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Tuesday, 28 February 2012
Page: 994


Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia) (12:50): Thanks for the reminder, Chair. I move Greens amendment (2) on sheet 7037:

(2)   Clause 4, page 3 (line 1), after “1998”, insert “that is of domestic origin”.

[radioactive waste of domestic origin]

This amendment will have the effect of putting beyond doubt what I take is a genuine assurance from the minister. We probably see eye to eye on many of these issues as Western Australians who went through the same campaign. I appreciate the way the minister has conducted the debate. It has been conducted with a great deal more courtesy, sensitivity and intelligence than was displayed when it was debated in the House. I do not propose to unnecessarily detain the committee's time with these amendments. I took the minister on advice yesterday. We began moving away from general questions and towards specific clauses in the bill, and that is effectively what I took up when we resumed debate this afternoon. We are on the second amendment. There are a number. I am not going to apologise for that. This is a deeply flawed bill that should not have been debated in the chamber, particularly with a Federal Court hearing on the land tenure itself scheduled for less than a month away. I canvassed these opinions in detail the week before last, in that the government had pulled the bill, to have the good sense and the courtesy to the people that it has put on the front line and targeted, and that we would be resuming this debate. I just want to be very clear: if the Federal Court finds in favour of the land council and the Commonwealth government finds that in fact the land has been ticked through properly and that their obligations under the land rights act have been met and so on, my arguments relating to remote dumping—whether it be in Senator Scullion's electorate, the minister's or mine in South Australia—will stand. The arguments against shoving this stuff out of sight, out of mind will stand no matter what happens, no matter what the fate of the Muckaty site. So the minister is free, as the Manager of Government Business here, to consider his options if he thinks that this is taking too long. But I make no apologies whatsoever for the fact that if this were not such a dodgy and rotten bill it would not need so much surgery. I will be more than happy if the minister wants to report progress—I will even offer to do so myself and adjourn the debate, if that is the way we want to go. I am happy, otherwise, to simply move through the amendments.

The reason—I do not think I digress—that I raised the issue of Pangea, raised the issue of remote dumping, is that this amendment goes directly to the issue of imports of high-level spent fuel from elsewhere. I look forward to Senator Scullion's support when we put this one to vote, because I know he does not want to see his electorate subject—the Territory, of all places, whose economy relies in a large part on tourism—to spent fuel from nuclear power stations overseas arriving—

Senator Scullion interjecting—

Senator LUDLAM: I trust you are not suggesting that that is of lesser importance, Senator Scullion.

Senator Scullion: I was asking for two seconds, actually.

Senator LUDLAM: You are very welcome to take two seconds. We will in fact have coalition support for this amendment. I take the minister's advice that there are already regulations that exist. Regulations can come and go. That can be eliminated at the stroke of a pen. I think what we need to see here, while we are debating the nation's first radioactive waste dump, is a binding, unambiguous commitment that this will not become a commercial facility for countries who want to get their material out of sight, out of mind and think the Barkly would be a good place to do that. That should not happen on our watch. It is not a Greens thing; it is not a Labor thing. That should not happen on our watch. I think there would be a great deal of community support to put it beyond doubt. If we have to have a national, centralised domestic facility then let it be so. Let us have the argument in here and in the community about where we think that should be, what kind of form we think it should take. But, if you go out and ask 100 people on the street about importing high-level spent fuel for the next quarter-million years from Taiwan, Japan and maybe Indonesia—if they ever get a reactor program up and running there—you are not going to find a great deal of support for that. And those are the people who put us here in this chamber.

I just want to pause again to note the fact that the reason we talk about remote sites, the reason the industry is so keen on deep geological storage, is that the containment will be breached. It will fail. The industry knows that. So how about we do not accept that premise? How about we take the premise of, 'While we have the stuff on the surface in dry storage close to the sites of production, being watched over by the people who produce it, by the PhDs and the smart folk who thought the production of this stuff would be a good idea, let's continue working on waste isolation'? Maybe it is in rock; maybe it is transmutation; maybe it is something else that we have not thought of yet. The last thing we want to be doing is parking this stuff down a hole in the ground, because then we foreclose those options.

Over three decades, one proposal has followed another to cope with the waste, stemming either from the IAEA itself, from groups of governments, from the EU or from private consortia. All have failed on a combination of legal, political, technical and ethical factors. For example, the Pangea proposal was bounced out of Western Australia. It took us about two years. The company did not have community consent. Their videotape was leaked and they were not ready for it, and neither was the state government. Before you knew it, the conservative Liberal state government had legislation on the books to ban just such a proposal. That was how badly wrong that campaign went.

To borrow from the experience of our neighbours, in 1987 the United States chose a site in Nevada called Yucca Mountain for a deep geological nuclear repository. Despite strong opposition from many quarters, congress passed the proposal in 2002. However, after assessing the difficulties of the site, and after numerous court cases suing to block the project on grounds that the area has earthquake potential and that transporting waste would create a hazard and potential target for terrorists, funding was terminated, effective with the 2011 federal budget, leaving the United States without a permanent long-term storage solution. I should add that they did not even go down the path, as Pangea was seeking to do in Australia, of choosing an area with very simple stratified geology with a very deep groundwater table; they chose a volcanic mountain with huge rates of groundwater infiltration and occasional volcanic eruptions—eruptions every few thousand years—in an earthquake zone. They thought it would be a great idea to park it there. Then their engineering studies told them that it simply was not going to work. But, on the same premise, when the waste has burned its way out of your containment structures you need Yucca Mountain to be your effective container of the waste. I think that solution is just utterly bankrupt. It shows the deep bankruptcy at the heart of the nuclear industry.

Sixty years on, your waste management strategy is to just put it as far away as we can get it from us so that when the containment is breached it is in a desert—unbelievable. The facility in Yucca Mountain was due for completion in 2020. It cost the US $9 billion and 20 years of planning. The US currently has no other plans in the pipeline for dealing with more than approximately 60,000 tonnes of high-level waste. Here in Australia we are talking in terms of the low thousands of cubic metres. In the States they are talking about 60,000 tonnes of the stuff. So the alarm about Australia becoming the world's nuclear waste dump is not unfounded.

In 2006 President Bush launched the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, which Australia enthusiastically joined. The organisation has now changed its name to the International Framework for Nuclear Energy Cooperation. Early GNET proposals included Australia becoming a one-stop nuclear shop, with financial incentives for Australia storing the world's waste. This GNET proposal was widely reported in the international press and here in Australia, in the Australian, in the Bulletin and on Crikey.When Prime Minister Howard visited Washington in May 2006 he was accompanied by Dr John White, the Chairman of the government's Uranium Industry Framework. White was one of the developers of the UIF, and he was responsible for setting up a UK-US-Australia consortium, the Nuclear Fuel Leasing Group, with three others: David Pentz, Chairman of Pangea Resources—there they are again; Daniel Poneman, principal of the Scowcroft Group; and Mike Simpson, head of business development projects for British Nuclear Fuels, who were also one of the founding partners of the Pangea consortium. The Nuclear Fuel Leasing Group submission to ZygmuntSwitkowski's Uranium Mining, Processing and Nuclear Energy review advocated Australia for producing fuel rods and then taking back the waste. In the Australian Financial Review, on 7 June 2006, he was quoted as saying:

Australia wins on the mining, enriching and leasing, but makes a long-term fortune on the storage.

A wonderful understatement: a long-term fortune. We could be picking up rents from the storage of nuclear waste into geological periods. If the Neanderthals, who roamed Northern Europe before the last ice age, had developed nuclear power we would still be looking after their waste stockpiles. That is long term, indeed.

This amendment ensures that the national radioactive waste dump does not become what was envisaged by Pangea, by George Bush, by Dr White, by Bob Hawke, by Alexander Downer and, no doubt, by some of your party room and caucus colleagues in this building today. I commend this amendment to the chamber.