I have been flicking through submissions to the South Australian Royal Commissions, and the submisison from The Australia Institute jumped out
The submission references a page on this site. It also goes to quite some effort to sow doubt regarding the themes of the submission from the office of Senator Sean Edwards, a submission I was chiefly tasked with preparing.
The argument posited, mainly via rhetorical questions, is a neat little circle that goes something like this:
- If the market for used fuel storage is real then recycling the material for energy isn’t.
- If the recycling technology is real, then the market for used fuel storage isn’t.
Here are their words:
However, despite being based on technology piloted decades ago, at commercial scales these reactors are still at the concept stage, and no fourth generation power plants yet exist (from page 9)…Additionally, the same fourth generation technology that Australia might hope to build which turns spent fuel into a resource would invalidate any business case for high-level waste storage. If Australia can profit from waste by generating electricity, why can’t everyone else? If reprocessing can be profitable, wouldn’t it be more profitable if sited next to existing stockpiles and existing reactors? If waste can be profitably turned into electricity, as fourth generation reactors appear able to do, why would anyone pay us to take their waste? (from page 13)
As a doctoral student working under three highly-published scientific supervisors, I don’t write in questions. As a researcher, my job is to seek understanding and provide answers based on evidence; a standard I took to the work with Senator Edwards. What this passage says to me is that The Australia Institute doesn’t want answers; questions will be just fine.
In attempting to discredit the readiness and safety of used fuel storage, the submission quotes Stephen Chu, former Secretary of Energy to the United States government. Under a section headed “Technical problems of nuclear waste storage” this quote regarding Chu appears:
In 2009 Steven Chu, then US Secretary for Energy, said, “Yucca Mountain as a repository is off the table. What we’re going to be doing is saying, let’s step back. We realize that we know a lot more today than we did 25 or 30 years ago.
If you think that ends abruptly, well, so did I. So I did this really clever thing I learned from my times arguing with climate change deniers.
I read the source.
Here is the quote in full:
Steven Chu: Yucca Mountain as a repository is off the table. What we’re going to be doing is saying, let’s step back. We realize that we know a lot more today than we did 25 or 30 years ago. The NRC [Nuclear Regulatory Commission] is saying that the dry cask storage at current sites would be safe for many decades, so that gives us time to figure out what we should do for a long-term strategy. We will be assembling a blue-ribbon panel to look at the issue.
[We’re] looking at reactors that have a high-energy neutron spectrum that can actually allow you to burn down the long-lived actinide waste. [Editor’s note: Actinides include plutonium, which can be dangerous for 100,000 years.] These are fast neutron reactors. There’s others: a resurgence of hybrid solutions of fusion fission where the fusion would impart not only energy, but again creates high-energy neutrons that can burn down the long-lived actinides.
This practice by The Australia Institute is called cherry-picking. The quote from Chu is not only desperately incomplete, but contradicts the positions put forward by The Australia Institute and supports the positions put forward by Senator Sean Edwards. That is, that dry-cask storage has proven remarkably safe, will be an effective solution into the future and the use of fast-neutron reactors is under active consideration.
The Australia Institute’s motto is “research that matters” and their philosophy includes “through a combination of research and creativity we can promote new solutions and ways of thinking”.
Sounds nice. My suggestion would be that the “creativity” comes after the research. Not during.