Time to mature conversation on nuclear storage

“Nuclear should be considered as one of those low carbon technologies that could be part of a future energy grid,” Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commissioner, Kevin Scarce AC CSC has told a CEDA audience in Adelaide.

Mr Scarce said that nuclear energy could help reduce carbon emissions and meet targets and that South Australia needs to learn more about the energy options.

Currently nuclear power is not viable in the South Australian market given the current market opportunities, Mr Scarce said.

On the topic of managing and disposing of nuclear waste, Mr Scarce said the transfer of fuel is highly regulated by international agreements.

“There are international agreements that all the nations that have nuclear fuel arrangements agree,” he said.

“There are a lot of non-proliferation concerns and it’s not quite as easy as some suggest that nations would simply put up their hand and take the waste.”

In South Australia, Mr Scarce said it is a matter of community consultation and agreement on developing nuclear waste disposals.

“Let’s make sure the debate is on the facts, let’s not put any positive or negative spin on it,” he said.

Also speaking at the event, BusinessSA CEO, Nigel McBride said South Australia is now having a mature discussion and debate on nuclear power and waste.

Mr McBride said the debate will be driven by the economic impact but Australia must consider climate change. 

“Let’s not miss the moral and global context of this argument, let’s actually be aware of the fact that we have a responsibility, it’s a question to what extent we’re prepared to embrace it and be part of the global answer,” he said. 

SA Greens Leader, Mark Parnell said developing South Australia as a place for international nuclear waste may not be as economically viable as supporters suggest.

“I don’t think the economics are going to stack up,” he said.

If it is such a good economic deal then we have to ask why other countries are not doing it and how to do we know the economic benefit will continue in the long term, he said.

Mr Parnell said it doesn’t take long for the economic benefit to evaporate and for South Australia to be left with the long-term legacy of housing nuclear waste.

Carnegie Mellon University Australia Executive Director and Professor of Public Policy and Management, Professor Emil Bolangaita said there are two aspects to determining waste sites; technical feasibility and political viability.

“As is the case in South Australia, potential sites are identified first on the basis of technical suitability and then a determination is made as to whether there is a political, social acceptability,” he said.

Mr Bolangaita said when considering nuclear disposal, South Australia must also consider the economic impact on other industries including healthcare, agriculture and international education.

The question that needs to be addressed is “will we be sending mixed messages about South Australia and can we reconcile these messages,” he said.

Golder Associates Principal Environmental Scientist, Lissa Van Camp said Australia can learn from modelling and technology Finland has developed in the past 40 years.

There has been significant design work in regards to waste being safely housed in copper over packs and with additional barriers, she said.