Poison in the Heart. The Nuclear Wasting of South Australia

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This article is an extract of a text provided by the author for publishing with the NukeNews and on this website. The original source is Poison in the Heart. The Nuclear Wasting of South Australia, published July 21, 2016.

Our planet is deeply burdened. It presently harbours 390,000 tons of high level nuclear waste produced by nuclear reactors and weapons programs over the past 70 years. Spent nuclear fuel is one of the most dangerous materials on earth. Most of it is stored underwater in numerous cooling ponds throughout the world. High level nuclear waste is dangerous to all life for unthinkable periods of time. Plutonium, which is produced in every nuclear fuel rod, has a toxic lifespan of 240,000 years. With each passing year, a further 10,000 tons of spent fuel is added to the world's accumulated stores of deadly waste. In addition to the spent fuel from nuclear reactors, vast amounts of lower-level radioactive waste lie scattered in mining sites, tailings dams, undersea dumps and soil-borne contamination on every continent.

We have no idea what to do with the stuff. The Americans sank over $13 billion into the construction of a massive underground repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. It was closed down in 2010 without taking in a single gram of nuclear waste. The Soviets didn't bother with such elaborate schemes and until recently, simply dumped much of their waste - including obsolete submarines complete with nuclear reactors - into the Kara Sea and elsewhere in the Arctic Circle where they slowly corrode, leaching their lethal contents into the cold waters of the Arctic Ocean.

In the meantime, a small cadre of aspirational Promethean technocrats in South Australia have somehow decided that Australia holds the solution to the global problem of nuclear waste. The recently released Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission Report recommends that the South Australian government accepts over one third of the world's high level waste for above-ground storage and eventual burial in yet-to-be-built underground repositories in the South Australian desert. The report proposes that South Australia imports 138,000 tons of high level radioactive waste in the form of spent fuel rods as well as an additional 390,000 cubic metres of intermediate level waste for storage and eventual disposal.

This has all been spruiked as a fail-safe commercial venture that will relieve the South Australian Government of its financial problems ever after and create a rosy economic future for generations that have yet to be born. Such madness blithely ignores the fact that the genetic and biological futures of those generations may thereafter be a different story.

It is a curious thing to observe the confidence with which the recent Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission has embraced the promotion of South Australia as the ideal destination for over one third of the world's accumulated stores of spent nuclear fuel. This spent fuel, together with the 400,000 cubic metres of intermediate-level nuclear waste that the Royal Commission recommends be transported to South Australia, represents a problem that nations with decades-long histories of nuclear energy production have failed to resolve. The entrancement induced by a whiff of billions of dollars of new revenue presently has a closed circle of nuclear advocates and politicians straining to persuade the people of South Australia to obligingly make their way as latter-day lemmings towards a dangerous and uncharted nuclear abyss.

In the short term, the Commission calls for the transportation of vast tonnages of highly radioactive materials from around the planet for decades-long storage in above-ground facilities. In the longer term, it proposes the construction of a deep underground repository for the "permanent" burial of the most dangerous wastes produced by a destructive and senescent civilisation.

The project to bury the world's nuclear poison in the heart of the Australian desert has not sprung out of a void. It is an idea that has been insidiously festering for two decades in a variety of incarnations. The first stirrings of the hellish project to turn Australia into the world's nuclear dumping ground emerged in the late 1990s when Pangea Resources, a U.K. based company promoted the construction of a commercially-operated international waste repository in Western Australia. The project was supported by a $40 million budget, 80% of which came from British Nuclear Fuels Limited (wholly owned by the U.K. government), with the remaining 20% from two nuclear waste management companies.

That particular project came to an abrupt halt in 1999 after Friends of the Earth in the U.K. came into possession of a promotional video produced by Pangea Resources and sent it on to its sister organisation in Australia. The project did, however, excite the imagination of a number of prominent Australian politicians including former prime ministers Bob Hawke and John Howard. In 2005, Bob Hawke excitedly proclaimed: "Forget about current account deficits . . . we could revolutionise the economics of Australia if we did this."

The situation is no different today. Current Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and opposition leader Bill Shorten seem to be in lock-step regarding the desirability of importing the world's high level nuclear waste into South Australia. Neither has listened to the voices of indigenous traditional owners or of the more informed advocates of restraint and sanity.

One of the more disturbing elements of the Royal Commission report is its explicit endorsement of the progressive nuclearisation of the planet over the course of the next century. But given the make-up of the Royal Commission, this comes as no surprise.

The fact that the earth presently heaves under the detritus, the violence, and the unquenchable excesses of a terminally destructive civilisation blind to its own approaching convulsions has simply not entered the consciousness of those who would sell the future for a mess of pottage. The projections of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission report are prefaced on the assumption of continuing social, political, economic, climatic and existential stability for the next 120 years - which is the nominated life-span of the project - and continuing geological stability for tens of thousands of years thereafter.

At a time when our collective energies could be given over to creating the conditions that will bring to an end the excess and wastefulness that have brought us all to such a perilous edge, we find ourselves being quietly goaded into a more-of-the-same, business-as-usual entrancement that ignores the realities we presently face and those that await our children and their generations. One can only hope for a general awakening whereby people everywhere will come to recognise the deceits, the distractions and the seductions perpetrated by those who would move the world the way it goes.

Vincent Di Stefano M.H.Sc., D.O., N.D.
Inverloch, July 2016

As mentioned above, this is only an extract of the main article. It is worth to read the full text in the originally published form.