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South Australia's nuclear waste option brings excitement and fear -

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MARK COLVIN: An economic opportunity unlike any other, or a plan to trash Australia's environment for thousands of years?

South Australia's Nuclear Royal Commission has thrown its support behind a high-level radioactive waste dump.

The royal commission's tentative report says a waste facility could generate billions of dollars for South Australia, especially if some proceeds were set aside for a sovereign wealth fund.

But it came down against any proposal to set up a nuclear power station in the state.

From Adelaide, Tom Fedorowytsch reports.

TOM FEDOROWYTSCH: The royal commissioner Kevin Scarce says he wants a calm, methodical discussion of the merits and drawbacks of the nuclear industry.

KEVIN SCARCE: The debate has been framed upon fear, and one of the reasons that I signed up for this particular job was I thought it was important to have a discussion on fact.

TOM FEDOROWYTSCH: His draft royal commission report has found a nuclear power plant wouldn't be economically viable for South Australia in the short term.

In a press conference today, he did reveal his preference for a high-level nuclear waste facility in South Australia.

In doing so he rejected some of the terminology the media had already begun to use.

KEVIN SCARCE: I wish we'd stop using the term dump. If you look at this facility, it's a sophisticated engineering site.

TOM FEDOROWYTSCH: Whether you call it a dump or a sophisticated engineering site, the endorsement of nuclear waste storage has sent shockwaves through South Australia.

The state would stand to earn at least $5 billion a year, a third of its current annual revenue, if it imported waste from nuclear power plants overseas.

Commissioner Scarce says there's as much as 390,000 tonnes already sitting in temporary storage worldwide, and South Australia is well suited as a site to store some of it.

KEVIN SCARCE: There will be discussion about facility to store spent fuel, and that's what this document seeks to generate.

This particular activity is an activity over a couple of hundred thousand years. It's a significant change for us, and the community needs to understand the risks and the benefits.

The document, I hope, brings that to light.

I encourage the community to challenge the evidence upon which both the revenue assumptions and the cost assumptions, and the safety assumptions, are made.

TOM FEDOROWYTSCH: Nigel McBride, from the state's chamber of commerce, Business SA, is excited by the opportunities.

NIGEL MCBRIDE: It's really the wealth, it's $5.5 billion a year at least, coming into the state's economy.

This is the kind of capital we can reinvest in changing the future of our children, our grandchildren; this is the kind of opportunity that can really turn the state's economy around, not just for a few years, but for decade after decade.

TOM FEDOROWYTSCH: But Craig Wilkins from the Conservation Council says it's an idea with serious ramifications.

CRAIG WILKINS: If we say that we will take the world's nuclear waste, we are saying that we think the best South Australia can do is to take the worst the world has got.

We think there's a better path possible.

TOM FEDOROWYTSCH: Karina Lester is a descendant of Indigenous South Australians who were traumatised by the British nuclear tests of the 1950s and ‘60s at Maralinga in the state's outback.

KARINA LESTER: It is very immoral and it's catastrophic to be talking about waste.

The waste is not going to be ending up in Adelaide, it will be up in remote South Australia.

TOM FEDOROWYTSCH: The community now has five weeks to consider the interim findings before the final report is eventually handed down in May.

But Ms Lester says that's not nearly enough time for Indigenous groups.

KARINA LESTER: That's been a strong message from the remote communities, that you're not allowing us the time to really understand what this is all about, this whole royal commission.

And remote communities are dealing with a lot of other things in communities as well, so that's the challenge that they have.

TOM FEDOROWYTSCH: Premier Jay Weatherill's willingness to consider the nuclear sector is in stark contrast to his predecessor Mike Rann, who fought off federal attempts to set up a nuclear dump at Woomera in 2004.

JAY WEATHERILL: In a sense this is a test for our democracy: can we take a controversial issue, which is about the long term future for our state, and consider it in a respectful and intelligent way, and reach a wise judgement?

TOM FEDOROWYTSCH: He stresses the State Government is yet to settle on a position, and wants to see the fallout from the initial debate.

JAY WEATHERILL: The single biggest barriers for there to be people taking further steps into the nuclear fuel cycle is political and community consensus.

TOM FEDOROWYTSCH: Mr Weatherill expects the Government will make a decision on the nuclear royal commission's findings by the end of the year.

MARK COLVIN: Tom Fedorowytsch reporting from Adelaide.