The Premier of South Australia, Jay Weatherill, has decided to set up a roal commission with the aim of determining the risks and opportunities if a nuclear industry was to be established in the state. The royal commission will look at whether a nuclear industry would create economic growth and assist in staving off issues related to climate change.
The royal commission will call on experts from a broad range of fields for consultation. This should mean that the latest information and technologies related to uranium mining, nuclear power and radioactive waste will be brought together in one forum.
The previously fierce opposition to nuclear power has arguably been replaced by fears about global warming as a result of the burning of fossil fuels.
An extensive debate will be welcomed by many proponents of a nuclear industry. Mr Weatherill considers it will be a long-term project, and he also suggested that community support was necessary before any clear decisions would be made.
BHP Billiton’s Olympic Dam in South Australia has one of the largest uranium deposits in the world. South Australia has four of Australia’s five uranium mines currently in operation. A number of smaller mines in the far north of South Australia were closed following the nuclear reactor disaster in 2011 at Fukushima in Japan, which caused a slump in uranium prices.
However, the main push that nuclear advocates are encouraging appears to be to use South Australia for nuclear waste storage. The attraction of South Australia is in its large and geologically stable desert region. In the late 1990’s Pangea Australia, a British-Swiss joint venture, proposed a waste repository in the South Australian desert region, but the waste was considered far too radioactive at the time to go ahead with the proposal.
As Australia is exporting uranium, the danger is that, in order to appear to be a good global citizen, Australia may be forced to accept some of the waste generated by the processing of that uranium. Looking at the big picture, Australia needs to be fully aware of the risks surrounding a nuclear industry. Selling uranium for a substantial profit to add to Australia’s coffers is only one step in the process.
Do we want Australia to become a nuclear waste dumping ground?
It is to be hoped that the information that emerges from the royal commission takes into account all the elements of this important debate.