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Kevin Scarce sometimes scarce on nuclear reality

By Noel Wauchope - posted Tuesday, 7 July 2015


Interviewer Ian Henschke then mentioned an opinion poll conducted by the South Australian newspaper The Advertiser, a poll which found that two thirds of respondents favoured the whole nuclear fuel chain being developed in South Australia. Well - there are polls and polls. He didn't mention the poll, reported by The Advertiser on March 13th 2015, which found this result: "Almost 70 per cent opposed furthering SA's role in the nuclear industry, including a power station, waste dump or enrichment facility"

Questioned about new Generation IV nuclear reactors, Scarce emphasised their safety features, and, to be fair to him, he did point out the "enormous uncertainty" about when they would be commercially available - "not much before 2040". He was asked about thorium reactors, and again, admitted to not knowing much about them, and that "2040 might be optimistic for thorium reactors". Scarce said that with these reactors, thorium, not uranium, is the source of power. That's not actually correct, as uranium 233 is the power source in thorium reactors. They need plutonium or enriched uranium to trigger the transformation of the inert thorium, to the fissile uranium.

To give credit to Kevin Scarce, he did mention the fact that this process is not so clean, meaning that plutonium or enriched uranium are a radioactive problem issue. He said "so some of your benefit in terms of a clean fuel source isn't there".

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Also, to be fair to Kevin Scarce, he did point out that thorium reactors have been tried in the past, in America, and closed down, and that he was doubtful about their future.

Henschke asked Scarce if he saw "state of the art" nuclear reactors. Yes, the Commission had been to both Olkiluoto and to Flamanville in France, and had seen the pressurised water reactors - the very ones that are now described as a financial and safety fiasco. No wonder that Scarce did not elaborate on these visits.

The Royal Commission next goes to USA and Canada for 8 days, from July 9th. They're particularly interested in the Small Modular Reactor idea. I hope that they're aware that Westinghouse abandoned their Small Modular Reactor project, and that Babcock and Wilcox pulled back from this - unable to get any contracts or investors.

What I'm worried about, is that the Commission will end up recommending the plan explained recently by Oscar Archer, on ABC Radio National - that South Australia make an "ironclad commitment [my emphasis] to develop a fleet of integral fast reactors to demonstrate the recycling of the used nuclear fuel"

As for the Commission visiting Canada, Kevin Scarce enthused about the similarity between Canada and Australia. Really? What about the difference in climate, in the amount of sunshine, that surely makes Australia ideal for solar power?

Worst of all, as Scarce enthused about Canada's "very productive nuclear industry" I wondered if the Commission is aware that the World Bank has Canada at the very top of its Corrupt Companies Blacklist, and that this dubious honour is due entirely to its nuclear industry. In particular SNC Lavalin is the culprit - the very company that is trying to sell thorium reactors overseas.

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I would like to think that South Australia's Nuclear Fuel Chain Commission is both well informed and impartial. I really would. But, listening to Kevin Scarce, I am not reassured. Nor is it reassuring to read the background nuclear industry links of Scarce and his research team. Kevin Scarce is a shareholder in Rio Tinto Group – the owner and operator of Ranger and Rossing uranium mines in Australia and Namibia. His prominent team leader is Greg Ward - Ward is also the director of two companies:Prism Defence (for which he is also CEO) and Protegic. The latter is a project management service provider with clients including the Rio Tinto Group, BHP Billiton and Endeavour Energy. Four of the five members of the research team named on the NFCRC website have known prior or current associations with nuclear industrial entities.

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About the Author

Noel Wauchope taught science before switching to nursing. She has several post-graduate qualifications, in health informatics, medical terminology and clinical coding. She is a long time anti-nuclear activist.

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