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Friday, 24 March 2023
Page: 65

Se nator BARBARA POCOCK (South Australia) (15:46): The truth about our nuclear waste disposal systems is that finding a permanent solution for the safe storage of the world's nuclear waste remains a big, dangerous challenge everywhere. It's a very expensive problem and challenge.

The UK has 70 years worth of waste from its nuclear power plants, 260,000 tonnes of it, in unsafe temporary storage: a major problem for their government and their citizens. In the US, nuclear disposal has been plagued by dangerous leaks and failures. No long-term solution exists in the US, not for waste from power generation or from nuclear powered submarines. No country on earth has safely disposed of its high-level nuclear waste for the long term. After many decades, Finland is approaching completion, but the process there has been long and complex, and it's still not operating.

Any senator in this place who wants to propose anything nuclear has to give citizens a proposal for waste disposal, not kick the can down the road to future generations and budgets—and not leaving highly toxic waste in dangerous temporary storage, often against the wishes of local communities. Our own experience should teach us. South Australians have some real experience with this. In 2016, our citizens had a very good look at a proposal to take the world's nuclear power waste and store it. The nuclear spruikers promised us a revenue stream of $51 billion, and that's a lot of money, but South Australians said no. The world's largest citizens' jury, 350 South Australians, read the fine print and recognised that there are no functioning long-term waste disposal dumps anywhere on the planet.

This waste is in temporary storage all over the world, and this is a national challenge for us in Australia of long standing. Since we first started producing nuclear waste 70 years ago, five successive governments have tried and failed to find a suitable place for the permanent long-term storage of our relatively small quantities of medium- and low-level waste. Low-level waste arising from medical uses must be stored safely for 300 years. This is the least challenging of the waste disposal tasks, but we've still not been able to convince the community to store that waste. And intermediate-level waste arising from research at Lucas Heights must be stored safely for 10,000 years.

The LNP began a process towards storage of low and intermediate waste at Kimba some years ago, and it has been bitterly disputed at every step of the way since. It lacks social licence in the community of Kimba, where so many community members and farmers are opposed to it, and where the First Nations people, the Barngarla, have opposed it and are now fighting the Labor government about it, asking for a voice. Yesterday, the Minister for Resources, Madeleine King, received a petition from 10,000 Australians asking her to stop the Kimba project.

The AUKUS sub deal, should it go ahead, will take us to a whole new country. It will lock Australia into managing large quantities of high-level radioactive waste. The fuel from decommissioned submarines is nuclear weapons grade. It will require military security and it must be safely stored not for 300 years, not for 10,000 years but for at least 100,000 years. Neither the UK nor the US have been able to find permanent storage solutions for their submarine waste. Given successive governments have continuously failed to manage much less dangerous radioactive waste in Australia, any government will find it very hard to find a solution to dispose of nuclear waste arising from AUKUS submarines. Traditional owners of any future site should have a say and a veto about any such proposal—a basic voice requirement. The AUKUS deal has sparked a new conversation about nuclear waste storage. It makes no sense to have in train multiple federal processes seeking sites at which to store radioactive waste. It's time to put a stop to Kimba.

There is a long list of reasons why the $368 billion AUKUS deal is a terrible idea, but most important amongst them is that the government has no sensible storage solutions that will work. This is not a small problem. The Australian public is right to be sceptical and concerned about the waste disposal site that we need for any such proposal, and there is, at the moment, no plan. All citizens should be asking: why, and what is the way forward?

Senate adjourned at 15:5 2