Nuclear Dump Not Economical

by Des Menz posted in Nuclear Energy and Waste

In my personal journey of uncovering the other facts not addressed in the Nuclear Royal Commission report, I discovered much that would be a threat to the economic viability of a high-level nuclear waste (HLW) operation. In Nuclear? Getting Clear On The Other Facts I wrote how economist Professor Richard Blandy, economists at The Australia Institute, and others were scathing of the economic assessment of a HLW operation.

Professor Barbara Pocock, an economist by training and a member of Mothers for a Sustainable South Australia (MOSSA) is just as critical of the assertions and conclusions in the economic assessment by the Commissions key consultant Jacobs MCM.

For an additional analysis, MOSSA presented a submission to the state parliament’s Joint Committee on the Nuclear Royal Commission. It’s a very interesting read.

But aside from the fact that the national interest has not been considered, that the views of other states in the Federation have not been countenanced, that public trust has been eroded, that the law has been contrived to allow “community consultation” to proceed, that other state law (Environment Protection Act) would be contravened, the RC report avoided what is now happening globally about nuclear waste reprocessing and recycling

Here’s what I discovered;

  • Nuclear spent fuel reprocessing has the potential to limit high-level nuclear waste to one-fifth current levels, results in a much reduced attenuation period, and would almost eliminate uranium mining. 
  • The Commission’s Report is at odds with what the World Nuclear Association has reported. Technology around reprocessing is significantly advanced today, and is exceedingly more beneficial to the producers of nuclear waste than what the Commission Report advances - geological burial in South Australia. 
  • It is an enduring failure of the nuclear industry that the issue of nuclear waste has not been universally resolved. 
  • The Commission’s view about “international consensus” for geological disposal is disputed and is actually based on a workshop about nuclear waste more than 20 years ago. What will technology produce in the next 20 years? Will majority reprocessing and recycling happen? One of the RC's referenced organisations, the World Nuclear Association (WNA), says ... 
    “Used nuclear fuel has long been reprocessed to extract fissile materials for recycling and to reduce the volume of high-level wastes. New reprocessing technologies are being developed to be deployed in conjunction with fast neutron reactors which will burn all long-lived actinides, including all uranium and plutonium, without separating them from one another. A significant amount of plutonium recovered from used fuel is currently recycled into MOX (mixed oxide) fuel; a small amount of recovered uranium is recycled so far.” 
  • WNA states that "...some 90,000 tonnes (of 290,000 t discharged) of used fuel from commercial power reactors has been reprocessed." 
    What is happening in the US and around the world today about nuclear spent fuel reprocessing and recycling is extensive research on a range of methods. These have been proven, such as the hydrometallurgical PUREX (Plutonium Uranium Extraction), UREX+ and its variants, COEX (Co-Extraction of actinides), GANEX (Grouped Extraction of actinides). Other ongoing research involves partitioning and electrolytic processing, advanced spent fuel conditioning process (ACP) to which South Korea is planning to have a commercial scale demonstration plant in 2025, “dry reprocessing”, and much more. 
  • So, what does all this mean for the HLW operation? If technological advances continue around reprocessing and recycling, then the issue of HLW waste will be significantly diminished. AND, this is where local/regional national facilities, such as are being planned now, will be the preferred method. Here's the WNA again ... The objective of transmutation is to change (long-lived) actinides into fission products and long-lived fission products into significantly shorter-lived nuclides. The goal is to have wastes which become radiologically innocuous in only a few hundred years. The need for a waste repository is certainly not eliminated, but it can be smaller and simpler and the hazard posed by the disposed waste materials is greatly reduced.”

There is much more that I have written about in my fact-finding report.

The damning thing for me is that it seems the Royal Commission has adopted a 22 year old strategy emanating from a workshop in 1994 about geological disposal being the best option for nuclear waste storage.

As so succinctly outlined in the research paper On the Reception and Detection of Pseudo-Profound Bullshit, what the Royal Commission has produced and what the South Australian government has run with, is all BS.

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