I recently sat in on a session of the Joint Committee reviewing the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission. Speaking to the committee this day was Dave Sweeney, Nuclear Free Campaigner of the Australian Conservation Foundation and Jim Green, National Nuclear Campaigner of Friends of the Earth. The transcript of the session is now available.

I was stunned by some of the hypocritical and contradictory messages put forward by these spokespeople. Truly, the arguments about issues of used nuclear fuel will be manipulated into whichever directions serves the goal of nil progress. They do not want a solution because they like the problem. The problem is good for them and their cause. Consider the following assertion:

 Dave Sweeney: The ACF view is that we don’t have a moral responsibility as a uranium exporting nation to bring stuff back. There is no other mineral product that we are asked to do that with, so we don’t accept that line.

Yet just a few short months earlier, when writing for The Guardian, Dave Sweeney said this:

In October 2011 it was formally confirmed to the Australian parliament that not only was Australian uranium routinely sold to the corner-cutting Tepco but that a load of true blue yellowcake was fuelling the Fukushima complex at the time of the disaster. Australian radioactive rocks were the source of Fukushima’s fallout.

This point is even raised in his bio. So…are we morally responsible? Or aren’t we? The ACF position appears to be two-fold and ephemeral:

  • Yes if by “morally responsible” we mean “feeling guilty” in a way that can be leveraged against the nuclear sector.
  • No if by “morally responsible” we mean moving decisively to enact a responsible solution that other nations would be happy to pay for.

Basically, whatever works to halt progress.

Moving on, in introductory remarks, Jim Green said this:

High-level nuclear waste requires deep underground disposal. You would need a deep underground repository even if you only had 500 tonnes or 1,000 tonnes of high-level nuclear waste.

Later in the session, both witnesses were asked the following question:

The ACTING CHAIRPERSON:  Given that high-level toxic waste exists around the world, and given your organisations are interested in global issues, we hear what you say in relation to South Australia, but what do your organisations or you individually believe should be done with the high-level toxic waste? It’s clearly, in most cases, being stored above ground in those locations, so what do you and your organisations believe should be done with the toxic waste that exists already?

Here is the answer from Jim Green:

Jim Green: Much of my answer is broadly similar: we don’t take anything off the table. Basically, we would say net benefit analysis, which is just a jargonistic way of saying thorough consideration of all the options, whether that is above ground storage or repositories, or whether that is done nationally or regionally or internationally. What we do oppose is this specific proposal to import it to South Australia.

So they oppose this specific proposal to import it to South Australia. That is all. There’s is not consistent position on the need for underground disposal and when pressed, apparently a whole range of options should be considered, including international options.

In response to the same question Dave Sweeney said this:

Dave Sweeney: Our short-term thinking is reduction at source and transition away from the creation of the waste. The waste should be managed above ground, and it should be dry and retrievable, in a stewardship context rather than a disposal context, at or close to the site of production or use, to best avail of industry expertise, and to best keep on the radar. One of the real dangers with radioactive waste is out of sight, out of mind because the material is not dead: it’s just out of sight. So, it should be above ground, dry, retrievable and monitored, using existing expertise, and using existing security, hardened facilities and tenure issues that would have existed with a reactor or whatever.

Sweeney and Green have both directly contradicted Green’s opening remarks. In literally the same session two positions are adopted, selectively, each to further the obvious goal: no progress.

Is this good or bad? That depends… does it represent progress? If so, it’s bad.

I find these answers particularly galling given the proposal Senator Edwards and I put forward was based on the following principles:

  • above ground, dry, retrievable storage,
  • in a stewardship context
  • with pathways leveraging the best of industry expertise to
  • recycle the material, produce clean energy and effectively destroy the long-lived material these gentlemen purport to be concerned about.

With commercialisation and scaling, these processes would help the nuclear industry:

  • transition away from once-through fuel cycles towards a circular, recycling based model.
  • Achieve not only “reduction at source and transition away from the creation of the waste”, but also neutralise the existing waste.

Submission coverThe concept embodies most of the principles they expressed to the Joint Committee as important, comes supported by excellent scientific evidence and experience and is consistent with the advice of non-proliferation experts.

Did they offer even tentative support this concept? Did they heck. From the FoE page , it is described as an “idiotic fantasy”.

Again, the only consistency from these stakeholders is a consistent attempt to undermine progress toward a solution. Australia’s ENGOs are not thinking about these issues in a responsible way. They are not interested in good global citizenship and solving challenging problems. They want us bunkered down, frightened and unsure, inside our own borders saying “No!” and they want the international community divided, disparate and uncooperative with no collective solution. That is not environmentalism or anything like it. We can do better.



  1. If I may sum them up in one word:



    adjective: vexatious

    causing or tending to cause annoyance, frustration, or worry.

  2. When antinukes ask me what I think should be done with nuclear waste, I usually respond with the solution that you and they just offered, namely that it should be stored in a secure aboveground facility close to centres of expertise in dealing with it and easily accessible by first-responders in the event of a mishap. It seems that whenever they want to sound reasonable, they filch our positions to the maximum extent possible while remaining staunchly antinuclear. They must be seriously concerned to be skating so close to the abyss.

  3. Its also interesting to remind anti nukes that if they are so worried about plutonium in SNF being diverted, the only solution is to bring it to a stable secure environment both politically & geologically, & to fission it in a reactor, so it is no longer plutonium.

    This is invariably met the reply that SNF must be left exactly where it is and under no circumstances must the destruction of the plutonium be countenanced, as it would simply encourage responsible countries to make more…

    Either they are worried about diversion, and want to do something about it, or as the evidence suggests, Anti nuclear activists simply seek to obstruct any positive development in nuclear technology, irrespective of the social or ecological price of their obstructionism

  4. Some of us are guilt ridden by conflicts of purpose but Deep Greens just shrug it off. For example I have a sneaking suspicion that many of those who recently protested against BP oil drilling got there using propulsion from burned petroleum
    In other words they didn’t all get there on bicycles. I don’t see sails on their protest ship.

    They seem to have tuned into the wavelength of many of mainstream people including politicians. Perhaps many of them will become politicians which could be why nuclear is far behind the eight ball.

  5. The hypocrisy of the “environmental/green group/s is awesome. In the 60/70/80 they took coal sponsorship to rally and protest against nuclear. Then a new cause GW and they jumped out of the coal bed and in with gas! But when it comes to nuclear they would not hesitate to partner up with coal again and let’s face it nuclear is at this point still the main threat to coal. If the world goes nuclear coal would take a severe hit. A good reason for coal to cannibalise its own sales and move into nuclear, I think. If only they could think of themselves as being in the energy industry instead of limiting themselves to mining.

  6. Sweeney and Green are doing their job. JOB. That’s how they earn a living. They are expressing the views that go with their career territories. My personal opinion is that this creates a conflict of interest but can see that not all will agree. However it surely detracts from their credibility and should add weight to all of the contradictions and hypocrisies that Ben lists.

  7. They also stipulate it should be stored near the source. I’m kind of surprised you wrote this, over what seems like a couple of tiny points. Jim changed his mind and Dave had a different opinion.

    1. In what they term as HOSS, Hardened On-Site Storage. Which has to meet design criteria they dictate to withstand direct hits by high explosive or deeply penetrating weapons. Essentially they say “On-Site” but they really are looking for a deep geological repository (DGR). But the policy then states that they should not be seen as a DGR, although ground penetrating weapons will dictate it has to be this (also below water tables), and this is only a temporary solution. So in essence they want this stuff in a bunker, but it cannot be disposed there. They still have no solution and are stuck between wanting a DGR and not wanting a DGR.

      It’s a deliberate ploy to not have a solution so they still have a plausible argument to make against nuclear. If the waste disposal “issue” is solved they lose a key argument.

      From “Principles for Safeguarding Nuclear Waste at Reactors” signed by FoE, Beyond Nuclear, Greenpeace etc.

  8. You’d have to think that the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission was completely lost on SA energy minister Tom Koutsantonis. Everything begins and ends with gas which seems to be the impression he gave at Friday’s COAG
    It’s a shame the Cooper Basin has been flogged for half a century and 4km deep fracking doesn’t to be delivering. Perhaps BP will find oil and gas offshore though it seems a long shot. Now to help out the Vics are apparently obliged to repeal a ban on coal seam gas drilling though I’m not sure that’s the right geology.

    They reckon a $700m new connector to NSW will help. As we speak the NEM Watch widget shows NSW producing 8,473 MW of black coal power. As pointed out some time ago by Geoff Russell SA is increasingly a net importer of east coast coal dominated electricity. The $700m won’t change that. Koutsantonis needs to rethink this.

  9. Also in federal parliament it seems that nuclear and energy are different things according to the Greens Party. In the reshuffle of their shadow ministry Ludlam gets nuclear and Bandt gets the energy portfolio
    Somehow I doubt Ludlam will be announcing a new nuclear build. It gives the impression that energy is all about sunshine and gentle breezes while nuclear is about misery and end times. We can at least agree on the need to close stinkers like Hazelwood brown coal fired power station. The Greens vote went down in all but one state last federal election. Undaunted they persist with the same old policies.

  10. The song goes ‘Istanbul now it’s Constantinople’. It seems Barndioota is now referred to as Wallerberdina.
    Have to agree talking about separate ILW and HLW sites for SA is confusing. In the middle somewhere we have to remember nuclear electricity is a non-option. According to the SA energy minister the preferred solution to SA power woes is for other states to do more gas drilling while retaining their dispatchable capacity.

    However I think SA can and should handle most nuclear waste of any type. The sites could conceivably be an hour’s drive apart and use the same truck route. It would simplify costs and security.

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