The Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission has released its Final Report. The outcome – South Australia should actively pursue the establishment of a nuclear waste storage facility.

The Final Report is unsurprising to anyone that read the Tentative Findings released by the Royal Commission in February (summarised in our previous news alert here) or who has been staying across the headlines.

The key findings of the Royal Commission are:

  • Exploration, Extraction and Milling: increased participation would provide benefits to SA;
  • Further Processing and Manufacturing: not commercially viable in the next decade but fuel leasing could be pursued if SA establishes a nuclear waste storage and disposal facility;
  • Electricity Generation: not commercially viable to generate power from nuclear before 2030, after which, nuclear power generation could play a role for the reduction of Australia’s carbon emissions (dependent on other low-carbon technology and influencing factors); and
  • Management, Storage and Disposal of Waste: could provide significant and enduring benefits to the SA community and should be actively pursued.

What happens next?

The Royal Commission handed its Final Report to Parliament on 6 May 2016.

On 11 May 2016 the South Australian Premier, Jay Weatherill, launched the “Nuclear?” public awareness campaign. The Nuclear campaign is aimed at “giving all South Australians the opportunity to put forward their view on South Australia’s involvement in the nuclear fuel cycle”.

Invitations are being sent to 25,000 randomly selected citizens as a first step to calling a citizens’ jury that will consider the key questions for public debate.

Community consultation activities will commence across the State from July and a specific program of Aboriginal engagement will also be undertaken.

The outworking of the Nuclear campaign will be the preparation of a report by the citizens’ jury. This report as well as feedback received during the public consultation process will be considered by the SA Government in preparing its response to the Royal Commission’s Report by the end of 2016.

Information on the Nuclear campaign can be found here

In addition, the South Australian Parliament has formed a Joint Committee to consider the findings of the Royal Commission, focussing on the issues associated with nuclear waste storage and to provide advice and report on legislative, regulatory or institutional issues arising. The committee has invited submissions to be made before 1 July 2016.

What Recommendations did the Commission Make?

Click here to view the table.

What does the Royal Commission’s Report mean for the Commonwealth NRWMF?

The Commonwealth Government is currently running a process to establish a National Radioactive Waste Management Facility (NRWMF). The NRWMF will store low level radioactive waste that is generated within Australia. A site in South Australia has been shortlisted for site characterisation studies. The shortlisting of this single site in South Australia does not mean that the NRWMF will be established here. The Commonwealth Government will undertake comprehensive community consultation, heritage surveys and technical assessments to determine if the shortlisted site is suitable for the development of the NRWMF.

The NRWMF process being undertaken by the Commonwealth Government is separate to the Royal Commission (which was initiated by the SA State Government). The Royal Commission does however address the NRWMF in the Final Report. The Report discusses benefits to be achieved from developing a centralised storage facility for Australia’s low level waste but says that the Royal Commission did not otherwise conduct a viability analysis of a low level waste storage facility given the Commonwealth process underway regarding the NRWMF.

What happens now?

The South Australian Government will run the Nuclear public consultation process.

We won’t know if increased participation in the nuclear fuel cycle lies ahead for South Australia until the end of this consultation process and the South Australian Government releases its response to the Royal Commission’s Report, which is expected to happen by the end of 2016.

If the SA Government agrees with the Royal Commission’s recommendation to establish a nuclear waste storage facility, it will still be some time before ground breaking. Political support will be needed at a State and Commonwealth level as well as community support from South Australians. Site selection and studies for deep geological storage will take time and supporting infrastructure will need to be built. A finding by the SA Government to proceed with development of a storage facility will signal the start of a long term process which, at least in the early stages, will not have a guaranteed end result.