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Australia’s nuclear future

By Helen Caldicott - posted Thursday, 2 August 2007

Australia is in grave danger. Not only has the Labor party joined the Coalition’s open-slather uranium mine policy, but the Prime Minister is mooting domestic uranium enrichment, construction of 25 nuclear reactors on the East Coast, storage of foreign radioactive waste in Australia and reprocessing spent radioactive nuclear fuel in a “closed nuclear fuel cycle”.

Interestingly, Halliburton, Cheney’s former company constructed the railway line between Adelaide and Darwin, now owned by Serco Asia Pacific, a leader in the management and transport of Britain’s nuclear waste. It runs adjacent to both the South Australia Olympic Dam uranium mine and to Muckaty Station at Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory - the preferred site chosen by the federal government to store radioactive waste from Lucas Heights.

This geologically unstable area recently experienced a 2.5 Richter earthquake and is laced with underground aquifers supplying water to Indigenous populations, to outback towns and numerous stations.


The Northern Land Council chose Aboriginal tribal land at Muckaty Station for the repository by persuading two elders of one Aboriginal family, to the tune of $12 million, to surrender their land for the radioactive waste dump. Fifteen other family owners strongly disagree with this decision.

Ominously on June 2, 2007 the Federal council of the Liberal Party also quietly endorsed a foreign nuclear waste dump for Australia.

Uranium mining, the railway line and the nuclear waste dump are part of a bigger global picture. The US Department of Energy (DOE) is planning a Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) to promote a robust future for their nuclear industry. The GNEP consists of uranium mining, enrichment, export of fuel rods, return of irradiated rods, reprocessing and construction of generation IV reactors by selected and trusted countries.

Because of the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation posed by non nuclear-armed nations with access to nuclear power technology, the DOE plans to control the entire nuclear fuel cycle by exporting enriched uranium fuel rods, and re-importing irradiated nuclear fuel to be reprocessed in the US.

These intensely radioactive rods will be chopped up, dissolved in concentrated nitric acid, and from this intensely radioactive liquid solution plutonium will be extracted to be fissioned in the new “Generation IV” or fast reactors. (200 kilos of plutonium are generated yearly in a nuclear power plant).

Reprocessing is a filthy process which unavoidably exposes both workers and the general public to massive amounts of radioactive biologically dangerous elements such as tritium, and long-lived elements - krypton 85, carbon 14, iodine 129 and technetium 99.


Reprocessing is also outrageously expensive. The cost of just one reprocessing plant ranges from $US30 to $US150 billion and the GNEP program in America will require federal subsidies of up to $US100 billion.

Generation IV reactors deemed “passively safe” will be fueled by five to 15 tons of plutonium cooled by liquid sodium, a highly reactive and explosive material when exposed to air. If the coolant pipes break, the sodium would burn triggering a massive spontaneous nuclear explosion scattering tons of plutonium to the four winds because only two to three kilos of plutonium is critical mass. (Less than one millionth of a gram of plutonium is carcinogenic and it has a half life of 24,000 years - radioactive for 500,000 years.)

Generation IV reactors are hailed as part of a closed loop process because the plutonium can be “transmuted” into shorter lived fission products such as strontium 90 and cesium 137 that only last 600 years, instead of 500,000 years while at the same time generating electricity!

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Helen Caldicott will address a public forum in the Brisbane City Hall on August 8, 2007. Australia at the Crossroads- A New Direction 6.30pm for a 7pm start. Free admission.

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About the Author

Dr Helen Caldicott, has devoted the last 38 years to an international campaign to educate the public about the medical hazards of the nuclear age and the necessary changes in human behavior to stop environmental destruction. She is also the Founding President of the Physicians for Social Responsibility which, with other national groups won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985. She is President of people for a Nuclear Free Australia and a member of the Spanish Scientific Committee advising the Spanish Prime Minister.

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