March 12th 2016

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Several items missing from list of the big spend

CANBERRA OBSERVED Greens back Coalition in Senate voting reform

ENERGY Nuclear reprocessing feasible here: SA inquiry

HISTORY OF TAIWAN Fifty-year journey from poverty to prosperity

SPEECH IN PARLIAMENT Warning: wolves in anti-bullying clothing

EDITORIAL Turnbull ignores three elephants in the room

DOMESTIC AND FAMILY VIOLENCE Family portrait or ideological caricature?

OPINION Goebbels revisited: the attack on Cardinal Pell

FAMILY AND SOCIETY SSCA apologists try to shrug off media furore

EUTHANASIA Legitimate denial of choice at end of life (Part II of two)

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Welcome backdown on vaccinations

ENVIRONMENT Food bowl emptied due to conservationist myopia

MUSIC Much-loved concertos clouded with melancholy

CINEMA Spotlight in the darkness: Spotlight

BOOK REVIEW Governing Middle-earth

BOOK REVIEW A land of contrasts


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Nuclear reprocessing feasible here: SA inquiry

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, March 12, 2016

A royal commission established by South Australian Labor Premier Jay Weatherill has tentatively endorsed a nuclear waste-processing facility for the state, but found that generation of base-load power from nuclear energy would be uneconomic at current prices.

South Australian Premier

Jay Weatherill

The inquiry, following moves by the federal government to find a geologically and environmentally suitable site for nuclear waste storage, means that both state and federal governments are moving to establish a facility which meets international needs, as well as Australia’s.

The Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission found that the potential revenue for South Australia could be $5 billion a year.

The Royal Commissioner, Rear Admiral Kevin Scarce, is a former governor of South Australia.

The royal commission was established in 2015 after the closure of South Australia’s major manufacturing industry, motor vehicle fabrication, was announced and amid uncertainty over the future of shipbuilder ASC. The loss of these two industries would be a devastating blow to heavy engineering in Australia, and to South Australia.

Independent review

The commission was asked to conduct an independent and comprehensive investigation into the possibilities of South Australia’s future participation in four areas of activity that form part of the nuclear fuel cycle.

These activities relate to expansion of exploration, extraction and milling of minerals; further downstream processing of minerals and manufacture of materials containing radioactive substances; the use of nuclear fuels for electricity generation; and the storage and disposal of radioactive waste.

In each case the commission was required to consider the feasibility and viability as well as the risks and opportunities associated with those activities.

In mid-February, the commission released its tentative conclusions for public comment. These precede the final report, which is to be completed by May 2016. It held public sessions for over 30 days, hearing evidence related to its terms of reference, and giving the public the opportunity to attend and participate.

In its tentative findings, the royal commission reports on each of the four questions under examination.

The commission said: “South Australia can safely increase its participation in nuclear activities and, by doing so, significantly improve the economic welfare of the South Australian community. Community consent would be essential to the successful development of any nuclear fuel cycle activities.

“The management of the social, environmental, safety and financial risks of participation in these activities is not beyond South Australians.

“Long-term political decision-making, with bipartisan support at both state and federal government levels, would be a prerequisite to achieving progress.

“Any development would require sophisticated planning and consent-based decision-making, acknowledging the particular interests and experiences of regional, remote and Aboriginal communities.”

Expanding mining

“An expansion of uranium mining has the potential to be economically beneficial. However, it is not the most significant opportunity.”

Downstream processing

“In an already oversupplied and uncertain market, there would be no opportunity for the commercial development of further uranium processing capabilities in South Australia in the next decade. However, fuel leasing, which links uranium processing with its eventual return for disposal, is more likely to be commercially attractive, creating additional employment and technology-transfer opportunities.”

Electricity generation

“Taking account of future demand and anticipated costs of nuclear power under the existing electricity market structure, it would not be commercially viable to generate electricity from a nuclear power plant in South Australia in the foreseeable future.

“However, Australia’s electricity system will require low-carbon generation sources to meet future global emissions reduction targets. Nuclear power may be necessary, along with other low-carbon generation technologies. It would be wise to plan now to ensure that nuclear power would be available should it be required.”

Waste management

“The storage and disposal of used nuclear fuel in South Australia is likely to deliver substantial economic benefits to the South Australian community. An integrated storage and disposal facility would be commercially viable and the storage facility could be operational in the late 2020s.”

The key points from the findings is the need for a political consensus among the major parties before anything can proceed, and a willingness to undertake long-term planning, given the long lead times involved.

Australia has a poor track record in both these areas. One can only hope that the decline in manufacturing in South Australia might lead to a willingness to think outside the square.

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TRANSGENDER: one shade of grey, 353pp, $39.99

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