Nuclear industry - our position

A State Liberal Government will not support the building of a nuclear waste repository in South Australia.

South Australia and the Nuclear Industry

The Liberal Party has always been willing to fully and openly investigate the pros and cons of the nuclear fuel cycle to grow our economy and build our State.

After all, it was a Liberal Government which initiated South Australia’s initial participation in the nuclear industry 70 years ago when it funded exploration which led to the development and operation of the Radium Hill Mine in the 1950s.

In the 1980s, it was again a Liberal Government which secured the Olympic Dam Mine, this time despite the opposition of the Labor Party – a mine which continues to deliver significant economic and other benefits to South Australia almost 30 years after it commenced production. At the same time the Liberals pursued Olympic Dam, we also worked to bring a value-adding uranium enrichment industry to South Australia, but the subsequent Labor government opposed that opportunity.

When Mr Weatherill announced his Royal Commission to consider further South Australian participation in the nuclear industry, the Liberal Party approached it with a very open mind. We have no philosophical opposition to the possibilities that may exist, but we do take a very realistic approach to wanting the very best for our State.

We have very carefully considered the Royal Commission Report.

We have taken note of the outcomes of the community consultation.

We have actively participated in parliamentary inquiries.

We have looked frst-hand at current developments overseas in the nuclear industry, and particularly at what costs South Australian taxpayers could face should the State become further involved in the nuclear industry as the Weatherill Government has proposed.

This is vital, because South Australia faces the urgent need to restore efficient and stable government and not expose taxpayers to more risk of the type which has cost them dearly in the failed Gillman land deal and the blow-out in cost for the new Royal Adelaide Hospital.

High Level Radioactive Waste

Labor’s Royal Commission concluded that there may be further opportunity for South Australia in the nuclear industry by permanently storing high level radioactive waste imported from other countries.

Whether or not to do this raises three broad questions:

• Can it be done without risk to people or the environment?

• Is there financial benefit to the State or could there be financial risk?

• Would South Australians in general, and an individual community specifically, be willing to host such a facility?

If there is any doubt about a positive answer to any one of these questions, then there is no point in proceeding further with the proposal.

The Liberal Party believes that while it may be possible to manage risks to public safety and the environment, the fnancial risk to State taxpayers is unacceptable and there is strong community opposition to the proposal.

Financial Risks

An independent report by nuclear experts – Nuclear Economics Consulting Group – presented to the South Australian Parliament has made it clear that claimed revenue of $257 billion from operation of a waste dump and costs of $145 billion used by the Weatherill Government, cannot be relied upon.

Further evidence provided to Parliament shows that South Australia would have to spend at least $600 million and as much as $1 billion in further consultation and engineering, business and environmental assessment studies associated with identifying a storage site, without any guarantee that such a development would then proceed. That would be money wasted without any return to taxpayers at all.

These upfront costs would need to be invested relatively soon while overseas experience shows that the ultimate establishment of such a facility can take decades. In Finland for example, the site-selection has been underway since the 1970s. The Royal Commissioner appointed by Labor has acknowledged it could take South Australia up to 10 years to secure the necessary level of public support and another 28 years to establish the facility.

Parliament has also been told that previous advice upon which the Government has relied in deciding to pursue a waste dump failed to fully explore issues that ‘have significant serious potential to adversely impact the project and its commercial outcomes’ such that project profitability could be 'seriously at risk.’

This latest advice also states that there has not been ‘a reliable assessment of realistic currently accessible markets’ that could provide income for South Australia from waste storage such that cost assumptions are ‘optimistic’ and ‘appear based on a set of ‘most favourable’ assumptions.’ The independent expert report concluded the assumption that South Australia could capture 50% of the available world market for high level waste management had ‘little support or justification.’

Clearly, if South Australia cannot achieve the assumed 50% market share, profitability of the project would be impacted significantly.

The independent expert report also concluded that the assumption about the price South Australia would be paid for taking the waste had ignored the emergence of possible competitors and was ‘overly optimistic.’ If this was the case, project profitability would be seriously at risk.

There remain many unanswered questions about the viability of an international waste dump and far too many financial risks. In South Australia’s current economic and financial circumstances, the Liberal Party maintains there are far more important and immediate priorities to pursue than this one.

Community Views

Jay Weatherill hasn’t been able to secure the backing of his own party for what he wants to do.

So he appointed a ‘Citizens Jury’ which by a two-thirds majority, voted that South Australia should not pursue the proposal ‘under any circumstances’.

This is not surprising. After all, Labor not only opposed Olympic Dam. For the past 40 years it has demonised the rest of the nuclear industry. Only relatively recently, a South Australian Labor Government in which Mr Weatherill served took court action to prevent the establishment of a low level radioactive waste repository in South Australia.

The waste that facility would store is currently located at hospitals, universities and many other sites around Australia and is much less radioactive than the material Mr Weatherill now wants to import from other countries.

Jay Weatherill's community consultation on the international waste dump has cost $8.6 million so far but because the Premier still hasn’t got the answer he is seeking, he wants to spend even more on a referendum even though the Royal Commissioner advised this was not the way to seek community consent.

If a referendum were held and voted ‘yes’, there is no guarantee Jay Weatherill could implement its outcome because of the opposition of his own party. Not only that, he has also said Aboriginal people can have an ultimate veto over the proposal and all Aboriginal groups across the State have already said they will not support it.

Let's Aim Much Higher

Jay Weatherill said a long time ago that South Australia should be in a position by the end of 2016 to decide what to do. We have reached that time and the Liberals are united in our decision but the Labor Government is not.

After opposing Olympic Dam, Labor promised South Australians the mine’s expansion would be the economic saviour of our State. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen. We will not allow Labor to do this again with a waste dump.

We must all work to create jobs and reduce the cost of living now, not spend taxpayers’ money we don’t have on a proposal that won’t eventuate.

We need to aim much higher.

It is the role of government to unite its community around achievable goals, not divide people over something that is not supported, not affordable and not achievable.

You can read the fully policy document here.