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Nuclear Citizens' Jury: an ethical case for importing nuclear wastes

By Noel Wauchope - posted Tuesday, 25 October 2016


The South Australian government will call another Nuclear Citizens' Jury, on October 29 - 30. This time the jury must answer this question:

Under what circumstances, if any, could South Australia pursue the opportunity to store and dispose of nuclear waste from other countries?

That set me thinking. The main "circumstance" for recommending this "opportunity" is the State Government's plan to eventually bring in a pot of gold for the State. This is explained in the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission South Australia's Final Report. It estimates the revenue at over $257 billion, - total annual revenue of $5.6 billion a year over the first 30 years of operation and about $2.1 billion a year until waste receipts were notionally planned to conclude 43 years later. • over the life of the project, a net present value of profits of more than $51 billion at a discount rate of 4 per cent (p 105)

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There really is no other argument for this project in the Report. In the 320 page report any arguments about Aboriginal issues, safety, environment, health, are aimed at rebutting criticism of the plan. They provide no argument on the plan actually improving health or environment, and are in fact quite defensive about Aboriginal impacts.

However, nuclear lobbyists have for a long time been promoting the idea that Australia has an ethical responsibility to import nuclear wastes. Terry Grieg, of the Australian Nuclear Association expressed it clearly on Robyn Williams' Ockham's Razor show, in 2013.:

We export yellowcake to over 20 countries.....we have a responsibility to take back their waste-it has come from our yellowcake-for final disposal.

Australia would take its rightful place as a leader in the growing world nuclear power-generating industry and we would capture the moral high ground on the previously thought intractable problem of waste disposal.

This ethical argument is supported only by enthusiastic nuclear lobbyists. Even the World Nuclear Association is clear on the question of responsibility for nuclear wastes:

There is clear and unequivocal understanding that each country is ethically and legally responsible for its own wastes, therefore the default position is that all nuclear wastes will be disposed of in each of the 50 or so countries concerned.

So - the Nuclear Citizens' Jury seems to be left with only one real circumstance under which it has the "opportunity" to store and dispose of nuclear wastes from other countries - the projected financial bonanza.

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There are many serious critics of the economic argument, such as in submissions to the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission (NFCRC) by Senator Scott Ludlam , by Mothers For A Sustainable South Australia, Dr Mark Diesendorf, and by more recent articles such as the economic briefing by Independent Environment Campaigner, David Noonan. The current South Australian Parliamentary Inquiry has also criticised the economic plan. Senior Liberal MP Rob Lucas, a former state treasurer and the opposition's Treasury spokesman suggested that:

...we, the taxpayers of South Australia, will be spending tens and maybe hundreds of ­millions of dollars on fool's gold - fool's uranium, fool's nuclear waste dumps.

The NFCRC personnel and the Weatherill government will put up their case for developing the nuclear waste import scheme as an economic bonanza for South Australia. And perhaps they're right.

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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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