Nuclear waste storage barrels

Australia; The World’s Nuclear Dump

By Mark O’Brien

Australia; The World’s Nuclear Dump, published as part of a larger article, Nuclear Power: a Greenhouse Solution?

Since the 1980s the US has spent some $15 billion on storage facilities deep within the supposedly geologically stable Yucca Mountains in Nevada, and still issues arise over the ability to maintain an air- and watertight environment for the minimum 100,000 years.

It seems that it will never accept any nuclear waste.

According to Dr. Helen Caldicott, founder of the Nuclear Policy Research Institute, there are vast amounts of nuclear waste waiting all over the US in ‘cooling ponds’ to be shipped off.

Many of these cooling ponds are already filled to capacity, but no solution has come yet.

She calculates that it would take 20 years of transporting 2000 tonnes of highly toxic and dangerous waste per year to clear the backlog, and within that 20 years another backlog would build, creating the scenario of endless nuclear waste shipments on the roads, on the oceans, with frequent accidents more likely than not.1

Shipping this nuclear waste requires enormous tanks that can contain the intensely radioactive and thermally hot waste.

Excluding the apparent danger from terrorists, it is inconceivable that this kind of movement of nuclear waste from all over the world would not produce some accidents, and as Chernobyl showed so well, nobody gets to simply walk away from this kind of accident.

And while the fear of terrorism underlines every other aspect of our lives, apparently it is not a real concern when it comes to nuclear waste.

Historically the inland of Australia has been under water at some time or another, and now with global warming, sea levels are expected to rise, and possibly rise quite fast.

According to 2008 Australian of the Year, Professor Tim Flannery, on the ABC’s Lateline, ‘… it is possible that the Arctic ice will be gone within 15 years unless drastic political and economic changes occur’. 2

With such threats, it makes no sense for Australia, though a relatively geological stable continent but one that may well be largely under-water within the next 100, 1000, 10,000, or 250,000 years, to accept the world’s nuclear waste.

However, former Prime Minister Howard said that we can store this waste in the Northern Territory and signed a heads of agreement with the US prior to being ‘unelected’ by his electorate.

Was Howard (and now Bob Hawke) guaranteeing that the geology of inland Australia will remain stable and above water for 250,000 years? Was he guaranteeing it for 50 years? For 10 years?

France’s most recent nuclear dump in Champagne has reportedly begun to leak, after 10 years. The nuclear dump at La Hague has been leaking into the groundwater for some years.3

The shift of the traditionally nuclear nervous Labour Party’s towards increasing uranium mining and and the fact that no announcement has been made over the proposed nuclear dump means that it is still on the agenda, though in the nature of such things, more long- than shortterm.

The nuclear industry can afford to wait as profits will be immense.

Will the company that builds these dumps guarantee their work for 100,000 years? For 1000 years? For 100 years? For 20 years?

And when something needs to be fixed, will that company that made the massive profits from constructing and running the power plants (largely from taxpayer subsidies) still be there to fix it? Not likely.

We have see how building products manufacturer Hardies have tried to duck and weave from their obligations regarding asbestos and their workers dead and dying from mesothelioma, even attempting to move their business off shore out of reach of Australian courts.

Finally they were forced to set aside a sum of money, and now, mid 2009, it seems that sum has dwindled and they are unable to meet obligations.

What is to stop whichever corporations make the nuclear profits and who store their waste in leaking containers from dissolving themselves prior to having to pay to make repairs?]

So in effect we are sentencing the next 10,000 generations of Australians to possibly having to deal with a dump of the most toxic and dangerous substances in existence.

It may well be that in the future people will be less energy rich than we are, and may not be able to afford repairing nuclear dumps that arose from our short-sightedness.

Originally published in Kindred magazine, issue 21, March 07

Postscript August 2014.

Bob Hawke has recently restarted his campaign to offer Australia as this kind of nuclear dump, in particular in the remote areas of the Northern Territory, as a way to earn income nationally and in particularly for the Indigenous communities.

And he will guarantee these places will be safe, for 100,000 years? Will this insanity ever end? 

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1. Dr Helen Caldicott. Nuclear Power is not the Answer to Global Warming or Anything Else
2. Lateline interview with Tim Flannery, ABC TV, 7/2/07
3. Greepeace. The nuclear waste crisis in France