Visit Australia, home of the world’s nuclear waste dump!

by | Nov 23, 2016 | Energy, Government, Resources

“Come visit Australia, home of the world’s nuclear waste dump!”

It’s got a ring about it, no doubt about that. Imagine the tourism potential, imagine the premium prices our agricultural produce would fetch! We would be the envy of the global community. Yet this visionary proposal by South Australian premier Jay Weatherill is being white-anted, shot down by naysayers, people who have little understanding of the benefits of hosting the world’s high-level nuclear waste.

Thankfully Rupert Murdoch’s quality newspaper, The Adelaide Advertiser, has thrown its wisdom and authority behind the shrewd plan for the state’s glowing future.

There is still some conjuring of consent to be done though. Despite the Premier and his crack cabinet holding a Royal Commission which recommended the waste dump; and despite expert’s advice in the guise of the Jacobs report, the naysayers have kept their dastardly campaign afoot.

They even alleged this Jacobs report was somehow lacking in independence just because it was written by paid advocates of the nuclear industry.

Pressing ahead intrepidly in the face of this vile cynicism by the enemies of progress, the government then held “citizens’ juries”, where hundreds of South Australians got together, heard expert advice, and discussed the proposal. While it is true that the overwhelming majority of citizen jurors, 70 per cent, voted “no”, it was only because they were subject to a campaign of misinformation.

In their hearts, they really wanted it.

So it was that Premier Weatherill, still braving the chill winds of dissent, abandoned the frivolity of the citizens’ juries, and vowed to hold a referendum, declaring, “The best way forward is by putting the decision in the hands of the people”.

It will only cost a few million more of taxpayers money – on top of the $10 million for the Royal Commission and the $14 million before that for consultation. Then once the people enjoy a baseline confidence in the brilliance of the project, the $145 billion of taxpayers’ money can be spent digging a world-class hole.

“By removing this tricky “back end problem” of where to store the waste Australian taxpayers can really assist foreign investors to make more money”

It’s not simply a matter however of digging a best-of-breed hole with the taxpayer bearing 100 per cent of the cost – and sanctioned by a cost-benefit analysis focused on benefits but not costs.

The highly independent Royal Commission found the nuclear waste facility would deliver a $100 billion gross profit, or $51 billion in present day dollars, after the $145 billion spent on the state-of-the-art hole.

Such is the cost of the hole though that it would not have to be dug right away. The Royal Commission recommended importing the toxic waste first, getting some income from foreign waste-dumpers and then financing the cost of the very large hole with the proceeds.

The radioactive waste therefore could be stored above ground in an “interim facility”. Assuming no other country competed on price, Australia would not even have to spend money storing the waste safely underground for 200,000 years, roughly the same time as known human history; we could just chuck the stuff on a big concrete slab in the desert, thereby creating significant employment opportunities for concreters. Jobs, jobs, jobs!

The benefits don’t end here however. On page 121 of the Jacobs MCM report for the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission, it says:

“The advantages of an international solution to an emerging nuclear programme will include:

“The removal of the ‘back end problem’ will definitely reduce the perceived risk for potential investors in a new nuclear programme or a debt provider for a mid-project refinancing”.

Ah hah! So another key benefit of stepping up as the world’s high-level nuclear waste dump is that Australia can help the international nuclear industry get some new projects off the ground. In the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the industry has had terrible setbacks.

By removing this tricky “back end problem” of where to store the waste Australian taxpayers can really assist foreign investors to make more money.

The nuclear dump proposal probably couldn’t have got where it is today without the helpful influence of UCL Australia, the “international campus” of the University College London, which is located in Adelaide.

This university campus was started in 2008 with helpful funding from BHP (Olympic Dam – the world’s largest known deposit of uranium in South Australia) and Santos.

Along with its pro-nuclear types such as Alexander Downer and Martin Ferguson – fans of the magnificent nuclear waste proposal – UCL has many other nuclear industry connections and has also played a strong role in advocating for fracking and coal seam gas.

Now UCL appears to have done its job, whatever that was, as it announced last year it would close the campus.


Michael West

Michael West

Michael West established to focus on journalism of high public interest, particularly the rising power of corporations over democracy. Formerly a journalist and editor at Fairfax newspapers and a columnist at News Corp, West was appointed Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Sydney’s School of Social and Political Sciences. You can follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelWestBiz.


  1. Avatar

    Great article, thanks.

    The sadness is – an awful lot of people don’t “get” satire.

    • michael

      Thanks Noel, I’m painfully aware that you can be taken seriously but think I’ve sufficiently hammed it up here to avoid that!

      • michael

        Also Rod Campbell and Richard Denniss of TAI have done some very good work. You will probably have seen it

    • michael

      Great feedback thanks Sura. Agree that it must be Labor’s abject dread of being wedged anti-biz which has them coming up with the zany stuff – perhaps something more sinister in a sort of collective sense. Seems to be the same deal with the party’s weird support for the white elephant Carmichael

  2. Avatar

    Oh, dunno…I think satire is exactly what this story deserves.
    If you read the transcript of Weatherill’s spiel to the first “citizen’s jury”, he actually said to them that a plebiscite was a really bad idea – what with Brexit ‘n all. The jury was supposed to fix the matter of “consultation’, without the negative effects of – you know, too much democracy. It’s just so confusing!
    When the “verdict”of the “jury”failed to comply with the terms of the contract (which was to give a “proceed with caution” recommendation), the premier suddenly discovered his inner democrat, and now thinks a plebiscite is a you-beaut idea – as long as the citizenry is prepared for a “mature”debate.
    I am still waiting for a definition of what “mature”means in his mind. Personally, I thought that when the “jury”told the govt to sod off on the basis that they can’t run a chicken raffle, or a legit community consultation, let alone a nuclear waste dump, they were setting standards in wisdom and maturity, but what would I know.

    All this leads me to the conclusion that 1. there must be something to the theory espoused elsewhere on this webpage that Labor governments will do ANYTHING to avoid attracting the criticism that they are “anti-business” and “anti-job creation”, and 2. there must be mighty vested interests bearing down HARD on the governmental wedding tackle. Richard Denniss’piece in The Monthly raises the power of the beast that is Santos, in another context:
    The international nuclear industry is indeed watching very closely. No new nuclear reactors, or indeed nuclear weaponry is possible without a solution to the back-end problem. They are saying so publicly.
    Meanwhile, the feds are in this up to their necks; so are the universities; and the political/ business/ bureaucracy connections behind this venture would not endure much scrutiny under a bright light. If that’s not enough, there is the other network of vested interests that dare not speak its name, which ran the train wreck of a community consultation on the behest of our most democratic of premiers, and which aims to promote “innovation” in “democracy”. Yikes!
    Yep – satire seems to be the only way to handle this.

  3. Avatar

    On reflection, this can’t just be about the cowardice of the Labor governments behind this, as we all know the same would be happening under the Libs.
    Here’s a recipe straight out of the recipe book of the conspiracy nihilist:
    1. Saute a toxic brew of former execs (especially finance and resources former execs) with a revolving door of pollies and bureaucrats. Highly recommended that they all be matey with each other and have long-standing relationships.
    2.Boil this on a high flame, adding a spicy mix of increasing pace and range of privatisation of public assets and services, and highly risky but profitable -for a few insiders- public projects. Make sure only taxpayers will be on the hook if projects don’t work as expected. Stir frequently. You want it all nice and blended in.
    3. Thicken with a sauce of weakening anti-corruption measures. Chuck in some ICAC if you have it on hand, once suitably diluted. Add a potpourri comprising every more degraded notions of conflicts of interests. Make sure that public suspicions about the role of vested interests is increasingly weakened as the boundaries are more and more blurred. (Check out the 3 candidates who offered their lands to the federal govt. for the LOW level repository for an example of this). Strong protection against vested, not-at-arm’s-length, and conflicts of interests really takes away from the overall flavour.
    4. Garnish with a heavy dollop of the molasses of managed democracy. This is a much under-rated ingredient, but is becoming more popular. It it sourced by resolving intractable public “problems” by running democratic “experiments”. Only available in think-tanks that claim not to be think-tanks, set up as charities/ not for profits (so presumably get tax benefits?), but are probably mostly business financed – Koch brothers style, but let’s not add Kochtopus to the recipe just yet. The non-think tank providing the molasses should comprise individuals with substantive business interests, former Oz pollies (can be same thing), PR experts, serious academics and journos with public cred -because respectability is the key ingredient to make this sweet. Otherwise, it would just look and taste like sh
    5. Cook hell out of this until there is no danger that this will be come an episode of 4 Corners -well, at least not until 20 years’ hence.
    Now, what population could possibly not want to swallow that??

    Sorry, prof….I promise to nick off now.

  4. Avatar

    Great article, thank you

  5. Avatar

    I doubt readers of Michael marvellous website will necessarily like the following views, albeit from someone who as once anti-nuclear, but climate change realism changed that a bit over a decade ago. I live in SA teaching politics at Flinders Uni below is what was published a few days ago by On Line Opinion… that version has a host of hyperlink [footnotes in effect] and while, with most everything in politics these days, it is hard to gauge what is quite going on. But this commentary was based on plenty of conversations with people who reckon that do know what’s going on, plus my 30 years writing and commenting on SA politics and policy issues.

    South Australians Playing With Nuclear Waste

    If you missed it just ponder this for a moment. In South Australia the Labor Party is sticking by its leader’s commitment to press on with investigating the viability of hosting the world’s used nuclear fuels and associated waste. While the Liberal opposition is happy to employ rhetoric usually only uttered by the local Greens and anti-nuclear activists in opposing Premier Jay Weatherill’s vision.

    Where this will end is anyone’s informed guess but it speaks to a larger issue in contemporary politics, namely the contest between rising populism and the hope of genuine political leadership capable of evoking a narrative associated with a vision.

    Deciding to fight the opportunism of Opposition leader, Mr Steven Marshall, when he broke with bipartisanship on the ‘nuclear dump’ question, Mr Weatherill is gambling that in coming months he will find evidence to support the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission finding that significant economic benefits were in the offing. With the Liberals and the Greens opposed, and many of his colleagues decidedly uncertain, he may be gambling his leadership ahead of the March 2018 State election.

    Labor seeks an almost impossible fifth term against the background of relatively high unemployment and depressed sentiment due to the closure of automotive manufacturing and the announcement two years ago that BHP Billiton were mothballing plans to dig the largest open-cut mine in the world, the Olympic Dam project.

    Royal Commisioner and former SA Governor, Kevin Scarce, handed hisreport to the South Australian Government in May this year and, as noted above, it pointed to a potential economic bonanza should the State entertain hosting other countries used nuclear fuel. Any prospect of progressing this debate rested squarely on to key factors, bipartisanship and a reasonable degree of public consent.

    The Premier now finds himself is engaged in a game of brinksmanship with Opposition Leader Steven Marshall, who, until last week, took a bipartisan position on the question of whether or not the state should entertain hosting a repository for used nuclear fuel. Certainly, Premier Weatherill surprised many commentators, and shocked the Opposition and the anti-nuclear lobby, with his decision to keep the issue alive. Aware that there have been no protests of thousands, and that the Citizens’ Jury process was flawed, he sees strategic advantage in exposing Mr Marshall as opportunistic and out of step with the Liberal Party’s business constituency. Mr Weatherill’s aim is to encourage the Liberals back to bipartisanship, and this is the necessary prerequisite for any future referendum.

    Both in Parliament and in a recent opinion article, Mr Weatherill stressed the dimensions of the opportunity identified by the Royal Commission when he observed:

    ‘our State could benefit from projected revenue of $257 billion. If we were to invest this into a State Wealth Fund, this could accumulate to $445 billion for South Australia. This is the equivalent of $260,000 for every single person in our State. As Premier, it is my duty to explore such an opportunity.

    It is the prospect of an economic bonanza that keeps this issue alive. The new challenge for Mr Weatherill is to find proof that the Royal Commission’s financial modeling is not fundamentally in error as some economists argue.

    This will not be easy, as I explain below, now that bipartisanship is broken. However, Mr Weatherill knows that if he can demonstrate the robustness of the modeling that social consent, including the consent of Aboriginal South Australians, will more than likely follow. The reason is simple: South Australians know their economy is in deep trouble and are looking for viable means to arrest its de-industrialisation.

    In Parliament, Mr Weatherill said, ‘There will be no referendum until bipartisanship is restored. At the heart of bipartisanship will be the policy processes that occur inside the Liberal Party.’ [Hansard Tuesday 15 November 2016 p.7758]. The Premier aims to foster division among Liberal MPs and Party supporters and expose Mr Marshall as shallow and opportunistic. No doubt these machinations befuddle many on-lookers as prominent local radio host and columnist David Penberthy pointed to a recent column;

    When it comes to the question of nuclear waste storage, this is how the politics currently shapes up in this confusing little state of ours.

    The one political leader who believes there may yet be merit in the proposal is a lifelong member of Labor’s Left Faction, the same grouping which brought us the half-pregnant “three mines” policy on uranium mining, and which has historically opposed any further expansion of the nuclear fuel cycle.

    Sensing that many Liberal MPs, Party members, and the business community were shocked by Mr Marshall’s sudden decision to break with bipartisanship, Mr Weatherill lampooned the Opposition in Parliament. He painted the picture of Mr Marshall as now keen to ally with the protesters ‘painted out, in their gas masks … with the nuclear waste barrels [and] bongo drums’ [Hansard 15 November 2016, p.7759]. The question is, why does a Left-aligned Labor Premier so doggedly defend an issue that has lost bipartisan support, that was rejected by two thirds of the citizen jurors, and that, according to Unions SA leader, Joe Szakacs, represents a “crazy or brave” move from a “tone deaf” leader?

    Three factors need to be considered, with the first being the easy, opportunistic politics that Mr Marshall has played. He judged that the Citizens’ Jury’s two-thirds vote against further investigation had deeply embarrassed the Premier and that it signaled the ‘death knell’ for the proposal. However, Mr Weatherill was aware that serious questions had been raised about the Jury, including that the independent organising body had conceded there were problems.

    The second lies with the Liberals’ fears of Xenophon Team candidates campaigning, alongside the Greens, on a ‘no dump’ platform at the next state election. The Xenophon factor is huge in South Australian politics, but it is difficult to discern at this time how potent that might be on this issue. The third factor concerns Mr Marshall’s assessment of the Royal Commission’s financial modeling as being fundamentally unsound, which he has stressed publicly to justify breaking with bipartisanship.

    The economic debate over the merits or otherwise of the nuclear waste proposal simply cannot be resolved one way or the other without amending section 13 of the Nuclear Waste Storage Facility [Prohibition] Act 2000. The Royal Commission concluded that, as the Act currently stands, further public money cannot be spent investigating nuclear waste issues outside of community consultation. This is significant, for it relates to barriers to government being able to engage with potential customer countries, such as Japan, Taiwan and South Korea, on questions concerning what price per tonne, what quantity, and crucially, the preparedness to ‘pre-commit’ capital to build a repository so that South Australians don’t have to foot the bill. This is the big ‘known unknown’ in this political and economic equation.

    At this juncture, Mr Weatherill must be gambling that he can find an answer the hard way, through ‘back-channels’—perhaps organised by private industry and organic community activities—so as to present a tangible economic bonanza.

    Aware that the Citizens’ Jury process was flawed, Mr Weatherill refers to the 50,000 South Australians engaged during the community consultation process, and touts a survey of 4,000 South Australians that ‘found a plurality of South Australians supported pursing the idea – 43 per cent in favour and 37 per cent opposed, with the rest undecided.’ It is important to note that this was a scientifically conducted random sample survey similar to another survey that reports on recent opinion polling showing a majority of South Australians in favour of the state exploring ‘nuclear industry’ options.

    Also supporting the Premier’s case is a recent review of the Royal Commission’s financial modeling commissioned by the Joint Committee on Findings of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission and undertaken by independent, expert economists with deep knowledge of the nuclear fuel cycle, as distinct from certain general economists, who have cast aspersions on the findings of the Royal Commission in what can only be described as stemming from an ideological opposition to the nuclear industry. The Nuclear Economics Consulting Group [NECG] reviewed work by consultants to the Royal Commission, Jacobs and MCM, observing:

    “Due to the preliminary nature of the Jacobs MCM Report, a critical review at this stage will naturally identify a multitude of detailed assumptions that can be questioned in different ways or even suggest different assumptions. This does not mean that the Jacobs MCM Report is not useful or relevant or that the Project is not a potentially attractive opportunity.”

    The NECG economists identified problems and issues, as any thorough peer review process would. Mr Marshall honed in on these problems, arguing the ‘economics don’t stack up’ as his primary justification for breaking bipartisanship. Within days, however, he came under fire from his own side when former South Australian Liberal Senator and Party President, Sean Edwards, argued that “Nobody has tested the veracity of the people who claim it’s not economical.”

    This, for mine, is a telling point: the economists opposed are generalists with various ideological dispositions. What is clearly required is genuine, dispassionate investigation.

    In conclusion, Mr Weatherill’s strategy appears to involve three stages.

    The first is a return to bipartisanship, concomitant to amending of the Nuclear Waste Prohibition Act. The second involves a thorough investigation of the likely customers, what they would pay per tonne of used fuel, and how prepared they might be to pre-commit funds towards the development of facilities and infrastructure. On that basis, and if financially attractive, a renewed conversation with South Australians would follow. Aboriginal consent is the third factor and, here, the Premier believes there ought to be an ultimate veto for an Aboriginal community that has interests in the land that would host a facility. The Premier noted during a radio interview last week that both he and the former Royal Commissioner heard from some Aboriginal leaders that they want more time to understand the issue and that they were keen to see what benefits may be on offer should the economic case be validated.

    What is clearly required is genuine, dispassionate investigation, and that remains Mr Weatherill’s intent, though he may find few of his Ministers now having much heart for the cause. Should Mr Weatherill failure to produce evidence in coming months that supports the Royal Commission’s findings his position may become untenable ahead of the March 2018 State election. Success on the other hand would sharply expose the opportunism of Mr Marshall in an age when voters are casting for a whiff of strong leadership.

    Associate Professor Haydon Manning teachers Australian and Environmental Politics at Flinders University

    • Avatar

      Just a few things Haydon Manning ignores …
      — he says there been no protest involving thousands of people but several thousand attended a protest on Oct 15. It beggars belief that he doesn’t know that.
      — Community Views Report, reflecting statewide consultation, found 53% opposition to the nuclear waste dump compared to 31% support
      — recent Murdoch-commissioned opinion poll found 35% support for the nuclear waste dump, barely half the 65% non-support
      Academics are meant to shed light on public debates. Manning shamelessly does the opposite.

  6. Avatar

    Errrr…..Manning, do you actually READ any of the articles on this site? If so, you might have noticed certain DEFICIENCIES in our current governments, affecting competence [insert Michael West article of choice here], probity [ditto] sound governance structures [ditto], independence from international and national corporate interests (especially from finance and the resources sector)[ditto], independence of bureaucracy, [ditto] and solidity of institutions [ditto]. To name a few matters. Seems rather unwise to get governments involved in highly risky, enormously expensive economic projects and behaving like venture capitalists with OUR money. They can’t even manage the more conservative, traditional functions of government properly. This is what the SA jury astutely told the premier. Seems neither you nor he got the message.

    If the current SA government has no vision to offer the state other than this, perhaps it just needs to get out of the way.

    And please don’t give me any of that “oooh the climate change bogeyman” malarkey. If you really know anything bout nukes, as you imply you do (but which is not supported by your embarrassingly anaemic publication record), you would know that the lead-in times for nuclear projects are long and well behind schedule; meanwhile invaluable public resources are diverted from where they need to be – into real clean energy – and from perhaps a few other genuinely visionary projects.

    Oh and by the way, I would love to know the names of those aborigines who would be interested in a dump if the economics stack up. It’d be fascinating to introduce them to the rest of the mob.

    Sorry, sorry, sorry, prof. (HIM, not you, Manning).


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