Alexander Downer has denied that Australia will take radioactive waste as part of the deal to join the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP), but try telling that to the Australian Nuclear Fuel Leasing (ANFL) company who have so far invested $45 million dollars in the prospect.

Today the Foreign Affairs Minister again assured the public that Australia won’t be taking any waste. “We won’t agree to do that and we have always made that clear,” he said today.

But you can’t have your yellow cake and eat it too.

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“Under the GNEP… you sell uranium on the basis that you take the waste back… being part of the deal is absolutely contingent on taking high level radioactive waste back,” Wilderness Society acting director Virginia Young told Crikey.

Downer’s denial doesn’t stack up if you take the time to connect the dots.

On June 2 the Liberal Party Federal Council voted to support the development of a “Global Nuclear Waste Dump” in Australia.

And last year the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Legislation
Amendment Bill 2006
 and the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation Amendment Bill 2006 was passed.

This package of legislation was “aimed at making it easier to site large-scale nuclear waste dumps in Australia,” Greens Senator Christine Milne told Crikey. “This included removing the rights of traditional owners to be consulted in the siting of waste dumps, removing procedural fairness and preventing traditional owners from appealing any decision to site a dump on their land.”

“At the heart of the package was legislation enabling Australia to take nuclear waste from overseas that it hadn’t generated itself,” says Milne.

And then there’s the money trail.  Along with his colleagues, the chairman of Howard’s Uranium Industry Framework and head of the Australian waste company Global Renewables, Dr John White has spent $45 million creating the Australian Nuclear Fuel Leasing (ANFL) company.

It’s all there in the August 2006 submission to Ziggy Switkowski’s Uranium Mining and Processing and Nuclear Energy Review:

The leased, Australian owned, spent fuel will be moved from the NPP (Nuclear Power Plant) reactor to the site of cooling spent fuel storage. ANFL will arrange for spent fuel to be stored for approximately 27 to 30 years in Australia and then be transferred to a co-located spent fuel geological disposal facility…

….Under the concept described in this submission, the Australian Government would facilitate the return to Australia of spent fuel derived from Australian uranium. 

…Research conducted by the principals in NFLG shows that Australian geology provides the opportunity for the creation of a repository which would not only set world standards in containment and hence safety, but would also be low cost compared to other repositories worldwide. This would make Australian-origin leased fuel sufficiently attractive to make the repository self financing and profitable. These profits can only be realized if the repository is located in special “High Isolation” sites that can be found in large but restricted areas of South Australia and Western Australia. It should be noted that there are no known areas occurring in any other state or territory of Australia. Those known in South and Western Australia are the world’s best. Further, Australia would be gaining value by making use of these natural resources that would otherwise be of no benefit other than as a geological phenomenon…  

ANFL also makes the point that it’s Australia’s responsibility to take ownership of the uranium that it is willing to export — we must claim ownership of our waste:

It is incumbent on Australia, as a major global supplier of uranium, to consider a “life cycle” stewardship of the material. Australia is host to world’s best practice mining and geology expertise and applications, and has the most stable geology in the world for reclamation and storage. There is a strong environmental and ethical rationale ensuring that nuclear material from Australian sources is handled safely and responsibly and does not contribute to unresolved environmental problems in countries that need nuclear energy but are less well equipped to deal with the legacy of their energy production either due to the size of their programme or their geological assets…

…An essential element of the nuclear fuel leasing business as described would be the availability of a final storage solution for the spent fuel. The ultimate responsibility for an Australian based repository site and its contents would inevitably rest with the Australian government. The Australian government would need to acknowledge and accept this responsibility. For it to do so, it would have to be convinced of the safety case for such a site. Further given the characteristics of spent fuel and the leasing business from energy, commercial, safety, environmental and security perspectives, operations will inevitably need to be subject to important government regulation and oversight.

“The Foreign Minister and the rest of the Government are …making mistakes and forgetting what they’ve previously said,” Milne told Crikey. “Alexander Downer’s denial that his Government has considered siting an international nuclear waste dump in Australia is just the latest example of this bizarre behaviour.”

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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