by Priya Aggarwal
A Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission was set up in March, 2015 to independently look into South Australia’s potential future role in four prominent areas of the nuclear fuel cycle – exploration and extraction; processing of minerals and manufacture of materials containing nuclear substances; electricity generation from nuclear fuels; and, management, storage and disposal of radioactive waste. The commission will have to submit a final report by May, 2016 after considering the following:
the effect on the environment;
the effect on other sectors of the State’s economy, in particular the tourism, wine and food sectors;
South Australia (SA) is currently home to four of Australia’s five uranium mines, and the possibility of the state developing nuclear power generation, enrichment and waste storage facilities have hitherto been contentious issues. The Royal Commission comes at a time of economic contraction for SA, which is suffering from job losses in mining and manufacturing sectors.
Since the commission saw no opportunity to commercially develop further uranium processing capabilities as it says the market is already oversupplied and uncertain, it sees SA could benefit from forging contracts with those that buy its uranium to store the waste products as well, as part of a concept entitled “fuel leasing”. Kevin Scarce, the Royal Commissioner, said the timeframe of building a deep geological disposal project would take 30 years, based on the timeframe it took for Sweden and Finland, who currently store their own waste at present (but, Sweden intends to receive waste from further afield) to set up similar successful projects buried 400 to 500m underground. While avoiding the nomination of a site for nuclear waste, the inquiry found the “likely” development of a storage and disposal facility of used nuclear fuel could be operational in the late 2020s.
Mr Scarce said SA could take 13% of the world’s nuclear waste and had unique characteristics that made it suitable, such as a stable geology and relatively stable seismologically. He feels confident about tapping the market’s potential in this segment and says, “Mind you, we’ve had waste now for 50 to 60 years and there has not been an international solution yet.” After revealing the tentative findings, a consultation period has now begun.
Edit: Post previously included the line “The government also faces the task of convincing the locals at six shortlisted sites, of which three are in SA.” which was deleted as it is a separate and mostly unrelated issue.