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Nuclear waste dump is not the answer to SA's financial woes

Speeches in Parliament
Robert Simms 25 Feb 2016

I rise tonight to talk about the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission, which is currently underway in my home state of South Australia. It is of great concern to me and many South Australians that we are seeing such a brazen push for South Australia to become the world's dumping ground for highly toxic nuclear waste. The royal commission was established last year to investigate all elements of the nuclear fuel cycle. With the interim findings handed down last week, it is clear there are limited benefits yet many risks for my home state should we dive into the nuclear industry, which flatlined last century. The interim report stated that nuclear power in South Australia is not commercially viable in the current electricity market. While this must surely come as a shock to nuclear advocates, who have been inspired by the fresh wind that has been blowing in their backs following the royal commission, it is clear that the economics do not stack up. Really, if this was a fast track to prosperity, why on earth is nowhere else in the world thinking about doing it? Why has no other country wanted to embrace this opportunity to become a giant nuclear waste dump? We know, of course, that all that glitters is not gold.

South Australia is already a world leader in renewable energy and currently produces about 40 per cent of its electricity from wind and sunshine. In evidence presented as part of the royal commission, SA Power Networks senior manager Mark Vincent said that forecasts predicted solar energy would be used by two-thirds of South Australian households within about 20 years. Furthermore, modelling completed by the University of New South Wales demonstrated that South Australia can be 100 per cent renewable without the requirement of baseload power from coal or nuclear. Why would we go down the path of even contemplating a nuclear power plant when it would be so financially irresponsible?
The only area that the interim report champions as having any significant potential for South Australia is waste management, and by that what it really means is turning South Australia into a giant nuclear waste dump. They keep talking about waste management. They do not want to use the term 'dump', but it is a dump. This might bring in some short-term cash for a government-it may be a short-term sugar hit for the state government, which lacks ideas on how to bring South Australia into the 21st century. In fact, it seems the only economic idea the Premier has is hiking up the GST, but one has to ask this royal commission: what cost would turning South Australia into a nuclear waste dump have for the state of South Australia and for the community and the environment? What cost would there be to South Australia's world renowned reputation as a clean and green state? It is hard to imagine consumers appreciating our produce should it contain that glowing stamp of approval that you derive from hosting a nuclear waste dump. I would prefer South Australia to be known for producing gluten-free cake rather than yellowcake, but certainly it seems that the SA Labor Party has a different vision.

The royal commission expressed the view that South Australia could safely increase its participation in the nuclear fuel cycle. That is a bold statement indeed when we know that any involvement in the nuclear industry exposes us to significant risks that have catastrophic consequences. The claim that the nuclear industry is safe does not stack up when it is properly scrutinised. Indeed, the claim that it is safe is consistently made by people who have a vested interest in South Australia going down the nuclear path. It is based on the notion that previous accidents should just be ignored-just turn the other cheek and pretend they did not happen. We know that nuclear waste remains dangerously toxic for thousands of years, and that the current proposals are especially dangerous and involve the most toxic radioactive waste on this planet. We must not burden future generations with this waste when there is no safe disposal for it, when instead we could be leading the way with innovation and transitioning to a new economy that is powered by solar and wind energy. That is the Greens' vision for South Australia and it contrasts with the vision of the South Australian Labor Party and that of the Liberal Party.

South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill has said that this is a test of our democracy and about the long-term future of our state. I could not agree more, because the people do not want this proposal and it is bad for our future as well. It is worth reminding the Premier of South Australia of a poem that he wrote as a 16-year old that was reported in The Advertiser recently. He said of the prospect of uranium mining happening in South Australia:

A march to protect every colour and creed,
But not to sponsor the capitalists' greed,
A march to oppose a government's decision,
And settle for the sun, not nuclear fission.

I agree with the sentiment and I have to say Premier Weatherill was somewhat wiser in his younger years, because, whilst he may have backflipped and changed his position, the people of South Australia certainly do not share his nuclear conversion.

One of the key points emphasised in the royal commission's interim report is this idea that community agreement is fundamental to any increased involvement in the nuclear industry. Let me say, if the community meetings that I attended in Adelaide and in Prospect are anything to go by, the community does not support this proposal. Scores of residents have also made their views known in regional South Australia. They do not want to see South Australia turning its backyards into a nuclear waste dump. The people in regional South Australia should not have to do the heavy lifting to prop up our state's economy. They should not be asked to put their children or future generations, or their own livelihoods, at risk.

While many politicians are jumping on the nuclear bandwagon, it is a very different story for everyday South Australians who are impacted by these decisions. Communities that are flagged as potential dump sites have resoundingly rejected the prospect of hosting the world's most toxic nuclear waste. Northern South Australia has been identified as one of three potential dump locations in the state, and the Adnyamathanha people see rich value in this land for a very different reason. They have been caring for this land for thousands of years and they do not support any expansion of a nuclear industry, including the imposition of a radioactive waste dump. They do not support that. If the royal commission and the government are serious about requiring community support, then it is clear that they should immediately abandon any recommendations in the interim report and instead turn their attention to 21st century technologies like solar power, where a huge energy spill is simply called 'a nice day'.

South Australia is facing a jobs crisis. We know that South Australia is facing a jobs crisis. But is this nuclear approach really the best that we can do? Is this the best that we have? This is an industry that is renowned for overstating its economic benefits and for downplaying its risks. Instead of opening up our borders to nuclear waste, we should be embracing an economy that is built for the 21st century by investing in things like electric cars, advanced manufacturing and sustainable agriculture. Of course, these are the policies that the Greens offer the people of South Australia.

According to Beyond Zero Emissions, the organisation that got the ball rolling on a solar thermal plan for Port Augusta, six solar thermal power towers and 95 wind turbines would replace the current coal fired power plants and provide secure, affordable electricity to South Australia and the eastern Australian grid. The development would supersede the existing 250 jobs at local power stations as well as create 1,300 construction jobs and 225 manufacturing jobs for the state. The closure of the power stations at Port Augusta, while a devastating loss of jobs, would end 60 years of a community living under a black cloud of coaldust, with locals and doctors alike linking it to people developing lung cancer despite their not having a history of smoking, bronchitis, asthma or sinus problems. That community does not deserve to be put at risk again by housing the world's nuclear waste.

Australia is perfectly positioned to take advantage of opportunities in clean energy, electric cars, advanced manufacturing and sustainable agriculture. Redirecting our efforts into these areas would reap huge economic benefits for South Australia, creating new jobs and transitioning people into new employment-and that is a critical focus for us in the Greens.
If it is such a great idea to go down this nuclear path, then why is no-one else in the world putting their hand up to become the nuclear waste dump of the world? No-one wants to do it. They know it is a bad idea. (Time expired)


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