Successive governments have failed to deliver a solution to managing radioactive waste while continuing to produce and indeed increase the production of waste. We have a responsibility to manage Australia's inventory of waste to the highest possible standards. The focus of finding a solution rather than just a location should begin with the Government upholding its commitment to community consent.
A process not a postcode
There are no long‐term storage solutions for nuclear waste, which is why the Australian Greens believe that nuclear industry activities should be ceased entirely.
The Greens will continue to stand up against the idea that Australia should become the world's nuclear waste dump. Each nation must responsibly deal with their nuclear mistakes, not transport their toxic waste 'out of sight out of mind.'
The old parties have legislated to impose nuclear waste upon unwilling communities across Australia.
For over two decades the remote Aboriginal communities have been targeted to host the nation's nuclear waste. The Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta senior women in South Australia and the Traditional Owners from the Muckaty region in the Northern Territory have defeated plans to impose radioactive waste on their lands.
It is essential that Australia's disgraceful history of targeting Aboriginal communities to host our 60-year legacy of spent reactor fuel is never repeated again.
The Greens propose the Commonwealth Government immediately establish an independent inquiry on Radioactive Waste Management to undertake a deliberative process that is procedurally fair, scientifically rigorous, and properly informed.
Nuclear the wrong question
We have some major hurdles ahead of us on nuclear waste. We need to safely manage the existing nuclear waste accumulated across Australia. We need to consider waste minimisation strategies so that we are not locked into a never ending search for waste storage options. We must protect Australia against the growing threat of becoming the world's repository for the highest levels of nuclear waste known on earth.
Australia has a long history of failed plans to locate national nuclear waste dumps, plans that have disproportionately targeted Aboriginal land. Coercive attempts to dump radioactive waste on unwilling communities do not work. That is the experience here in Australia and internationally.
Instead of simply asking 'which remote location is most suitable for dumping radioactive waste' we should be asking what is the most appropriate way of managing and isolating various categories of nuclear waste and how can we minimise the production of nuclear waste.
National nuclear waste
A long-term waste management solution needs to take a considered and evidence based approach. This would best be achieved by holding an independent Inquiry into national radioactive waste production and management, with input from civil society stakeholders as well as people with expertise in engineering, social science, environmental science, community consultation, radiation and medicine.
International Nuclear Waste
There is a renewed push for the storage of international high- level nuclear waste in Australia. The economics of these proposals are deeply flawed; the benefits to Australia have been grossly over exaggerated and the long-term risks ignored. The waste from nuclear power is the most dangerous and long-lived waste known. No country in the world has been able to establish a high level nuclear waste disposal facility. The inability to contain nuclear waste overseas is a reason for Australia to stop supplying uranium, not a reason to impose it on the Australian environment and public.
What you need to know
Nuclear waste remains dangerously toxic and radioactive for generations. Australia's nuclear waste is made up of
4020 cubic metres of so‐called low‐level and short‐lived intermediate radioactive waste;
Approximately 600 cubic metres of long lived waste in this country; and
32 cubic metres of spent research reactor fuel that is returning to Australia from reprocessing in France and the UK in 2015.
There are no long-term storage solutions for nuclear waste.
The Labor-Liberal preferred response to nuclear waste management is 'out of site out of mind' in the past this has meant targeting remote Aboriginal Communities.
The Greens have stood with Traditional Owners in South Australia and the Northern Territory to defeat those plans. We need to move beyond the failed process of the past and make decisions on the management of radioactive based on science, community input and best practice. That's why we have a fully costed plan for an Independent Inquiry on the Long-Term Safe Storage, Transport and Management of Australia's Radioactive Waste.
A clean energy future
We have to decarbonise our economy and our environment. How we achieve that and how we do it in a meaningful timeframe is key. The South Australian Royal Commission into the Nuclear Fuel Cycle is likely to prove an expensive distraction from the renewable energy industry that is flourishing in South Australia already providing 36% of the state's energy.
Nuclear is inherently unsafe, it is increasingly expensive, notoriously slow to develop and politically unpopular. If we ignore for a moment that there is no safe solution for nuclear waste storage and that the nuclear industry provides the fuel for the ongoing development and modernisation of nuclear weapons - there are many other factors that exclude nuclear as viable energy option.
The promise of new technologies - Generation IV, Fusion and Thorium are all decades away from becoming commercially viable and unlikely to ever be affordable. We simply do not have time to wait for technology that may or may not ever be available, safe enough to use or cheap enough to make sense. If and when technologies become available it is likely then to take decades more to finance, construct, set up regulations, build infrastructure and train a skilled workforce. Nuclear power is not the solution to climate change.
The World Nuclear Industry Status report provides a great overview of the reality of new reactors under construction stating that "The most commonly cited causes of delay are: design issues; shortage of skilled labor; quality control issues; supply chain issues; poor planning either by the utility or equipment suppliers; shortage of finance; and public opposition."
If we want decentralised power scattered across the country, renewable energy options are proving to be much cheaper, much quicker to roll out and publicly acceptable and above all safe.
South Australians are hurting from job losses and closure of the automotive industry. The nuclear industry is one that has promised South Australians a lot, taken much more from them and has delivered very little in return. Becoming further entrenched in the nuclear industry is not the solution to creating new jobs, industry or a safe energy future.
Manufacturing, installing and maintaining renewable energy technology in South Australia would be much quicker to establish and be much more accessible to the existing workforce in South Australia. In 2014 there was US $270 billion invested in renewable energy, a growth rate of 12%, renewable now provide 6% of the world's energy. South Australia is already producing 36% of the state's energy from renewable sources. South Australia's future is renewable not radioactive.
WA uranium threat
In 2008 the Barnett Government lifted the ban on uranium mining in Western Australia. Since then, over 200 uranium exploration drilling programs have taken place across WA and four active uranium proposals put forward – Kintyre, Yeelirrie, Wiluna and Mulga Rock. All of these proposals have plans to transport uranium thousands of kilometers by road across WA and SA to Port Adelaide.
There is no proposed uranium mine in WA that has final approval to mine. All have been met with fierce community opposition because of the inherent risks posed by uranium mining and the broader nuclear industry but also because of site specific concerns with impacts on flora, fauna, impacts to groundwater, dust management and the long term risk of uranium mine tailings.
There is strong community resistance at each of the proposed mines in WA and reflects a strong anti-nuclear sentiment in Western Australia. The uranium industry has been stunted by the low uranium price which is at an 11 year low making the development of new uranium mines both unpopular and unfeasible.
NT uranium legacies
The World Heritage listed Kakadu, Australia's largest National Park, has been at the forefront of uranium mining threats in the NT with three significant uranium deposits – Jabiluka, Koongara and Ranger.
Rio Tinto and Energy Resources Australia’s (ERA) proposed Jabiluka uranium mine was hugely controversial. In a campaign led by Mirrar Traditional Owners the mine was stopped, with rehabilitation beginning in 2003. ERA entered into an agreement with Mirrar that Jabiluka would not be mined.
French company Areva have tried for over 30 years to establish a uranium mine at Koongara but have been held back by Djok Senior Traditional Owner Jeffrey Lee. In 2013 after a long campaign from Mr Lee and others Koongara was included back into the Kakadu National Park and protected under the World Heritage listed site.
Ranger, which is completely surrounded by Kakadu, has had more than 200 reported spills, leaks and breaches. Lines on a map do not protect Kakadu from the impact of the toxic uranium mine, with water management posing recurring problems. Ranger is no longer being mined - ore stockpiles are being processed and plans for closure are underway. There are ongoing concerns about ERAs expansion plans which are opposed by Mirrar and the parent company Rio Tinto. We are keeping a close eye on what ERA will do.
The Northern Territory has had several other mines that are yet to be completely rehabilitate, Rum Jungle and the Alligator River mines are still an ongoing source of radiation and Acid Metalliferous Drainage pollution. We must not forget these sites and the need to clean up the pollution which poses a significant public health risk.
SA uranium legacies
South Australia has a long history of uranium mining. There are two operating mines in South Australia – Olympic Dam & Beverley Four Mile, another two that are in Care and Maintenance Beverley & Honeymoon (temporary closure with no rehabilitation) and another two that have been abandoned and require rehabilitation Wild Dog & Radium Hill. There is also a closed but un-remediated uranium processing facility at Port Pirie. The legacy of -remediated uranium sites represent a significant liability to the state.
In the recent SA Royal Commission into the Nuclear Fuel Cycle the Commission found that market conditions do not support new mines. The Commission went on to recommend that the regulations for the industry to be streamlined and reduced to better support the industry. The South Australian uranium mines have all had license breaches, leaks, spills and other accidents indicating that the industry needs tighter regulations and incentives on safety.
It is deeply disturbing that the SA Government is considering importing high level international radioactive waste when they have failed to remediate uranium mines, processing facilities and nuclear weapons test sites that all represent a significant public health risk.
Uranium mining has been banned in Queensland, New South Wales, Australian Capital Territory, Victoria and Tasmania.
Australia should be at the forefront of nations breathing new life into global nuclear weapons disarmament. Instead Australia has weakened global efforts towards nuclear disarmament through undermining global negotiations and by advancing plans to sell uranium to nuclear weapons states.
In 1972 the world banned biological weapons, in 1993 we banned chemical weapons, in 1997 we banned land mines, and in 2008 we banned cluster munitions. It is time for a global nuclear weapons ban treaty.
Not only would nuclear weapons instantly kill millions of people and impact on the gene pool, but the detonation of 50 - 100 nuclear weapons could change the global climate with global temperatures crashing, destroying crops as well as depleting the ozone layer.
Nuclear weapons are the most destructive weapons known on earth. There are now 15,700 nuclear weapons globally - of those 1,800 of those weapons are on ‘high-alert' status.
The risks are real and the consequences are catastrophic. We cannot afford to be complacent about the threat of nuclear war.