South Australia debates nuclear storage

A storage and disposal facility for nuclear waste could deliver an additional $257 billion to the South Australian economy, but public opinion is strongly divided despite the additional benefit of long-term jobs.

The Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission last week ruled out uranium enrichment or nuclear power for SA on economic grounds, but indicated huge wealth could be created from storage – up to $445 billion across at least 70 years. Specifically, Commissioner Kevin Scarce said a waste repository would initially generate about $5 billion for the first 30 years – about one-third of the State Government’s present revenue.

This would hinge on taking stockpiles of waste from overseas nuclear power plants, of which more than 390,000 tones is now in temporary storage.

No sites are identified in the Royal Commission’s interim findings, which repeatedly stress the importance of community support for any project.

The public now has five weeks to make formal responses to the findings, and community meetings have been held throughout the state since the report was released.

The Royal Commission also found:

  • Nuclear power generation should be considered as part of Australia’s future needs for low-carbon electricity but was uneconomic for SA in the short-term.
  • Leasing nuclear fuel, which links uranium processing with its eventual return for disposal, is likely to be commercially attractive and create jobs.
  • Expanding uranium mining has the potential to be economically beneficial.
  • Long-term political decision-making and bipartisan federal and state support is vital.