Waste not to go nuclear waste


This morning I’ve woken up to a News.com.au headline “Cory Bernardi says a nuclear power dump could make us the ‘Saudi Arabia of the south’”. I promise I will resist the obvious jokes along the lines of “Turn a dump into a nuclear dump” or asking if one Saudi Arabia of the north is not quite enough for our world already. Instead I will let Cory make his case first:

Speaking at the party’s election launch in South Australia on Sunday, founder and federal Senator Cory Bernardi said he wanted to reopen the debate on an outback nuclear dump.

He called for changes to the law to allow for “all forms of energy production”, including nuclear power, urging authorities to “complete a full rigorous analysis” of the idea.

According to The Advertiser, he claimed the dump would generate up to $6.7 billion in gross state product, allow for $3 billion in annual taxes to be scrapped, and see the state reaping in $445 billion over the next century.

“Imagine that legacy for our children … to draw on in developing this state,” he said. “We would be an economic powerhouse. We would be the strongest state in the Commonwealth.”

I’m not sure about “an economic powerhouse” or “the strongest state in the Commonwealth”, but hopefully a project like this would have a chance of transforming the mendicant economic model on which South Australia currently operates into something self-sustainable. And wouldn’t it be nice if SA could finally change their licence plate motto from “The Rent-seeking State” to “The Waste State”? I have a vision in my head of a giant Statue of Liberty modelled on Cory, with the adapted and updated Emma Lazarus inscription “Give me your tired rods, your poor depleted uranium, Your huddled spent fuel yearning to breathe free, The wretched nuclear refuse of your teeming shore.” And where better to situate the site than the Simpson Desert, to be renamed the Homer Simpson Desert in honour of the world’s most famous nuclear industry employee?

But I promised to be serious – particularly because I agree with Cory 110%.

The idea of Australia becoming a final resting place for used radioactive fuel – a sort of a Nuclear Cemetery – is nothing new. As the article above mentions, most recently a South Australian royal commission in 2016 recommending pursuing the idea.

As a migrant from Europe, it always struck me as strange than Australia does not provide this international service already. Despite having been liberally sprinkled in 1986 by the Chernobyl fall-out, I’m a strong supporter of nuclear power on economic and environmental grounds. The Soviets had such a gift for mismanagement and stuff-ups that I’m pretty sure that they would have been able to turn even solar power into a major ecological disaster. The truth of the matter is that properly run nuclear power generation is one of the safest and most efficient ways to power a modern industrial society. But, as a trade-off, it generates waste, which has to be safely accommodated in perpetuity.

Australia is an ideal place for that. We are the geologically most stable continent, with a huge, barely inhabited interior, which doesn’t suffer from earthquakes, volcanic activity or exposure to other natural disasters. We are, quite clearly and by a long mile, the safest place in the world to store waste that is not going to otherwise magically disappear as long as nuclear industry exists, which is for a long time yet. The economic case for our nuclear cemetery is very strong, as the business is highly lucrative, and Australia would be able to trump any competitors on the issues of capacity, safety and long-term sustainability (both geological and political). There is a moral case in there too, based on the above consideration, in providing a safe and secure disposal of materials that currently are and will continue to be stored in places that are far less suitable, either because they are less stable and secure, or because some countries (particularly the developing ones) might not have sufficient resources to do it properly and safely.

This is not meant to be a scientific study in favour of the proposition, so I’m not going to sprinkle it with reference links, but you can, if interested, have a look at a few short pieces here, here and here (the  2016 business case).

So yes, I’m with Cory on this one. Let’s do something that not only makes economic sense but also something that will be a service to the rest of the world. As Australians, we love to wax lyrically about the amazing natural bounty of our continent – well, here is another case where the Mother Nature has given us an unparalleled edge over everyone else. So let’s Make South Australia Viable Again.