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SA Nuclear waste dump questions

Nuclear un-clear: Some questions that need answers before
South Australia becomes the world’s nuclear waste dump

by Dr Tony Webb June 2016
Muckaty See below for update.

No Dump Alliance Sign the petition
Update 2017: Briefing Paper “Nuclear fuel waste storage targets SA’s iconic Flinders Ranges” (Jan 2017) by David Noonan, Independent Environment Campaigner.
Over 2017 community will increasingly focus on Federal gov. proposed imposition of nuclear waste on Adnyamathanha lands in SA’s iconic Flinders Ranges, in the lead up to the SA election in March 2018 and with a Federal Cabinet decision due by late 2017.
Briefer is posted on Friends of the Earth Australia website at:

No nuclear Port of Adelaide

right to strike on the environment

right to strike on the environment

Economist Blandy opposed
No dump funding

Tony Webb Where is it coming from and where is it going?
• Where is this waste coming from? The Royal commission speculates about various countries wanting us to take their waste but there’s nothing definite.

• Where will it come into Australia? We’ve heard that it might come in via Darwin (unlikely) or (more likely) through a new specially built port in the Spencer Gulf. If so where is this to be built – and at what cost, paid for by whom?

• Where will it be stored? It has been suggested there will need to be a secure temporary store at the port and another (or several) elsewhere above ground that will hold the highly radioactive waste for up to 100 years until ‘disposed of’ underground. Where will these temporary dump sites be? On whose land? And where is the proposed underground site to be?
• Where are the detailed engineering plans for this supposedly ‘secure’ but ‘unguarded’ underground site? No other country in the world has yet found a way to safely dispose of nuclear wastes. Several countries are trying – on a much smaller scale than proposed for South Australia – and for their own waste only.
What are the economic costs, benefits & risks?

• How much waste will we be taking? Various estimates have been thrown around about the total waste that we might get from other countries along with estimates for the number of ships delivering this each month and the way it might be transported to the temporary stores and the as yet unproven final dump site. Obviously the more we take the more money we get assuming that there is a fixed price and no other country competes and undercuts us in this. But if they do we may have the same costs but far fewer benefits.
What will it cost – to build and maintain the ports, storage sites, and the underground dump? Some of these are the ‘fixed’ costs – money that will be spent whether we get a lot or a little nuclear waste from overseas.
• So how much do we hope to benefit and what are the risks? The highly speculative and somewhat inflated estimates of the amount of waste we might get, the amount other countries might be prepared to pay us to take it and the equally deflated estimates of the costs we will incur (no ‘might’ about these) paint a very rosy picture.
• How real is this? What are the risks if any of these figures is wrong? What happens if the waste volume and/or the price we can get is only 50% or even 80% of the inflated estimate? How much do we then lose even if the costs of doing what there is no precedent for doing safely don’t blow out. And if there is one thing we ought by now to have learned about the costs of major projects in this country it is that the costs always do blow out.

Is handling highly radioactive material ‘safe’?
We are being told that there are no safety issues. This is either a deliberate lie or wilful ignorance! There is no safe level of exposure to ionising radiation and there is a growing body of evidence that now shows the risks have yet again been seriously underestimated.
Over the past 70 years the nuclear industry has on many occasions been forced to accept that the risks are greater than those used for setting protection standards. Often many years after the evidence was widely available the exposure limits for workers and the public were eventually lowered.
• Even so, these are not ‘safe’ limits. They merely limit the statistical probability that an individual will die if they receive this limiting dose. In fact, workers routinely exposed at the limit run a one in two hundred risk of dying of cancer over a working lifetime.
• But the critical factor is the collective dose – the total received by all those exposed however this is spread around (however small the doses individual workers or members of the public get). It is this collective dose which determines the total number of cancers and genetic damage to future generations and other possible health effects.

The evidence now available from studies of the populations across Europe exposed to radiation from the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986 (and emerging also from the Fukushima accident) show clearly that the official risk estimates for these effects are wrong. The cancer risk is many times greater. In addition, there is evidence for a range of other health effects that make the risk from exposures greater still.

• All of this, which the recent SA royal commission seems to either be blissfully unaware of or chooses to ignore, raises several safety questions about the proposals for handling nuclear waste.
How do we prevent people from suffering serious health effects?
The radioactive waste is to be transported from the sending countries to Australia by ship, unloaded and stored at a port or ports, shipped by road or rail to the ‘temporary’ storage site and then (it is hoped) placed underground. Some questions beg for answers.

• What is the likely total radiation dose to be received by all those in this supply-dump chain?

What are the projected health effects of this total exposure – taking into account the best available evidence of radiation risks not the current underestimates?

• What are the potential risks in the event of an accident or (and we hate to have to ask this) in the event of terrorist activity?
How can we ensure safety and security over the various timescales for each stage of the operation?

• Consider the 100-120 years proposed for above ground nuclear waste storage facilities. The past 100 years has seen two world wars, several major nuclear accidents, a growing international threat from terrorist groups – some keen to get access to nuclear material – and an evolving upheaval in the global social and political order as a result of rapid climate change that is displacing whole populations and putting pressures on environments, water, land and food resources as well as communities and cultures. How can we ensure political and social stability for the next 100 years?

• Now consider these challenges over millennia – the hundreds of thousands of years, longer than recorded human history, that this waste will remain dangerously radioactive . . . . Please do consider and let us come up with some sensible answers before we take a decision that we can’t reverse.
Space war
How will we keep future generations informed of the danger?
• We are still learning about the history of civilisations that preceded our own – mainly by archaeologists finding sites that look interesting and digging them up to find out what is there.
• Can we hope that future generations, long after our civilisation has forgotten that it was highly radioactive material we buried on our dump site, will not do the same?
• If not how will we ensure that information about what we have done with these wastes is passed on?
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What do we need to insist on if this proposal to take a third of the world’s nuclear waste goes ahead?
• What happens if it doesn’t work out as planned? Are we to be left with a large amount of waste we can’t dispose of – taking other countries’ problem and making it ours? Is there to be a ‘return to sender’ clause in the contract and if not why not?

What revisions to the radiation protection standards are needed to reflect the true risk to workers and the public from any routine exposure or accidental release of radioactive material?

• What degree of certainty or at least range of financial estimates is needed to decide whether the proposal could yield economic benefits that outweigh the costs?
What are the alternatives? If we can afford to spend billions on a nuclear waste dump, what other ways could this money be spent that would create more secure long term employment for a wider range of skills and with far less risks to the economy and to public health?
• What alternative opportunities might we miss if we invest $ billions in the nuclear waste option?
The challenge of global warming leading to climate change has created a need for rapid development of alternative non-polluting energy technologies. This creates an opportunity for revitalising the manufacturing industry in South Australia to provide these alternative energy systems as well as creating jobs in their construction and or installation. The prime candidates for these technologies are in: large and medium scale wind turbines, photo-electric, solar heating and solar electric systems (both household/rooftop and large scale), electric battery storage and control systems (again household or district scale) and hydro pump storage (using surplus from solar/wind renewable power sources to pump seawater into cliff-top reservoirs and release through hydro turbines to generate electricity during periods when sun and wind don’t provide enough power. Some good news – In all of this it is now recognised, even by the recent Royal Commission, that there is no role for nuclear power generation in South Australia.

Finally, who decides and how is this decision to be made?

We have several processes either underway or being proposed each with possibilities and problems. The South Australian Royal Commission produced a much criticised pro-nuclear waste dump report. This is now the subject of:
• A South Australian parliamentary inquiry
• A proposed ‘Citizens Jury’ process – with a small group tasked to identify technical issues and present these to a larger group for consideration
• A government commitment to consult aboriginal communities likely to be affected by any dump decision
• Proposed consultations with members of other communities likely to be affected
• A commitment to discuss issues with trade union and Labor movement interests – presumably around economic, employment and safety issues
• Calls from various political groups for a state-wide referendum on the nuclear dump question
• Proposed changes to State legislation that currently prohibits the State spending any money on promoting let alone developing the proposed nuclear waste dump plans
• Controversy at the Federal level – where nuclear matters are regulated under the foreign affairs powers – and where a decision with such long term implications as a nuclear dump would require a bi-partisan approach as a minimum – and where the Federal Labor party has policy unequivocally opposed to allowing any importing of nuclear wastes.

So – in summary at this stage we don’t have any definite plans around which people can be expected to make a decision.

We have a flawed Royal Commission report that failed to address the key questions outlined here. It offered only a pipe dream that we could make a fortune by taking in around a third of the world’s nuclear trash – and do so safely despite a lack of evidence that this could be technically, socially/culturally and politically achievable.
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This is a dream that could turn into a nightmare if any of the following happen:

• The deep underground nuclear waste dump cannot be built – or costs too much to build – leaving large volume of highly radioactive waste in long term ‘temporary’ storage even beyond the 100 years already planned.

• The optimistic economic estimates are wrong – because other countries are unwilling to pay the inflated price the current plan is based and/or we take less waste because other countries compete to provide a dump (which is inevitable if and when the technical feasibility problems of building such a dump are overcome) or the costs of providing the proposed port, storage and dump facilities blow out (as they almost certainly will). With any of these scenarios we could end up with an economic (and highly radioactive) white elephant – a burden on the economy for many generations into the future.

• There is a significant burden of collective exposure to the population – something very likely given the proposed amount of nuclear material and the time frames over which people will be exposed in the handling, storage and dumping of these wastes even without accidents or terrorism activity. If so there will be a significant scale of health effects from such exposures – both in terms of cancers and other health problems in the exposed population and the genetic effects transmitted over future generations. How will the public react when the claim that the dump is ‘safe’ is exposed as a lie?

How might answers to these questions be found?
In light of these questions the current proposals to take nuclear waste from around the world in the hope we can safely and profitably store and then dispose of this hazardous material are seriously flawed.
The proposals are lacking in practical answers on matters that need to be fully aired and considered ahead of any process of public consultation and decision-making about becoming the world’s nuclear waste dump.

It is our view that any further progress with the various consultation and decision-making processes in the absence of reliable answers to these questions should cease. On the absence of answers any such processes will be seen as an attempt to ‘manufacture consent’ – which even if it can be achieved in the short term will not hold up into the future.
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Finding answers to these questions will not be easy. Arguably it was the task of the Royal Commission to address these – or at the very least to present a report that identified these and perhaps others that needed further work and fuller discussion. If this was its task it clearly failed. What we have is a partisan report presenting nuclear industry apologists pipe dreams and those involved in producing this should be debarred from any further involvement in the process.

A genuine commission of inquiry – seeking answers to the key questions of relevance to the decision about how best Australia should manage its own nuclear wastes would seem to be the urgent next step – and establishing such an inquiry with people who can be seen to be impartial and who draw on the wide range of expertise available to come up with practical proposals an essential part of this. These proposals should then be the subject of wide and extended consultation. This is not putting off the inevitable – the fact is that there are facilities already available to manage this level of Australian radiative waste in Australia for the next 15 years. There is no need to rush a decision – particularly not one that will have such far reaching consequences.
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As for other countries’ nuclear wastes – these are problems for which they and the world need to carefully consider options and possible solutions. The process of managing our own waste problems, and managing the process by which a national consensus can be reached on how to deal with them, will be a significant part of our contribution to the global problem.

Comments on these questions are welcome
Please contact via or phone 0418212632

Update 29 June 2016:
Citizen’s Jury – weighing evidence or manufacturing consent?
Observations from the first sitting day
Following on from the already much criticised recommendation from the Nuclear Industry Royal Commission that South Australia become the site for storage and hopefully disposal of around a third of the world’s nuclear waste, the government has funded a ‘citizens’ jury’ process. In the first stage of this a group of 50 people have been randomly selected as representing a cross section of the public – balanced by age, gender and whether they own or rent their homes – to spend 4 days identifying questions of concern and producing a consensus report on the evidence to be later presented to a large group of around 450 citizens for further consideration.

Let us for a moment leave aside the concern about the way the naming of this process as a ‘jury’ is so obviously a myth – divorced from anything that resembles a balanced legal process where evidence is weighed by a group of citizens in the context where a case for and against is presented to them in the presence of an impartial judge who ensures that the process is fair and balanced. Let us focus on one of the all-prevailing concepts of trial by jury: where people giving evidence commit to telling the truth – the whole of it and nothing but. On this simple basic requirement, the process of the citizens’ jury leaves much to be desired.

As part of a small group I was permitted to observe the first two sessions of the first day of this ‘jury’ process dominated by three representatives of the Royal Commission presenting the main recommendations contained in the 320 page report released in May 2016. I left deeply concerned that the jury were, if not being directly lied to, being given something far short of the whole truth. Let me give just three examples.

In response to one juror who asked the simple question about whether there was an existing example anywhere in the world of the kind of deep underground waste dump being proposed for South Australia she was told about the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in the USA. Perhaps conveniently omitting the inconvenient truth that this site is currently still closed as a result of a fire in 2014 and release of radiation in the underground facility.

Asked whether the deep underground storage proposal was the best option for dealing with the waste another juror was told that this had been thoroughly investigated in the USA as part of the Yucca Mountain waste storage disposal site – again conveniently omitting to say that the Yucca Mountain site proposal had been abandoned.

But of much deeper concern was the way ‘evidence’ on radiation safety was presented. The Royal Commission proposes that we import by ship 138,000 tonnes of highly radioactive ‘spent’ nuclear reactor fuel rods in 140 tonne steel and concrete containers, unload and store these at a dedicated port, transport them overland to a long term ‘secure’ above ground storage that would be needed for around 120 years while a deep underground disposal site is identified and built for long term storage. The waste repository would involve a mine shaft and caverns excavated some 500 metres underground into which the fuel rods (presumably removed from the 140 tonne containers) would be deposited. The
caverns would then be back filled with clay and the whole site eventually sealed so as to prevent anyone gaining access for several hundred thousand years.

Now, for the moment let us ignore the wishful thinking that can ignore the fact that the past 100 years have seen two world wars, at least two global financial meltdowns, a current threat of international terrorism and a changing world order that is shuffling the deck of cards that the game of geopolitics is played by. Let us also ignore the fact that the time frame for considering this nuclear waste safety issue extends beyond that of recorded history – with its many changes in dominant civilisations cultures and values. And let us forget that most of what we know of these previous now only vaguely understood civilisations has been learned as a result of archaeologists finding places that looked interesting and digging them up to see what was there (and often finding that ‘robbers’ had been there before them).

What was presented to the jury was a set of bland assurances about the insignificance of the risk to the workers and the public who might come in close proximity to the radiative waste containers during the transport and 100+ year period of above ground storage. Estimates of the exposure were compared to ‘natural’ background and that received from medical exposures (x rays and nuclear medicine) and the health effects of radiation exposures at these levels dismissed as insignificant – one of the RC representatives even suggested that low level radiation exposures might have health benefits. Conveniently ignored was a significant body of evidence from studies on workers and the public exposed to low levels of radiation that there is no safe level – no threshold below which significant health effects do not occur. The mechanisms by which radiation causes health damage, particularly cancers which are the most studied area, may be complex but evidence suggests that any exposure increases the risk. Faced with this evidence it is not the average or individual time-limited exposure that is critical to the question of safety and acceptability of risk, but the collective dose received by any and all people who are exposed at all stages in the process of managing these radioactive wastes and the cumulative dose received over the very long (minimum 100+ year) periods envisaged for the nuclear storage and disposal process.
To talk only of the dose that might be received by a person standing close to one of the 140 tonne casks is highly misleading. It ignores the cumulative exposure of those handling these containers on ships, at ports, in long term storage, in removing the individual radiative fuel rods for underground storage (unless it is proposed that the whole 140 tonne containers are to be deposited in the underground resting place). It also conveniently ignores the fact that constructing the deep underground ‘repository’ also involves significant radiation exposure. It is a fact that any hard rock mining releases radioactive radon gas. This is a particular hazard not just in uranium mining but any underground mining where the mineral ores are in hard rock. As well as being a risk when inhaled as a gas, part of the radon decay process results in the creation of ‘daughter’ products that are in the form of radioactive particles. These can be deposited in the lungs of the exposed miners where they may remain, emitting radiation in close contact to soft tissues for a lifetime. The result is significantly increased risk of lung cancer – often occurring many years after exposure with considerable difficulty in gaining recognition and compensation for the health damage caused by the mining work.

An honest, truthful presentation of the radiation risk requires at the very least an effort to model and estimate the total collective/cumulative exposure across all these aspects of the nuclear waste disposal process. Then the application of realistic risk estimates to this total exposure to get a rough estimate of the total number of fatal cancers that will result. With this evidence members of a citizens’ jury might be able to make an informed assessment of whether the radiation exposure risk is ‘acceptable’. Without it they cannot.

Even then this assessment might leave out ethical considerations regarding whether it is acceptable to expect others to take this risk on our behalf. Add to the above the mounting evidence that the official risk estimates of health effects from radiation exposure are once again wrong. As with all the previous official estimates used to set radiation exposure ‘limits’ the most recent evidence shows that the risks of fatal radiation-induced cancers are significantly underestimated – certainly by a factor of two, probably by a factor of six and possibly by a factor of thirteen. Add to this evidence for ‘non-fatal’ but life damaging cancers that double the risk again – and then the evidence for other non-cancer health effects doubling the risk again and the assurances that the nuclear waste dump is safe start to look a bit one-sided if not actually downright dishonest.

So given the pattern of distortions and omissions so evident on just the first day of this citizens’ jury process are we seeing a genuine effort to allow the public to assess the evidence behind the royal commission recommendation or a cynical attempt to manufacture public consent? We can hope that there are some within the group of selected ‘jurors’ who have some inkling that there is more to the story than they are being told.

capitalist crisis severe

capitalist crisis severe

We can hope that they are able to call for evidence from those who do know – perhaps going beyond the list of ‘experts’ that they have been provided with by the ‘jury’ organisers. And we might hope that the next stage of the process, open to a wider but still ‘selected’ group of citizens, will permit yet further exploration of the gaps identified here; and perhaps more that people observing other ‘jury’ sessions over the next two weeks identify. But for now there is no systematic structured way that the detail of these concerns can be brought to the attention of the jurors leaving us with the distinct impression that they are, to borrow a phrase, being treated like mushrooms – kept in the dark and fed on bullshit!

Dr Tony Webb
June 2016
E-mail: Phone: 0418212632

right to strike on the environment

right to strike on the environment

Risks, ethics and consent: Australia shouldn’t become the world’s nuclear wasteland

In a country that is divided about nuclear power and where the annual economic value of uranium exports is a modest A$622 million (roughly equal to Australia’s cheese exports), the origin of the nuclear waste proposal is puzzling and inevitably involves speculation.

However, one could suggest the political influence of BHP-Billiton, owner of Olympic Dam in South Australia, Australia’s largest uranium mine and the second-largest in the world, and Rio Tinto, owner of the Ranger uranium mine in the Northern Territory.

A global nuclear waste site would lock future generations of Australians into an industry that is dangerous and very expensive. It’s unlikely to gain social consent from Indigenous Australians, or indeed the majority of all Australians. Given the risks, it would be wise not to proceed.

From Medical Assoc for the Prevention of War stating no safe levels – radiation is clearly harmful at low levels.

Brett Stokes: Your Say Nuclear, please address the question “Did the Citizens Jury process consider the view that Scarce and Weatherill have been deceptive on the health aspects of the science?”
Continuing failure to respond will be interpreted as a “no”,

I point out that, in circumstances where children are at risk, false assurances of safety are a criminal matter.

I also point out the MAPW – health professionals promoting peace warnings on use of “junk science”.

“On the matter of ionising radiation and health, Noel Wauchope rebuts five misleading speakers at the Nuclear Citizens’ Jury hearings on Australia’s nuclear waste importation plan.

IN TWO DAYS of 25 Citizens’ Jury sessions in Adelaide (on 25-26 June), about nuclear waste importing, there was minimal coverage of the question of ionising radiation and health.

What little there was, was skimpy, superficial and downright deceptive, in 209 pages of transcripts.

There was not one mention of the world’s authoritative bodies on the subject — The World Health Organisation, U.S. National Academy of Sciences, Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission or any of the reports on biological effects of ionising radiation.

There was no explanation of the “linear no threshold” (LNT) theory on ionising radiation and health, despite the fact that this theory is the one accepted by all the national and international health bodies, including the Ionising Radiation Safety Institute of Australia who, on this topic, quote the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA).

Read more here,9200#.V3sZgy4dZ1g.facebook

On nuclear workers’ fatalities: An investigation in the U.S. last year, revealed at least 33,480 American nuclear workers died as a result of their radiation exposure. International Agency for Research on Cancer, World Health Organisation also reported on nuclear workers’ leukaemia.

Helen Caldicott: An absolutely crazy concept, these people in the Royal commission could almost be labelled nuclear sociopaths

Update 13 July:
Citizens jury queries economics?


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