The South Australian Citizen’s Jury considering the question of further engagement in the nuclear fuel cycle handed a report to the Premier yesterday citing a 2/3 majority “No” vote on the specific question:

Under what circumstances, if any, could South Australia pursue the opportunity to store and dispose of nuclear waste from other countries?

Two-thirds of those assembled indicated that under no circumstances would they agree to proceed in pursuing this opportunity.

The report can be found at this link. Be warned, it’s a difficult read, however before criticising, please appreciate this was put together from a group in extremely time-constrained circumstances.

From my first review of this report the rejection of the concept appears to be based almost entirely on two core issues:

  1. The jurors were unconvinced by the economic case
  2. There is a lack of visible, expressed consent from traditional owners (for my international readers, this is referring to Australia’s Aboriginal people who identify in different traditional owner groups). There is a highly visible presence expressing no consent.

On the first point, this seems a fair reason to request further assessment. To refuse progress on the basis of this argument seems frankly draconian from the point of view of other South Australians who may benefit from new economic opportunity. It would seem entirely reasonable to make greater certainty a condition of proceeding.

On the second point, this is a primary concern of mine in this space, which is why Senator Edwards and I sought and promoted pathways that may greatly lessen any need for imposition on remote lands.

There will be more analysis to come. From here the process must consider also the input from the much wider consultation process that has been under way. However for today I will leave the last word to the minority report. This represents approximately 30% of the jurors who were so concerned about what they saw as fundamental flaws in this process they saw fit to take the brave step of documenting these concerns. After reading this, you may like to revisit my previous blog post and check the timeline to see just how hard this process has been worked over. The words of this 30% of the participants gives me real pause for thought. This is by far the largest use of Citizen’s Jury in the world to date, on one of the most complex and emotive topics. Based on this minority report, we all may have a lot to learn.

Minority reports

Change Section 13 (2) of the Nuclear Waste Storage Act 2000 to allow for further economic modelling

Given consensus that the economics have not been adequately assessed a change to the legislation to allow the limited investigation of the economic model to be made.

Jury selection process has allowed selection bias.

Our concern is that by announcing the question before requesting volunteers the process has allowed for an over representation of opponents to the idea of the storage of nuclear waste. Our concern is that selection bias has led to potential confirmation bias through selection of witnesses. Community polling in random selection of 4016 people revealed 42.2% ok with further investigation and 36.8% against. Community polling in a voluntary example of 4329 people revealed 19.7% ok with further investigation and 66% opposing further investigation. The witness selection process allowed Jurors to decide who they wished to hear from. Selection bias has resulted in a bias in the witnesses presented. This has likely led to confirmation bias, i.e. if you have a position and you request witnesses who share your view, your position will be strengthened. Reference the ‘Economics’ session, where Jurors chose to hear from economists who clearly had a negative view of the nuclear industry. This situation allowed a visible focus group to polarise the Jury.

Indigenous consultation

The suggestion that this Jury can speak for the Indigenous community only perpetuates the disempowerment of that community.

We have been told that the consultation process was either non-existent or insufficient. To suggest that the Indigenous community then has a unanimous position without adequate consultation is incorrect.


  1. Let’s remember 3 days ago Mark Parnell MLC wanted this jury shut down. Furthermore the jurors have also said the following:

    “But one juror, who has asked to remain anonymous, has told the ABC people were anxious because they did not have the chance to digest the information. “I think a lot of core information and fact checking hasn’t been allowed,” she said.”'s-jury's-'ambitious'-deadline-looms/7998754

    When you read the final report there do seem to be areas where the Jurors haven’t understood some fundamental concepts such as spent nuclear fuel “leaking” in dry storage.

  2. IMO, the idea of having a citizens jury seems great, until one realises that the quality of the job done by such a jury depends on it possessing skills and abilities which are not uniformly present in a random sample of people. Specifically:

    – the ability to evaluate complex technological, economic and environmental issues
    – the ability to distance oneself from pre-existing (false) beliefs nurtured over an extended period by non-factual (cultural, mass-media, prominent activist group) influences.
    – the ability to identify and differentiate between logical fallacies versus sound logic
    – the ability to place the public interest above one’s own personal interest, if any
    – the ability to make a decision which can or could cause a negative reaction from members of one’s social/culture group

    As such, a citizen’s jury should not be employed to determine the final say on an issue that is both complex and of significant economic, environmental and economic importance. Rather, a citizens jury could at best be employed to test the sentiment and understanding of the public during the course of the process, purely in order to enhance and improve the information provided to the public. This approach includes informing the public as to why and how a limited – rather than absolute – decision-making role for the broader public is in fact in the *best* interest of the public. This can be explained by analogy, for example, the way medical doctors decide jointly on the best treatment of a patient showing obscure disease symptoms: Such doctors do not consult the public on the best treatment option, but they consult only other doctors, and the patient would certainly not want it any other way (if he/she knows what’s best for him/her.)

    The final decision on all contentious, complex issues in a modern society should ideally be made by a group of disinterested experts who are taken from – and represent – the public. The ideal system would ensure that this group of experts succeeds in winning and upholding the trust and confidence of the public on the one hand, while being sufficiently skilled and educated to grapple with the issue at hand a degree that is equal to the task at hand. Normally, it is the job of politicians to do this, who (ideally) seek to inform themselves by consulting accredited, independent experts, rather than ‘the public’.

  3. Hi, Ben.

    I realise that the citizens’ jury decision is a bitter pill.

    Take a deep breath of fresh air, then soldier on. This is too important for sane people to walk away from.

    Your efforts were/are awesome! Reading from afar has been worthwhile.

    1. Heartily seconded. You, Ben, are a really worthy example of honorable campaigning – steady, envisioned, and clean-handed.

      I’m convinced that one can remain clean-handed and still be very bold to call out the shameful and disgraceful peddling of falsehoods and disinformation that has taken place.

      In the long run, no-one can do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. Reality bats last.

      Praying for you, Ben.

      Highest regards,

  4. Will this be interpreted as lack of social licence for the intermediate level waste facility and Australian nuclear electricity? I expect that nuclear opponents will make this claim.

    Many comments in The Advertiser focus on the economics rather than opposition to nuclear per se. I recall after the final RC report came out Commissioner Scarce had to make some clarifying statements and some articles in The Advertiser somewhat toned down the cost figures. Perhaps Parnell was correct in saying a group had too much influence on the Commission. It means unfortunately the RC failed to pick a winner.

  5. I think our primary interest (well at least mine) is to seriously consider the inclusion of nuclear power in our energy mix. Alan Finkel, our Chief Scientist (and a colleague of mine when I lived in Melbourne) is a strong supporter of nuclear energy. Alan will lead an expert panel including experts from Origin and Energex to ensure that electricity supply is secure, reliable and affordable and lowers the nation’s carbon emissions over time.

    So irrespective of the Jury and the anti-nuclear bias generally we have a good chance of getting more sense out of Finkel’s expert panel than we will get from any Jury or the many anti-nuclear advocates who continue to obfuscate.

  6. Hot weather is only months away when presumably SA will need 3100 MW of power while wind is subdued, say 200 MW. The half retired Pelican Pt and Torrens Island gas plants will be un-half-retired but hopefully spot gas won’t be the $22/GJ it was in July.

    I understand Finkel’s brief is reliability not necessarily low carbon. If he has to report by Xmas that’s not enough time to re-invent the wheel so to speak. I’d like Origin Energy to explain how they can operate 6 gas fired plants the same time sending the key ingredient out of Australia via Gladstone LNG. Alinta said no to solar thermal perhaps OE will say no to nuclear then again they bankrolled Geodynamics for a while.

  7. It is not unusual for repeat doses of medicine to be necessary in order to achieve a healthy outcome for the patient. It has been 40 or 50 years since Australians seriously considered the values of nuclear power and in those days the climate debate had only just begun and certainly not in Australia.

    After the French tests on Mururoa Atoll and the sinking of the Greenpeace Warrior in New Zealand waters the anti-nuclear stage was set in Australia and the remainder of the southwest Pacific.

    Thus it is easy to argue that it was not the wind power or solar power that killed nuclear power’s prospects for obtaining social licence to operate here. Chernobyl, TMI, Fukishima and all the rest are mere details – the damage was done before then.

    That left a void into which the sales people and other opportunists smelled opportunity. Opportunists such as the Greenpeace crowd of instant experts, Mrs Caldicott, the bulk of the modern Green movement which is essentially a rebadged nuclear disarmanent party looking for a cause and many many more. The next wave was the salesfolk, the get-rich-quick crowd, with their subsidy-seeking skills honed and polished. They were seeking government largesse and found it in plenty in the form of research grants, solar power and wind power trials (seemingly endless, disconnected, feel-good populist nose-in-the-trough trials, but still trials).

    We are now approaching the end of the trials and subsidy era, the EU is reported to be winding back some subsidies – even considering additional coal plants in Greece. Germany is wondering where to go next with their economy-busting energiewiende experiment.

    So, back to Australia.

    In many ways the period between Rainbow Warrior and the present has been one of lost time, money and opportunity.

    South Australia has had one massive dose of strong medicine in the form of a whole-of-state blackout. Australia’s electricity systems, once so cheap and stable that they attracted energy-hungry industry from across the world such as aluminium refineries and smelters, are now seen as neither reliable nor cheap. and certainly not attractive to foreign industry.

    A few more doses of medicine are, no doubt, in the pipeline – not, I hope, for South Australia – perhaps Germany, Spain and Italy. Maybe Once-Great Britain, who seem to have lost its way politically and is backing away from a list of once-popular targets in the energy field. Or smaller island-based under-engineered wind/storage/subsidy farms as in the Spanish island of El Hierro and our own Flinders and King Island hybrid systems.

    Am I the only one who foresees a future where a majority of the population decides that the real problems are:
    — Climate change driven by CO2 emissions;
    — Civil security, driven by climate chaos, rising oceans and economic constraints – plus, of course, a desire not to revisit a nuclear-armed Cold War era;
    — Wasted money and opportunity, driven in large part by very conspicuous waste on solar and wind, in part facilitated by political and commercial noses in the public trough?

    Will the majority opinion swing away from flawed 100% renewables concepts and to goals that are a balance of safety, affordability and comparative competitive advantage, which is the antithesis of never-ending subsidies, “plans” and “schemes”?

    I see South Australia’s electricity supply problems and the results from the Public Jury as essential steps along the way to a more enlightened future – it is certainly not the end of the road.

    Here’s hoping that it won’t take too long, or need too much strong medicine along the way.

  8. Thanks for this perspective, Ben.

    Personally, I’m not disheartened by this result. My assessment is that nuclear energy has a key role to play in global development, biodiversity conservation, and mitigating climate change. But I tend to agree with the two primary reasons the jury rejected the proposal.

    Traditional Owners clearly feel they haven’t been adequately consulted or listened to throughout this process. If there is an absence of consent – which there almost certainly is – it is probably at least partially as a result of not putting their views at the front and centre of this whole process. The recent federal proposal for a low- to mid-level domestic waste repository at Barndioota, despite the Adnyamathanha people clearly not consenting to it, has only served to strengthen the idea that government is not listening to them – and rightly so, in my view.

    And as far as the economics go, I think they more-or-less nailed it with this sentence from the report: “The long-term viability of the project is in doubt as it does not consider new technology providing potential alternatives for the use of the waste.” Well, yeah. The next century will be defined by unprecedented, incomprehensible technological complexity and change. Future customer demand for a service like this (taking high-level waste) is dubious. And with full fuel recycling already workable on a technical level (IFR technology), I can’t see how digging an abyssal hole to chuck the unrecycled goods in is in any way necessary or helpful.

    1. I don’t think future demand for service in taking material is dubious in the slightest.

      I think the single commercial model on the table is unlikely to be robust for the period in question and we need to be dovetailing several considerations.

      Refer to my remarks to the Joint Committee for more on that.

      As to the primacy given to TO consent I agree entirely with that principle where we are talking about land under TO governance today (and with deep geologicial repository, we most certainly are). I will fight to defend that principle of prior informed consent. I will also fight to defend the principle of self-determination between Aboriginal nations. If a TO group wishes to engage, they must be free to do so without pressure from others.

      I’m very cautious about the creep of argument that all TOs must be satisfied before anyone does anything anywhere in the state because it’s all their land really. That’s not because I disagree with the principle (on my reading of history I pretty readily agree with it) but because it would be hypocritical exceptionalism, once again singling out nuclear-related activities for special treatment while carrying on with everything else we do with no consent on self-same land. This is why I am pursuing and arguing for solutions we can implement in our cities.

  9. Indigenous groups are the new super-nimbies who can veto things they don’t like over vast distances. From what I can make out the key part of Wallerberdina Station could be tens of kilometres from their holding. That’s why mining companies describe Woomera area to the west as mining-friendly. The landlord is the Dept Defence who have a pro-mining policy.

    I’m also struck by the similarity of the expressions used by the indigenous groups from Muckaty NT, Flinders Ranges and Maralinga. You’d almost think they are being co-ordinated by city folks.

  10. I was somewhat dismayed by the results of Jury 2. By dismayed, I mean that I was furious, but have since calmed down. It is a huge PR win for the anti-nukes, but this is only one battle in a long war, and the aim is to win the war.
    Whatever the outcome, the other side would have cried bias. (The anti-nukes were crying bias until they ‘won’.)
    At the end of the day the jury outcome was never going to be binding. Jay Wetherill is pressing on and rightly calling the Jury an opinion piece. Why he laid the path for nuclear engagement and then put a giant landmine on the path in the form of a Citizen’s Jury is unknown.
    The comment below, taken from mentioned by contributor Angela Neale, may explain his thinking.
    ‘Apart from anything else, this kind of process demonstrates the resistance government would have encountered if it had pushed ahead without asking the public.’
    The article is worth reading (free sign up) because it helps to put things into perspective.
    I have read the Jury Report. I found it very difficult to follow. It has no structure, and its arguments are often contradictory. Eg. One part seemed to me to be saying that the proposal needs a lot more financial analysis to test its viability, while another part seems to say that the jury perception of lack of financial data means that the proposal should be scrapped immediately. It reads more like a huge amount of post-it notes stuck a page rather than a cohesive report.
    Two themes seem to get through. Dominant both in strength of comment and on paper allocated to the comment, are that the repository should be stopped because Aboriginals object to it.
    Second, the economics do not stack up.
    I read the Jacobs MCM Report which formed Appendix J of the NFCRC report and found the financial case difficult to understand. I sent several emails to YoursayNuclear (who deal with repository queries) explaining my difficulties. I suggested that if possible, a more user friendly version of the economic arguments could be prepared for the Jury 2 process, as this subject was likely to be significant, and had the potential to cause a lot of confusion, especially when some very original ConservationSA figures were circulating. I did not get a satisfactory reply.
    See page 2 ‘Witness session. Economics.
    This 52 minute presentation featured four anti-nukes (Mark Diesendorf, Richard Blandy (Flinders Uni), Richard Dennis (Australia Institute), Barbara Pocock (MOSSA) and a representative from Jacobs MCM, Tim Johnson. You can suffer through the presentation, or use your imagination to see what the anti-nukes had to say. The Jacob’s man stayed on theme, but his PowerPoint graphs, although good wall art, would have confounded Einstein.
    How are jury members going to understand information like this in a time constrained pressure environment, while being constantly barked at by anti-nukes? The process is fundamentally flawed.
    One cohesive part of the Jury report was the final tiny section, the minority report allowed to the 30% who dissented. They pointed to biases in the Jury selection and witness selection process. The Economics presentation referred to above received special mention.
    ‘Reference the ‘Economics’ session, where Jurors chose to hear from economists who clearly had a negative view of the nuclear industry.’
    Below are links to comments on the Jury process appearing on the WNN website. They are the most concise, informative and insightful articles that I have read so far and breath hope into the situation.
    This whole event needs to be kept in perspective. (As does my reaction I suppose.)
    Finally, I think that beyond this isolated event, we are all looking for ways to actively participate in making the repository a reality.

  11. With the election of Donald Trump, global plans for 100% renewables look as distant as the wide scale use of nuclear to decarbonise the World’s energy.

    While there may be some glee from anti-nuclear campaigners at the results from the citizen’s jury, any environmentalists looking at the big picture could only be dismayed at the progress being made to slow AGW. There needs to be a bit of soul searching and re-evaluation right across the common goal of decabonising energy.

    From a nuclear perspective, the technology and governance systems we have now don’t seem good enough to counter public fears of waste, meltdowns and proliferation.

    From a HL waste perspective, indefinite storage, as in 100,000+ years, is not looking acceptable. A system of temporary storage for several decades may be a different story. But to be acceptable the experimental technology of fast reactors to destroy this waste would need to be proven soon, then a financial plan that makes storing this waste beyond several decades more expensive than destroying it. It would be good to know what the chances are of any of the current reactors being developed to “solve” the waste problem in the long term (say 60 years out).

  12. I don’t understand why stashing radioactive material deep below the water table in the outback isn’t good enough, even if the radioactivity lasted a billion years. How will it get into the food chain? We send rockets whizzing overhead carrying satellites with plutonium RTG power sources or live inches from smoke alarms containing a speck of Am 241 with a half life of four centuries. The fear seems to be conveniently selective.

    On another forum somebody said enriched uranium plus MOX reprocessing would easily get us (the world) to the end of the century. Not sure sure if that checks out with the supposed 25 TW on non fossil power demand we’ll need by 2100. If true it means there is no rush for 4th generation nuclear. I’ve noticed that advocates conflate IFRs, SMRs and HTGRs with small modular reactors like NuScale. The thing is it’s possible that NuScale will be approved and on the market in a decade. The others who knows? Hopefully after a few more years of unreliable subsidised must-take renewables backed by dwindling gas supplies electricity consumers won’t worry so much whether radioactive waste is ‘long lived’.

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