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Nuclear waste

A journey to the heart of the anti-nuclear resistance in Australia: Rad Tour 2018

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#860
4719
10/05/2018
Ray Acheson ‒ Director, Reaching Critical Will, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom
Article

Looking at a map of South Australia's nuclear landscape, the land is scarred. Uranium mines and weapon test sites, coupled with indications of where the government is currently proposing to site nuclear waste dumps, leave their marks across the desert. But amidst the devastation these poisonous activities have left on the land and its people, there is fierce resistance and boundless hope.

Friends of the Earth Australia has been running Radioactive Exposure Tours for the past thirty years. Designed to bring people from around Australia to meet local activists at various nuclear sites, the Rad Tour provides a unique opportunity to learn about the land, the people, and the nuclear industry in the most up-front and personal way.

This year's tour featured visits to uranium mines, bomb test legacy sites, and proposed radioactive waste dumps on Arabunna, Adnyamathanha, and Kokatha land in South Australia, and introduced urban-based activists to those directly confronting the nuclear industry out in country. It brought together about 30 people including campaigners from the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons and Reaching Critical Will, environmental activists with Friends of the Earth Australia and other organisations, and interested students and others looking to learn about the land, the people, and the industries operating out in the desert.

The journey of ten days takes us to many places and introduces us to many people, but can be loosely grouped into three tragic themes: bombing, mining, and dumping. Each of these aspects of the nuclear chain is stained with racism, militarism, and capitalism. Each represents a piece of a dirty, dangerous, but ultimately dying nuclear industry. And each has been and continues to be met with fierce resistance from local communities, including Traditional Owners of the land.

Testing the bomb

The first two days of the trip are spent driving from Melbourne to Adelaide to Port Augusta. We pick up activists along the way, before finally heading out to the desert. Our first big stop on the Tour is a confrontation with the atomic bomb.

The UK government conducted twelve nuclear weapon tests in Australia.1 Nine took place in South Australia, at Emu Field and Maralinga. All of the tests used plutonium ‒ some of which may have been produced from uranium mined at Radium Hill in South Australia. The UK and Australia also conducted hundreds of so-called 'minor trials' to test the effects of fire and non-nuclear explosions on atomic bombs, which spread plutonium far and wide.

One of the tests at Emu Field in 1953 resulted in a radioactive cloud spreading over 250 kilometres northwest of the test site. This "Black Mist" is held responsible for a sudden outbreak of sickness and death amongst Aboriginal communities.2 A Royal Commission in 1983–1984 found that the test had been conducted under wind conditions known to produce "unacceptable levels" of fallout and did not take into account the existence of people down wind of the test site. The Commission reported that regard for Aboriginal safety was characterised by "ignorance, incompetence and cynicism".3

The government has so far conducted four "clean ups" of Maralinga over the years.4 Each one finds that the previous effort was insufficient. The latest "clean up" in the mid-1990s found plutonium buried in shallow, unlined pits ‒ and much of that plutonium remains in that condition today. Nuclear engineer and whistleblower Alan Parkinson told the ABC: "What was done at Maralinga was a cheap and nasty solution that wouldn't be adopted on white-fellas land."5

While our Tour didn't take us to the Emu Field or Maralinga sites this time, we did visit people and lands affected by the testing in Woomera, a small town about 450 km north of Adelaide. Established as a base for a missile and rocket testing program, it is full of the ghosts of both people and weapons.

On our first night at Woomera we were joined by Avon Hudson, a nuclear weapon test whistleblower who as a Royal Australian Air Force serviceperson was assigned to work at Maralinga during the time of the 'minor trials'.

Avon gave testimony to the Royal Commission investigating UK nuclear weapon testing in the 1980s after disclosing classified information to the media starting in the 1970s. His stories, told to us around the campfire and while visiting various sites in Woomera, were full of pain. He described how those serving in the Australian military were not given information or protection against the nuclear tests, how the radioactive fallout affected Aboriginal and other local communities, and how the radioactive racism by the government continues to leave a lasting mark on current and future generations.

We visited the Woomera Cemetery, where a disturbing number of babies and children are buried. Journalist Bryan Littlely notes that the cemetery "contains 23 graves for stillborn babies born in the hospital between December 1953 and September 1968, and a further 46 graves for other children who died around that period."6 While there has not yet been enough research to definitely prove a causal link between the weapons testing and the high numbers of stillbirths and early childhood deaths in the region, more than 100 South Australians joined a class action lawsuit against the British Ministry of Defense in 2010, demanding answers to the cause of death of their babies.7 However, "the case was not allowed to proceed8 because it was deemed impossible to prove radiation caused their illness."9

While it has so far escaped having to answer for the deaths in Woomera, the UK government did pay A$13.5 million in compensation to the Maralinga Tjarutja Traditional Owners in 1995. But other known victims of British testing, including members of the Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta, have not been compensated.

Responding to the UK court's decision against the survivors, then Greens Senator Scott Ludlam wrote in a letter to the UK parliament in 2013: "Of the British and Australian veterans who were involved in the testing, and the Aboriginal people in the area at the time of the blasts, only 29 Aboriginal people have ever received compensation from the Australian Government and veterans continue to struggle to obtain the medical support they need despite experiencing unusually high rates of cancer and other ill effects associated with exposure to radiation."9

One of those who never received compensation or an apology was Yami Lester, Yunkunytjatjara elder and activist, who was blinded by the Emu Field nuclear weapon test in 1953 when he was ten years old. He was a key player in the Royal Commission, and went on to be a powerful advocate for land rights and against nuclear waste dumps. We didn't get to meet Yami on this Tour, because he passed away in July 2017, just two weeks after the United Nations adopted the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.10

Yami's daughters Karina and Rose Lester played an important role in raising support for the Treaty in Australia and participating in its negotiation in New York. Working with the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), Karina delivered a statement on behalf of more than 30 indigenous groups from around the world at the negotiations, successfully advocating for provisions on victim assistance and environmental remediation, as well as a recognition of the disproportionate impact of nuclear weapons on indigenous populations.

Several of us from ICAN, the civil society coalition that advocated for years for the nuclear ban treaty, were on this year's Rad Tour. We joined to connect with and learn from those resisting other pieces of the chain of nuclear violence, and to sit on country that has been so harmed time and again.

Digging up the poison

After two days of learning about the effects of British atomic testing and visiting disturbing sites in Woomera, we headed further into the radioactive nightmare to visit a quintessential site related to the starting point of the nuclear violence chain: the Olympic Dam uranium mine near Roxby Downs.11

As of April 2018, two uranium mines are operating in South Australia: Olympic Dam and Beverley Four Mile. These mines produced and exported 5,493 tonnes of uranium oxide in 2016 ‒ 63% of Australia's total production that year.12 The only other operating uranium mine in Australia is Ranger in the Northern Territory, where mining has ceased but stockpiled ore is being processed until the mine's final closure a few years from now.

After days spent camping on the red earth of this region, it was devastating to see the massive Olympic Dam mine displacing the ground, burrowing into it with machines and metal, bringing poison up from the depths. We went on a tour conducted by BHP, the mine's operator. We were not allowed to take photos, or leave the vehicle we were on.

In addition to the uranium ore, Olympic Dam has generated over 150 million tonnes of uranium tailings ‒ radioactive sludge that is left over after extracting the uranium-bearing minerals from the ore. Friends of the Earth describes it as a "toxic, acidic soup of radionuclides and heavy metals."13 The tailings, and the processes used in extraction, risk the safety of workers and local communities. In the mid-1990s it was revealed that about three billion litres had seeped from the tailings dams over two years.14 Between 2003 and 2012, BHP reported 31 radiation leaks at the mine. On our tour, we were not permitted to see the tailings dams.

The mine is also a drain on natural resources. It uses around 37 million litres of water from the Great Artesian Basin every single day. This is the largest and deepest artesian basin ‒ a confined aquifer containing groundwater ‒ in the world. It provides the only source of fresh water through much of inland Australia. The government and various industries use it, but Olympic Dam has been increasing its use since its founding. While the BHP tour guides showing us around the mine assure us that they are responsibly using the water and that it can continue to rely on the basin for at least the next 85 years of the mine's anticipated lifespan, environmental activists have serious and legitimate questions about the sustainability of this level of water usage.15

After our trip to the mine, we visited the Mound Springs near Lake Eyre, in Arabunna country. These are natural springs sustained by the underlying Great Artesian Basin. We were accompanied by Kokatha Traditional Owner Glen Wingfield, who, while not Arabunna, has spent his life visiting the springs. He lamented the depletion of the springs, explaining that it gets sadder to visit each time because the water levels are down more and more each and every time. Studies have shown that the pressure in the Great Artesian Basin has declined due to increased extraction.16 As the water table drops, springs have started drying up across South Australia as well as Queensland.

Uranium mining companies, and federal and state governments, typically ignore the concerns of Traditional Owners, use divide-and-rule tactics to split local communities, provide false or misleading information, and even use legal threats ‒ all to ensure that the uranium industry gets its way. When it comes to Olympic Dam, this racism is enshrined in legislation. WMC Resources Limited, which started the uranium mine, was granted legal privileges under the South Australian Roxby Downs Indenture Act. This legislation overrides the Aboriginal Heritage Act, the Environment Protect Act, the Water Resources Act, and the Freedom of Information Act.17 The current mine owner, BHP, has refused to relinquish these legal privileges.

The problems of uranium mining, however, are not just local. Australia's uranium is exported around the world. It was in the Fukushima reactors that suffered a meltdown in 2011. It is converted into high-level nuclear waste in power reactors across the globe. Australia's uranium exports have produced over 176 tonnes of plutonium ‒ enough to build over 17,600 nuclear weapons.

On the tour of Olympic Dam, it wasn't clear the BHP guides knew where their uranium was going. "Europe," said one. "I think maybe China," said another. It's a sad fact that BHP's customers include nuclear weapons states as well as countries refusing to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty or the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

Aboriginal communities and environmental activists have long resisted the mine, from before it was even constructed. The night after we visited Olympic Dam, Glen Wingfield told us about his family's consistent activism against the mine ‒ as well as his brief time spent working there. Conditions at the mine were awful for workers, he argues, and that's only the tip of the iceberg. The Traditional Owners were not consulted before the mine's construction, and have fiercely opposed it. They have been joined by others concerned about the mine's environmental impacts. In 2016, the Desert Liberation Front organised a "party at the gates of hell," following a protest in 2012 that saw hundreds travel from around the country to shut down the main road into the mine for four hours.18 Protests have also been held outside BHP's Melbourne headquarters, and resource and environment ministers' offices.19

While BHP anticipates the mine will operate for another 85 years, opposition to its operation will continue. And while that opposition has not yet seen the closure of the mine, it likely did play a role in BHP's decision not to go ahead with its planned mega-expansion of the mine in 2012. For now, at least, the gates of hell have not been enlarged.

Dumping radioactive waste

From the gates of hell we travelled to what might be described as the gates of paradise. For now.

The federal government of Australia wants to build a facility to store and dispose of radioactive waste in South Australia, either at Wallerberdina Station near Hawker or on farming land in Kimba.20 Wallerberdina Station is located in the Flinders Ranges, the largest mountain range in South Australia, 540 million years old. Approaching from the north on our drive down from Lake Eyre can only be described as breathtaking. The red dirt, the brown and green bush, and the ever-changing purples, blues, and reds of the mountains themselves are some of the most complex and stunning scenes one can likely see in the world.

Most people might find it shocking that the federal government would want to put a nuclear waste dump smack in the middle of this landscape. But after visiting other sites on the Rad Tour, it was only yet another disappointment ‒ and another point of resistance.

What is known is that the Wallerberdina site is of great cultural, historical, and spiritual significance to the Adnyamathanha people.21 It borders the Yappala Indigenous Protected Area, which is a crucial location for biodiversity in the Flinders Ranges. Its unique ecosystem provides a refuge for many native species of flora and fauna, contains many archaeological sites as well as the first registered Aboriginal Songline of its type in Australia, and is home to Pungka Pudanha, a natural spring and sacred woman's site.

In case that isn't enough, the area is a known floodplain. Our travels around the proposed site contained ample evidence of previous floods that sent massive trees rushing down the plain, smashing into each other and into various bridges and other built objects. The last big flood occurred in 2006.

The Adnyamathanha Traditional Owners were not consulted before their land was nominated for consideration by the government for the waste dump. "Through this area are registered cultural heritage sites and places of huge importance to our family, our history and our future," wrote Adnyamathanha Traditional Owners in a 2015 statement.22 "We don't want a nuclear waste dump here on our country and worry that if the waste comes here it will harm our environment and muda (our lore, our creation, our everything)."

We met Adnyamathanha Traditional Owners Vivianne and Regina McKenzie, and Tony Clark, at the proposed site. They invited us into the Yappala Indigenous Protected Area to view the floodplains and swim in the beautiful Pungka Pudanha. We'd just been camping at Wilpena Pound in the Flinders Ranges National Park only a few kilometres away. It is impossible to understand the government's rationale for wanting to build a toxic waste dump on this land so cherished by its Traditional Owners, local communities, and tourists alike.

The McKenzies have been working tirelessly to prevent the proposed dump from being established, as have other local activists. Fortunately, they have some serious recent successes to inspire them.

In 2015, the federal government announced a plan to import 138,000 tonnes of high-level nuclear waste from around the world to South Australia as a commercial enterprise. But Traditional Owners began protesting immediately, arguing that the so-called consultations were not accessible and that misinformation was rife.23 In 2016, a Citizen's Jury, established by then Premier Jay Weatherill and made up of 350 people, deliberated over evidence and information. In November that year, two-thirds of the Jury rejected "under any circumstances" the plan to import or store high-level waste.24 They cited lack of Aboriginal consent, unsubstantiated economic assumptions and projections, and lack of confidence in the governmental proposal's validity.

Other battles against proposed nuclear waste dumps have been fought and won in South Australia. From 1998 to 2004, the Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta, a council of senior Aboriginal women from northern South Australia, successfully campaigned against a proposed national nuclear waste dump near Woomera.25 In an open letter in 2004, the Kungkas wrote: "People said that you can't win against the Government. Just a few women. We just kept talking and telling them to get their ears out of their pockets and listen. We never said we were going to give up. Government has big money to buy their way out but we never gave up."26

Connected communities

The attempts by the Australian government and the nuclear industry to impose a waste dump in the Flinders Ranges, just like their attempts to impose waste dumps and uranium mines elsewhere in the country, or their refusal to compensate victims and survivors of nuclear testing, are all mired with racism. They are rooted in a fundamental dismissal and devaluation of the lives and experiences of indigenous Australians, and of communities they consider "remote" ‒ both in their proximity to cities but more importantly, to power.

The industry and government's motivations for imposing nuclear violence on these people and this land are militarism and capitalism. Profit over people. Weapons over wellbeing. Their capacity for compassion and duty of care has been constrained by chronic short-termism ‒ a total failure to protect future generations. The poison they pull out of the earth, process, sell, allow others to make bombs with, and bury back in the earth, wounds us all now and into the future.

But nuclear weapons are now prohibited under international law. New actors are challenging the possession of nuclear weapons in new ways, and nuclear-armed states are facing a challenge like never before. The nuclear energy industry ‒ and thus the demand for uranium ‒ is declining. Power plants are being shuttered; corporations are facing financial troubles. Dirty and dangerous, the nuclear industry is dying.

This is in no small part due to the relentless resistance against it.

This resistance was fierce throughout all of the country we visited, from Woomera up to Lake Eyre, from Roxby Downs to the Flinders Ranges. We listened to stories of those living on this land, we heard their histories, witnessed their actions, and supported their plans.

And, we were able to share something special with many of them: ICAN's Nobel Peace Prize.

Awarded in 2017, the Prize recognizes ICAN's efforts to highlight the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons and to work with governments to negotiate and adopt the nuclear weapon ban treaty. But the Prize is not just for those advocates directly involved in that aspect of the campaign's work. It's a recognition of all the efforts of anti-nuclear activists through the long history of the atomic age, activists who have put their bodies on the line in defence of the earth and human health, in protection of our planet, in opposition to governments that pull poison out of the ground and drop it on human beings and animals around the world.

Sharing the Nobel Prize with the resisters in South Australia was a deep joy. It seemed to bring inspiration and invigoration to many who have fought for so long against impossible odds in difficult places against powerful corporations and governments. It was a humbling reminder of the collective effort of all our advocacy and activism across time and space. We're all connected, and we cannot do this alone. Movements are made of people, reaching out across borders, across struggles, to cultivate solidarity and strength in one another. Resistance is fertile.

Information on previous Rad Tours is posted at www.nuclear.foe.org.au/radtour

References:

1. www.foe.org.au/anti-nuclear/issues/oz/britbombs

2. http://blackmistburntcountry.com.au

3. www.nuclear.foe.org.au/wp-content/uploads/Royal-Commission-conclusionsre...

4. www.foe.org.au/anti-nuclear/issues/oz/racism

5. www.abc.net.au/news/2012-03-29/green-dumping-on-traditional-owners-the-u...

6. www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/south-australia/south-australians-join-class...

7. www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/south-australia/south-australians-join-class...

8. www.news.com.au/national/south-australia/new-generations-of-australian-f...

9. www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/south-australia/no-compensation-for-maraling...

10. www.reachingcriticalwill.org/resources/publications-and-research/researc...

11. www.nuclear.foe.org.au/olympic-dam-uranium-copper-mine/

12. www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/country-profiles/countries-a-f...

13. www.melbournefoe.org.au/may_day_stop_the_olympic_dam_uranium_mine_expansion

14. www.nuclear.foe.org.au/sa-parliamentary-inquiry-into-the-tailings-system...

15. www.gabpg.org.au/impact-of-olympic-damroxby-downs

16. www.abc.net.au/news/2015-06-18/eamus-declining-groundwater-is-a-big-prob...

17. www.nuclear.foe.org.au/roxby-downs-indenture-act/

18. www.nuclear.foe.org.au/olympic-dam-uranium-mine-and-the-lizards-revenge/

19. www.smh.com.au/business/antinuclear-protesters-take-on-bhp-20090708-ddee...

20. www.nuclear.foe.org.au/waste/

21. https://nexusnewsfeed.com/article/human-rights/the-flinders-ranges-no-pl...

22. www.archive.foe.org.au/sites/default/files/Adnyamathanha%20statement%202...

23. www.anfa.org.au/traditional-owners-statements/

24. www.abc.net.au/news/2016-11-06/sa-citizens-jury-vote-against-storing-nuc...

25. www.nuclear.foe.org.au/waste/#sa1

26. http://web.archive.org/web/20080718193108/http:/www.iratiwanti.org

Japanese government releases map showing areas "suitable" for high-level nuclear waste disposal

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#852
4685
11/10/2017
Hideyuki Ban ‒ Co-Director of the Citizens Nuclear Information Center, Tokyo.
Article

On July 28, 2017, the Japanese government released a geoscientific characteristics map to provide a basis for selecting locations for high-level nuclear-waste disposal sites. The map, on a 1:2,000,000 scale, shows the entire Japanese archipelago, accompanied by five aerial maps. The explanations of the standpoints used to evaluate aerial favorability for site construction are provided, along with the criteria for those standpoints, accompanied by the maps, which use color-coding to indicate individual standpoints.

The map divides the nation into four colors. The areas unfavorable from the standpoint of the stability of deep underground strata are colored in orange; the areas unfavorable because of the possibility of excavation for mineral resources in silver; the areas having favorable characteristics in pale green; and the areas that are additionally favorable in terms of transportation convenience in dark green (these areas are called green coastal areas).

In Japan, an act concerning the deep geological disposal of high-level nuclear wastes was established in 2000. It stipulates the methods of selecting disposal sites based on a stepwise approach, and the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NUMO) was established as the organization that is taking the initiative in selecting the sites and carrying out the disposal process. The stepwise approach consists of three steps; a literature survey, a general survey, and a detailed survey. NUMO, established mainly by electric power companies, encouraged municipalities across the nation (about 3,500 in total at that time) to apply for a literature survey.

However, all the municipalities that showed an interest in application later abandoned the idea due to strong protest. In 2007, Toyo Town, Kochi Prefecture, which was the only municipality that managed to submit an application, was obliged to withdraw it because of strong protest that demanded the recall of the town mayor. After this event, the government judged that the site selection process would not go forward if it continued to wait passively for applications, and thus adopted a second approach for use in parallel to the passive approach ‒ it decided to look for municipalities and encourage them to apply for a literature survey.

Thereafter the government used every opportunity to exchange opinions with many municipalities, and in spring 2011, it was prepared to request about 10 municipalities which had showed an interest to accept a literature survey. However, the Fukushima Daiichi NPS accident occurred immediately before the delivery of the request. The government became unable to pursue this plan any further, and the entire attempt to encourage municipalities to apply collapsed.

The municipalities' interest had been attracted by government money, which were to be paid in return for their acceptance of the survey. After the Fukushima Daiichi accident, public criticism against nuclear power increased. Under such conditions, the government realized that gaining municipalities' interest would not be sufficient and that it would be necessary to show scientific reasons to justify the survey. In 2013, the government devised another approach, which was firstly to show the geoscientific characteristics of individual areas, secondly to identify the areas that could possibly host a disposal site, and thirdly to encourage municipalities that might be interested to accept a literature survey. It was the first time the government had adopted such an attempt.

The geoscientific characteristics map was created in this context. The map color codes indicate the areas judged unfavorable from a set of standpoints ‒ volcanic activity, fault activity, upheaval, denudation, geothermal activity, bedrock hardness, the ranges influenced by pyroclastic flows, and prospective mineral resources. The areas judged favorable in terms of transportation (about 20 km from the shore) are also color-coded. Based on these standpoints, the archipelago is color-coded in four colors. The geological conditions specific to each area will be examined in the literature survey, with reference to geological records, while the characteristics map shows the divisions based only on the information available nationwide.

Therefore, while the map is called a geoscientific characteristics map, the characteristics specific to individual areas are not always reflected. As an example, the map is supposed to exclude areas having pyroclastic flow deposits younger than 10,000 years as not favorable, but the map does not consider the range of influence of the pyroclastic flow from a possible eruption of the Kikai Caldera Volcano, Kagoshima Prefecture, the most recent eruption of which was 7,300 years ago. This influence will be considered in the literature survey. Many areas in Tokyo are classified in the green coastal areas, but because the Kanto Plain was formed during the Quaternary period, the bedrock is still soft deep underground, and there may be many unlithified rocks. This should also be considered in the literature survey.

This geoscientific characteristics map does not consider restraints in the use of land due to legislation or international treaties, nor social conditions such as population density and the number of landowners.

NUMO's conventional conditions for the acceptance of survey applications were only volcanic activity and fault activity. The other standpoints are included in the social characteristics map scheduled to be examined in the literature survey. Therefore, the release of the map is a step forward for the government. NUMO is modifying the acceptance conditions in order to be consistent with the conditions described in the map.

The Japanese archipelago lies in the tectonic movement zone, where four plates meet. Even if all the conditions presented in the map are satisfied, it would still be difficult to isolate wastes from the environment for more than 100,000 years. Especially, information on relatively large amounts of deep underground water, which should essentially be considered for long-term stability, is limited. The government intends to ensure the long-term safety of high-level waste (HLW) by using engineering methods, and this governmental intention remains unchanged.

After the release of the geoscientific characteristics map, the government and NUMO intend to promote activities to gain public understanding, mainly in the areas whose characteristics have been judged favorable (green coastal areas). However, of the 47 prefectures nationwide, 20 prefectures have already turned down the survey. Citizens' movements against nuclear power generation have been powerful since the Fukushima Daiichi accident, and the movement strongly demands that all nuclear power plants be shut down first in order to halt the accumulation of HLW. The Science Council of Japan also stated that the upper limit of HLW should be determined (2012). However, the government and NUMO intend to promote the conventional concept and plan of geological waste disposal, separating the disposal site issue from the controversy of nuclear power plants. This head-on disagreement is expected to continue.

The government does not make efforts to form a participatory consensus concerning the treatment of HLW. As an example, consensus meetings or deliberative polls have not been conducted and are not planned. The government councils did not discuss ways in which to obtain social agreement. What the government has attempted to do thus far is to try to earn public agreement for its geological disposal policy. However, what it has actually been engaged in is organizing gatherings that attempt to obtain public agreement for the government's plan, under the name of explanatory hearings.

The government's stance concerning the new characteristics map is that its release is not intended to persuade municipalities to accept a survey for disposal site selection; the government says that it will not initiate any survey unilaterally without gaining the agreement of the locals. According to the government, "this is the first step in a long road to realize final HLW disposal."

NUMO plans to begin the first step by organizing dialogue gatherings with a small number of people in the areas judged favorable from all the standpoints including transportation. NUMO said that it would release the schedule of dialogue gatherings, but to date, it has not been released. It is not known when the schedule will be announced, but from October this year, the government and NUMO plan to hold explanatory hearings about the geoscientific characteristics map in 45 prefectures. With publicly invited participants, the gatherings will be used by the government to explain the map during the first half of the hearings, and during the second half the participants will be divided into small groups to exchange opinions with NUMO. Through this group dialogue, NUMO expects to exploit human resources who can work proactively to invite the site to the area.

While the geoscientific characteristics map has been made public, when literature surveys will begin is unknown, and the issue of disposal site selection is expected to confront many problems.

Reprinted from Nuke Info Tokyo No. 180, Sept/Oct 2017, www.cnic.jp/english/?p=3956

How South Australians dumped a nuclear dump

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#846
4659
29/06/2017
Jim Green ‒ Nuclear Monitor editor
Article

Last November, two-thirds of the 350 members of a South Australian-government initiated Citizens' Jury rejected "under any circumstances" the plan to import vast amounts of high-level nuclear waste from around the world as a money-making venture.1

The following week, South Australian (SA) Liberal Party Opposition leader Steven Marshall said that "[Labor Party Premier] Jay Weatherill's dream of turning South Australia into a nuclear waste dump is now dead."2 Business SA chief Nigel McBride said: "Between the Liberals and the citizens' jury, the thing is dead."2

And after months of uncertainty, Premier Weatherill has said in recent weeks that the plan is "dead", there is "no foreseeable opportunity for this", and it is "not something that will be progressed by the Labor Party in Government".3

So is the dump dead? The Premier left himself some wriggle room4, but the plan is as dead as it possibly can be. If there was some life in the plan, it would be loudly proclaimed by SA's Murdoch tabloid, The Advertiser. But The Advertiser responded to the Premier's recent comments ‒ to the death of the dump ‒ with a deafening, deathly silence.

Royal Commission

It has been quite a ride to get to this point. The debate began in February 2015, when the Premier announced that a Royal Commission would be established to investigate commercial options across the nuclear fuel cycle. He appointed a gullible nuclear advocate, former Navy man Kevin Scarce, as Royal Commissioner. Scarce said he would run a "balanced" Royal Commission and appointed four nuclear advocates to his advisory panel, balanced by one critic.5 Scarce appointed a small army of nuclear advocates to his staff, balanced by zero critics.

The final report6 of the Royal Commission, released in May 2016, was surprisingly downbeat given the multiple levels of pro-nuclear bias.7 It rejected ‒ on economic grounds ‒ almost all of the proposals it considered: uranium conversion and enrichment, nuclear fuel fabrication, conventional and Generation IV nuclear power reactors8, and spent fuel reprocessing.

The only thing left standing (apart from the small and shrinking uranium mining industry9) was the plan to import nuclear waste as a commercial venture. Based on commissioned research, the Royal Commission proposed importing 138,000 tonnes of high-level nuclear waste (spent nuclear fuel from power reactors) and 390,000 cubic metres of intermediate-level waste.

The SA Labor government then established a 'Know Nuclear' statewide promotional campaign under the guide of 'consultation'. The government also initiated the Citizens' Jury.

The first sign that things weren't going to plan for the government was on 15 October 2016, when 3,000 people participated in a protest against the nuclear dump at Parliament House in South Australia's capital, Adelaide.10

A few weeks later, on November 6, the Citizens' Jury rejected the nuclear dump plan.1 Journalist Daniel Wills wrote: "Brutally, jurors cited a lack of trust even in what they had been asked to do and their concerns that consent was being manufactured. Others skewered the Government's basic competency to get things done, doubting that it could pursue the industry safely and deliver the dump on-budget."11

In the immediate aftermath of the Citizens' Jury, the SA Liberal Party and the influential Nick Xenophon Team announced that they would actively campaign against the dump in the lead-up to the March 2018 state election. The SA Greens were opposed from the start.

Premier Weatherill previously said that he established the Citizens' Jury because he could sense that there is a "massive issue of trust in government".12 It was expected that when he called a press conference on November 14, the Premier would accept the Jury's verdict and dump the dump. But he announced that he wanted to hold a referendum on the issue, as well as giving affected Aboriginal communities a right of veto. Nuclear dumpsters went on an aggressive campaign to demonise the Citizens' Jury though they surely knew that the bias in the Jury process was all in the pro-nuclear direction.13,14

For the state government to initiate a referendum, enabling legislation would be required and non-government parties said they would block such legislation. The government didn't push the matter ‒ perhaps because of the near-certainty that a referendum would be defeated. The statewide consultation process led by the government randomly surveyed over 6,000 South Australians and found 53% opposition to the proposal compared to 31% support.15 Likewise, a November 2016 poll commissioned by the Sunday Mail found 35% support for the nuclear dump plan among 1,298 respondents.16

Then the Labor government announced on 15 November 2016 that it would not seek to repeal or amend the SA Nuclear Waste Storage Facility (Prohibition) Act 2000, legislation which imposes major constraints on the ability of the government to move forward with the nuclear waste import proposal.17

Economic claims exposed

Implausible claims about the potential economic benefits of importing nuclear waste had been discredited by this stage.18 The claims presented in the Royal Commission's report were scrutinised by experts from the US-based Nuclear Economics Consulting Group (NECG), commissioned by a Joint Select Committee19 of the SA Parliament.

The NECG report said the waste import project could be profitable under certain assumptions ‒ but the report then raised serious questions about most of those assumptions.20 The report noted that the Royal Commission's economic analysis failed to consider important issues which "have significant serious potential to adversely impact the project and its commercial outcomes"; that assumptions about price were "overly optimistic" in which case "project profitability is seriously at risk"; that the 25% cost contingency for delays and blowouts was likely to be a significant underestimate; and that the assumption the project would capture 50% of the available market had "little support or justification".

The farcical and dishonest engineering of a positive economic case to proceed with the nuclear waste plan was ridiculed by ABC journalist Stephen Long on 8 November 2016: "Would you believe me if I told you the report that the commission has solely relied on was co-authored by the president and vice president of an advocacy group for the development of international nuclear waste facilities?"21

The economics report was an inside job, with no second opinion and no peer review ‒ no wonder the Citizens' Jury was unconvinced and unimpressed.

Prof. Barbara Pocock, an economist at the University of South Australia, said: "All the economists who have replied to the analysis in that report have been critical of the fact that it is a 'one quote' situation. We haven't got a critical analysis, we haven't got a peer review of the analysis".22

Another South Australian economist, Prof. Richard Blandy23 from Adelaide University, said: "The forecast profitability of the proposed nuclear dump rests on highly optimistic assumptions. Such a dump could easily lose money instead of being a bonanza."24

The dump is finally dumped

To make its economic case, the Royal Commission assumed that tens of thousands of tonnes of high-level nuclear waste would be imported before work had even begun building a deep underground repository. The state government hosed down concerns about potential economic losses by raising the prospect of customer countries paying for the construction of waste storage and disposal infrastructure in SA.

But late last year, nuclear and energy utilities in Taiwan ‒ seen as one of the most promising potential customer countries ‒ made it clear that they would not pay one cent towards the establishment of storage and disposal infrastructure in SA and they would not consider sending nuclear waste overseas unless and until a repository was built and operational.25

By the end of 2016, the nuclear dump plan was very nearly dead, and the Premier's recent statement that it is "not something that will be progressed by the Labor Party in Government" was the final nail in the coffin. The dump has been dumped.

"Today's news has come as a relief and is very much welcomed," said Yankunytjatjara Native Title Aboriginal Corporation Chair and No Dump Alliance spokesperson Karina Lester. "We are glad that Jay has opened his ears and listened to the community of South Australia who have worked hard to be heard on this matter. We know nuclear is not the answer for our lands and people – we have always said NO."

Narungga man and human rights activist Tauto Sansbury said: "We absolutely welcome Jay Weatherill's courageous decision for looking after South Australia. It's a great outcome for all involved."

Reflections

The idea of Citizens' Juries would seem, superficially, attractive. But bias is inevitable if the government establishing and funding the Jury process is strongly promoting (or opposing) the issue under question. In the case of the Jury investigating the nuclear waste plan, it backfired quite spectacularly on the government ‒ jurors knew they were being pushed to vote 'yes' and they responded by voting 'no ... not under any circumstances'.26 Citizen Juries will be few and far between for the foreseeable future in Australia. A key lesson for political and corporate elites is that they shouldn't let any semblance of democracy intrude on their plans.

The role of the Murdoch press needs comment, particularly in regions where the only mass-circulation newspaper is a Murdoch tabloid. No-one would dispute that the NT News has a dumbing-down effect on political and intellectual life in the Northern Territory. Few would doubt that the Courier Mail does the same in Queensland. South Australians need to grapple with the sad truth that the state's Murdoch tabloids ‒ The Advertiser and the Sunday Mail ‒ are a blight on the state. Their grossly imbalanced and wildly inaccurate coverage of the nuclear dump debate was ‒ with some honourable exceptions27 ‒ disgraceful. And that disgraceful history goes back decades; for example, a significant plume of radiation dusted Adelaide after one of the British bombs tests at Maralinga in the 1950s but The Advertiser chose not to report it.

The main lesson from the dump debate is a positive one: people power can upset the dopey, dangerous ideas driven by political and corporate elites and the Murdoch press. Sometimes. It was particularly heartening that the voices of Aboriginal Traditional Owners were loud and clear28 and were given great respect by the Citizens' Jury and by many other South Australians. The Jury's report said: "There is a lack of Aboriginal consent. We believe that the government should accept that the Elders have said NO and stop ignoring their opinions."1

Conversely, the most sickening aspect of the debate was the willingness of the Murdoch press29 and pro-nuclear lobbyists30 to ignore or trash Aboriginal people opposed to the dump.

Another dump debate

Traditional Owners, environmentalists, church groups, trade unionists and everyone else who contributed to dumping the dump can rest up and celebrate for a moment. But only for a moment. Another dump proposal is very much alive: the federal government's plan to establish a national nuclear waste dump in SA, either in the Flinders Ranges or on farming land near Kimba, west of Port Augusta.32

In May 2016, Adnyamathanha Traditional Owner Regina McKenzie, who lives near the Flinders Ranges site, wrote:33

"Last year I was awarded the SA Premier's Natural Resource Management Award in the category of 'Aboriginal Leadership − Female' for working to protect land that is now being threatened with a nuclear waste dump. But Premier Jay Weatherill has been silent since the announcement of six short-listed dump sites last year, three of them in SA.

"Now the Flinders Ranges has been chosen as the preferred site and Mr Weatherill must speak up. The Premier can either support us ‒ just as the SA government supported the Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta34 when their land was targeted for a national nuclear waste dump from 1998-2004 ‒ or he can support the federal government's attack on us by maintaining his silence."

Perhaps Premier Jay Weatherill will find his voice on the federal government's contentious proposal for a national nuclear waste dump in SA, now that his position on that debate is no longer complicated by the parallel debate about establishing a dump for foreign high-level nuclear waste. He might argue, for example, that affected Traditional Owners should have a right of veto over the establishment of a national nuclear waste dump ‒ precisely the position he adopted in relation to the international high-level dump.

References:

1. South Australia's Citizens' Jury on Nuclear Waste, November 2016, 'Final Report', http://assets.yoursay.sa.gov.au/production/2016/11/06/07/20/56/26b5d85c-...

2. Tom Richardson, 11 Nov 2016, 'DUMPED: Nuclear repository "dead" as Marshall draws election battleline', http://indaily.com.au/news/local/2016/11/11/dumped-nuclear-repository-de...

3. Tom Richardson, 7 June 2017, '"There's no foreseeable opportunity for this": Jay declares nuke dump "dead"', http://indaily.com.au/news/politics/2017/06/07/theres-no-foreseeable-opp...

4. Friends of the Earth Australia, 7 June 2017, 'Premier Weatherill unclear on nuclear dump', media release, https://www.facebook.com/jim.green.77920526/posts/10154485903460896

5. Conservation Council of SA, the Australian Conservation Foundation and Friends of the Earth, Dec 2015, 'A Critique of the South Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission', www.archive.foe.org.au/rc-critique

6. Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission Report. May 2016, http://yoursay.sa.gov.au/system/NFCRC_Final_Report_Web.pdf

7. 4 Nov 2016, 'Bias of SA Nuclear Royal Commission finally exposed', http://reneweconomy.com.au/bias-sa-nuclear-royal-commission-finally-expo...

8. 2 Nov 2016, 'The slow death of fast reactors', http://energypost.eu/slow-death-fast-reactors/

9. Nuclear Monitor #837, 31 Jan 2017, '2016 in Review: "It has never been a worse time for uranium miners"', www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/837/2016-review-it-has-never-b...

10. https://vimeo.com/187622136

Lauren Waldhuter / ABC, 15 Oct 2016, 'Nuclear waste dump protesters bring the fight from outback South Australia to the city', www.abc.net.au/news/2016-10-15/nuclear-waste-dump-protesters-bring-the-f...

11. Daniel Wills, 6 Nov 2016, 'Nuclear waste verdict from citizens' jury leaves Government's grand plan in tatters', http://pixel.tcog.cp1.news.com.au/track/component/article/8d7e1a4b553ab43aa1531da50ab33c67?esi=true&t_template=s3/chronicle-tg_tlc_storyheader/index&t_product=AdelaideNow&td_device=desktopwww.adelaidenow.com.au/news/opinion/daniel-wills-nuclear-waste-verdict-f...

12. Daniel Wills, 7 Nov 2016, 'Citizens' jury overwhelmingly rejects nuclear waste storage facility for South Australia', www.news.com.au/national/south-australia/citizens-jury-overwhelmingly-re...

13. Benito Cao, 3 Nov 2016, 'Manufacturing consent for SA's nuclear program', www.crikey.com.au/2016/11/03/manufacturing-consent-for-sa-nuclear-program/

14. Tony Webb, 18 Nov 2016, 'One small voice from inside the recent SA Nuclear Citizen's Jury', http://onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=18669&page=0

15. Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission Consultation and Response Agency, Nov 2016, 'Community Views Report', p.19, http://assets.yoursay.sa.gov.au/production/2016/11/11/09/37/34/0c1d5954-...

16. https://www.surveymonkey.net/results/SM-FV2558KN/

17. SA Government, 15 Nov 2016, 'Government delivers response to Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission Report', http://nuclear.yoursay.sa.gov.au/news/get-to-know-nuclear-discover-discu...

18. Richard Blandy, 7 June 2016, 'How a high-level nuclear waste dump could lose money', http://indaily.com.au/business/analysis/2016/06/07/how-a-high

19. SA Parliament ‒ Joint Committee on Findings of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission, www.parliament.sa.gov.au/Committees/Pages/Committees.aspx?CTId=2&CId=333

20. Nuclear Economics Consulting Group, 11 Nov 2016, 'Review of Jacobs MCM Report Commercial Model', http://nuclear-economics.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/2016-11-11-NECG-...

21. Stephen Long, 8 Nov 2016, 'SA nuclear waste dump plans based on questionable assumptions and lacks public support', www.abc.net.au/news/2016-11-08/should-south-australia-be-storing-nuclear...

22. Stephen Long, 3 Nov 2016, 'Critics argue Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission skewed by advocacy group's evidence', www.abc.net.au/news/2016-11-03/radioactive-waste-dump-would-boost-sa-eco...

23. Prof. Richard Blandy, Submission to SA Nuclear Fuel cycle Royal Commission, http://nuclearrc.sa.gov.au/app/uploads/2016/04/Blandy-Richard.pdf

24. Stephen Long, 3 Nov 2016, 'Critics argue Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission skewed by advocacy group's evidence', www.abc.net.au/news/2016-11-03/radioactive-waste-dump-would-boost-sa-eco...

25. Daniel Wills, 14 Dec 2016, 'Taiwanese energy firm rejects Martin Hamilton-Smith's claim it would help set up SA nuclear waste dump', www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/south-australia/taiwanese-energy-firm-reject...

26. Daniel Wills, 11 Nov 2016, 'The people have skewered a political class they feels governs for itself instead of them', www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/opinion/daniel-wills-the-people-have-skewere...

27. www.adelaidenow.com.au/search-results?q=daniel+wills+nuclear

28. 'Statements from Aboriginal Traditional Owners regarding the plan to import high-level nuclear waste to South Australia', Oct 2016, www.anfa.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Traditional-Owner-statements-...

29. Tory Shepherd, 15 Nov 2016, 'Tory Shepherd: Deriding experts as 'elites' is a pinheaded attempt at equality, pretending that everyone's views hold the same worth', www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/opinion/tory-shepherd-deriding-experts-as-el...

30. 1 July 2016, 'Radioactive waste and the nuclear war on Australia's Aboriginal people', www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2987853/radioactive_waste_and_th...

31. https://www.facebook.com/groups/344452605899556/

32. https://www.facebook.com/No-Radioactive-Waste-Facility-for-Kimba-Distric...

33. Regina McKenzie, 6 May 2016, 'Premier silent while Flinders Ranges threatened', http://indaily.com.au/opinion/2016/05/06/premier-silent-while-flinders-r...

34. Irati Wanti, http://web.archive.org/web/20080718193150/http:/www.iratiwanti.org/home....

In the hope of a better legacy: An interview with Prof. Andrew Blowers

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#845
4655
08/06/2017
Jan Haverkamp
Article

Jan Haverkamp interviews Andrew Blowers, Emeritus Professor at The Open University. Jan reviewed Andrew's book 'The Legacy of Nuclear Power' in Nuclear Monitor #843 and this interview explores the issues in more detail.

Andrew Blowers is sitting for this interview in the very same study at home where he was confronted in 1983 as a county councillor with the proposal by the then UK authority responsible for nuclear waste, NIREX, to set up a near-surface disposal facility for low and intermediate level nuclear waste in Bedfordshire. We end our almost two hour session reflecting on what drove him to dedicate over 30 years of his life to the issue of radioactive waste and the nuclear legacy. It is that legacy that he addresses in his latest book 'The Legacy of Nuclear Power'.

Blowers: "I find this as academic and politician intellectually fascinating. The book has an intellectual core. And when confronted with these kind of happenings, I tend to react. But basically my initial reaction was 'this is wrong, this needs to be opposed and I will commit myself to this opposition'. And I have found out, that it is fundamentally wrong, ethically and scientifically. I have now started an NGO opposing plans for a new nuclear power station at Bradwell on the Essex coast in England. Those plans are diabolical. That is the correct word. It is going to bring environmental degradation and more than that an impact for generations to come. I look at the potential danger, which I believe to be massive, and see it is all unnecessary because I believe we can do with an energy future which is not nuclear. It is a matter of faith to me. A set of values."

Because Blowers dedicates his book to 'Varrie and our children and grandchildren in the hope of a better legacy', we discuss Václav Havel's reflections on hope in his 1986 interview Dálkový Výslech with Karel Hvíždala.

Blowers: "Havel says that hope is not necessarily optimistic. I vary in my optimism, whether or not there will be a nuclear future for the UK. But that does not detract from that I think this is wrong and that one should oppose it and therefore I put that dedication not just for my family but for future generations in general. My hope is that we are not going to consign and hand such a future to them. Apart from that, nuclear is a nice target to have. The nuclear industry is vulnerable. Its arguments are weak and they can be countered. I am not in a cause without momentum behind it. The intellectual and moral arguments are on the side of those who are opposed."

Five communities facing a nuclear legacy

Blowers analyses in his book the way that five communities are dealing with large nuclear legacies: Hanford in the US, Sellafield in the UK, La Hague and Bure in France and Gorleben in Germany. Hanford is a long-established legacy site. Its roots are in the second World War, the nuclear installations on the site do not function any longer, and it is all about clean-up. Sellafield is also an older site, with two-thirds of the country's legacy wastes awaiting clean-up and a few remaining production activities. The reprocessing is slowly winding down, but there are plans for a new nuclear power station at Moorside and the area is on and off in discussion for deep geological disposal of high level waste. La Hague is a still operating reprocessing site, and Bure is foreseen as the final depository for the high-level waste created in La Hague, but the process of establishing a depository is only in its early stages.

Where Blowers noticed that the first three sites were established in a period of hegemony of technology, where few questions were asked, followed by a period of confrontation moving into a more participative search for solutions, the dynamic in Bure is still in its infancy. Gorleben has a completely different history. Planned as a reprocessing site and final disposal for high level waste, local resistance slowly ground everything to a halt. Although there is still a temporary on-surface storage of high-level waste and the possibility of deep geological disposal has not been completely taken off the table, there is the impression that the region has been able to prevent becoming a major nuclear legacy spot.

The common denominator that Blowers works out is that all sites belong to the periphery of their countries: lightly populated, economically weak and politically powerless. And that they all are dealing with the longest legacy of the nuclear industry: high-level waste.

Blowers mentions in his book several times that there is said to be a consensus that deep geological disposal is the best solution for this high-level waste.

Blowers: "A consensus? I drafted as a member of the CoRWM [the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management, set up by the UK government in the early 2000s to advise about the policies on radioactive waste management] the fundamental policy statement on this. We said that in the present state of knowledge, geological disposal is the best method. However, if you read the rest of those recommendations, they are qualified in the sense that this has to be preceded by a period of intermediate storage and a search for alternatives and so on. That is not the way that the British government has interpreted it. We have got to look at the time scales here. Any deep disposal in any country is a long way off, and I mean a generation off. The material we are dealing with is generation after generation after generation. And the material that would be produced by new build in the UK would have to be stored at least until the middle of the next century.

"Whatever you think about deep disposal being potentially the ultimate solution, it isn't here and now. The only actual solution for the most serious radioactive waste is to store it properly and effectively and that is in effect what countries are doing. But the message of that is because we do not have a long-term solution in most countries (apart from the Finns and Swedes and possibly the French), we do not have a concept that is agreed scientifically and we do not have a site that is publicly acceptable. It's a long way off and politicians tend to be stalling all the time. In the end the answer is simple. The storage is for the longer term. That is the point I would like to make. The other message is that it would be absolutely irresponsible to continue with the nuclear industry producing yet more waste which we cannot deal with, which would give us an interminable time scale without knowing what the inventory would be."

Not just technical, fundamentally social and political

Blowers mentions politics slowing down decisions, but I note that also the environmental movement is often accused of stalling progress.

Blowers: "Radioactive waste is a social, not only a scientific problem. You cannot just dump it on people. In the case of repositories you need consent from the community. That consent is difficult to achieve. If you look at Sellafield more recently where there was an attempt to apply some of the principles of our [CoRWM's] radioactive waste management policy in West Cumbria, probably the most nuclear friendly part of the country, it did not get overall community consent. That was partly touched off by the opposition movement, who certainly mobilised well, but I would say that that would become difficult in any case, because it was the county of Cumbria that decided it was not going to proceed. It might be revisited, but certainly not soon.

"If we go to Germany, one could argue that the German reluctance to go anywhere [with nuclear] is because of the success of the Gorleben movement, which started in the late 1970s. That long, hard, broad-ranging resistance over the years did not actually stop things, but prevented things moving forward. There is a half-open mine now there, there is an interim store in Gorleben and they are still there while you have a policy of a white map. It still could go anywhere. This is deeply political, with involvement of federal structures and all the rest of it and with an industry that is in retreat, it will mean they have to focus on temporary storage at the moment. I do not get the impression there is a huge hurry about things. They have a Commission, they are nominating places to store waste in the long term, and essentially Germany is facing now a long-term storage issue while there is the ongoing discussion about where are we going to put the material in the very long term."

Reality: temporary storage is the solution now

I bring up that the Netherlands decided to store waste for a hundred years, but in their focus on that refuse to look beyond that period.

Blowers: "There is a failure to look at the time scales. What the Dutch have recognised is to be pragmatic and realise maybe someone will come with a solution in the long term and piggy-back on that – with small countries that is always in the back of their minds – why should we bother to be first when others tread water. Storage is the solution for the foreseeable future. It is the problem of the unforeseeable future with which we cannot deal but we have to think about it. How far can we look forward in reality. I would say not more than two generations. We may have to rely on the future looking after itself, but we cannot allow more development [of nuclear power].

"If you look at Britain for some context. If the Chinese build Bradwell, it is, like the other proposed sites, a coastal site. All these coastal sites are very vulnerable. If we keep the spent fuel on site, we create a long term supposed solution, but it would be utterly foolish if we look at the conditions of the site. The waste it would create will be a colossal problem into the far future. My answer is: Don't build it."

Discourse the way to go

We move to the dynamic that Blowers has found at all of the five sites in the book, from faith in technology over confrontation towards some kind of more discourse oriented approach. But he also sees a backlash. Blowers concluded that that backlash is particularly strong in the UK on the basis of the argument of security – environmental and energy security. That argument was embraced by the nuclear industry. However, in spite of the open public discourse retreating, the idea of public consent is still standing. And in spite of political prevarications pushing decisions forwards in time, society still recognises the problem and is obliged to solve it.

The problem we are facing is a shift in the discourse. In 1976, the British policy was that one should not embark on further development of nuclear energy unless a solution for the long-term management of its wastes had been found. Now there is a claim, but nothing more than a claim, that nuclear can deal with this problem of managing wastes. The UK government is satisfied that a method will exist.

Blowers: "I don't share this optimistic vision. You should not make such pronouncements until it is actual reality. Two almost empirical rules in the nuclear industry are that it will cost much more than you ever thought it would, and the other is that it will take much longer than you thought it would. There is no way you can believe the claims that have been made. I am sceptical not because I am a rabid anti-nuclear activist, but because it is a no-brainer if you look at the politics, the geological problems, the sense of priorities of people and so on."

Nevertheless, the developments as we saw them in the mid-2000s in CoRWM and before that in the Arbeitskreis Endlagerung (AkEnd) in Germany, were interesting. Blowers explains that CoRWM was very advanced in creating discourse. There was enormous public engagement, a lot of science involved, different debating techniques. It also brought the political and ethical angle in. Blowers commented on the membership of CoRWM at that time: "We were a motley crew of people. Not particularly with any sense of balance, but unusually having at least four of the members who were if not sceptical, actually hostile to nuclear interests, which is very rare for a government committee. Still, we came as close to a consensus as was possible."

The recommendations were highly interrelated and interdependent and the result of a genuine discourse. The government did not entirely overturn them, but at the time the recommendations were finished, it embarked on a new build programme. Blowers: "Instead of the measured approach we set out, they seized on the idea we had put forward for deep disposal and then wanted deep disposal as soon as possible, which is different from the recommendations we had. Without Prime Minister Blair's nuclear revival, we'd probably still be working with the full suite of recommendations. But CoRWM's main recommendations still stand." And they are based on voluntarism, partnership, and a scientifically suitable site concept.

Periphery in France

The French setting is completely different. Blowers describes Bure, being under active development but not yet approved, as a slow Chinese torture. It is in his eyes a classic case of periphery. Tiny villages, small population, on the border of two departments. "The secret France. However much transparency you build in, it is not going to manifest itself very powerfully in Bure, because there is not much there. So the debate is one level up on a departmental and regional level."

Many activists in France find the use of local information committees (CLIs) a form of co-optation. It does not deliver the kind of divisive and polarised debate as you see in Gorleben. With that, the CLIs are not so distant from the industry. Blowers: "I look at communities. The idea of periphery is more complex than it sounds, but it helps explain how you get in these communities the dependency on the industry." He points out that because other communities do not want these nuclear activities, they are pushed to powerless places. And in these places, co-optation tools like compensation payments as in France and attraction of funds for other developments like in Hanford become very effective.

Blowers concludes his book with the moral obligation in the search for how our generation is dealing with the legacies of nuclear power in terms of procedural equity, intra-generational equity through voluntarism and an emphasis on community well-being, and intergenerational equity. We agree on the parallel with the conclusions of the German Ethics Commission on a Safe Energy Future that was established after the Fukushima disaster and gave Angela Merkel the moral basis for the German nuclear phase-out. One of the vital problems we identified is that a lot of the debate is framed in a technical scientific framework, delivering so-called hard facts. In reality, that technical-scientific debate is spattered with terms like "reasonable" and "proportional" – terms that include a deeply ethical and political dimension. I question whether the scientists involved in these debates have the ethical and political mandates to determine what is reasonable or proportional.

Blowers: "All issues to do with the nuclear legacy are social as well as scientific. [When I started as advisor to the government] this hadn't been registered, really. Until the end of the last century, we would get scientific solutions that were just like that plumped onto the landscape. It was decide and then defend. Science driven, engineer based solutions. No idea of the social consequences."

It was a long battle to get people realise the social side of it. The ethical dimension is a step further. Blowers: "I am not an ethicist, by the way. I picked up that particular badge and ran with it. But there was a recognition. Scientists and engineers still go for the idea of scientific method, the rationality and the rest of it, but there is a recognition there that we also are dealing with something that is socially sensitive and has implications for future generations, as it has implications within generations – some places have to host these sites and some don't – there is an inequality there. And the ethical implications are such things as community involvement, community well-being. They were seen as typical social sciences, things you cannot really get anywhere with, with all sorts of nuances, but behind that there is something really important. The social scientists now involved in decision making have made quite some impact, which you can now recognise in how issues are brought forward. For instance in the form of the German Ethical Commission."

At the start of the interview, we noticed we are two succeeding generations in the nuclear debate and we would discuss issues from that perspective. Binding us is the conclusion that nuclear power is a concept that has lost its sense, and what drives us to work on its role-back is the "hope" from Blower's dedication of his book as Havel defined it: Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It's not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.

Jan Haverkamp is expert consultant on nuclear energy and energy policy for WISE, Greenpeace Central and Eastern Europe, Greenpeace Switzerland and vice-chair of Nuclear Transparency Watch.

European Commission publishes first report on national nuclear waste programmes

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#844
4647
25/05/2017
Jan Haverkamp
Article

Euratom Directive 2011/70/EURATOM prescribes that Member States of Euratom have to submit comprehensive data about their radioactive waste and waste management plans. Yet the European Commission's first attempt at an overview, published in a report1 released May 15, is limited because different countries use different definitions, and most countries have not even started to calculate future waste production.

Issues of concern include the lack of sufficient funds for radioactive waste management, the lack of reflection on the fact that no final disposal technologies have been implemented for high-level waste, and the tendency of half of the Member States to want to find final solutions outside of their own borders.

The move from the European Commission to accept the option of shared / regional disposal options as acceptable is a highly worrying development. Especially since many of the Member States are still creating more radioactive waste and have no plans to minimise its production, for instance by a phase-out of the largest source of these wastes ‒ nuclear power generation. The Commission also found that those that seem to want to rely on regional solutions lag behind in the necessary research and planning for waste management. The Commission shows some implicit concerns (of course, never too explicit), and concludes that any such consideration should be accompanied by maximum transparency and public participation.

The delays in the planning of the start of operation of the potentially first high-level waste disposal repositories ‒ in Finland (from 2020 to 2022), Sweden and France (both from 2025 to 2030) ‒ is a welcome indication that some sense of realism is entering this field. It has to be remarked, however, that all three programmes still need to overcome essential technological and social hurdles. It is especially interesting to see the delay for Sweden, where Finland is relying on the technology that is still under development in Sweden and the primary cause for the delays.

There are a lot of implicit warnings in this generally rather critical overview by the European Commission ‒ especially since the Commission is usually so diplomatic. But the Commission shies away from its official mandate to point out to Member States that they have an obligation under the Aarhus Convention and EU law to take the information in this report and from procedures including public participation into account not only in future reporting (as the Commission does now), but also in concrete decisions. Among others, decisions concerning new nuclear projects and life-time extension of existing reactors.

There are several issues where Member States seem to stick their heads in the sand. For instance, concerning the question as to whether there are sufficient human resources and skills available to deal with the nuclear legacy. The indications on this question in the national reports are only sketchy. Another one is the independence of the national regulator who has to oversee the quality of radioactive waste management. Every Member State declares that this independence is guaranteed, but practice shows that that issue is far more complicated and depends on factors like availability of independent experts, sufficient financial resources, access to sufficient independent research capacity, a well-established culture of transparency and public participation, including safeguards against co-optation.

There is a fundamental disconnect between the information provided by Member States about financial reserves for radioactive waste management and other Commission information. According to this Commission report, Member States ‒ including those with nuclear power programmes ‒ claim to have adequate reserves in place. However, the European Commission's PINC report published on 12 May 2017 on upcoming investments in the nuclear sector until 2050 still flags a shortfall of €130 billion in reserves for decommissioning and waste management (€133 billion allocated, barely half of the estimated €263 billion required).2

Given the realities in countries where the issue of radioactive waste costs has come to real calculations ‒ e.g. Germany and the UK ‒ the need for government guarantees and buy-outs shows that this gap is real. The Commission indicates that it received insufficient information to be able to properly estimate whether sufficient funds have been set aside and will be available when needed. That some Member States now already declare that they might be depending on EU funding is a bad sign.

This European Commission report was long awaited and its outcomes support the worst fears. Even after almost 70 years of nuclear technology in Europe and research investments costing hundreds of millions of euros, the continent is only scratching the surface of what it needs to do to solve the nuclear legacy.

Jan Haverkamp is expert consultant on nuclear energy and energy policy for WISE, Greenpeace Central and Eastern Europe, Greenpeace Switzerland and vice-chair of Nuclear Transparency Watch.

References:

1. The European Commission report and its two staff working documents are posted at:

https://ec.europa.eu/energy/en/topics/nuclear-energy/radioactive-waste-a...

2. European Commission, 12 May 2017, 'Communication from the Commission: Nuclear Illustrative Programme, presented under Article 40 of the Euratom Treaty', http://ec.europa.eu/transparency/regdoc/rep/1/2017/EN/COM-2017-237-F1-EN...

German court rules on reactor shut-down compensation

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#836
4608
16/12/2016
Diet Simon
Article

German taxpayers should pay nuclear power companies "appropriate compensation" for the government order to shut them down by 2022, the country's highest court ruled on December 6.

The Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht) didn't put a figure on the compensation entitlement, but the industry talks about €19 billion (US$19.8 bn). Eon said the accelerated nuclear phase-out policy will cost it €8 billion, RWE did not provide any information but analysts estimate its claim at €6 billion euros, while Vattenfall claimed €4.7 billion.

The companies did not argue that they should be allowed to operate reactors for longer, but that they should be compensated. About 70% of Germans regularly reject nuclear power in opinion polls.

After the 2011 Fukushima disaster, the government of Angela Merkel, backed by the then opposition Social Democrats and Greens, rescinded the longer reactor operating lifespans approved in December 2010 and set earlier closure dates for each of the 17 power reactors. Eight closed immediately, nine are due to close by 2022.

The power companies argued that this is an unconstitutional expropriation. The Federal Constitutional Court ruled that the decision to reduce reactor lifespans was constitutional and that it did not constitute expropriation, but that it amounted to a restriction of the companies' property rights and that compensation should therefore be paid.

Eon, RWE und Vattenfall, the companies that brought the case, may prefer to use the entitlement as a bargaining chip in the ongoing acrimonious dispute over who pays for disposing of nuclear waste, the producers of it or the public. That is, credit the entitlement against whatever waste disposal cost is set.

Public money helped set up nuclear power and, one way or another, public money will also pay for the 'clean-up', if that's possible, of the nuclear waste.

On December 15, Germany's coalition government, with the support of the Greens, passed a law regulating the long-term costs of nuclear waste management. As discussed in Nuclear Monitor #833, power companies will pay €23 billion into a government-controlled fund and they will be off the hook for any future cost increases. A leading regional newspaper blasted the deal as "a nasty deal at the taxpayers' expense". 140,000 people have so far signed a petition: 'We're not paying for your waste'.

Activists are especially mad at Jürgen Trittin, a senior Green and former environment minister, who co-headed the group that wrote the law. Trittin knows that the clean-up funds fall far short of what's needed, wrote Jochen Stay, a leading activist.

Parliament will vote on scrapping a tax on nuclear fuel on 1 January 2017. The Social Democrats have said they'll campaign in next year's election to bring the tax back in, but if they have to share government with the conservatives again, that's likely to gurgle down the drain again like it did in the present coalition.

Stay's .ausgestrahlt group said in a December 15 statement: "The Bundestag will decide today that in future the general public will have to pay for the nuclear waste, and not those who for years made billions with their nuclear power stations. The power companies can buy themselves out with a once-only payment. At the same time the parliament is highly likely to throw out a motion to extend the tax on nuclear fuel."

Australian nuclear waste import plan dead, revived, dead again ... hopefully.

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#834
4602
24/11/2016
Jim Green ‒ Nuclear Monitor editor
Article

We reported in the last issue of Nuclear Monitor that plans to use South Australia (SA) as a dumping ground for around one-third of the world's spent nuclear fuel was all but dead and buried.1 Since then, the project has been revived by the SA government then buried again (hopefully) by opposition parties.

The first indication of major opposition to the dump plan was on October 15, when 3,000 people participated in a protest at Parliament House in Adelaide, the capital of SA. Then, on November 6, two-thirds of the 350 members of a South Australian government-initiated Citizens' Jury rejected "under any circumstances" the government's plan to import 138,000 tonnes of spent fuel and 390,000 cubic metres of intermediate-level nuclear waste as a money-making venture.

SA Premier Jay Weatherill previously said that he established the Citizens' Jury because he could sense that there is a "massive issue of trust in government". It was expected that when Weatherill called a press conference on November 14, he would announce that no further work would be carried out on the dump plan. But Weatherill instead announced that he wanted to hold a state-wide referendum on the issue, as well as giving affected Aboriginal communities a right of veto over nuclear developments on their land.

However, to hold a referendum enabling legislation would be required and cannot be passed without the support of political parties opposed both to a referendum and also to the nuclear waste import project. Those parties are the main opposition Liberal Party (favored to win the next state election in early 2018), the Nick Xenophon Team and the SA Greens. The conservative Liberal Party and the Nick Xenophon Team had not opposed the nuclear waste import proposal before the Citizens' Jury, and their opposition fundamentally alters the political dynamics of the debate.

Then the Labor Party government announced that it would not seek to repeal or amend the SA Nuclear Waste Storage Facility (Prohibition) Act 2000, which imposes major constraints on the ability of the government to move forward with the nuclear waste import proposal.2 (Nor will the state government encourage the federal government to repeal laws banning nuclear power, "recognising that in the short-to-medium term, nuclear power is not a cost-effective source of low-carbon electricity for South Australia").

So we're back where we started ‒ the waste import proposal seems to be dead in the water. Nevertheless the state government and SA's Murdoch tabloid, The Advertiser, along with some other supporters are fighting a furious rear-guard battle to try to revive the corpse. They are relentlessly attacking and undermining the credibility of the Citizens' Jury. Those voices of those defending the integrity of the Jury3 ‒ or pointing to its pro-nuclear biases4 ‒ are being drowned out by the chorus of criticism in The Advertiser.

Supporters of the proposal are being extraordinarily dishonest. A public opinion poll5 commissioned by the Sunday Mail (the sister paper of The Advertiser), found that 35% of South Australians support the waste import proposal. Instead of reporting that result honestly ‒ by noting that non-supporters outnumber supporters by almost two to one ‒ the Sunday Mail conflated responses to two different questions and claimed: "Majority support for creating a nuclear industry in South Australia is revealed in an extensive Sunday Mail survey of public opinion, in a rebuff to moves to shut down further study of a high-level waste dump."6

Another example of blatant dishonesty concerned a Community Views Report reflecting a state-wide consultation process.7 The Premier cherry-picked and misrepresented that report, claiming that it found a 43:37 margin in favor of further consideration of the waste import proposal. In fact, the consultation process found that 4365 people were opposed to further consideration of the proposal while only 3032 supported further consideration.8

The Premier completely ignored the other findings of the Community Views Report:

  • 53% of respondents opposed the plan to import high-level nuclear waste while just 31% supported the plan;
  • over three-quarters of Aboriginal respondents opposed the plan;
  • only 20% of respondents were confident that nuclear waste could be transported and stored safely, while 70% were not confident;
  • the number of people confident in the government's ability to regulate any new nuclear industry activities in SA (2125 people) was barely half the number who were not confident (4190 people);
  • only 20% of respondents were confident that the government would consider community views while 70% were not confident; and
  • 66% per cent of respondents were not confident that a nuclear waste import project would bring significant economic benefits to SA.

The state government and the Murdoch press have also been lying about an economic report9 commissioned by a Parliamentary committee. The report, written by Nuclear Economics Consulting Group (NECG), was asked to evaluate an earlier study commissioned by a state government-initiated Royal Commission. According to the Sunday Mail, the NECG report "backed Royal Commission findings that a nuclear dump could create A$257 billion [US$190 bn; €180 bn] in revenue for South Australia."10

But the kindest thing the NECG report had to say was that the waste import project could be profitable under certain assumptions, and the NECG report then raises serious questions about most of those assumptions. The NECG report notes that the Royal Commission's economic analysis didn't even consider some important issues which "have significant serious potential to adversely impact the project and its commercial outcomes"; that assumptions about price are "overly optimistic" and if that is the case "project profitability is seriously at risk"; that the 25% cost contingency for delays and blowouts is likely to be a significant underestimate; and that the assumption the project would capture 50% of the available market had "little support or justification".

SA Liberal Party economic spokesperson Rob Lucas said: "This [NECG] report is a severe embarrassment for Mr Weatherill as it makes it clear the Weatherill Government leaks to the media on the weekend were selective, deceptive and an attempt to grossly mislead the public."11

How will this debate unfold? In all probability, nuclear waste proponents will, sooner or later, tire of banging their heads against a brick wall ‒ particularly if, as expected, the Liberal Party wins the state election in early 2018. It seems that there is little or no internal dissent to the Liberal Party's opposition to the dump ‒ most or all Liberal parliamentarians think the project is too much of an economic gamble and/or they see the political advantage in taking a no-dump position to the next state election. That said, the Liberal Party is pro-nuclear and it cannot be assumed that the party will retain its current no-dump policy.

Unnamed 'sources' told the Murdoch press that they plan to approach potential customer countries in an attempt to shore up the economic case (some reports suggest interest from Taiwan).10 The state government cannot engage in negotiations with potential customers because of the constraints imposed by the SA Nuclear Waste Storage Facility (Prohibition) Act 2000, but private parties can do as they please.

However, potential customer countries will be reluctant to engage in serious discussions given that there is strong public and political opposition in South Australia. As an Advertiser journalist noted in May 2016: "The business model only works if there is long-term stability for countries like Japan and Korea, who would become likely sellers. The chance of political upheaval or legal changes in SA over a dump would spook any responsible country, and lead them to make other arrangements."12

In the event that the Liberal Party backflips on its current no-dump policy, the SA Nuclear Waste Storage Facility (Prohibition) Act 2000 is amended or repealed, and a credible business case is developed including agreements with potential customer countries, then there is still the issue of the promised right of veto for affected Aboriginal Traditional Owners. Yet the Premier has acknowledged the "overwhelming opposition of Aboriginal people" and he should therefore abandon any further attempts to pressure Aboriginal people into accepting a high-level nuclear waste dump.

Aboriginal people in South Australia are seeking international organizational endorsements for their statement of opposition: www.anfa.org.au/sign-the-declaration/

References:

1. 8 Nov 2016, 'South Australian Citizens' Jury rejects nuclear waste dump plan', Nuclear Monitor #833, www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor

2. 15 Nov 2016, 'Government delivers response to Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission Report', http://nuclear.yoursay.sa.gov.au/news/get-to-know-nuclear-discover-discu...

3. Luca Belgiorno-Nettis, 18 Nov 2016, 'The greatest underused asset in politics is people; ignore them at your peril', www.smh.com.au/comment/the-greatest-underused-asset-in-politics-is-peopl...

4. Tony Webb, 18 Nov 2016, 'One small voice from inside the recent SA Nuclear Citizen's Jury', http://onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=18669&page=0

5. www.surveymonkey.net/results/SM-FV2558KN/

6. Paul Starick, 19 Nov 2016, 'Exclusive Sunday Mail Your Say, SA survey reveals majority support for a nuclear industry', www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/south-australia/exclusive-sunday-mail-your-s...

7. Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission Consultation and Response Agency, November 2016, 'Community Views Report', http://assets.yoursay.sa.gov.au/production/2016/11/11/09/37/34/0c1d5954-...

8. Jim Green, 15 Nov 2016, 'Jay Weatherill willing to commit political suicide with push to turn South Australia into world's nuclear waste dump', www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/opinion/jim-green-jay-weatherill-willing-to-...

9. Nuclear Economics Consulting Group, 11 Nov 2016, 'Review of Jacobs MCM Report Commercial Model', www.parliament.sa.gov.au/Committees/Pages/Committees.aspx?CTId=2&CId=333

10. Miles Kemp, 13 Nov 2016, 'Study firms up $257bn nuclear dump findings', Sunday Mail, http://enews.smedia.com.au/theadvertiser/shared/ShowArticle.aspx?doc=NCA...

11. Rob Lucas, 16 Nov 2016, 'New expert report on dump causes major problems for Weatherill', www.roblucas.com.au/Media-Releases/ID/933/New-expert-report-on-dump-caus...

12. Daniel Wills, 13 May 2016, 'Voters' nuclear reaction can avoid meltdowns in future', www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/opinion/daniel-wills-voters-nuclear-reaction...

13. Jay Weatherill, ABC SA 891 Radio, 15 November 2016.

Germany: nuclear waste controversies and protests

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#833
4598
08/11/2016
Diet Simon
Article

On October 20, the German coalition government of Social Democrats and Conservatives passed a new law on nuclear waste. The law was defended by a leader of the opposition Greens and former environment minister, Jürgen Trittin, outraging activists.

Trittin argued on national television that it is reasonable ("sinnvoll") for operators of nuclear power stations to pay €24 billion into a fund and after that to be cleared of all responsibility for the growing mountain of nuclear waste that will radiate for all eternity. All other costs are to be borne by society.

In the year 2000, Trittin negotiated the first nuclear power phase-out with energy utilities. This time, he's agreed with them on the €24 billion.

A Münster-based activist group wrote: "We're asking ourselves: Is that supposed to be Green nuclear policy for the population or the anti-nuclear movement? Shame on him who thinks that this might be about possible government coalitions to be formed in 2017 [when federal elections are held] or possible employers after Trittin's time as an MP ends." 

A leading anti-nuclear campaigner, Jochen Stay of .ausgestrahlt, sees the law enabling the nuclear operators to buy their way out of their responsibility "while the general public will bear the predictable cost increases in waste storage – this is the exit from the polluter pays principle". A leading regional newspaper, the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung, commented: "Rotten deal at taxpayers' expense".

Stay writes that Trittin touted the deal as if he were a government spokesperson: "Anyone hearing that asks themselves when was the last time the Greens raised a critical voice in nuclear policy decisions. What better can happen to a government than when it makes a highly controversial law and one of the most important opposition politicians talks it up on national television? That'll make the power companies happy, whose share prices rose steeply due to the law. For the stock exchange rates the risk ‒ now shifting from RWE, Eon and others to the public ‒ as much more serious than Jürgen Trittin does."

In the neighbouring state of North-Rhine Westphalia, Greens nuclear policy also looks dismal. Social Democrats and Greens share government there. In the Greens draft election program for next year, there are only simplistic descriptions of nuclear problems. The uranium enrichment plant at Ahaus, the only one in Germany, doesn't even get a mention. Nor is there a plainly expressed rejection of road transportation of waste caskets from Jülich to Ahaus, and the fact that the state government has already approved such transports also doesn't get a mention. The draft lacks specific demands, exit dates, and possible ways to make a nuclear exit complete. All of which leaves the electoral program falling far short of the decisions taken by the last Greens national congress.

Another worry for the anti-nuclear movement is the federal government's plan to stop taxing the power companies' nuclear fuel supplies. That's due to happen at the start of 2017. But the activist group .ausgestrahlt has found out that the companies are already tricking their way out of paying the tax, which would lose the federal coffers nearly €750 million this year. The finance ministry website notes that expected revenue from the fuel element tax this year is €1.1 billion, but only €355 million has been raised so far. The activist group called for protest action in Berlin directed at finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble as he was due to present his tax estimate. Calling for urgent signatures to a petition, .ausgestrahlt wants the minister to keep the fuel tax for at least another year.

Waste storage

On November 2, a vigil was held outside a nuclear research facility in Jülich to protest against trucking Castor waste caskets to Ahaus or for shipment to the USA. The supervisory board was meeting inside at the time.

Depending on the route chosen, the waste would roll on busy highways, through densely populated areas for 180‒190 kms to Ahaus. Activists want the waste kept in Jülich.

A protest resolution to stop the Jülich to Ahaus shipments ‒ the West Castor Resolution ‒ has been signed by 68 groups, with more likely. They include International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War and the Greens branch in Jülich. Activists demand the new construction of the safest possible interim storage in Jülich, a definite rejection of casket transports to Ahaus or the USA and the taking of responsibility by the nuclear industry. The resolution in German is posted at www.sofa-ms.de.

On Wednesday 2 November, the energy committee of the North-Rhine Westphalia state parliament discussed keeping the 152 Castor waste caskets in Jülich, where the waste was produced by an experimental reactor. It was decided to keep them in Jülich at least until the end of 2017, when there will be federal and several state elections. The Red-Green coalition government of North-Rhine Westphalia will be relieved that the controversial transport won't happen in a year when there will be elections in both the state and the nation.

"Under no circumstances" would it be possible to transport the waste by the end of next year, said Rudolf Printz, the technical manager of the Jülich-based nuclear facility disposal enterprise (Entsorgungsgesellschaft für Nuklearanlagen), because many issues remain unresolved. The company is responsible for dismantling the reactor.

The committee debated with experts about the future of the nuclear waste. Experts testified that all options for managing the waste pose risks. Outcome: no solution in sight.

Experts have been wrestling for years with the question of what to do with the Jülich waste. The storage in Jülich has to be emptied because it is regarded as potentially vulnerable to earthquakes. That has caused three other options to be examined. Storage in what is officially just a temporary repository in Ahaus, shipment to the USA, or new construction of a quake-proof repository in Jülich. It became clear in the committee session that all three options pose problems.

Transportation to Ahaus failed just before it was to be implemented, at least for the interim. In July this year, the Federal Office for Radiation Protection (Bundesamt für Strahlenschutz, BfS) licensed the operator of the Jülich repository to store the waste in Ahaus. But according to Printz, tighter new safety regulations for temporary holding of atomic waste rule Ahaus out. Among other things, an additional wall needed to be built there to secure it against terror attack and plane crashes. "Ahaus is obsolete," reactor safety expert Rainer Moormann told the MPs.

Shipping the spent fuel to the USA has been discussed for years. The US energy authority had signalled that nuclear fuel which had been made available to other countries for research could be taken back to the USA to prevent any danger of it being spread further. But the devil is in the detail. How should the transportation be done? How would irradiation of the population be prevented? What would all that cost? Moreover, it is uncertain that the next US president will honour the promise to take the waste back.

A third option, building a new quake-proof repository in Jülich, would take especially long. It would take at least 10 years to have such a facility operable, explained Christian Küppers, expert in nuclear technology and reactor safety with the Freiburg-based NGO Institute for Applied Ecology (Öko-Institut). That makes the plan look unrealistic to many.

Social Democrat Garrelt Duin, North-Rhine Westphalia economics minister who is politically responsible for nuclear supervision, did not present to the committee. Nor was he asked anything.

Opposition Conservatives (CDU) and Liberals (FDP) demanded speedier action by the government. The nuclear supervision of the ministry said they're looking "for the earliest possible solution" because the 152 Castors were only "tolerated" in Jülich for now.

Disposal of high-level waste

As reported in Nuclear Monitor #827 in July 2016, after more than two years of work, a commission considering the storage of Germany's high-level nuclear waste submitted its final report to the government in late June. Repository projects like Gorleben, Morsleben and Asse have failed, and the waste commission was supposed to map out a path forward. But it failed to do so: it evades all decisive issues or is so vaguely worded that the nuclear lobby can already rejoice over its interpretational wriggle room.

The commission hopes that a decision on a site can be reached by 2031 and the repository opened in 2050 ‒ but even that decades-long timetable was described by commission president Michael Mueller as "ambitious", and the commission's report says that the repository might not open until "the next century".

Protests and more protests

About 700 anti-nuclear activists demonstrated on Saturday October 29 in the German town of Lingen, where French-owned Areva produces nuclear fuel for power stations worldwide (www.lingen-demo.de). They demanded immediate closure of nuclear power stations in Lingen, Grohnde (in Germany), Tihange, Doel (Belgium), Fessenheim, Cattenom (France) and all others.

Another main demand was immediate closure of the Areva fuel element factory in Lingen and Germany's only uranium enrichment plant in Ahaus, trinationally owned by Germany, Netherlands and Britain.

It was the biggest anti-nuclear protest in Lingen in years and activists said they were very happy with the turnout. Around 100 activist groups called out to participate. Aktionsbündnis Münsterland gegen Atomanlagen, the major mobilisers, said "the mood was good and there was broad media coverage", including by the major national TV news, The Tagesschau.

The activists see the demo as another important step towards exiting nuclear power, still produced by eight of the original 17 power stations. Chancellor Angela Merkel announced on May 30, 2011, that all 17 would be shut down by 2022, in a policy reversal following Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.

"We're going to stay on it so that uranium enrichment and fuel element production will also have to be ended," wrote the Münster-based group.

An expert opinion by lawyer Cornelia Ziehm, commissioned by International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), argued in July that it is illegal under German law to export fuel elements from Lingen to the fault-prone reactors at Doel, Cattenom and Fessenheim. Ziehm refuted the contrary legal stance of the federal government point by point. The IPPNW and allied civic action groups are demanding that the environment minister, Barbara Hendricks, a Social Democrat, take action at last.

"Deny your approval of export of the fuel elements to the unsafe power station close to the border. The lives and health of us citizens here in Germany and in Belgium and France have to take priority over any entrepreneurial interests," declared Dr. Angelika Claussen of IPPNW in a communication to the minister.

On Sunday November 6, activists against the uranium enrichment plant at Ahaus, near Münster, celebrated the 30th anniversary of their "Sunday stroll" around the plant. Since 1986 the protest walk has taken place on the first Sunday of every month at 2 p.m. "The object remains immediate closure of the plant," the activists said. 

And on Sunday November 12, a very unusual anti-nuclear action will start at 2pm in Aachen, where Belgium, Netherlands and Germany abut. The Alemannia Aachen soccer club will dedicate its home game against the second team of FC Cologne to opposition to the nearby Belgian nuclear power plant at Tihange. Both teams will have "Stop-Tihange" written on their jerseys and profits will flow to anti-nuclear protests. Up to 33,000 people fit into the stadium and all involved are hoping for a full house. 

South Australian Citizens' Jury rejects nuclear waste dump plan

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#833
4596
08/11/2016
Jim Green ‒ Nuclear Monitor editor
Article

On November 6, two-thirds of the 350 members of a South Australian government-initiated Citizens' Jury rejected "under any circumstances" the government's plan to import 138,000 tonnes of high-level nuclear waste and 390,000 cubic metres of intermediate-level nuclear waste as a money-making venture.1

The Jury was a key plank of the government's attempt to manufacture support for the dump plan, and followed the SA Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission which released its final report in May 2016.2

The Royal Commission had a strong pro-nuclear bias3 in its composition but still rejected ‒ on economic grounds ‒ almost all of the proposals it considered: uranium conversion and enrichment, nuclear fuel fabrication, conventional and 'Generation IV' nuclear power reactors, and spent fuel reprocessing.

Australia's handful of self-styled 'ecomodernists' or 'pro-nuclear environmentalists' united behind a push to import spent fuel and to use some of it to fuel 'integral fast reactors'. They would have expected to persuade the stridently pro-nuclear Royal Commission to endorse their ideas. But the Royal Commission completely rejected the proposal, noting in its report that advanced fast reactors are unlikely to be feasible or viable in the foreseeable future; that the development of such a first-of-a-kind project would have high commercial and technical risk; that there is no licensed, commercially proven design and development to that point would require substantial capital investment; and that electricity generated from such reactors has not been demonstrated to be cost competitive with current light water reactor designs.2

The ecomodernists weren't deterred. They hoped that the nuclear waste import plan would proceed and that it would lay the foundations for the later development of fast reactors in South Australia (SA). Now it seems that the waste import plan will be abandoned and the ecomodernists are inconsolable.

The SA government will come under strong pressure to abandon the waste import plan in the wake of the Citizens' Jury's vote. Roman Orszanski, climate and energy campaigner with Friends of the Earth Adelaide, said: "Three thousand people protested against the proposed nuclear waste dump outside Parliament House on October 15 and there will be more protests and bigger protests if the SA government attempts to push ahead."

SA Unions secretary Joe Szakacs said Premier Jay Weatherill must now "stand up for SA, and not be hoodwinked into becoming the fall-guy for the multinational nuclear industry. Everyday South Australians have concluded that the argument in favour of storing the world's nuclear waste is flawed, and a bad deal for our state. The magnitude of opposition from the jury shows just how politically damaging this could be for the Premier. People know a dud deal when then see it, and that's exactly what this is."4

Premier Weatherill said: "There's no doubt that there's a massive issue of trust in government, I could sense that, that's why we started the whole citizen's jury process because there is no way forward unless we overcome those issues."4 The "massive issue of trust in government" will of course become all the more massive if Weatherill rejects the clear verdict of the Citizens' Jury.

Friends of the Earth Australia said: "Despite the pro-nuclear bias of the Royal Commission and SA government's so-called consultation process5, the Citizens' Jury has had the good sense to send a clear 'no' message to Jay Weatherill. South Australians do not want the state turned into the world's nuclear waste dump. The Premier has repeatedly said that he will respect the Jury's decision and now he must rule out any further work on his ill-considered nuclear frolic. More than $10 million has already been wasted promoting the dump plan and any further expenditure of taxpayers' money should be ruled out."

South Australia's only mass circulation newspaper, The Advertiser, a Murdoch tabloid, has been heavily promoting the nuclear dump plan but there was no attempt to spin the Citizens' Jury's rejection of the plan. Advertiser journalist Daniel Wills wrote:6

"This "bold" idea looks to have just gone up in a giant mushroom cloud. When Premier Jay Weatherill formed the citizens' jury to review the findings of a Royal Commission that recommended that SA set up a lucrative nuclear storage industry, he professed confidence that a well-informed cross-section of the state would make a wise judgment.

"Late Sunday, it handed down a stunning and overwhelming rejection of the proposal. Brutally, jurors cited a lack of trust even in what they had been asked to do and their concerns that consent was being manufactured. Others skewered the Government's basic competency to get things done, doubting that it could pursue the industry safely and deliver the dump on-budget.

"It seems almost impossible now to see a way through for those in Cabinet and the broader Labor Party who have quietly crossed their fingers and backed the idea of taking the world's nuclear waste.

"With the party planning a special convention which must endorse changes to policy so the industry can be more deeply considered, internal critics now have an extremely potent weapon.

"Those outside the state party ‒ including the SA Liberals, independent Senator Nick Xenophon and even senior federal Labor figures — now have clear public permission to start peeling away.

"Perhaps worse than that, if Mr Weatherill now elects to continue down the nuclear path, it would be by actively ignoring the public will uncovered by a process he personally put in place to test."

Aboriginal Traditional Owners

Friends of the Earth Australia said: "The Premier said he will respect the views of Aboriginal Traditional Owners and it is clear that an overwhelming majority of Traditional Owners are opposed to the high-level nuclear waste dump plan.7 The Citizens' Jury should be congratulated for showing respect to Traditional Owners and the Premier must now do the same by abandoning the plan."

"Jay's jury has said no", said Tauto Sansbury, chairperson of the Aboriginal Congress of South Australia. "The Premier should now listen to the people and respect this clear decision."8

Karina Lester, chairperson of Yankunytjatjara Native Title Aboriginal Corporation, said: "This is a strong decision from randomly selected and very diverse group of South Australians who have had the benefit of studying the Royal Commission Report and hearing information from experts in various aspects of the proposal. It was positive to hear the jurors acknowledging the need for Traditional Owner's voices to be heard. I thank the clear majority of Jurors for this decision."8

The Citizens' Jury report said:1

"There is a lack of Aboriginal consent. We believe that the government should accept that the Elders have said NO and stop ignoring their opinions. The Aboriginal people of South Australia (and Australia) continue to be neglected and ignored by all levels of government instead of respected and treated as equals."

"The South Australian Government has a legacy of:
a. consulting indigenous people in flawed processes that does not allow Aboriginal people to exercise free, informed, and meaningful consent.
b. not receiving free, informed and meaningful consent from indigenous people in the past in all matters, including nuclear.
c. engaging in practices that lead to the disruption of trust in indigenous people; for example, Maralinga.
d. engaging in practices that disrupt indigenous people's connection to country, for example the stolen generation and construction of sites like Olympic Dam. A nuclear waste facility is inherently an imposition on connection to country.

"The consultation process that indigenous people have been involved with has been
problematic. The consultation process has not been transparent, culturally inappropriate, held in inappropriate places with poor access, encountered language and literacy barriers, internet barriers, was directed by non-indigenous people, and did not recognise past wrongs and emotions.

"Many Aboriginal communities have made it clear they strongly oppose the issue and it is morally wrong to ignore their wishes. ... Jay Weatherill said that without the consent of traditional owners of the land "it wouldn't happen". It is unethical to backtrack on this statement without losing authenticity in the engagement process."

Bias exposed

The Citizens' Jury produced a raft of evidence to justify its distrust of government. The government's handling of the current nuclear waste debate is a case in point. The SA government repeatedly said it wanted a balanced, mature debate on the issue. But the government chose a nuclear advocate to head the Royal Commission, and the Royal Commissioner stacked his Expert Advisory Committee with three nuclear advocates and just one critic.

The Royal Commission relied on just one economic report, written by Jacobs MCM, a consultancy with deep links to the nuclear industry. The lead authors of the report were Charles McCombie and Neil Chapman from ARIUS, the Association for Regional and International Underground Storage.

ARIUS is a lobby group promoting nuclear waste dumps (which it calls "multinational facilities") and nuclear power. As the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) noted, ARIUS's motto is: "The world needs nuclear power ‒ nuclear power needs multinational facilities".9

ARIUS is the successor to the infamous Pangea Resources, an international consortium that secretly developed plans to build an international high-level nuclear waste dump in Australia.10 Pangea's existence wasn't known until a corporate video was leaked to Friends of the Earth in 1998.11 Pangea set up an office in Australia but gave up in 2002 ‒ A$600 million poorer ‒ in the face of overwhelming public and political opposition.

Charles McCombie, co-author of the Jacobs MCM report, was heavily involved in Pangea Resources. Likewise, former Pangea chief Jim Voss is heavily involved in the current push for SA to accept foreign nuclear waste, as an 'Honorary Reader' at UCL Australia and a member of UCL Australia's Nuclear Working Group. In the late 1990s, Voss denied meeting with federal government ministers when he had in fact met at least one minister ‒ Wilson 'Ironbar' Tuckey ('ironbar' because he once assaulted an Aboriginal man with a steel cable12). A Pangea spokesperson said at the time: "We would not like to be lying ... we very much regret getting off on the wrong foot."

Needless to say, the conflicted economic report produced by Jacobs MCM predicted that South Australia would become filthy rich if the state agrees to import vast amounts of nuclear waste.

The farcical and dishonest engineering of a positive economic case to proceed with the nuclear waste plan was neatly exposed by ABC journalist Stephen Long on November 8:13

"Would you believe me if I told you the report that the commission has solely relied on was co-authored by the president and vice president of an advocacy group for the development of international nuclear waste facilities? Charles McCombie and Neil Chapman of the consultants MCM head the advocacy group ARIUS ‒ the Association for Regional and International Underground Storage.

"They prepared the report in conjunction with Jacobs, a global engineering and consulting firm which has a lucrative nuclear arm and boasts of its "more than 50 years of experience across the complete nuclear asset cycle".

"When I interviewed the royal commissioner last week, he initially denied that the consultants who prepared the modelling ‒ that is the sole basis of the commission's recommendation in favour of a nuclear waste dump ‒ faced any conflict of interest.

"He then said there would have been a conflict of interest had it been the only material the commission had relied upon, but said it was "reviewed by our team of experts and found to be an appropriate estimation of what the costs, risks and benefits might be if we were involved in the storage of waste".

"That is the same "team of experts" who, apparently, recommended the consultants in the first place."

The Citizens' Jury was deeply unimpressed by the economic propaganda produced by Jacobs MCM and promoted by the Royal Commission and the SA government. The Jury's report said:1

"It is impossible to provide an informed response to the issue of economics because the findings in the RCR [Royal Commission report] are based on unsubstantiated assumptions. This has caused the forecast estimates to provide inaccurate, optimistic, unrealistic economic projections. We remain unconvinced that estimates relating to the cost of infrastructure."

"The advice of two contributing authors to the Jacobs MCM economic and safety assessment, who are lobbyists for the organisation "Arius", has called into question the objectivity of elements of the RC report. Given the authoritative nature and optimistic outcome of the economic analysis in particular, concern has been expressed that RC decisions and recommendations may not be free from bias and manipulation. The issue with the inherent bias could have been abrogated by seeking additional independent economic and safety analysis. The jury is not calling into question the impartiality of the Commission but is concerned that advocates for international nuclear waste storage may have influenced RC outcomes and damaged the integrity of the RC process and may not permit an informed decision.

"The economic modelling has a number of flaws, including not accounting for negative externalities or opportunity costs, compared to other potential investments and relies on a very optimistic interest rate."

South Australian economist Prof. Richard Blandy said: "I congratulate the Second Citizens' Jury on their overwhelming decision against the proposed nuclear dump. They have shown courage and common sense. A large majority could see that the bonanza that the dump was supposed to bring to the State was based on very flimsy evidence. They saw that the real path to a better economic future for our State is based on our skills, innovative capabilities and capacity for hard work, not a bizarre gamble based on guesses. I am proud of my fellow South Australians on the Jury – including those who were in the minority. I would like to thank them all for their efforts on behalf of their fellow South Australians."8

References:

1. South Australia's Citizens' Jury on Nuclear Waste: Final Report, November 2016, http://tinyurl.com/jury-report

2. Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission Report, May 2016, http://yoursay.sa.gov.au/system/NFCRC_Final_Report_Web.pdf

3. Jim Green, 4 Nov 2016, 'Bias of SA Nuclear Royal Commission finally exposed', http://reneweconomy.com.au/bias-sa-nuclear-royal-commission-finally-expo...

4. Daniel Wills, 6 Nov 2016, 'Citizens' jury overwhelmingly rejects nuclear waste storage facility for South Australia', www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/south-australia/citizens-jury-overwhelmingly...

5. Benito Cao, 3 Nov 2016, 'Manufacturing consent for SA's nuclear program', www.crikey.com.au/2016/11/03/manufacturing-consent-for-sa-nuclear-program/

6. Daniel Wills, 6 Nov 2016, 'Nuclear waste verdict from citizens' jury leaves Government's grand plan in tatters', http://pixel.tcog.cp1.news.com.au/track/component/article/8d7e1a4b553ab43aa1531da50ab33c67?esi=true&t_template=s3/chronicle-tg_tlc_storyheader/index&t_product=AdelaideNow&td_device=desktopwww.adelaidenow.com.au/news/opinion/daniel-wills-nuclear-waste-verdict-f...

7. www.anfa.org.au/traditional-owners-statements/

8. No Dump Alliance, 7 Nov 2016, 'The verdict is in and the radioactive waste dump plan is out', https://antinuclear.net/2016/11/06/the-verdict-is-in-and-the-radioactive...

9. Stephen Long, 3 Nov 2016, 'Critics argue Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission skewed by advocacy group's evidence', www.abc.net.au/news/2016-11-03/radioactive-waste-dump-would-boost-sa-eco...

10. www.foe.org.au/import-waste

11. www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=4&v=UjBSAlu0hjM

12. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilson_Tuckey

13. Stephen Long, 8 Nov 2016, 'SA nuclear waste dump plans based on questionable assumptions and lacks public support", www.abc.net.au/news/2016-11-08/should-south-australia-be-storing-nuclear...

Parking Lot dumps in the USA

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#830
4585
20/09/2016
Mary Olson from the Nuclear Information and Resource Service writes:
Article

US Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz was recently called to testify before the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Energy and Natural Resources, now chaired by Lamar Alexander (Republican ‒ Tennessee) and ranking minority member Diane Feinstein (Democrat ‒ California).1 These two have participated in rare bi-partisanship on Capitol Hill in their effort to support their mutual friends: corporations that generate nuclear waste.

Alexander is even getting good at promoting nuclear energy as the prime solution to the climate crisis and labeling anyone opposed to moving the irradiated fuel rods from the reactor sites as "climate deniers." He has learned to speak of "signals" and that Congress and the Department of Energy (DOE) must signal that it will take the waste in order for corporations to decide to build more reactors, which he says are the only climate solution.

In answer to a series of questions from Feinstein, Moniz basically affirmed his DOE's charade: that it can, unilaterally, move ahead on creating "consent-based" consolidated storage sites (what we call a Parking Lot Dump) identical to the technology in use for dry storage at reactor sites ... but out in the middle of the "nowhere" of Texas, New Mexico and South Carolina.

These areas have inhabitants, who have not been asked at all if they "consent" to taking the nation's worst waste at sites that are designed for decades, at best, with no plan for how the waste will ever move again. It is the nuclear contractors who have "consented"! The people of the communities of Hobbs / New Mexico, Aiken / South Carolina, August / Georgia and Andrews County / Texas all have what Moniz does not: a future. Moniz and the entire Obama Administration gang will be exiting 1000 Independence Avenue by January 20, 2017.

So, not too much store should be given to the pronouncements in the hearing, nonetheless Moniz tipped his hand on a startling new theory: that the DOE can use its procurement authority to move ahead on contracting with private contractors to provide storage for commercial waste. While it may be true that the DOE has the ability to set up a contract, it remains unclear that it has the authority to take ownership of the waste and move it. One can congratulate Moniz on his slippery answers to the good Senator from California since he said DOE would need more work on "transportation of the waste" without sending the signal (per Alexander) in public that a change in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act is needed.

Given the coming Lame Duck Congress it is entirely possible that the DOE intends, as has happened repeatedly in the past, to sneak some small wording to make this change into another bill. US readers living in major urban transport are encouraged to call your congress members and warn them of this possibility ‒ and remind them that moving the waste would be a local Main Street issue.

"We all live in Nevada" was a cry of the 1990s; now we all live in the nuclear zones of Texas, New Mexico, South Carolina, or any other area at risk for consolidated storage, and also at all the closed reactor sites. We are one community. This is a value that we have built over the last four decades.

2017 is bringing other changes too: Harry Reid (Democrat ‒ Nevada) is retiring. Harry has been a one-man "Yucca Mountain-Protector" who, I think, has made Corbin Harney, the spiritual leader of the Western Shoshone Nation (who passed in 2007), proud. Reid has done more than any other person to stop Yucca Mountain. Yucca is a site that would fail the mission of waste isolation and thanks to Harry and many of us, and so many others, including Presidents Obama and Clinton, thankfully no waste there. Reid retires when Congress adjourns and we encourage you to send a thank-you card! Senator Harry Reid, 600 East William Street #304, Carson City, NV 89701 USA.

We as a community must keep these commitments! There is a lot of work ahead. In June the Nuclear Information and Resource Service convened a group of "planners" for a radwaste summit. This event is not outreach ‒ it is "in-reach" for activists who are committed (recently and long-term both) to finding ways to work together to prevent really bad waste plans. The event will be Dec. 2‒4 in Chicago. For more information, contact the author (maryo@nirs.org, ph. 828-252-8409).

1. Sept. 14 hearing of Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Natural Resources, video and posted written testimony: www.appropriations.senate.gov/hearings/hearing-titled-the-future-of-nucl...

WIPP waste fiasco could cost US$2 billion

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#830
4583
20/09/2016
Jim Green ‒ Nuclear Monitor editor
Article

An analysis by the Los Angeles Times finds that costs associated with the February 2014 explosion in the world's only deep underground repository for nuclear waste ‒ the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in the U.S. state of New Mexico ‒ could total US$2 billion (€1.8b).1

The direct cost of the clean-up is now estimated at US$640 million (€573m), based on a contract modification made in July with contractor Nuclear Waste Partnership. The cost-plus contract leaves open the possibility of even higher costs as the clean-up continues and, as the LA Times notes, it does not include the complete replacement of the contaminated ventilation system (which failed after the February 2014 explosion) or any future costs of operating the repository longer than originally planned.

The lengthy closure following the explosion could result in operations extending for an additional seven years, at an additional cost of US$200 million (€180m) per year or US$1.4 billion (€1.25b) in total. Thus direct (clean-up) costs and indirect costs could exceed US$2 billion. And further costs are being incurred storing waste at other nuclear sites pending the re-opening of WIPP. Federal officials hope to resume limited operations at the WIPP repository by the end of this year, but full operations cannot resume until a new ventilation system is completed in about 2021.1

The US$2 billion figure is similar to the costs associated with the 1979 Three Mile Island disaster. The clean-up of Three Mile Island was estimated to cost US$1 billion by 1993, or US$1.7 billion adjusted for inflation today.1

Yet another cost for the federal government was a US$74 million (€66m) settlement paid to the state of New Mexico in January 2016.2,3 The negotiated agreement relates to the 14 February 2014 explosion and a truck fire that took place nine days earlier. It sets out corrective actions that Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL ‒ the source of the waste drum that exploded) and WIPP must take to resolve permit violations.

The US$74 million settlement will be in lieu of fines imposed on the federal government by the state of New Mexico for the two incidents. The money will be used to improve roads in south-eastern New Mexico and around Los Alamos; to repair and improve water infrastructure in Los Alamos and improve regional water quality; to enhance training and capabilities of local emergency responders; to construct an offsite emergency operations center near WIPP; and to pay for independent, external triennial reviews of environmental regulatory compliance and operations at LANL and WIPP.2,3

Government Accountability Office report

Given that the February 2014 fire and explosion exposed multiple levels of mismanagement and slack regulation, it was no surprise that the immediate response to the incidents was problematic. Everything that was supposed to happen, didn't ‒ and everything that wasn't supposed to happen, did.4

And in light of the systemic problems with management and regulation, it is no surprise that clean-up operations over the past 2.5 years have been problematic. An August 2016 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the federal Department of Energy (DOE) did not meet its initial cost and schedule estimates for restarting nuclear waste disposal operations at WIPP, resulting in a cost increase of about US$64 million (€57m) and a delay of nine months.5

Worse still, mismanagement of the clean-up has involved poor safety practices. The GAO report states:5

"In May 2015, a DOE assessment found that pressure to achieve the March 2016 deadline contributed to poor safety practices in WIPP recovery efforts.6 In July 2015, DOE announced that it experienced delays in implementing the project baseline, including delays related to procuring equipment and delays related to correcting deficiencies in safety practices. As a result of these delays, the department announced that it would revise the WIPP project management baseline with the goal of developing a more realistic schedule. ...

"Nonetheless, the department still faces challenges in completing the recovery. For example, in March 2016, the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, which oversees DOE's nuclear facilities such as WIPP, reported7 that DOE had made progress in revising its nuclear safety plans at WIPP but additional work remained to address safety concerns to prevent a recurrence of the February 2014 radiological accident."

Independent Office of Enterprise Assessments report

Last year, the DOE's Independent Office of Enterprise Assessments released a report that found that WIPP clean-up operations were being rushed to meet the scheduled reopening date and this pressure was contributing to poor safety practices.6

The report states: "The EA analysis considered operational events and reviews conducted during May 2014 through May 2015 and identified a significant negative trend in performance of work. During this period, strong and unrealistic schedule pressures on the workforce contributed to poor safety performance and incidents during that time are indicators of the potential for a future serious safety incident."

The report points to "serious issues in conduct of operations, job hazard analysis, and safety basis."

Specific problems identified in the report include:

  • workers incorrectly changing filters resulting in five safety violations;
  • waste oil left underground for an extended period despite a renewed emphasis on combustible load reduction;
  • fire water lines inadequately protected against freezing;
  • inadequate processes leading a small fire underground, followed by the failure of workers and their supervisor to report the fire;
  • an operator improperly leaving a trainee to operate a waste hoist, the hoist being improperly used, tripping a safety relay and shutting down the hoist for hours;
  • an engineer violating two safety postings to remove a waste hoist safety guard;
  • workers removing a grating to an underground tank and not posting a barricade, causing a fall hazard;
  • a backlog of hundreds of preventive maintenance items; and
  • failing to properly track overtime such that "personnel may be working past the point of safety".

The Office of Enterprise Assessments' report concludes: "The issues discussed above could be leading indicators of a potentially serious incident in the future. Many more issues involving conduct of operations, maintenance, and inadequate controls also raise concerns about the possibility of a serious incident."

Earlier this year, clean-up work in two underground areas was suspended for one month due to poor air quality. Work was stopped on February 22 after equipment detected elevated levels of carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds.8

Radioactive contamination of the underground remains a problem, albeit the case that the size of the restricted area has been significantly reduced. "The facility was never designed to operate in a contaminated state," said Don Hancock from the Southwest Research and Information Center. "It was supposed to open clean and stay clean, but now it will have to operate dirty. Nobody at the Energy Department wants to consider the potential that it isn't fixable."1

Los Alamos National Laboratory at fault as well

While a number of reports have exposed problems at WIPP, others have exposed serious problems at LANL. An April 2015 report by DOE's Accident Investigation Board (AIB) concluded that a culture of lax oversight and inadequate safety protocols and training at LANL led to the February 2014 explosion at WIPP.9

"If LANL had adequately developed and implemented repackaging and treatment procedures that incorporated suitable hazard controls and included a rigorous review and approval process, the [February 2014] release would have been preventable," the AIB report states.

"The ineffectiveness and weaknesses in the oversight activities were at all levels," said Ted Wyka, the DOE safety expert who led the investigation.10

The AIB report points to the failure of LANL to effectively review and control waste packaging, train contractors and identify weaknesses in waste handling. The board also found that LANL, contractor EnergySolutions and the National Nuclear Security Administration office at LANL failed to ensure that a strong safety culture existed at the lab.

The AIB found that workers did not feel comfortable raising safety issues and felt pressured to "get it done at all costs." LANL employees also raised concerns that workers were brought in with little or no experience and rushed through an inadequate training program. "As a result," the AIB report states, "there was a failure to adequately resolve employee concerns which could have identified the generation of non compliant waste prior to shipment" to WIPP.

The immediate cause of the 14 February 2014 explosion ‒ mixing nitrate wastes with an organic absorbent (kitty litter) ‒ was recognized as a potential problem in 2012, if not before. One worker told the AIB that when concerns were raised over the use of organic kitty litter as an absorbent, the employee was told to "focus on their area of expertise and not to worry about the other areas of the procedure."

Workers noticed foaming chemicals and orange smoke rising from containers of nuclear waste at LANL, but supervisors told them to "simply wait out the reaction and return to work once the foaming ceased and the smoke subsided," the AIB report states.

"Lessons were not learned," the report states.

No doubt some lessons have been learned as a result of the underground explosion at WIPP. But Greg Mello from the Los Alamos Study Group points to a problem that is likely to recur. LANL receives bonuses from the DOE for meeting goals such as removing nuclear waste by a certain deadline. That deadline pressure was very much in evidence at LANL in the lead-up to the WIPP accident and it will likely weaken safety practices in future. "You can't just say everyone has to try harder," Mello said. "Mixing profit, deadlines and dangerous radioactive waste is incompatible."11

A February 2016 report from the DOE's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) was equally scathing of LANL.12 "Overall, we found LANL's corrective action program did not always adequately address issues, did not effectively prevent their recurrence, and did not consistently identify systemic problems," the report said. OIG auditors reviewed 460 issues cited between January 2009 and February 2014, and found "significant weaknesses" in the lab's ability to analyze and document the root causes of problems ‒ some of them significant health and safety issues ‒ and find solutions.

LANL managers said they agreed with the OIG findings and were working to resolve problems. "The Laboratory is working closely with National Nuclear Safety Administration to address the findings of the audit report," LANL said in a statement.13

But the National Nuclear Safety Administration ‒ a semi-autonomous agency within the DOE ‒ is itself a big part of the problem of systemic mismanagement of nuclear sites.

National Nuclear Security Administration

A June 2015 Government Accountability Office report strongly criticized the National Nuclear Security Administration's (NNSA) oversight of contractors who manage the nation's nuclear weapons facilities.14 The report points to a litany of ongoing failures to properly oversee private contractors at eight nuclear sites, including those managing LANL. The report found that the NNSA lacked enough qualified staff members to oversee contractors, and it lacked guidelines for evaluating its contractors.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reported:15

"The GAO, which investigates federal agencies as requested by Congress, said the NNSA shortcomings stem from a 4-year-old experiment in reducing "overly prescriptive and burdensome" federal oversight of contractors by letting the private companies self-report their problems. NNSA staff told the GAO, however, that contractors aren't always as self-critical as they need to be in assessing their own performance.

"The so-called "contractor assurance system" isn't convincing the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee that the management of the nation's nuclear facilities is improving. Committee leaders from both major political parties pointed to a leaking container of radioactive waste from Los Alamos that shut down a nuclear waste repository near Carlsbad last year as one of the incidents that prove the NNSA and the Department of Energy have a long way to go in improving oversight of private contractors.

""For nearly two decades, this committee has uncovered management challenges facing the DOE complex involving contractor oversight. For the past five years, DOE has experimented with a new approach to contractor oversight that is not ready for prime time," committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., and ranking member Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., said in a statement. "We saw the results of this experiment at the Y-12 security breach in Tennessee three years ago and more recently in oversight failures that led to a costly incident at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant site.""

Greg Mello from the Los Alamos Study Group was blunt in his criticism of the NNSA: "An agency that is more than 90 percent privatized, with barely enough federal employees to sign the checks and answer the phones, is never going to be able to properly oversee billion-dollar nuclear facilities of vast complexity and danger."15

References:

1. Ralph Vartabedian, 24 Aug 2016, 'Nuclear accident in New Mexico ranks among the costliest in U.S. history', www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-new-mexico-nuclear-dump-20160819-snap-story...

2. Albuquerque Journal Editorial Board, 29 Jan 2016, 'Editorial: WIPP deal puts feds on notice, cash in NM', www.abqjournal.com/714227/opinion/wipp-deal-puts-feds-on-notice-cash-in-...

3. WNN, 1 May 2015, 'Settlement agreed for WIPP incidents', www.world-nuclear-news.org/RS-Settlement-agreed-for-WIPP-incidents-01051...

4. 20 Nov 2014, 'WIPP waste accident a 'horrific comedy of errors'', Nuclear Monitor #794, www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/794/wipp-waste-accident-horrif...

5. Government Accountability Office, Aug 2016, 'Nuclear Waste: Waste Isolation Pilot Plant Recovery Demonstrates Cost and Schedule Requirements Needed for DOE Cleanup Operations', www.gao.gov/products/GAO-16-608

6. Department of Energy, Independent Office of Enterprise Assessments, 2015, 'Office of Enterprise Assessments Operational Analysis of Safety Trends at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, May 2014 ‒ May 2015', www.wipp.energy.gov/Special/EA_memo_10152015.pdf

7. Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, March 2016, 'Staff Issue Report: Waste Isolation Pilot Plant Documented Safety Analysis'.

8. 28 March 2016, 'Officials resume work at nuclear dump after safety pause', www.therepublic.com/2016/03/28/nm-nuke-repository-air-quality/

9. U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Environmental Management, April 2015, 'Accident Investigation Report Phase 2: Radiological Release Event at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, February 14, 2014', http://energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2015/04/f21/WIPP%20Rad%20Event%20Repo...

10. Patrick Malone, 23 April 2015, 'WIPP investigator can't rule out more leaks', www.santafenewmexican.com/news/local_news/wipp-investigator-can-t-rule-o...

11. Staci Matlock, 16 April 2015, 'Federal probe blames WIPP leak on LANL practices, bad chemical mix', www.santafenewmexican.com/special_reports/from_lanl_to_leak/federal-prob...

12. Department of Energy, Office of the Inspector General, Feb. 2016, 'Audit Report: Issues Management at the Los Alamos National Laboratory',

http://energy.gov/ig/downloads/audit-report-doe-oig-16-07

http://energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2016/03/f30/DOE-OIG-16-07.pdf

13. Staci Matlock, 1 March 2016, 'Federal audit finds more management problems at LANL', www.santafenewmexican.com/news/local_news/federal-audit-finds-more-manag...

14. Government Accountability Office, June 2015, 'National Nuclear Security Administration: Actions Needed to Clarify Use of Contractor Assurance Systems for Oversight and Performance Evaluation', www.gao.gov/assets/680/670721.pdf

15. Staci Matlock, 10 June 2015, 'Report blasts oversight of nuke lab contractors', www.santafenewmexican.com/news/local_news/report-blasts-oversight-of-nuk...

Great Lakes nuclear waste dump: the battle continues

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#817
4530
27/01/2016
Joyce Nelson
Article

Opposition to the proposed nuclear waste facility by Lake Huron continues to grow. By the end of 2015, at least 182 communities (representing more than 22 million people) on both sides of the U.S.–Canada border have adopted resolutions opposing the plan by Ontario Power Generation to build a deep geological repository (DGR) for storage of low- and intermediate-level radioactive nuclear waste.

A Canadian federal panel approved the nuclear waste dump in May 2015, accepting testimony that Lake Huron would be large enough to dilute any radioactive pollution that might leak from the DGR.

The immediate outcry on both sides of the border prompted the Conservative government of Stephen Harper to postpone any decision until Dec. 1, 2015, after the Oct. 19 federal election – in which they were booted out of office. The new government of Liberal Justin Trudeau then pushed that decision to March 1, 2016, after a dozen members of Michigan's congressional delegation urged the new prime minister to deny the construction permits necessary for the storage facility to be built.

Meanwhile, American efforts to engage the International Joint Commission (IJC), which oversees boundary waters' issues, have come to naught. As the IJC's Public Information Officer Frank Bevacqua told me by email, both the Canadian and U.S. federal governments would have to ask the IJC to intervene on the issue. "The IJC does not review proposals for site-specific projects [like the DGR] unless asked to do so by both governments," he said.

That means a final decision on the DGR may reside with a small First Nations community.

First Nation decision

The proposed DGR would be located on the territory of the Saugeen First Nation, which is in the process of evaluating the proposal. The Saugeen First Nation has a promise from Ontario Power Generation to not proceed without their support. As Saugeen Chief Vernon Roote told Indian Country Today Media Network (ICTMN) in December, "Ontario Power Generation had given us their commitment that they will not proceed unless they have community support. That's a letter that we have on file."1

Saugeen First Nation negotiator (and former Chief) Randall Kahgee told ICTMN that "we are starting to build some momentum on the community engagement process." The Saugeen leaders are determining how to gauge the community voice, whether by polling or by vote at public gatherings, and have already held some engagement sessions on the issue.2

Randall Kahgee told ICTMN, "For the communities, this is not just about the deep geological repository but also about the nuclear waste problem within our territory. We have always insisted that while this problem is not of our own design, we must be part of shaping the solution. Gone are the days when our people, communities and Nation are left on the outside looking in within our own territory. These are complex issues that will force us to really ask ourselves what does it mean to be stewards of the land. The opportunity to be able to shape the discourse on these matters is both exciting and frightening at the same time."3

The Saugeen First Nation is especially concerned about simply moving the proposed facility into somebody else's backyard. "We might not be the best of friends when we push nuclear waste on our brothers' and sisters' territory," he told ICTMN.

Nuclear expansion

The proposal by provincial Crown corporation Ontario Power Generation (OPG) is for at least 7 million cubic feet of nuclear wastes from Ontario nuclear power plants to be buried in chambers drilled into limestone 2,231 feet below the surface and under the Bruce nuclear site at Kincardine, Ontario. The waste to be entombed in the DGR would come from the Bruce, Pickering and Darlington nuclear sites in Ontario – currently home to 18 Candu reactors.

The eight nuclear reactors at the Bruce site (the world's largest nuclear station) are leased from OPG by a private company called Bruce Power, whose major shareholders/partners include TransCanada Corp. – better known for its tarsands pipeline projects. (TransCanada earns more than one-third of its profits from power-generation.) Bruce Power pays OPG for storage of nuclear wastes, which are currently stored and monitored above-ground on site.4

In December, Bruce Power announced that it will invest $13 billion to refurbish the Bruce site, overhauling six of the eight reactors on Lake Huron beginning in 2020.5 Just weeks later, OPG announced a $12.8 billion refurbishment of four nuclear reactors at Darlington, while extending the life of its ageing Pickering nuclear power plant on Lake Ontario.6 The Pickering move requires public hearings and approval from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, but Ontario's Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli has voiced his approval and touted the nuclear industry as "emissions-free," while ignoring the issue of nuclear wastes.

OPG, Bruce Power, and the Ontario government are obviously onside with the Canadian Nuclear Association lobby, whose president and CEO John Barrett is using the COP21 Paris Climate Agreement to push for nuclear expansion. In an op-ed for The Globe and Mail, Barrett declared that "it is time to recognize the contribution – current and potential – of nuclear power in curbing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions worldwide," and he stated that Canada, with its uranium mining and nuclear reactor technology, is "ready to play an international leadership role on climate change."7

Barrett, in turn, is onside with the billionaires now pushing nuclear energy expansion worldwide: Richard Branson (Virgin Group), Peter Thiel (PayPal co-founder), Bill Gates and Paul Allen (Microsoft co-founders), and Jeff Bezos (Amazon) have all endorsed nuclear energy as the solution to climate change.8 As well, scientists James Hansen, Kerry Emmanuel, Ken Caldeira and Tom Wigley have recently called for building 115 new reactors per year as "the only viable path forward".8 They dismiss nuclear waste as "trivial" and claim that there "are technical means to dispose of this small amount of waste safely."

In that case, the resulting nuclear waste should be stored in their basements and under the billionaires' mansions, rather than near bodies of water like the Great Lakes, which provide 40 million people with their drinking water.

Reprinted from CounterPunch, www.counterpunch.org/2016/01/15/great-lakes-nuclear-waste-dump-the-battl...

Joyce Nelson is an award-winning Canadian freelance writer/researcher working on her sixth book.

References:

1. Konnie Lemay, "Saugeen Nation May Be Final Word in Nuclear Waste Storage Next to Lake Huron," Indian Country Today Media Network, December 11, 2015.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. Joyce Nelson, "Nuclear Dump Controversy," Watershed Sentinel, Sept.-Oct., 2015.

5. Robert Benzie, "Bruce Power to invest $13 billion to refurbish nuclear station on Lake Huron," Toronto Star, December 3, 2015.

6. Rob Ferguson, "Ontario Power Generation to spend $12.8 billion refurbishing four Darlington nuclear reactors," Toronto Star, January 11, 2016.

7. John Barrett, "Nuclear power is key to decarbonization, and Canada can lead the way," The Globe and Mail, December 16, 2015.

8. Emily Schwartz Greco, "A Big Fat Radioactive Lie," Other words.org, December 4, 2015.

Fires and radioactive waste

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#813
4508
04/11/2015
Jim Green
Article

In the last issue of the Nuclear Monitor we reported on the smoldering underground fire that has come within 350−400 metres of a radioactive waste dump, the West Lake Landfill, in the U.S. state of Missouri. The site has been in the news again with an above-ground brush fire on October 24, started by a faulty switch inside the landfill's perimeter. The fire was doused before it reached the area containing radioactive waste. The EPA sent a letter reprimanding site operator Republic Services for the incident.1

On October 26, about 300 local residents attended a 'Community Advisory Group' meeting to discuss the West Lake Landfill smoldering fire (which has been burning since 2010) and the October 24 fire. Many are sceptical about the reassurances provided by government and company representatives. "I'm scared," said Darlene Hartman, a life-long resident. "You try to eat healthy, you try to be good citizens. And you don't know who to trust."2

Nevada fire

On October 18, a fire broke out at a radioactive waste dump in southern Nevada. The fire followed flash flooding that shut down the town's escape routes: U.S. 95 and Highway 373. County officials and law enforcement agencies declared an emergency. The site, operated by U.S. Ecology, is home to 22 low-level radioactive waste storage trenches that range in size from shallow holes to chasms hundreds of feet deep and wide as football fields.3

Associated Press reported on October 25:4

"The operator of a closed radioactive waste dump that caught fire in southern Nevada last weekend was troubled over the years by leaky shipments and oversight so lax that employees took contaminated tools and building materials home, according to state and federal records.

"A soundless 40-second video turned over by the firm, U.S. Ecology, to state officials showed bursts of white smoke and dirt flying from several explosions on 18 October from the dump in the brown desert, about 110 miles north-west of Las Vegas.

"In the 1970s, the company had its license suspended for mishandling shipments – about the same time state officials say the material that exploded and burned last weekend was accepted and buried.

"Nevada now has ownership and oversight of the property, which opened in 1962 near Beatty as the nation's first federally licensed low-level radioactive waste dump. It closed in 1992. State officials said this week they did not immediately know what blew up.

"A state fire inspector, Martin Azevedo, surveyed the site on Wednesday. His report, obtained on Friday by the Associated Press, described moisture in the pit and "heavily corroded" 55-gallon drums in and around the 20ft-by-30ft crater. Debris from the blast spread 190ft. Two drums were found outside the fence line. ...

"In 1979, the then Nevada governor Robert List ordered the Beatty low-level waste facility shut down and launched an investigation after a radioactive cargo fire on a truck parked on U.S. Highway 95, at the facility gate.

"The fire came three years after employees were dismissed for stealing radioactive building materials, tools and even a portable cement mixer, according to a 1994 report prepared by the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory.

"Operations at Beatty resumed "only after assurance was given by the federal government that the rules governing shipments … would be enforced," according to the Idaho lab report.

"List expressed doubt that anyone will ever know what is really underground at the site. 'Good luck with that," he said. "What we found when we did our investigation was they had very, very skimpy records about what was there.'"

The Nevada Department of Public Safety said in an October 19 statement that high altitude and intermediate altitude testing resulted in negative readings for radiation.
The Department said it would initiate an investigation to determine the cause of the fire.5

WIPP fire

The underground chemical explosion at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in Nevada on 14 February 2014 has generated huge public and media interest ... so much so that a fire that occurred nine days earlier has been all but forgotten.6 A truck hauling salt caught fire on 5 February 2014. The fire consumed the driver's compartment and the truck's large front tires. Six workers were treated at the Carlsbad hospital for smoke inhalation, another seven were treated at the site, and 86 workers were evacuated.

A March 2014 report by the Department of Energy's Accident Investigation Board blamed Nuclear Waste Partnership (NWP), the contractor that operates the WIPP site. The Accident Investigation Board said the root cause of the fire was NWP's "failure to adequately recognize and mitigate the hazard regarding a fire in the underground. This includes recognition and removal of the buildup of combustibles through inspections, and periodic preventative maintenance, e.g., cleaning and the decision to deactivate the automatic onboard fire suppression system."7

In 2011, the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, an independent advisory board, reported that WIPP "does not adequately address the fire hazards and risks associated with underground operations."8

Spent fuel pools and reactors

Fire could result in a catastrophic accident if it compromised spent nuclear fuel pools. U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff calculated that if even a small fraction of the inventory of a Peach Bottom reactor pool were released to the environment, an average area of 9,400 square miles (24,300 square kilometers) would be rendered uninhabitable, and that 4.1 million people would be displaced over the long-term.9

Reactors are also at risk. The Union of Concerned Scientists noted in a 2013 paper: "Fire poses significant risk to nuclear power plant safety. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) estimates that the risk of reactor meltdown from fire hazards is roughly equal to the meltdown risk from all other hazards combined − even assuming that plants comply with fire protection regulations, which many do not. Because of this risk, the NRC established a set of fire safety regulations for nuclear plants in 1980 and an alternate set in 2004. However, today − more than 30 years after those regulations went into effect − nearly half of U.S. operating nuclear reactors do not comply with either set of regulations.10

A report found that there were around 100 fire incidents at nuclear sites in France in 2011 − reactors, reprocessing plants and other nuclear sites. The dangers must be "taken very seriously", said Jean-Christophe Niel, managing director of national nuclear safety regulator ASN. About 10 of the 100 fires were considered significant in terms of nuclear safety, Niel said.11

A 2013 report by the U.S. Department of Energy details many of the interconnections between climate change and energy. It noted that power lines, transformers and electricity distribution systems face increasing risks of physical damage from wildfires that are growing more frequent and intense.12

Peaceful nuclear explosions

The nexus between fire and nukes is an altogether unhappy one. If there is an exception, it is this unlikely yarn about 'peaceful nuclear explosions' from the science and culture blog io9:13

"All in all, nuclear civil projects were a massive mistake. There was one use, though, that seemed to work. The Soviet Union tried it several times, and actually had some success: it turns out nuclear bombs are great ways to put out fires. That's not as unimpressive as it sounds! Underground fuel reserves are vast stores of combustible material that cannot be reached by human firefighters, but can quite merrily burn. Coal, peat, and gas fires can burn for decades. Centralia, Pennsylvania had a coal seam that caught fire in 1962 and is still burning. The Urtabulak gas field caught fire in 1963. It burned steadily for three years. In 1966, the Soviet Union decided to do something about that.

"The gas fire was ventilated by the holes that had been drilled to harvest the gas; if the holes could all be sealed shut, the fire would go out. Naturally, no one could go into a vast gas fire to shovel earth into a deep hole. Geologists and physicists calculated that a nuclear explosion equal to about 30 kilotons of TNT could seal shut every hole within about 50 meters. The rock would basically melt over the fire. In the fall of 1966, a special nuclear bomb was detonated in one of the holes, and fire was out in 23 seconds.

"But if it's not one thing, it's another. Within a few months of that fire going out, a new fire, in another gas field, erupted. In 1968, the Soviets dropped a bomb into that one. This took longer. For a few days, rock and other earth flowed into the holes, but eventually it worked. The fire went out. In 1972, another well was sealed off after it caught fire. The last known attempt at sealing a gas fire with a nuclear weapon was done in 1981, and it did not work out. The scientists couldn't get accurate data on the location of the vents in the well. The bomb went off, but the well never entirely sealed shut."

Finally, if there is a nukes-and-fire story more bizarre than the use of 'peaceful nuclear explosions' to put out underground gas fires, it involves U.S. shipyard worker Casey James Fury, who in May 2012 was having problems with his ex-girlfriend and wanted to leave work early. So, naturally, he set fire to a nuclear submarine. The USS Miami sustained US$450 million damage in the blaze, and Fury was given a 17-year jail sentence.14

References:

1. www.cbsnews.com/news/st-louis-community-fed-up-over-dangerous-landfills-...

http://fox2now.com/2015/10/24/brush-fire-at-west-lake-landfill-sparks-co...

www.stlamerican.com/news/local_news/article_047a3e46-7b6d-11e5-8519-f751...

2. http://news.stlpublicradio.org/post/anger-and-frustration-bridgeton-comm...

3. Kyle Roerink, 20 Oct 2015, 'Beatty residents call for transparency after nuclear fire', http://lasvegassun.com/news/2015/oct/20/beatty-residents-call-for-transp...

4. Associated Press, 25 Oct 2015, 'Radioactive waste dump fire reveals Nevada site's troubled past', www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/oct/25/radioactive-waste-dump-fire-reve...

5. Nevada Department of Public Safety, 19 Oct 2015, 'Media Release: Update on the U.S. Ecology Industrial Fire in Nye County', dps.nv.gov/media/PR/2015/Update_on_the_U_S__Ecology_Industrial_Fire_in_Nye_County/

6 June 2014, 'Fire and leaks at the world's only deep geological waste repository', Nuclear Monitor #787, www.wiseinternational.org/node/4245

7. http://energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2014/03/f11/Final%20WIPP%20Undergroun...

8. www.dnfsb.gov/board-activities/reports/staff-issue-reports/fire-protecti...

9. www.nirs.org/radwaste/atreactorstorage/fuelstoragepetition21314.pdf

10. Union of Concerned Scientists, June 2013, 'NRC's Failure to Enforce

Reactor Fire Regulations', www.ucsusa.org/assets/documents/nuclear_power/ucs-nrc-fire-regulations-5...

11. Platts, 28 Aug 2013, 'French nuclear power plants must improve fire safety measures: regulator', www.platts.com/latest-news/electric-power/london/french-nuclear-power-pl...

12. U.S. Department of Energy, July 2013, 'U.S. Energy Sector Vulnerabilities to Climate Change and Extreme Weather', http://energy.gov/downloads/us-energy-sector-vulnerabilities-climate-cha...

13. Esther Inglis-Arkell, 27 March 2015, 'How To Fight Fire With Nuclear Bombs', http://io9.com/how-to-fight-fire-with-nuclear-bombs-1694002958

14. Daily Mail, 8 Aug 2013, 'Nuclear submarine set alight by worker who wanted to go home early will be scrapped because of military budget cuts', www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2386909/Nuclear-submarine-USS-Miami-set...

Australian push to become the world's nuclear waste dump

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#808
4486
18/08/2015
Jim Green − Nuclear Monitor editor
Article

In February, the Labor Party government of the state of South Australia (SA) established a Royal Commission1 to consider options for an expanded role in the nuclear fuel cycle. Currently, the state has two operating uranium mines (Olympic Dam and Beverley Four Mile) but no other nuclear facilities. As the debate has progressed, it has become clear that the main interest is in the possibility of making billions of dollars by accepting spent fuel / high level waste from overseas.

There is a precedent to current discussions. Pangea Resources was an international consortium that was planning a high level waste repository in Australia.2 Pangea set up an office in Australia in the late 1990s but gave up in 2002 in the face of overwhelming public opposition.

The existence of Pangea Resources was a closely-guarded secret until a corporate video was leaked to Friends of the Earth. Pangea chief Jim Voss denied meeting with federal government ministers when he had in fact met at least one minister. A Pangea spokesperson said: "We would not like to be lying ... we very much regret getting off on the wrong foot." Ironically, the Association for Regional and International Underground Storage (ARIUS), the successor to Pangea, said in its submission to the Royal Commission that an "essential element of any approach is the open and complete flow of information."3

How much money might be made by taking nuclear waste from other countries? There is no precedent to base an estimate on. There may be countries that would be willing to send nuclear waste to Australia for storage and/or disposal but there are many reasons why countries may choose other options:

  • About ~160 of the world's 194 countries have never operated power reactors and thus have no spent fuel or high level waste from nuclear power programs (although some have small quantities from the operation of research reactors).
  • Some countries are advancing domestic or regional waste disposal plans.
  • Some countries (and companies/utilities) would consider it irresponsible to entrust nuclear waste to a country that has very little or no experience or demonstrated competence − and a proven track record of incompetence (discussed below).
  • Some countries (and companies/utilities) would consider it unethical to send nuclear waste to Australia given the pattern of Aboriginal land rights and heritage protections being sacrificed in order to advance radioactive waste repository projects (discussed below).
  • Some countries are pursuing spent fuel reprocessing programs and would be unlikely candidates to send spent fuel to Australia (although they might pay to rid themselves of the high level waste stream from reprocessing).
  • Some countries would be unwilling to rid themselves of spent fuel as they see it as a military asset (as it contains weapons-useable plutonium).

While proponents make absurd claims about the potential income − including claims that the income would allow the provision of free electricity to all South Australians and the abolition of all state taxes − they have had little to say about the costs. Since the volume of waste would presumably be relatively large (as a commercial venture), the cost of deep underground repository 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 (€25.2b; US$28.1b).4

Many other significant costs would be incurred. ARIUS proposes transport by purpose-built ships; a dedicated sea port; a dedicated rail system; and support and maintenance facilities for ships, rail locomotives, rolling stock and transport packages.3

Some nuclear proponents believe that spent nuclear fuel is a "multi-trillion dollar asset"5 − because it can be processed for reuse as reactor fuel − and they also believe that countries will pay "tens of billions of dollars"6 to rid themselves of this multi-trillion dollar asset. However, to the extent that countries regard spent fuel as an asset, they will:

  • not be willing to send it to Australia;
  • offer to sell spent fuel to Australia rather than paying Australia to take it; or
  • they may pay Australia to take spent fuel but they will pay less to the extent that spent fuel is considered an asset.

Advocates of the waste-to-fuel plan are particularly keen on the idea of processing spent fuel for use as fuel in 'integral fast reactors' (IFRs). That proposal is unlikely to win support since no country operates IFRs. The UK and the US are considering building IFRs to manage stockpiles of separated plutonium − but both countries are likely to choose other options.

Hazards

Professor John Veevers from Macquarie University wrote in Australian Geologist about the serious public health and environmental risks associated with a high-level nuclear waste repository: "Tonnes of enormously dangerous radioactive waste in the northern hemisphere, 20,000 kms from its destined dump in Australia where it must remain intact for at least 10,000 years. These magnitudes − of tonnage, lethality, distance of transport, and time − entail great inherent risk."7

Proponents of Australia becoming the world's waste dump claim that Australia has uniquely suitable geology. However Dr Mike Sandiford from the School of Earth Sciences at University of Melbourne writes: "Australia is relatively stable but not tectonically inert, and appears to be less stable than a number of other continental regions. Some places in Australia are surprisingly geologically active. We occasionally get big earthquakes in Australia (up to about magnitude 7) and the big ones have tended to occur in somewhat unexpected places like Tennant Creek. ... Australia is not the most stable of continental regions, although the levels of earthquake risk are low by global standards. To the extent that past earthquake activity provides a guide to future tectonic activity, Australia would not appear to provide the most tectonically stable environments for long-term waste facilities."8

Australia's track record

There are social as well as technical dimensions to risk assessments. Australia has a history of mismanaging nuclear waste. Nuclear engineer Alan Parkinson states: "The disposal of radioactive waste in Australia is ill-considered and irresponsible. Whether it is short-lived waste from Commonwealth facilities, long-lived plutonium waste from an atomic bomb test site on Aboriginal land, or reactor waste from Lucas Heights. The government applies double standards to suit its own agenda; there is no consistency, and little evidence of logic."9

In the late-1990s, the Australian government carried out a 'clean up' of Maralinga, the site in SA where the British government tested nuclear weapons in the 1950s. The 'clean up' was done on the cheap and many tonnes of plutonium-contaminated debris remain buried in shallow, unlined pits in totally unsuitable geology − a breach of Australian guidelines for the management of long-lived nuclear waste.9

A number of scientists with inside knowledge of the Maralinga project complained about deficiencies:10

  • 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 by DEST [the Department of Education, Science and Training]."

Barely a decade after the Maralinga 'clean up', a survey revealed that 19 of the 85 contaminated waste pits have been subject to erosion or subsidence.11

Radioactive racism

Former Prime Minister Bob Hawke said Australia could end the disadvantage endured by Aboriginal people by opening up traditional lands as dumping sites for nuclear waste. But there are simpler and safer methods to close the gap. For example, the federal government could reverse planned cuts of $500 million from Aboriginal spending over the next five years.

Attempts to establish a national radioactive waste repository in Australia have involved crude racism. From 1998−2004, the federal government attempted to impose a dump on Aboriginal land in SA. The project came unstuck when the Federal Court ruled that the government had illegally used the Lands Acquisition Act 1989 to seize land for the dump and to annul Aboriginal Native Title rights and interests.10

From 2005−2014, the federal government tried to impose a dump on Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory, and the racism was even cruder. The government passed legislation overriding the Aboriginal Heritage Act and the Aboriginal Land Rights Act, and allowing the imposition of a radioactive waste dump without any consultation with or consent from Aboriginal people. Muckaty Traditional Owners launched a legal challenge against the nomination of the dump site, and the government abandoned the waste dump proposal during the court case.10

Aboriginal people are deeply concerned about the Royal Commission and in particular renewed proposals for nuclear waste dumps on their land. A meeting held in May in SA released the following statement:

South Australian Traditional Owners say NO!
We oppose plans for uranium mining, nuclear reactors and nuclear waste dumps on our land.
We call on the SA Royal Commission to recommend against any uranium mining and nuclear projects on our lands.
We call on the Australian population to support us in our campaign to prevent dirty and dangerous nuclear projects being imposed on our lands and our lives and future generations.
Endorsed by members from the following groups, present at the Port Augusta meeting: Kokatha, Kokatha-Mirning, Arabunna, Adnyamathanha, Yankunytjatjara-Pitjanjatjara, Antikirinya-Yunkunytjatjara, Kuyani, Aranda, Western Aranda, Dieri, Larrakia, Wiradjuri.

References:

1. http://nuclearrc.sa.gov.au/

2. www.foe.org.au/anti-nuclear/issues/oz/import-waste

3. http://nuclearrc.sa.gov.au/app/uploads/2015/08/Arius-Association-13-07-2...

4. www.world-nuclear.org/info/Country-Profiles/Countries-G-N/Japan--Nuclear...

5. http://decarbonisesa.com/2012/02/22/a-matter-of-waste-latest-in-the-saco...

6. http://theconversation.com/royal-commission-into-nuclear-will-open-a-wor...

7. J.J. Veevers, 'Disposal of British RADwaste at home and in antipodean Australia', http://web.archive.org/web/20120410062832/http:/eps.mq.edu.au/media/veev...

8. ABC, 'Ask an Expert', www.abc.net.au/science/expert/realexpert/nuclearpower/08.htm

9. Alan Parkinson, 2002, 'Double standards with radioactive waste', Australasian Science, www.foe.org.au/anti-nuclear/issues/oz/britbombs/clean-up

10. See section 1.9 in joint environment groups' submission to Royal Commission: www.foe.org.au/sites/default/files/NFCRC%20submission%20FoEA%20ACF%20CCS...

11. www.theage.com.au/national/maralinga-sites-need-more-repair-work-files-s...

What's wrong with nuclear power?

There are many good reasons to oppose the use of nuclear energy. Nuclear power installations are vulnerable for accidents, incidents and attacks. Radioactive material can be disseminated. Radiation is harmfull and can, even in small quantities, be lethal. Contamination with radioactive material can make entire regions uninhabitable for thousands of years. 

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