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.
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.
The 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.