Australian bid for global nuclear dump dismissed as NGOs say they’ve seen it all before
Former Australian prime minister Bob Hawke has enraged NGOs and made politicians wince by suggesting the county's sparsely populated desert interior be used as a nuclear dump by the rest of the world.
Describing it as ‘an act of environmental and economic sanity’ the former Labour PM outlined the idea at a meeting of Australian alumni of Oxford University on Tuesday, September 27, proposing the income raised from the project could be used on social and environment initiatives.
Mr Hawke told the gathering that Australia had the ideal geology for safe storage and plenty of empty space.
Politicians back home have politely dismissed the scheme, while anti-nuclear campaign groups such as the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) and Friends of the Earth have even more readily condemned it as a bad idea, and an unoriginal one at that.
“In the late 1990’s a consortium called Pangea Resources, that included BNFL, began testing the waters for an international waste dump in West Australia,” Dave Sweeney, anti-nuclear campaigner for the ACF told edie.
“When the news became public there was a massive backlash.”
He said Hawke’s comments had not helped at a time when the country was already having difficult deciding to do with its own waste.
“Australia is currently having a major – and divisive – public fight over how best to manage our existing modest radioactive waste inventory,” he said.
“In 2004, after eight years of trying to foist a national waste site on to South Australia, the federal government abandoned this plan and is now trying to impose the dump on the Northern Territory, against strong local and indigenous opposition.”(see related story).
Mr Sweeney’s colleague, Don Henry, ACF executive director, said there were less risky ways to make Australia a central player in global energy markets.
“Getting more deeply involved in the dirty, dangerous nuclear industry is not the path we should be taking,” he argued.
“Australia has probably the best supplies of solar and wind energy in the world. “We have the potential to become an international leader in the development of clean, safe energy sources.
“To revolutionise our economy we should be looking at becoming the world’s solar energy factory, not the global nuclear tailings dump.”
Friends of the Earth Australia’s Dr Jim Green questioned the scientific, and moral, basis of Hawke’s vision.
“Australia has no responsibility to accept high-level waste from overseas,” he told edie.
“The benefits of nuclear power accrue largely to the countries using nuclear power and only secondarily to uranium supplying countries.
“The claim that Australia has the best geology for a high-level waste dump is false.
“That also makes the questionable assumption that dumping is the best way to manage radioactive waste.”
He went further, saying rather than act as a global sponge for waste Australia should help nip the problem in the bud by refusing to be the world’s nuclear quarry and ban the export of the country’s huge uranium supply.
“Australia has a responsibility to ban uranium exports because of the massive problem of weapons proliferation, the ongoing and frequent pattern of ‘peaceful’ nuclear materials and facilities being used in nuclear WMD programs,” he said.
“We also have a responsibility to ban uranium mining because of the
intractable problem of nuclear waste – not a single repository exists
anywhere in the world for the disposal of high-level waste from nuclear power, and processes such as reprocessing and transmutation create as many problems as they solve.”
By Sam Bond
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