Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Nuclear Parochialism

Bush's sincere desire to drive all sane people mad has led him to describe nuclear power as green, clean and renewable.

With that in mind, let's take a gander at a current debate over radwaste dumping in Australia.

The Australian government wants an offshore dump for its spent nuclear fuel, and is considering the Pacific island republic of Nauru. Nauru is bankrupt and powerless; it has a population of about 10,000, and has already been devastated by phosphate mining, which has denuded about 90 percent of the island.

Currently, the Australians are shipping a good deal of their radwaste to the United States and Europe. However,

[Science Minister Brenden] Nelson said the US agreement to accept spent nuclear fuel from Lucas Heights until 2016 did not eliminate the need for a long-term dump for Australian intermediate and low-level radioactive waste.
This Nelson character comes across as...well, as an asshole, to put it bluntly.
...Dr Nelson blamed states and territories – which all oppose dumps within their borders – for their "crippling parochialism and federalism", which forced the Government to drop plans to build a site near Woomera in remote South Australia.
"Parochialism"? Surely that's not quite the right word. However, I agree that countries have a moral obligation to keep their nuclear wastes within their own borders, with the full knowledge and consent of the public; if they can't meet that standard (as is indeed the case), then they ought to get out of the nuclear business.

Anyway, let's rejoin the intrepid Dr. Nelson:
While ruling out Tasmania, Dr Nelson would not reveal whether Nauru was being considered, saying only that "any offshore site will need to meet all criteria and all international treaty obligations to which Australia is a signatory".
Well, that's easy enough to settle. Nauru and Australia are both signatories to the Waigani Convention, which forbids the importation of radioactive waste to Nauru or any other South Pacific island. Clearly, they'll have to look elsewhere for a dumping site.

My point is, Australia's nuclear waste problem is comparatively minor; for one thing, it has no nuclear power plants. Yet it has enormous problems dealing with the waste it's got. A lot of its radwaste is currently being shipped overseas for reprocessing, which is touted as being somehow equivalent to recycling, though it's astronomically expensive and dangerous beyond all reckoning. After reprocessing, it's shipped back to Australia, as radioactive as ever. It's a fairly futile and stupid undertaking, I'd say.

Australia's Uranium Information Council says that "Nuclear power is the only energy industry which takes full responsibility for all its wastes, and costs this into the product." That's an astonishing, heartbreaking lie. The nuclear power industry does nothing of the sort; it's been heavily subsidized by taxpayer dollars since its inception, and has always resisted any honest assessment of externalities. The monumental shell game of "reprocessing" is just one example of how sky-high external costs are hidden, or pushed onto other countries.

Calling nuclear power "renewable" or "green" is something Republicans do for the sheer, trangressive thrill of it, like sneering at Martin Luther King Jr on his birthday, or calling Arab leaders "ragheads."


Anonymous said...

Australia's nuclear waste problem is comparatively minor; for one thing, it has no nuclear power plants.

Where does the waste come from if they have no nuclear power plants?

Phila said...

From its research reactor, mainly.

You can find more details here.