Sunday, 15 April 2007 20:00 Michael Jeffrey Editorial Dept - Science
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Whilst we applaud any efforts to ameliorate the effects of catastrophic climate and sea level change, caused by release of industrial greenhouse gases, we cannot support a nuclear industry as a solution. Caboolture is one of the proposed sites to house a Nuclear Power station and this cannot go ahead. The debate on uranium is flawed by a greed for export income. That bias manifests through ignoring a number of practical and moral arguments which we urge the Australian government and in particular John Howard to consider. These are:

1. WASTE DISPOSAL.

- Although the quantity of waste is small, no country at present has satisfactory storage and disposal means.

- The conversion of waste into ceramic materials that cannot be readily leached is not proceeding because it is too expensive.

- The underground disposal method being trialed in Sweden, which is the only acceptable method, still has 35 years to run before safety can be assessed.
 


- Most importantly, mine waste dumps are not being mentioned at all in your arguments presented to the public. Leaching of low level uranium into the environment is inevitable in the long term and will pass into shallow groundwater's and bond with clay minerals in soils. Waste dumps from such mines always contain large amounts of sulphides which break down under surface conditions, producing acid leaching water. No amount of surface containment will stabilize the situation for the long intervals needed. Burying the waste is likely to be too expensive and time-consuming.

2. TIME FACTORS.

- The many thousands of years required for radioactive by-products to decay to acceptable levels means that waste from mine dumps and reactors must be monitored by independent bodies for longer than any civilization has ever existed on earth. Your respect for history will tell you this is so. When civilizations decay or are violently overcome, facilities are destroyed and basic services neglected. Waste products will inevitably remain untreated during wars and major disasters and become scattered in the environment.

- Radioactive products that pass into the surface environment in soil and groundwater will remain for thousands of years and eventually contaminate large underground water supplies and farmable soils. Water and arable land are scarce and should not be jeopardized.

Alternative forms of energy generation such as wind, solar, wave and thermal, do not produce dangerous wastes with such large long term problems.

CO2 PRODUCTION.

- The building of a large number of atomic power stations over a short period will release huge amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere.


- the building of storage facilities will also release amounts of CO2 equivalent to a large mining operation.

- Processing of waste into ceramics will initially produce large amounts of CO2

- The large number of mines proposed will also initially produce large amounts of CO2 until such time as they are supplied by atomic power or other alternatives to hydrocarbon power.

- Transport: mine trucks, most road and rail use fossil fuels, thus adding to CO2 production.

Thus, initially, the development of a uranium power industry on a large scale in Australia and around the world will produce large quantities of CO2 from multiple new sources, as the electricity will first need to come from coal power.

CO2 production of renewable energy source infrastructure, such as wind, solar, thermal and wave generators needs to be assessed and compared taking the whole productive cycle into account, from mining to building and disposal.

ENERGY NEEDS AND ALTERNATIVES. 

- If Australian’s were to change their wasteful consumerist lifestyle, there would be no need for nuclear energy and no problem with industrial greenhouse gases.


- Many safer alternatives to nuclear energy and fossil fuels exist and can be developed. Their viability and overall contribution of such alternatives to greenhouse gases has not been properly assessed and is likely to prove better than nuclear energy.

SAFETY.

- The transport of nuclear waste is fraught with difficulty. Accidents happen no matter how careful we are. Reactors have similar problems. The consequences of failure are too great t o contemplate.


- Many countries, such as China, India and Russia, have an appalling industrial safety record and cannot be relied upon to maintain reactors, contain mine dump leaching, or conduct transport of waste safely. Nor is there any guarantee that such countries will develop suitable disposal facilities.

- Many countries, such as the Philippines and India have reactors built on or near active major geological faults. It is inevitable that such reactors would fail in a major earthquake, possibly even leading to meltdown and regional contamination.

- Terrorism. The concentration of nuclear waste into small disposal areas makes it easy for terrorists and hostile forces to rob or capture and use them. Similarly for reactors as targets.

MORAL ARGUMENTS.

- Uranium should not be sold to any country which produces nuclear weapons. For example, the United States has contaminated large parts of the Middle East with depleted uranium in missile and ordinance cases and bombed Japan with nuclear weapons and is developing micro nuclear weapons. The use of nuclear weapons would prevent large tracts of country being habitable and produce unacceptable levels of atmospheric and groundwater contamination.


- Use of nuclear weapons in Japan by the USA demonstrated the incredible loss of life and subsequent debilitating disease perpetuated on largely innocent civilians, the majority of whom were children. We believe war should never be contemplated as a solution to conflict.

- It is immoral to contemplate the contamination of large areas by radioactivity, which causes illness and genetic mutation in future generations. Contamination should not be seen as inevitable and systems should not be put in place that must one day fail or not be monitored correctly. To do so shows a lack of care and respect for our children.

- Nuclear reactors are a great danger during war and will be the first devices to be targeted. Solar and wind energy can be placed in a greater variety and dispersed localities, making them difficult targets and are relatively easy to maintain.

- No matter how safe reactors are, there will be inevitable breakdowns with unpardonable consequences.

- Uranium should not be sold to any country which does not satisfy stringent safety requirements for reactors, transport, treatment of mine dumps, and disposal of reactor waste. No uranium should be sold to others until Australia is satisfied those others have suitable disposal and safety requirements.

- If Australia starts promoting nuclear energy, other countries in the region will do the same. In fact a nuclear industry in Australia is dependent on such countries being encouraged to do so. The Philippines has a reactor built on a major fault line. China, USA, Israel and Britain have nuclear weapons programs and dangerously aggressive foreign policies.

- Currently, Australia itself has dangerously aggressive foreign policies as witnessed by the intervention in Iraq and interventionist rhetoric regarding its neighbors. A country with such policies should be discouraged from entering the nuclear industry.

- The appalling record of the international community on cleaning up contaminated sites of all types remains: (1) Chernobyl is still a major problem and the site unusable. (2). Bhopal in India, though not a nuclear site, demonstrates international attitudes and lack of responsibility by multinational corporations (the Union Carbide disaster). Twenty one years after this horrible event the site remains contaminated and is a continuing cause of pollution and illness in the densely populated community.

Thus, although we do not rule out the possible use of nuclear energy in Australia in the future if all else fails, we cannot support it now. It can only be contemplated if...

(1)disposal facilities for waste like those in Sweden have been proven safe and are in place before reactors are built.

(2) reactors are built at the waste disposal sites to avoid transport of waste.

(3) mine waste dumps are reburied at depth during the mining operation.

(4) the total greenhouse gas emissions of the whole process, from mine to production, have been accurately calculated and compared with all other available energy technologies.

(5) energy and greenhouse emissions can be reduced by changing user behavior with respect to energy saving, such as energy efficient homes and transport.

A nuclear industry involving selling uranium to other countries is out of the question if they...

(1) Produce or hold nuclear weapons.

(2). Do not have best practice safety records.

(3) Have or build reactors in earthquake prone areas.

(4) Do not have stable governments expected to last thousands of years which are never likely to become hostile to others.

(5) Do not have stable geological terrain suitable for underground disposal.

(6) Have not already built safe underground disposal sites like those of Sweden (assuming it will be proved safe after the thirty five year monitoring period is over).

As it is highly unlikely any such developments will occur for decades to come, we reject any sale of nuclear materials or radioactive ores to other countries except in small monitored quantities for medical reasons.

Before it is contemplated, the nuclear power industry in Australia must be proved to be less productive of greenhouse gases, safer than all other forms of energy production, and not dangerous to future generations (for whom we have already created enormous environmental burdens). We do not see any evidence that these matters have been dealt with and urge the proper consideration of less dangerous alternatives.

We reject absolutely any attempt by Australia to build nuclear weapons. Nuclear material should only be used for medical purposes.

We urge all in politics to consider the above fully and completely and to make realistic assessment of other ways of reducing greenhouse gases.

SUMMARY OF CONCLUSIONS

Selling uranium and nuclear products to countries with a nuclear weapon program is immoral and should not occur.

Selling uranium and nuclear products to countries without proven safe underground storage for waste, stable geology and excellent industrial safety record is immoral and should not occur.

Use of nuclear power in Australia should only be contemplated when the uranium mine waste dumps and byproducts of power plants have suitable disposal facilities in place.

Australia must enshrine in its constitutional law a ruling that prevents it from ever making nuclear weapons or urging others to do so. All uranium mining in Australia should cease until this has been done.


Nuclear power production must be compared with other alternative energy forms in relation to production of ‘greenhouse’ gases, throughout the whole cycle, including mining, infrastructure, operation, maintenance and disposal of waste from mine dumps and reactors.

The waste problem and long term safety of sites used for nuclear power must be weighed against freedom from such problems in the case of wind, wave, solar and thermal energy sources.


Michael Jeffrey
Convener Caboolture Greens



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