confidence in the Federal government, in ARPANSA and in ANSTO.

The National Radioactive Waste Management Facility (NRWMF) comprises two co-located waste management facilities: an above ground 100 year Store for wastes that ARPANSA states require isolation for 10 000 years, AND a Disposal Facility for wastes requiring isolation for up to 300 years.

This submission focuses on the proposed imposition of the illegal Store & consequences thereof.

The Store is primarily for ANSTO irradiated Nuclear Fuel Wastes (NFW) and other existing and proposed reactor wastes, with only minor projected future arising’s of Intermediate Level Wastes (ILW) from States & Territories or from other Commonwealth agencies.

ARPANSA’s CEO (May 2015) has formally considered the proposed NRWMF Store and stated:

This plan will have the provision for ILW storage above ground for approximately 100 years.”

This indefinite storage plan compromises safety in importing nuclear waste to SA without a waste disposal capacity or even a requisite program for disposal of NFW and ILW.

ARPANSA’s Radiation Health and Safety Advisory Council (April 2010) has provided formal advice which concluded: “that Australia’s current policy of indefinite storage for intermediate level waste does not appear to be consistent with International best practice.”

The import, transport, storage and disposal of ANSTO irradiated Nuclear Fuel Wastes is illegal in SA and was prohibited under the leadership of Liberal Premier John Olsen in 2000:

“The Objects of this Act are to protect the health, safety and welfare of the people of South Australia and to protect the environment in which they live by prohibiting the establishment of certain nuclear waste storage facilities in this State”

Since April 2016 the NRWMF project has exclusively targeted community and environment in SA in an attempt to again impose an illegal Store for ANSTO’s irradiated Nuclear Fuel Waste in our State. 2

The Minister’s release “Kimba 90-day consultation begins”(20 March 2017) invited submissions on potential approval under the National Radioactive Waste Management Act 2012 of two nominated sites near Kimba for assessment as potential sites for the proposed NRWM Facility.

This is in-parallel with the Federal government targeting the iconic Flinders Ranges on the country of the Adnyamathanha people in a serious threat to their human rights and cultural interests.

These are fundamentally State level public interest issues and represent a multi-generational threat to community in SA: including intended Federal requisition of an as yet unnamed SA port for imposition of decades of irradiated Nuclear Fuel Wastes imports, along with affected stakeholders on transport routes, in addition to the rights & interests of community around a potential Store site.

The Federal government has unacceptably failed to take up the recent Advice of the ARPANSA Nuclear Safety Committee (4 Nov 2016) for transparency and for the essential “ongoing requirement to clearly and effectively engage all stakeholders, including those along transport routes”.

This Store also exposes SA to unresolved security and potential terrorist risks in shipping, transport and indefinite above ground storage of irradiated Nuclear Fuel Wastes and other reactor wastes.

However, Lucas Heights is Australia’s best placed institution and facility to responsibly manage ANSTO’s Nuclear Fuel Wastes and can do so through-out the operating period of the Opal reactor.

An “Interim Waste Store” built at Lucas Heights in 2015 has a design life of 40 years and an approved purpose to take both the Nuclear Fuel Waste from France (NFW received Dec. 2015) and NFW to be received from the UK in circa 2020. The ARPANSA license for this Store “is not time limited” and has Contingency options to retain these NFW’s at ANSTO “until the availability of a final disposal option”.

The policy agenda to impose a NFW Store in SA is a flawed, unnecessary, contested and unsafe plan.

A broad public interest campaign protected SA rights and interests from prior Federal government attempts to impose nuclear waste facilities onto our State over 1998 to 2004 – and can do so again.

That “National Store Project” was abandoned – just as this NRWMF Store will have to be set aside.

Further, the Federal government’s flawed policy agenda for imposition of nuclear waste effectively precludes a long term resolution to Australia’s “low level” radioactive waste responsibilities.

The Minister has an obligation to learn the lessons from experience in failure of prior projects in Australia and internationally and not to deny or override key public interest community concerns.

My background includes experience as an Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) Campaigner over 1996 to 2011 based in Adelaide.

American nuclear front group propaganda in Australia

May 29, 2017
Todays’ AUSTRALIAN touts a nuclear promotion by Jessical Lovering:
 
“Jessica Lovering is director of energy at The Breakthrough Institute, a US environmental and energy think tank. She is visiting Australia to discuss nuclear innovation with energy policy experts, parliamentarians and government agencies.”
Just let’s be clear on who Jessica Lovering represents, and who is paying for her visit.
Well, the visit is paid for by  the Minerals Council of Australia, also sponsored by the breakthrough Institute.
The Breakthrough Institute is a pretend-environmental group that propagandises for new nuclear power It’s interesting that Jessica will be speaking in Sydney on May 30th, and in Adelaide on May 31st –   coincidentally, just as the Parliamentary Committe is about to give its blessing to Australia signing up to join in developing new :”Generation IV”  nuclear reactors
The Breakthrough Institute  launched the Breakthrough Energy Coalition at the start of the COP21 climate talks in Paris, with collective wealth of three hundred and fifty billion dollars.
The Breakthrough Institute is a billionaire’s club of “new nuclear” proponents, (to name just a few):
  • Bill Gates who owns Terra Power LLC,  a nuclear design and engineering company
  • Richard Branson, publicly touts nuclear energy and put his name on Pandora’s Promise as executive producer.
  • Mukesh Ambani an investor in Terra Power
  • Jeff Bezos investor in  nuclear fusion
  • Chris Hohn’s TCI hedge fund invested in J-Power, a Japanese utility company whose assets included nuclear power stations.
  • Vinod Khosla loves nuclear power and is on record blaming environmentalists rather than nuclear energy’s obviously disastrous economics, for its failure.Chinese billionaire
  • Jack Ma of Alibaba, involved in  China’s investment in the UK’s planned Hinkley-C nuclear power plant.
  • Ratan Tata  investing in nuclear energy in India

To May 27 Nuclear and climate news

May 27, 2017

I think that we’re all going to have to join American youth, in relying on comedy TV shows like Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Late show with Stephen Colbert, to get our English language news, especially about America.  The actual news is more like comedy. While Donald Trump struts about the world, for example, talking about peace to the Pope, the Trump budget sets out cuts to the UN peace-keeping operations.

Danger of nuclear terrorism is not talked about much. But Britain has suddenly replaced  police at Sizewell nuclear site with armed soldiers. Singapore has recently passed legislation for mandatory death penalty for nuclear terrorism.

AUSTRALIA

NUCLEAR. Australian government about to secretly sign up to developing Generation IV nuclear reactors? Australia to join in developing Generation IV nuclear reactors, WITHOUT ANY PUBLIC DISCUSSION??.

New South Wales govt about to go all enthusiastic about nuclear power?   Australia’s rural sector cautious about National Party’s enthusiasm for nuclear power. Nature Conservation Council of NSW slams Deputy Premier’s nuclear power plan.

CLIMATE and ENERGY  (Adani coal mine is the continuing big story) 

Australia’s energy future at a critical turning point. Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) goes for smarter ways to deal with electricity supply and demand.

Federal and State policies betray Australia’s environment, and fail climate action. Sea level threat rising faster than was predicted.  CSIRO is back on the world climate stage, in alliance with China’s largest marine science research institute.   Australian cities becoming urban heat islands 

RENEWABLES. Western Australia’s large-scale Greenough River solar farm to quadruple in size. Australian Renewable Energy Association funding next generation solar PV.  Australia could use hydrogen to export solar energy.

Queensland govt must resist bullying by resources industry: mine rehabilitation should be progressive.

Sweden cancels investigation of Julian Assange, removes arrest warrant.

Aboriginal demands for a Treaty, not just Constitutional recognition.

INTERNATIONAL

Draft treaty on banning possession and use of nuclear weapons released by UN panel.

Cold War nuclear weapons warped Earth’s magnetosphere – what will a nuclear war do?

Nuclear lobby in a bit of a panic – urging for ‘aggressive’ propaganda spin.

Survey of 8000 people in 8 countries: 8 in 10 now see climate change as a ‘catastrophic risk‘.

Almost 10 million jobs already, in renewable energy.

SWITZERLAND. Switzerland’ binding referendum – voted to ban nuclear plants, shift to renewable energy.

JAPAN.

Fukushima.

NORTH KOREA. Breakthrough for North Korea’s missile test – re-entry to Earth’s atmosphere. North Korea’s vast military capabilities, even without nuclear weapons.

IRANElection of Rouhani is good result for Tehran’s compliance with nuclear deal.

USA.

SAUDI ARABIA. Trump and retinue in Saudi Arabia – the main event $110 billion arms package.

ARCTIC. In Greenland, abandoned nuclear base could be unearthed by global warming.

UK.

SOUTH AFRICA. South Africa’s nuclear build plans – ripe for corruption.

FRANCE. EDF secretly planning to extend the life of its 58 reactors in France. European Commission scheduled to decide on EDF to gain controlling stake in AREVA nuclear corporation.

GERMANY. German Anti-Nuclear Activist Jailed for Blocking Train Carrying Radioactive Waste Through Densely Populated Areas

INDIA. India’s fast growth in renewable energy.

CHINA. Chinese fighter jets buzz US ‘nuclear sniffer’ plane over East China Sea. China cancelling many coal mines, going all out for solar power.

RENEWABLES IN BRIEF : Solar power -China, Tesla news, India’s push for renewables  – Ever cheaper renewable energy.

SWEDEN. Sweden cancels arrest warrant for Julian Assange, closes investigation.

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

19 May Nuclear and Climate news this week

May 19, 2017

The English language news media hops about from one theme to another. While the nuclear crisis about North Korea seems to continue- the focus has shifted to the USA’s President’s credibility problem. Well, as long as he’s the focus, I guess that Donald Trump is happy, anyway.

Meanwhile the present drama about the computer hacking of hospitals and businesses has taken on a more sinister aspect. People now realise that  computer hacking could affect nuclear power stations , even perhaps nuclear military sites.

A new twist to this subject is the realisation that “cyber warfare” – to paralyse a country’s computer systems, could become a more satisfactory way for an enemy to attack, rather than use nuclear weapons. Analysts now consider North Korea as potentially able to use this method.

Investigative journalism lives:  Close to Norway – Russia’s secret nuclear weapons build-up, and waste dumps

AUSTRALIA

NUCLEAR 

You wouldn’t know that a Parliamentary Committee is about to rubber stamp a plan for Australia to put money and resources into developing new nuclear power plants, despite our laws prohibiting this, now would you?

  1. Compelling argument against Australia joining the Framework Agreement for Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems.
  2. NO PUBLIC DISCUSSION! Australia’s Generation IV Nuclear Energy Accession.  
  3. ANSTO must be transparent on costs of its nuclear research: Generation IV nuclear reactors – high cost for little benefit.

The military connection to the push for advanced nuclear reactors in South Australia. SOUTH AUSTRALIA’S NUCLEAR MILITARY-INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX

New South Wales National Party to embrace nuclear energy.

CLIMATE and RENEWABLES 

INTERNATIONAL

Next generation nuclear power is unlikely to save the industry from bankruptcy. The nuclear industry in financial meltdown

CLIMATE. April of 2017 was the Second Hottest in 137 Year Climate Record.   Severe coastal floods set to double in number, as sea levels rise. 19 May Climate News. Climate change could kill off all coral reefs by 2050.

RENEWABLE ENERGY. Lego goes for 100% renewables.   World’s biggest wind turbines now generating power off UK coast.

FRANCE.

INDIA. India diverts ‘peaceful’ nuclear materials to weapons development. India plans to build 10 nuclear reactors. India’s secret radioactive horror story – Jadugoda.

UK. British Labour Party supports renewal of the Trident nuclear deterrent, disappoints many voters. NuGen’s Moorside nuclear project in limbo – unstable and unsustainable. Britain’s new nuclear danger: cyber security attacksScottish Renewables publishes manifesto for 2017 UK General Election.

SOUTH KOREA. Global nuclear lobby very upset at election of South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in. Nuclear power in South Korea is forcefully opposed by Catholics.

SOUTH AFRICASouth Africa’s formidable anti nuclear women ready to take on the government again. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1WTerLrSS48. South African government still determined to sign new nuclear power agreements. No costing for South Africa’s nuclear build programme,

USA. New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo urged to pull the plug on nuclear bailout, as lawmakers work against it. Inadequate radiation shielding for USA workers handling highly radioactive liquid waste from Canada. USA signs up to Arctic agreement for action on climate change.

GUAM. America neglects Guam atomic test victims – hopes they all die?

JAPAN. Japan restarts another reactor. Mayors near Hamaoka nuclear plant say wider consensus needed for reactor restarts. In Fukushima, a land where few return. Fire crews finally extinguish Fukushima blaze in no-go zone as officials battle “radiation rumors”.  Families do not want to return to polluted Fukushima areas.  Diet Bill requires Tepco to create fund for Decommissioning Fukushima Daiichi.

SWITZERLANDSwitzerland to vote on promoting renewables and banning nuclear power.

CANADA. Scathing criticism of Ontario’s proposed plan for nuclear plant emergencies

TAIWAN. Chang Hsien-yi, the Taiwanese scientist who tried to save his country from nuclear war.

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