Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission press conference, Adelaide, 17 April 2015
Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission press conference, Adelaide, 17 April 2015

The Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission is an independent inquiry into South Australia's future role in the nuclear fuel cycle. It commenced on 19 March 2015 and is expected to report its findings to the Government of South Australia no later than 6 May 2016. The commissioner is former Governor of South Australia, Kevin Scarce.

Background

Uranium-bearing ore from the Olympic Dam mine
Uranium-bearing ore from the Olympic Dam mine

Uranium was refined at and exported from Port Pirie[1] to the United States of America and Great Britain for military purposes under a seven year supply contract during the Cold War. Premier Thomas Playford also envisaged a nuclear power plant to provide between 100 and 400 megawatts of power to the upper Spencer Gulf region by 1958, but the idea was never realised. The state's history in uranium mining dates from the early 20th century when radium was the original target at Radium Hill.[2]

The State is also the birth-place of Australia's anti-nuclear movement, in which paediatrician Dr Helen Caldicott took a leading role at its genesis in the 1970s. Modern uranium mining commenced in South Australia in the 1980s with the development of the Olympic Dam mine - a controversial project which was met with waves of public opposition during its original development and later periods of expansion.

With the development of in-situ leach (ISL) mining, South Australia's uranium mining sector expanded and as of 2015, the state hosts four of Australia's five uranium mines - Olympic Dam (the state's only underground uranium mine), Honeymoon, Four Mile and Beverley.[3]

In 1998-1999, a company called Pangea Resources proposed a nuclear waste repository in central Australia. The proposal was successfully opposed by the anti-nuclear movement and state legislation was enacted in 2000 prohibiting the development of such a facility in both South Australia and Western Australia. Pangea Resources was a joint venture involving British Nuclear Fuels Limited, Golder Associates and Swiss radioactive waste management entity, Nagra.

In May 2000, a protest opposing the Beverley uranium mine created controversy when a group of protesters were assaulted with capsicum spray and batons, and were falsely imprisoned in a shipping container by the South Australia Police. The matter was ultimately decided in the Supreme Court in April 2010, where Supreme Court Justice Timothy Anderson ruled in favour of a group of ten plaintiffs and awarded combined damages of $724,550.[4]

At a meeting of the South Australian Resources Industry Development Board on December 7, 2001, its members held a discussion facilitated by Rebecca Lang of PIRSA. They discussed what the minutes describe as a "negative image of (the mining) industry in SA.... [and a] need for community support." Defining the public as a "target" the board asked questions including "How much of the problem in SA is due to uranium? Why is mining a dirty word?" The discussion also posed questions about the need to identify and work with "key opinion leaders in the community to advance its image" and to "influence the young." The role of the media was also discussed, as was the role of "chardonnay" demographics.[5]

Uranium oxide (also known as yellowcake) is produced on site at Beverley, Honeymoon and Olympic Dam and exported via Port Adelaide. The export pathway is also open to future Western Australian uranium mines and is the subject of ongoing community opposition.[6] Prospective uranium mine developers in Western Australia include Toro Energy and Paladin Energy.

As of 2015, Honeymoon and Beverley mines are in care and maintenance mode,[7][8] and the state is undergoing a period of economic contraction. The Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission seeks to study and consider the risks and benefits of expanding South Australia's role in the nuclear fuel cycle, which includes uranium enrichment, spent fuel reprocessing, nuclear waste storage and nuclear power generation.

Legislation

Expansion of Australia's role in the nuclear fuel cycle, with the exception of uranium mining and milling, is currently prohibited under section 10 of the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act 1998 and repeated in section 140 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. State legislation also prohibits nuclear waste storage and transportation within South Australia.

The objects of the Nuclear Waste Storage Facility (Prohibition) Act 2000 are "to protect the health, safety and welfare of the people of South Australia and to protect the environment in which they live by prohibiting the establishment of certain nuclear waste storage facilities in this State." As such, the Act prohibits the:

  1. Construction or operation of a nuclear waste storage facility
  2. Importation or transportation of nuclear waste for delivery to a nuclear waste storage facility[9]

History

Pretext

2005 – Olympic Dam mine expansion plan

When the multi-national resources company BHP Billiton acquired WMC Resources in 2005, the company obtained control of the world's largest single known deposit of uranium- the Olympic Dam mine in the far north of South Australia. BHP Billiton made its successful bid for WMC Resources in March 2005 and the offer was accepted by the ACCC in April.[10] BHP Billiton was not the only resources company to express interest in the project. Xstrata had made prior takeover bids in late 2004,[11] and French state-run nuclear industrial company Areva had entered into what were rumoured to be partnership discussions with WMC Resources in February.[12]

The Olympic Dam mine had operated as an underground mine since the 1980s, producing copper, uranium, gold and silver at onsite processing facilities. After the acquisition, BHP Billiton began to plan what would become a proposed $30 billion expansion project, involving the excavation of a new open cut mine within the existing Special Mining Lease. The expansion plan was expected to be a boon to the South Australian economy- forecast to generate an estimated 23,000 direct and indirect jobs. Major new infrastructure would need to be constructed to facilitate the expansion, including a new airport at Olympic Dam, a rail link, a seawater desalination plant at Point Lowly, a barge-landing facility near Port Augusta and a worker village near Andamooka.

The company's access to the Government of South Australia was enhanced by the formation of the Olympic Dam Task Force in 2006, which has since served as a single entry-point for the company's interactions with the state.[13] BHP Billiton also began to develop relationships with scientific and academic institutions with the objective of facilitating relevant technical, environmental and policy research.

The possible future prospect of nuclear power in Australia was discussed on the ABC TV program Stateline in February 2005. Phil Sutherland from the South Australian Chamber of Commerce said on the program:

"Uranium, as a commodity, has been the victim over a lot of years of a lot of mythology, a lot of misinformation and a lot of fear. We say let’s get the debate under way and let’s start discussing it and making decisions at all levels, community and government, based on good science."

Colin Keay, a physicist from the University of Newcastle told Stateline:

"Australia is ideally situated to use nuclear power. We have all the resources. We have a country where our geological stability is such that we can deal with the waste products... If Australia went seriously nuclear it would be an excellent state in which to have a nuclear industry, going from the enrichment processes right through to the fuel fabrication, on through to reprocessing of the final waste."

Hugh Possingham from the University of Queensland raised concerns about biodiversity loss due to climate change impacts, and expressed support for nuclear power saying that "nuclear power doesn’t seem to have major consequences for biodiversity. So, on that aspect, nuclear power would certainly be better than fossil fuels." He also said that while he favoured nuclear over coal-fired electricity generation, he would rather see investment in renewable energy sources. David Noonan, anti-nuclear campaigner for the Australian Conservation Foundation also expressed support for investment in renewable energy generation and in energy efficiency measures. He also described the nuclear debate in Australian as "misleading" due to a lack of discussion of the health risks related to nuclear accidents, and the threat of nuclear weapons proliferation. He told Stateline:

"Nuclear is never going to be an answer. Certainly there’ll be no nuclear power in Australia in the future."[14]

2006 – Australian Nuclear Energy & the Switkowski review

Prime Minister John Howard (2006)
Prime Minister John Howard (2006)

On 1 June 2006, a company called Australian Nuclear Energy was registered with three prominent Australian businessmen as major shareholders: Robert Champion de Crespigny (former Chancellor of the University of Adelaide), Ron Walker (former Lord Mayor of Melbourne) and Hugh Morgan (former director of Western Mining Corporation). Prime Minister John Howard supported the formation of the company, describing it as a "great idea".[15] Five days after the company was registered, the Federal Howard Government established the Switkowski review into nuclear energy. The report of its findings supported uranium mining and nuclear power but argued against expansion into other stages of the nuclear fuel cycle.[16] In 2007, the media revealed that Australian Nuclear Energy had investigated the viability of building a 20-50 megawatt pilot plant in the upper Spencer Gulf area, at a cost of $70–150 million, and had spoken to American company GE about supplying a nuclear reactor.[15] South Australian Premier Mike Rann responded to news of the investigation by saying:

"It won't be built in this state while I am the Premier or Labor is in power... read my lips, no nuclear power plant in South Australia."[15]

Australian Nuclear Energy's project remained at concept stage and no further proposal was made. The nuclear power generation prohibitions under the EPBC Act 1999 remained unchanged.

2007 – Three mines policy ends

In April 2007, the Labor party voted at their national conference to abandon their "three mines" policy. The policy had previously restricted Australia to a total of three operating uranium mines at any given time. The vote was only won by a narrow margin- 205 to 190. Ministers Peter Garrett and Anthony Albanese remained outspokenly opposed to the decision due to the unresolved problems of nuclear waste storage and nuclear weapons proliferation. The abolition allowed the development of the Honeymoon and Four Mile uranium mines, which officially commenced production in 2011 and 2014 respectively.[17]

At a working dinner of the South Australian Minerals & Petroleum Expert Group (SAMPEG), the opening address by the Minister for Mineral Resources Development Paul Holloway responded to the result of the vote. It was recorded in the meeting's minutes thus:

"The narrow vote in the recent scrapping of the no new mines policy made apparent the amount of ignorance there is present regarding uranium. It will now be a challenge for the SAMPEG group to address the lack of knowledge in both the public and government... SAMPEG can now make sure the world is aware that South Australia is open for business in regards to uranium."

At the same meeting, the SAMPEG Chair Dr Ian Gould spoke on uranium. The minutes reflect:

"SAMPEG should consider that the public doesn't understand the industry and members could directly contribute to the continued enhancement of resources information in this state. Information has never been presented in relatively simple terms to the public. A lot of people at a Ministerial level still don't understand uranium. As a group, SAMPEG could play a role in talking to colleagues of Minister Holloway about the uranium business. This could lead to converting those at a Minister level to become ambassadors themselves. The more ambassadors we can bring on board the better off the industry will be."[18]

In April 2008 the Australian Uranium Association expressed its view that in facing the challenges of climate change, consideration needed to be given to the role of nuclear power. The association wrote in its 2008 submission to the Australian Government's Garnaut Climate Change Review:

"The conditions for the development of nuclear power in Australia would require an alignment between the views of the major political parties towards nuclear power or, at least, the absence of outright rejection to enable a debate to continue; greater public support and acceptance; the necessary policy and regulatory infrastructure; and a commitment to develop the necessary skill base. None of those conditions is currently being met."[19]

2009 – UCL Australia is established, Jack Snelling visits AREVA

In 2009 an Australian campus of the University College London (UCL Australia) was established in Adelaide, beginning with a new School of Energy Resources. Two new entities at the University of Adelaide were also established: the Institute for Mineral and Energy Resources (IMER) and the Environment Institute. All three entities would go on to receive substantial funding from or enter into research partnerships with BHP Billiton. That year, BHP Billiton published an extensive Environmental Impact Statement for the Olympic Dam mine expansion project, making it available for public comment.

AREVA nuclear fuel reprocessing plant - La Hague, France (2008)
AREVA nuclear fuel reprocessing plant - La Hague, France (2008)

The Speaker of the Mike Rann government in South Australia, Jack Snelling, undertook a parliamentary tour in 2009 to established nuclear industrial facilities in France. It included visits made to a spent fuel reprocessing facility in La Hague and a nuclear power plant at Flamanville. Snelling returned to South Australia impressed by what his hosts Areva had shown him, and wrote in his report:

"It was clear to me that a nuclear industry can exist side-by-side agricultural and environmental industries. Normandy, where we visited, exports high-end foods around the world. It is not affected by its high dependence on nuclear power and the processing of spent fuel rods. South Australia's uranium deposits have the potential to transform our state economically. It is clear that the demand for electricity in the region will continue to grow and South Australia is well placed to take advantage of this."[20]

Snelling's report showed his sympathy for the nuclear industry. He stated:

"The nuclear industry is one which is often maligned through the promulgation of out-dated and incorrect information, particularly those associated with the environmental and health effects of nuclear power and reprocessing. Criticism of nuclear energy is also often fuelled in emotive terms that avoid discussion on current nuclear generation."[20]

Snelling ultimately recommended "that South Australia continues to expand uranium mining and exploration in this State and that we consider new ways of taking advantage of the increasing use of nuclear energy in the Asian region." He also met with Bill Muirhead, the Agent General for South Australia in London on the same tour.[20]

Raymond Spencer speaks at a CEDA event in Adelaide
Raymond Spencer speaks at a CEDA event in Adelaide

In August 2010, Raymond Spencer was appointed Chair of South Australia's Economic Development Board (EDB). Spencer replaced businessman Bruce Carter in the role,[21] while Carter retained other influential positions elsewhere, including Chair of the Olympic Dam Task Force Steering Committee.[22] Spencer was also appointed to the Executive Committee of Cabinet following his repatriation to South Australia.[21]

2011 – Olympic Dam expansion receives environmental approvals, UCL expands

In May 2011, The Advertiser published a list of the Economic Development Board's five goals. The top-listed objective was to "maximise the immediate and long-term opportunities from the strongly growing resources sector."[21]

In June 2011, University College London signed a five-year $10 million partnership with BHP Billiton to establish the International Energy Policy Institute (IEPI) in Adelaide (at UCL Australia) and an Institute for Sustainable Resources in London.[23][24] The IEPI was created to address challenges of complexity and sensitivity in the energy policy field through intensive research. Professor Stefaan Simons was appointed the inaugural BHP Billiton Chair of Energy Policy.[25] Prior to his appointment at UCL Australia, Simons worked in Kazakhstan (the world's largest producer of uranium) where he established the School of Engineering at Nazarbayev University, Astana. Simons' research areas at UCL Australia have included: adding value to energy resources (including the economics of uranium enrichment in Australia),[26] climate policy impacts and "energy epidemiology".[27]

In October 2011 the Olympic Dam mine expansion plan received both South Australian and Federal environmental approvals necessary for the project to proceed.[28]

The following month, the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) published a policy perspective document entitled Australia's nuclear options which provided a platform for five nuclear industrial advocates (Barry Brook, Anthony Owen, Tom Quirk, Tony Wood and Tony Irwin) to express their views. In the document's preface, CEDA's Chief Executive Stephen Martin wrote:

"What we need now is political leadership from all sides to allow a rational debate, not one based on vested interests, ideological views or out-dated information or technology, but on current and projected technological or economic options available."[29]

Also in November 2011, Timothy Stone, speaking as a future Visiting Professor to UCL Australia, supported Prime Minister Julia Gillard's decision to open discussions regarding exports of Australian uranium to India. Stone also called for Australia to enrich its uranium for sale, rather than simply exporting barrels of yellowcake. He told The Australian:

"It's almost a moral issue: How could you not look at the value of what's being given away?"

An unnamed spokeswoman from BHP Billiton said that if the Federal Government changed its policy to allow uranium enrichment, the company would review its policy. UCL Australia's Chief Executive David Travers also announced that Timothy Stone would lead research the nuclear fuel cycle at the International Energy Policy Institute in Adelaide, commencing in 2012.[30]

2012 – Olympic Dam mine expansion is deferred, AREVA office is established

In April 2012, Dr Ian Gould gave a speech at the South Australian Resources, Energy and Infrastructure Conference (SAREIC) in which he referred to a long term plan to develop new industries facilitated by the expansion of the Olympic Dam mine. He said:

"Only months ago, we saw the signing of a long term State Indenture Agreement for the expansion of Olympic Dam, incorporating some tricky issues for the State and the company. These include balancing the cash flow implications of years of billion dollar spends before the new ore is accessed with the need for benefits from the operation to be extended into the wider community. The longer term challenge is to use the opportunity to build new industries, just as Broken Hill did in the last two centuries. These are questions the Economic Development Board is currently pondering."[31]

In June 2012, Professor Barry Brook advocated in the media for nuclear power in Australia, including recommending the use of small modular nuclear reactors to power remote mining operations. Premier Jay Weatherill was asked about the Government's position on nuclear power, to which he responded:

"It doesn't represent the policy of this Government. Leaving aside the broader objections, there is a practical, financial objective that means that nuclear power for South Australia is unlikely to be viable."[32]

In August 2012, BHP Billiton announced that it was deferring the expansion of the Olympic Dam mine, due to economic circumstances.[33] The South Australian treasury, led by Treasurer Jack Snelling, announced anticipated reductions in employment and payroll taxes in response to the mine expansion decision.[34]

Mike Rann, having resigned from his position as Premier of South Australia in October 2011 was appointed to the position of Australian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom in August 2012.[35]

Areva Resources' office - Wayville, South Australia (2015)
Areva Resources' office - Wayville, South Australia (2015)

The uranium exploration and development company AREVA Resources Pty Ltd established an Australian office in Wayville, an inner city suburb of Adelaide in 2012.[36] The company is a subsidiary of Areva Mines, France (formerly Afmeco Mining and Exploration Pty Ltd).[37] Areva in France had previously hosted several South Australian politicians on separate parliamentary tours of their nuclear industrial facilities, including a Federal delegation led by Rowan Ramsey,[38][39] and State delegations led by Jack Snelling (in 2009)[20] and Duncan McFetridge (in 2006).[40]

2013 – Nuclear industrial advocacy intensifies

On 4 April 2013, Dr Ian Gould addressed attendees of the annual South Australian Minerals and Petroleum Expert Group Opinion Leaders Dinner, encouraging attendees, who had been selected from a broad range of sectors of business, government and the community, to serve as ambassadors for the resources sector. He told attendees that SAMPEG's "independent view is much in line with that expressed by the Premier" who was also present at the occasion. Gould described the "deep and covered resources in the Gawler [Craton]... [where] Olympic Dam-type resource “elephants” are still to be discovered" as a competitive advantage for the state, and said of the Olympic Dam mine expansion project:

"it is still one of the best ore bodies on the planet... BHP Billiton have the incentive and financial commitment and we have a lot of capability to develop enabling technology for OD."

In his speech, Gould also appealed for the establishment of a new Centre of Excellence to serve the resources sector.[41] On 11 June, the establishment of a new Mining and Petroleum Services Centre of Excellence was announced by the Government of South Australia in partnership with Santos and BHP Billiton. At the time of the announcement, BHP Billiton had committed $10 million to funding "education, training and research activities through the Centre to enhance South Australia's capacity to meet the challenges of deep mining and processing."[42] In May 2013, former Victorian Premier Steve Bracks was announced as appointee to the position of Australia's Consul-General in New York. Bracks had spoken against the prospect of nuclear power in Australia while serving as Premier during 2007. Following revelations that a company called Australian Nuclear Energy was looking into the feasibility of a nuclear power plant near Portland, Victoria, he had told the media:

"I think it's a flawed method of tackling climate change... Certainly in Victoria's case, we will not be supporting any nuclear power regeneration or any nuclear power enrichment in this state."[43]

The Coalition threatened to review Bracks' appointment to Consul-General in New York, should they win the Federal election.[44] On 9 September 2013, Bracks was informed by Foreign Minister-elect Julie Bishop that he would be replaced in the role.[45] The sacking was one of the first acts of the newly elected coalition government, led by Tony Abbott.[46]

On 25 July 2013, Professor Stefaan Simons, the BHP Billiton Chair of Energy Policy at UCL Australia posed the question: Is it time for nuclear energy for Australia? and went on to discuss the prospect of a domestic nuclear power industry for Australia at the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE) conference in Sydney. The conference was dedicated to nuclear science and engineering and was entitled Nuclear power for Australia?[47]

In August 2013, Simons continued his nuclear advocacy by publishing a discussion paper which posed the question: What would it take for Australia to develop a nuclear submarine capability? Simons pointed out that in many other countries, nuclear industrial development started with military applications, and later, extended to civil applications. The green paper also pointed out that there was a global shortage of nuclear regulatory personnel, stating that:

"In practice, the primary training ground for many potential recruits into nuclear safety inspectorates is a nuclear submarine engineering force. The existing nuclear regulatory bodies in Australia would benefit in the long run from the use of [nuclear-powered submarines] by the Royal Australian Navy."[48]

On 18 August, Simons advocated again, this time for the establishment of a uranium enrichment industry in South Australia. He told The Advertiser that "an Australian nuclear enrichment industry, depending on the scale, could generate up to $4 billion of investment (from one plant), 600 construction jobs and provide up to 400 new permanent jobs over the next 30 years. And a similar number of decommissioning jobs."[49]

Tony Wood, Energy Program Director at the Grattan Institute
Tony Wood, Energy Program Director at the Grattan Institute

The following night, Simons hosted Federal Shadow Minister for Climate Action, Environment and Heritage Greg Hunt at a Grattan Institute event in Adelaide. Hunt outlined the coalition's climate change strategy and the conversation was chaired by the Institute's Energy Program Director, Tony Wood.[50] The Grattan Institute's foundation partners were BHP Billiton ($4 million), the Australian Government ($15 million) and the Government of Victoria ($15 million).[51] Simons receives funding from BHP Billiton.[47]

Bill Muirhead, the Agent General for South Australia in London also engaged in nuclear industrial advocacy. In July 2013, he told The Advertiser:

"As a state with an estimated 40 per cent of the world's known deposits of uranium, it makes sense for South Australia to be striving to become the world experts on nuclear power... Given these vast deposits and that South Australia is one of the most stable places in the world geologically and politically, it could be argued we have a responsibility to ensure the safe disposal of the nuclear waste our uranium produces.''[52]

The Office of the Agent General for South Australia in London is managed by the Government of South Australia under the Department of the Premier & Cabinet. It officially works as a single point of contact to:

In December 2013, The Independent wrote of Muirhead that "he explains, with surprising earnestness, how he is banging the drum for foreign investment in everything from defence to mining."[54] Senior government sources told The Advertiser that Muirhead is one of only a few agency officials to have direct access to Premier Jay Weatherill.[55]

In The Advertiser's July 2013 list of the Top 100 ideas to grow South Australia, Bill Muirhead's idea was listed at number one. He suggested that SA should "develop a nuclear research and disposal facility to help address the greatest environmental and economic challenge of our time." Also appearing on the list was David Travers, Chief Executive of UCL Australia who said that SA should "embrace the nuclear debate". Travers had previously worked under Muirhead from 2007 to 2010 as the Deputy Agent General for South Australia in London.[56] Chris Burns from the Defence Teaming Centre said "we need to open our eyes to the nuclear industry. We should be digging it up, leasing it to the world and bringing it back for burial."[52]

2013 – Holden closure in 2017 is announced

In December 2013, South Australia's economic prospects suffered again with the announcement that General Motors Holden would be closing their Australian operations in 2017. University of Adelaide economic expert John Spoehr told The Advertiser that assistance of at least $1 billion would be required to stave off long-term hardship in Adelaide’s northern suburbs. He described the area as already suffering "recessionary conditions".[57]

The Governor of South Australia, Kevin Scarce, began working with a number of business entities on a project entitled Shaping the Future of South Australia. The project was initiated by CEDA[58] with Foundation Partners BankSA, South Australia's Economic Development Board, the Department of State Development, Flinders University and KPMG.[59]

In early February 2014, Premier Jay Weatherill expressed his opposition to nuclear industrial development, describing it as "a dangerous distraction". Leader of the Opposition Steven Marshall suggested that expanding the industry would require bipartisan support, and for the government to take the lead. He described it as "a potential for the future" and speculated that "it would be a long way off."[60] The same month, Business SA, South Australia's Chamber of Commerce, published a document entitled Charter for a prosperous South Australia. The document made a number of recommendations, including a specific path of action to be taken with respect to nuclear industrialization. Recommendation 5.3 stated that Business SA should:

"Lead the debate of a nuclear energy industry in South Australia to take advantage of the State’s significant uranium resources (which amount to approximately 24% of the world’s supply). South Australia must have an informed debate on the costs, benefits and risks associated with establishing each component of the nuclear industry ranging from uranium enrichment and fuel rod manufacturing through to energy generation and waste storage. A State Government initiated debate should begin in 2014 with the aim of introducing a pilot project for either uranium enrichment or nuclear waste storage."

The Charter also detailed its recommendation, stating that "South Australia could start by investigating potential sites for nuclear waste storage in remote and geographically sound areas or examine the possibility of uranium enrichment, which is another form of value adding to our raw uranium."[61] Business SA had advocated for consideration of the expansion of the nuclear industry in South Australia for years.[62]

2014 – Shaping the future of South Australia

On 21 March 2014, the Energy Policy Institute of Australia held the Energy State of the Nation forum in Sydney. The theme for the 2014 forum was "Defining the Australian Energy Vision". A section of presentations entitled The Future Energy Mix featured a keynote address by Dr Peter Lyons, Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy, Office of Nuclear Energy, US Department of Energy. The address was entitled: US nuclear policy and activities- domestically and abroad.[63]

In his presentation, Dr Peter Lyons listed the following US Department of Energy programs as being relevant to Australia:[64]

Also presenting at the event was Chris Greig, director of the Energy Initiative at the University of Queensland. He listed regulation, public acceptance and cost as barriers to the development of nuclear power in Australia.[65] Martin Ferguson and the Chief Executive Officer of ANSTO, Dr Adi Paterson also spoke at the event.[63] Ferguson had spoken previously at the event in 2012 and 2013.[66]

In May 2014, former Liberal Senator Nick Minchin commenced service as Australia's Consul-General in New York.[67] Minchin was one of several successive ministers who attempted to establish a nuclear waste repository in South Australia under John Howard's leadership between 1998 and 2004. According to anti-nuclear activist Jim Green, Minchin had said of nuclear power:

"It would be impossible to get any sort of consensus in this country around the management of the high-level waste a nuclear reactor would produce.''[68]

In his valedictory Senate speech, delivered in June 2011, Minchin reflected on his work as the only Commonwealth minister to have held responsibility for the entire nuclear fuel cycle. He said:

"During those exciting three years, I approved the Beverley uranium mine in my home state of South Australia, I commissioned a replacement nuclear research reactor at Lucas Heights, and it was my job to identify the central north of South Australia as the site for a national radioactive waste repository."

Alexander Downer
Alexander Downer

Minchin also acknowledged the political support of Alexander Downer, who had first appointed him to the coalition's front bench.[69] In June 2014, former Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs Alexander Downer replaced Mike Rann as the Australian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom. While serving as the Premier of South Australia, Mike Rann legislated against the importation and storage of nuclear waste in South Australia and expressed staunch opposition to nuclear industrial expansion. He told the ABC in 2007:

"They've got zero chance of building a nuclear power plant in South Australia while I'm the Premier of South Australia, and while Labor is in power."[70]

Rann reinforced the sentiment in 2011, adding "you won't see a uranium enrichment plant on my watch."[71] Rann and Downer hold opposing views on issues of nuclear waste storage and nuclear industrialisation; the latter being an outspoken advocate for nuclear power in Australia.

The full Shaping the Future of South Australia report was published by KPMG on behalf of the Foundation Partners on 1 August 2014 and was presented to SA's Economic Development Board. The report included a summary of the results of a survey which received 333 responses. In free-text sections, some respondents suggested that energy reform was desirable and that "nuclear energy and research" was an industry which could contribute to the state's future prosperity.[72] Kevin Scarce then presented the Shaping the Future of South Australia report to the Government of South Australia and to the Opposition.[58]

At the time, Scarce expressed an urgent desire to stimulate the economy. He told The Advertiser:

"We need bold action, there’s no doubt about it. We have a low rate of growth and a high rate of unemployment and in two to three years’ time, a significant part of our advanced manufacturing sector is going to go."[58]

Premier Jay Weatherill
Premier Jay Weatherill

On 11 August 2014, Premier Jay Weatherill announced South Australia's top ten economic priorities at a CEDA event held in Adelaide. The state's top economic priority was declared to be "unlocking the full potential of South Australia's resources, energy and renewable assets."[73]

On 4 November 2014 the Energy Policy Institute of Australia made a submission to the Australian Government's Energy Green Paper. Their submission referred to prohibitions of nuclear industrial development as "discriminatory" and made the follow statement regarding nuclear power:

"The Institute sees no reason why regulatory approval for future nuclear power development could not be entrusted to the well-regarded Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Authority (ARPANSA), supplemented by community representation. This would provide investors with an avenue to seek regulatory approval of the latest nuclear power technology on its merits and would enable investors to carry out technical research and economic and technical feasibility studies with a certain degree of confidence... The government’s role should be to sanction a trustworthy regulatory framework in which nuclear power development can be evaluated on its economic, technical, environmental and social merits."

In a footnote, the submission noted that there is currently an excess of generation capacity on Australia's electricity grids, but that this should not limit the prospective deployment of "the latest high-safety, small modular reactors (SMRs) in regional cities and in major mining and industrial locations."[74] On 24 November 2014, Kevin Scarce presented the annual Investigator Lecture at Flinders University. His talk was entitled Divided we fall: Finding a shared vision for South Australia’s economic transformation[75] and a brief question and answer session with the audience followed. The Commissioner was asked if he believed that there were opportunities for South Australia in alternative energy generation, particularly in wind and solar technology, to which he replied:

"I think there are opportunities... but I'd like to see a discussion on something that hasn't had a lot of airtime, because I simply don't know whether this industry is capable of providing South Australia with the sorts of jobs, long term jobs, with jobs and income... whether that can be achieved safely with the new-style reactors. I guess what I want to see is preparedness for us to discuss the difficult issues, so that we are informed, and that we do get an opportunity to look at it. I've seen some tables about the cost of various energy options. Let's get them out, let's understand what they are. I'm not just an advocate for nuclear industry- I'm an advocate for looking at everything that we do in this state to see what might be a sustainable opportunity for the future- not just sweeping things under the carpet because they're politically sensitive or it's not, you know, in our party manifesto. Let's trust the people of South Australia to engage in a mature debate on these issues."[76]

In December 2014, two months prior to the announcement of the Royal Commission, Kevin Scarce spoke at an event organized by the South Australian Chamber of Mines and Energy. He said at the event:

"Why we haven’t looked at the nuclear option much more systematically I will never understand... We’ve got 30 per cent of the world’s resources here and it employs 1200 people nationally, its contribution to GDP is minimal.”[77]

Later that month, the publication of UCL Australia's 2014 Annual Report revealed that Dr Timothy Stone and Dr Michel Berthelemy had been undertaking a research project in 2014 entitled Nuclear fuel cycle strategies. With reference to Australia as a major uranium producing country, the description of the research read:

"This project is considering international strategies to manage the nuclear fuel cycle with particular focus on international options to improve nuclear waste management. One of these options could include nuclear fuel leasing, whereby a uranium producer country, such as Australia, could lease its uranium and recover spent fuel material at the end of the nuclear fuel cycle. We argue that such a proposal could present economic benefits and improve non-proliferation regime, but, clearly would be difficult to implement due to current laws and political opposition."

Also during 2014, UCL Australia student Owen Sharpe undertook a Masters dissertation[78] which aimed "to develop a legal and regulatory model for the establishment of a commercial Australian global Nuclear Fuel Leasing program." Sharpe posed the question: "what will be required to overcome the legal and regulatory barriers to Australian nuclear fuel leasing?" and was supervised by Katelijn Van Hende from UCL and Julia Dnistrianski from Finlaysons Lawyers in his work.[79] In February 2015, Sharpe, also a lawyer and commerce graduate, was employed as a Graduate Commercial Officer at the Department of State Development.

2014 – Government appointments and sackings

Former Deputy Agent General Matt Johnson returned to Adelaide in 2014 to take the position of Executive Director, Investment, Trade and Strategic Projects at the Department of State Development. At Kevin Scarce's Investigator Lecture event, Johnson received a Distinguished Alumni Award from Flinders University in recognition of his professional achievements and service to both university and state.[75] While posted in the UK, Johnson worked under Agent General Bill Muirhead, an avocate for nuclear power in Australia.

Kym Winter-Dewhirst speaks for BHP Billiton (2012)
Kym Winter-Dewhirst speaks for BHP Billiton (2012)

In January 2015, Kym Winter-Dewhirst commenced public service in the position of Chief Executive of the Department of the Premier & Cabinet. Winter-Dewhirst has a long professional history with the Olympic Dam mine project, which produces uranium oxide, the raw input material for nuclear fuel.

Winter-Dewhirst previously worked for WMC Resources as manager of government relations, and remained with the project after WMC was aquired by BHP Billiton. Under BHP Billiton, Winter-Dewhirst's senior executive positions have included Vice President External Affairs - Uranium Customer Sector Group and Vice President Government and Community Relations Olympic Dam. In his role as Vice President External Affairs he briefed the Minister of BHP Billiton's intention to undertake heap leaching mineral processing trials at Olympic Dam.[80] Federal environmental approval was granted for trials to proceed on 29 August 2014.[81] On 5 September, it was announced that Kym Winter-Dewhirst would be appointed to Chief Executive of the Department of Premier and Cabinet and that he would assume the role in early 2015.[82]

In January 2015 Winter-Dewhirst was responsible for the sacking of 11 executives within the Department of Premier and Cabinet.[83] Critics felt the process was unnecessarily brutal, with at least one marched from the building “like a criminal about to confront the gallows”. Winter-Dewhirst told staff that a new Executive Committee (ExCo) would meet in February “with a focus on business planning, delivery measurement and reporting, as well as embedding our values.”[84] The message was delivered via email.[85] Premier Jay Weatherill referred to Winter-Dewhirst's restructuring as helping to create an "engine room of policy" stating that "it was his decision, not my decision, but I fully support it.”[86]

Inquiry begins (2015)

Kevin Scarce (2015)
Commissioner Scarce answering a question in relation to the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission at a public forum held at Bonython Hall, 22 May 2015

In February 2015, Premier Jay Weatherill announced that the Government of South Australia would be undertaking a Royal Commission to investigate South Australia's potential future role in the nuclear fuel cycle. The Terms of Reference for the commission were set following two rounds of public submissions which were subsequently published on the Government of South Australia's YourSAy website.[87] The Terms of Reference were finalised on the 19th of March.[88] Former South Australian Governor Kevin Scarce was announced as Royal Commissioner on 9 February.[89] On 1 March 2015 ABC Radio National broadcast a speech by Oscar Archer, a chemist from Adelaide and editor of the pro-nuclear blog The Actinide Age.[90] Archer responded to the announcement of the Royal Commission, beginning by expressing his concerns about the contribution of carbon emissions from other means of electricity generation on climate change. He told Ockham's Razor:

"Australia needs a new, clean economical form of power... we need a revolutionary way of doing energy. That way is IFS plus IFR- Intermediate Fuel Storage and Integral Fast Reactor. Namely the commercially offered PRISM breeder reactor from General Electric Hitachi. The concept was brought to my attention by my friend, Ben Heard."

Archer described a nuclear industrial development plan in detail, involving:

  1. the establishment of a repository for spent nuclear fuel
  2. the development of a fleet of integral fast reactors to demonstrate the recycling of spent fuel "for zero carbon energy"
  3. funding from "international partners" who would pay for Australia's services

Archer claimed that such a scheme would be "revenue neutral at the outset" even given the worst case scenario. He also claimed that the plan would negate the need for long-term storage on "science-fiction timescales" and would boost the rapid development of Generation III+ nuclear reactors as energy production market share shifts from coal to nuclear. The vision Archer described involves PRISM reactors supplying nuclear power in Australia, fueled by the spent nuclear fuel Australia could receive from international customers. Australia's uranium mining sector would continue to supply fuel for nuclear reactors worldwide, under a Nuclear Fuel Leasing model. Archer encouraged listeners to consider nuclear power advocate Terry Krieg's earlier efforts on ABC Radio National to address "misinformation" regarding nuclear industrial safety. Archer called for the revision of laws and regulations which prohibit the development of nuclear industries in Australia, saying "we must level the clean energy playing field." Archer claims the plan presents "a vast suite of benefits relative to the risks."[91]

Archer's proposal attracted criticism from anti-nuclear activist and commentator Noel Wauchope, who defended Australia's nuclear development prohibitions and raised concerns about the plan's economics stating:[92]

"These laws are not frivolous products of tree huggers – and are there for sound health and environmental reasons. The central premise of Oscar Archer's promotion of this nuclear chain of events is that Australia should go out on a limb – be the first country in the world to import nuclear wastes and to order a mass purchase of PRISM reactors... Now who is going to take that financial risk? He must mean the Australian government - because for sure no private investor is going to take that on."

"We are left with a plan that looks suspiciously as if the troubled nuclear industries of USA, Canada and UK have selected Australia as the guinea pig for a plan to reverse their industries' present decline."

Wauchope had previously analysed and written opinion editorials about nuclear industrial advocacy in South Australia, in which she had drawn attention to the efforts of a number of organisations, academics and individuals– among them Ben Heard, Barry Brook, Tom Wigley, Stefaan Simons and Pamela Sykes.[93] Also in March, the French Ambassador to Australia Christophe Lecourtier travelled to Adelaide from Canberra to meet with Premier Jay Weatherill and discuss the French nuclear industry. The Advertiser also published an except of a letter from Areva's Senior Executive Vice President Olivier Wantz to Weatherill which read:

"Following your recent announcement to hold a royal commission to assess South Australia’s further involvement in the nuclear industry, including power production and the storage of waste, I, on behalf of the AREVA Group, would like to salute this important initiative and offer any assistance you or the Royal Commission may require.’’[94]

On 12 March, Dr Timothy Stone gave a presentation at an event called the SA Nuclear Energy Review, hosted by the Centre for the Economic Development of Australia (CEDA). The event intended to "lead discussion around what a Nuclear Energy future in South Australia could look like and provide opportunity for CEDA members to feed into the Royal Commission into Nuclear Energy."[95] At the event, Stone claimed that nuclear energy was cheaper to generate than renewables, saying:

"When you work out the cost of the electricity over the life of the (nuclear) kit…it is a lot cheaper than the honest number for renewables... If you add the cost of that (production) plus the cost of intermittency support, it’s a lot more expense and this is the issue where we need to get rational conversations.”[96]

On 20 March, Dr Timothy Stone gave a presentation at the Energy State of the Nation forum held by the Energy Policy Institute of Australia in Sydney. His presentation was entitled Challenges for future energy regulation and covered three topics: "Structural changes in energy markets, technological changes including nuclear technology and regulatory responses and accountability including implications for the SA Nuclear Royal Commission."[97] Stone had also presented at the event in 2012, where he explained "the need to delineate an Australia 2030 Energy Sector Balance Sheet as a framework for formulating a national capital mobilisation plan to overcome a looming capital shortage."[98]

Stone's membership of the Royal Commission's Expert Advisory Panel was announced on 17 April, along with four other people: Barry Brook, Leanna Read, John Carlson and Ian Lowe. The announcement was accompanied by the release of the first of four issues papers, written by the Royal Commission's Technical Research team. By May 2015, a complete set of four issues papers had been published and closing dates for formal public submissions had been set for 24 July and 3 August 2015.[99]

The Commission held its first community consultation session in Mount Gambier on 20 April 2015 and held subsequent sessions in ten other South Australian locations, including regional towns, remote communities and the South Australian capital city of Adelaide.[99] In response to community speculation that decisions had already been made about South Australia expanding its role in the nuclear fuel cycle, Commissioner Scarce told The Advertiser:

“I think a lot of people are assuming that this is an outcome that’s already predetermined — it’s not... I don’t know and I’m gathering the data to present a report that will reflect the data and the advice that we’ve gathered over the year. Then the government and political process starts.”[100]

At the first of three Adelaide sessions on 19 May, Scarce told the audience that the commission had no fixed budget, and that he hoped that it would remain in the "single tens" of millions. He said that the budget would be disclosed after negotiating it with the government– a task yet to be undertaken.[101]

At a public community consultation session held at the Mawson Lakes campus of the University of South Australia, Commissioner Scarce confirmed that the four issues papers had been written by the Technical Research Team and were then amended by the Expert Advisory Committee prior to publication. The papers' titles are:[102]

  1. Exploration, Extraction and Milling
  2. Further Processing of Minerals and Manufacture of Materials Containing Radioactive and Nuclear Substances
  3. Electricity Generation from Nuclear Fuels
  4. Management, Storage and Disposal of Waste of Nuclear and Radioactive Wastes

Public Forums

Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission public forum, Bonython Hall, University of Adelaide, 22 May 2015
Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission public forum, Bonython Hall, University of Adelaide, 22 May 2015

Public forums were held around South Australia and were hosted by Commissioner Scarce.[103] The events were supported by Chief of Staff Greg Ward, Senior Communications Officer Adam Smith and Legal counsel, Chad Jacobi. All sessions took place on weekdays and all but two commenced during business hours. Attendance varied from few to dozens of people per session. The largest crowd attended the Bonython Hall session (approximately 300 people).

Date Day Time Place Location
20/04/15 Monday 12:00:00 Mount Gambier City Hall
30/04/15 Thursday 17:30:00 Port Augusta Institute Theatre
01/05/15 Friday 12:00:00 Port Pirie Port Pirie Regional Council Chambers
05/05/15 Tuesday 12:00:00 Berri Berri Town Hall
11/05/15 Monday 11:00:00 Yalata Yalata Social Club
12/05/15 Tuesday 10:30:00 Oak Valley Oak Valley Training Centre
13/05/15 Wednesday 11:00:00 Umuwa Umuwa Training Centre
14/05/15 Thursday 10:30:00 Coober Pedy Italo Australian Miners Club
18/05/15 Monday 12:00:00 Leigh Creek Leigh Creek Tavern
19/05/15 Tuesday 17:30:00 University of South Australia Mawson Lakes Centre (MC1-02)
20/05/15 Wednesday 17:00:00 Flinders University Flinders at Tonsley – Lecture Theatre 1, South Road, Clovelly Park
22/05/15 Friday 13:00:00 Adelaide University Bonython Hall

Independence of inquiry

The NFCRC purports to be independent from government,[104] yet a number of the Commission's staff and members of its Expert Advisory Committee have direct links to the Government of South Australia. Scarce himself is a former Governor of South Australia (2007-2014), and was previously a career-long serviceman for the Royal Australian Navy. After the final community forum in Adelaide, a list of eleven members of the Royal Commission's staff and their potential pecuniary interests was published on the NFCRC's website. It revealed that the Commission's entire legal team of three persons had been employed by the Crown Solicitor's Office of the Attorney General's Department immediately prior to their appointment to the Commission. The Commission's Chief of Staff, Greg Ward, previously worked for Defence SA, following a career in the Royal Australian Navy. Both Scarce and Ward were previously involved with the state's Air Warfare Destroyer naval shipbuilding project.

Investigations

The Commission planned to tour internationally to gather evidence and meet relevant experts. A delegation of three planned to travel to the site of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. Other destinations include the United Kingdom, France, Taiwan and Finland to visit nuclear facilities there, and to Vienna, Austria where the industry's international regulator, the IAEA, is headquartered.[100]

The Commission will investigate the feasibility of small modular reactors, fast neutron reactors and the possibility of thorium-fuelled reactors as part of it enquiry into nuclear energy generation.[105]

A small shipment of nuclear waste is expected to be returned to Australia from France by ship during 2015. The consignment originated from ANSTO at Lucas Heights, and was sent to France for reprocessing. The quantity of waste returned is expected to fill one third of a shipping container. Transport of this waste or its storage within South Australia is currently prohibited by law.[106]

UCL and UniSA to partner in Future Industries institute

On 27 April 2015, the University College London signed a partnership agreement with the University of South Australia to develop teaching and research capacity across science and engineering fields, including minerals processing, advanced manufacturing, "sustainable future energy production" and "protection and care of the environment." A new Future Industries Institute (FII) is to be established at UniSA to which the UCL Faculty of Engineering Sciences will provide support and collaboration. Six five-year Foundation Research Fellows are to be recruited to the FII, funded by UCL. UniSA will support an additional twelve Foundation Fellows- at least half of which will support "outstanding women researchers at early and mid-career levels." The new Director of the FII will hold an honorary professorship at UCL and senior UniSA researcher, Professor Magnus Nyden (formerly of the Ian Wark Research Institute) will take on a seconded role as the Head of Department for UCL Australia. UCL Australia will cease to have a stand-alone presence in South Australia in 2017.[107]

Adelaide hosts nuclear and uranium industry events

The AusIMM held their International Uranium Conference in Adelaide, 9–10 June 2015. Premier Jay Weatherill and Minister Ian Macfarlane were among the keynote speakers. The event was sponsored by Areva and the Government of South Australia was a major partner of the event.[108]

A National Workshop on Nuclear Energy for Australia was held in Adelaide on June 16, presented by CRC CARE. The event included presentations of cases for and against nuclear industrial development in Australia, before focusing on risk and waste management. Among the speakers were: Ben Heard and Daniel Zavattiero (for) and Gavin Mudd and Mark Diesendorf (against).[109] The Royal Commissioner and several members of the Royal Commission's staff were among the event's attendees.

International visits

Information regarding the Commission's international visits is released on the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission's website. Items stricken out in the table below were planned but did not eventuate.

Date Country Appointments Attendees Date disclosed[110]
25 May 2015 Australia Australia
  • Departed Australia for Taiwan
Unknown 1 June 2015
26 May 2015 Taiwan Taiwan Unknown 27 May 2015
27 May 2015 Japan Japan Unknown 27 May 2015
28 May 2015 Japan Japan
  • Site visits to Oarai and Tokai Research & Development Centers with the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA)
  • Meeting with Nuclear Free Mayor (former Mayor of Tokai Village)
Kevin Scarce, Greg Ward, Chad Jacobi,

others unknown

27 May 2015
29 May 2015 Japan Japan Unknown 30 May 2015
30 May 2015 Finland Finland
  • Arrived in Finland
Unknown 1 June 2015
31 May 2015
  • Rest day
Unknown 1 June 2015
1 June 2015 Finland Finland
  • Olkiluoto 3 nuclear power plant project site visit
  • Bus tour of Onkalo nuclear waste repository
  • Visit to Electricity from Uranium scientific exhibition
Unknown 1 June 2015
2 June 2015 Finland Finland
  • Meeting with the Finnish Ministry of Employment and the Economy (MEE)
  • Meeting with the Chairman of FinNuclear
  • Meeting with the Director of the Finnish Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (STUK)
  • Depart Helsinki for Vienna, Austria
Unknown 2 June 2015
3 June 2015 Austria Austria Unknown 3 June 2015
4 June 2015 France France Unknown 5 June 2015
5 June 2015 France France Unknown 5 June 2015
6 June 2015 Unknown
7 June 2015 Unknown
8 June 2015 France France
  • Meeting with the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency to discuss economic modelling and "its role in the forum on stakeholder confidence."
  • Meeting with AREVA to discuss "future nuclear energy demand, barriers to investment in the nuclear fuel cycle and the economics of investment."
  • Discussion of nuclear legislative framework, status of nuclear waste disposal and "information transparency initiatives" with representatives from:
  • Ministry of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy
  • Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN)
  • French national radioactive waste management agency (ANDRA)
  • French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA).
Unknown 10 June 2015
9 June 2015 United Kingdom United Kingdom Unknown 10 June 2015
10 June 2015 United Kingdom United Kingdom
  • Meeting with Prof Robin Grimes, FCO Chief Scientific Advisor.*
  • Meeting with Nuclear Risk Insurers, London
  • Meeting with E3G
  • Meeting with Mark Higson*
  • Meeting with Prof Gordon Mackerron*
Unknown 10 June 2015

*Grimes, Higson and Mackerron's names were deleted from the NFCRC website on 11 June 2015.

11 June 2015 United Kingdom United Kingdom
  • Meeting with Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), Sellafield, to discuss "transportation of nuclear materials within the UK and insurance held by nuclear sites and arrangements for nuclear operators."
  • Meeting to discuss geological waste disposal in the United Kingdom and Canada
Unknown 14 June 2015
12 June 2015 United Kingdom United Kingdom
  • Visit to Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), Sellafield
  • Tour of facilities at Sellafield site, THORP storage facilities, packaged storage facilities and waste processing (WEP plant)
  • Tour of LLW Repository Ltd, Sellafield including low-level waste loading, packaging and storage bunkers
  • Meeting with CORE, Cumbria to discuss the history of spent fuel reprocessing activity at Sellafield, environmental and social impacts and proposals to construct a geological waste disposal facility in the UK
Unknown 14 June 2015

Responses

Appointment of the Commissioner

Following his appointment, Commissioner Scarce was accused of having previously demonstrated a pro-nuclear bias- a claim which he immediately denied.[111] Scarce has no legal training or background, making his appointment to the leading role in a Royal Commission highly unusual.

Submission process

Aboriginal woman Karina Lester and Chief Executive Craig Wilkins of the Conservation Council of South Australia raised concerns that the submission process was unnecessarily complicated. Written submissions were required to be signed by a Justice of the Peace, and Lester and Wilkins argued that this would be particularly difficult for members of regional and remote communities. Lester also pointed out that the language of the Commission's presentations and issues papers made them difficult for aboriginal people to comprehend. Lester drew attention to her father, Yami Lester, who lost his sight after exposure to radioactive fallout from British nuclear weapons tests at Maralinga and Emu Field in the 1950s and 1960s. She told the ABC:

"My father (lives) 27 kilometres west form Marla Bore, (he) doesn't drive, wouldn't have a JP on hand, and would probably need to travel down to Coober Pedy... but he certainly has a story to tell and certainly would love to have input into the Royal Commission."[112]

The Royal Commission responded by agreeing to accept oral submissions in addition to formal written submissions.[113]

Supporters

Barry Brook
Barry Brook

Nuclear power advocates Barry Brook and Ben Heard supported the announcement stating that the debate about nuclear power in Australia has "remained open to distortions, fabrications and fearmongering. Fortunately, such tactics will not withstand the scrutiny of a Royal Commission. As scientists, academics and evidence-based activists, concerned with facts and objective judgement, we welcome this process."[114]

The Office of the Agent General for South Australia, which is managed by the Government of South Australia's Department of the Premier and Cabinet republished an article by Brook and Heard from The Conversation on their website. The article, entitled Nuclear industry can open a world of possibilities, describes the potential benefits of nuclear industrial expansion in South Australia.[115]

Brook was appointed to the Royal Commission's Expert Advisory Committee and announced on 17 April 2015.

The Minerals Council of Australia's uranium portfolio spokesperson, Daniel Zavattiero, expressed support for the Royal Commission on behalf of the industry body.[116] As of 2015, the MCA's Board of Directors includes representatives of three established uranium mining companies (BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto Group and Paladin Energy) and the prospective uranium miner, Toro Energy.[117]

The London-based World Nuclear Association expressed support for the future deployment of nuclear power in Australia and also welcomed the announcement of the Commission, stating:

"[Australia] currently makes no use of nuclear energy to generate electricity, with a law in place prohibiting this. The Royal Commission presents the chance to dispense with this fundamentally outdated and unscientific policy forever."[118]

Senator Sean Edwards responded to the announcement of the Royal Commission by claiming that nuclear industrial development could potentially attract tens of billions of dollars in foreign investment to South Australia. He claimed that the storage of spent nuclear fuel and its processing via fast breeder reactors could effectively create a "special economic zone" with spin-off effects including the potential abolition of $4.4 billion in state taxes and the provision of "free power to SA households".[119] He criticized the anti-nuclear position of the Australian Greens, remarking that "in political battles, the smallest fringe-dwelling minority can make the loudest and most unrepresentative noise, and the Greens are good at that."[120] He later revealed to a Sydney Institute audience that he had been scrutinising a business case for the storage and reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel for two years.[121]

Nuclear industrial interests within Australia also welcomed the announcement of the Commission, including Bruce Hundertmark's venture South Australian Nuclear Energy Systems (SANES), the established laser enrichment and technology company SILEX Systems and small modular reactor start-up, SMR Nuclear Technology (under technical directorship of Tony Irwin). French state-owned nuclear industrial company Areva has also demonstrated their eagerness to support the commission.

Opposition

Following the announcement of the Royal Commission, Ian Lowe from Griffith University (and previous President of the Australian Conservation Foundation) drew attention to Australia's many previous public inquiries and proposals for nuclear industrialisation. In an article entitled We've already had the nuclear debate: why do it again? Lowe referred to the 2006 UMPNER review's finding that substantial government subsidies would be required to support nuclear industrial development in Australia, and the earlier Fox Report (1976-1978), which drew attention to the problems of nuclear weapons proliferation and the nuclear waste generated by uranium mining and processing. Lowe's closing statement read:

"Any objective assessment of the state’s (energy) needs in the context of a commitment to sustainable development will favour going forward by expanding the proven capacity of clean renewables, rather than gambling on unproven nuclear fantasies."[122]

On 17 April 2015, Lowe was announced as one of five members (and the only one holding an openly anti-nuclear position) of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission Expert Advisory Committee.

Mark Parnell MLC
Mark Parnell MLC

Further opposition to the expansion of nuclear industries in South Australia has been expressed by environmental and aboriginal activists and organisations since the Commission's announcement. Opponents include: Conservation SA, Medical Association for Prevention of War (MAPW), Friends of the Earth, the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Australian Greens. Spokespeople for these organisations have included Craig Wilkins, Margaret "Margie" Beavis, Jim Green, Dave Sweeney and Mark Parnell respectively.

Commentators have speculated that the commission is likely to focus on the establishment of a nuclear waste repository in South Australia, most likely on aboriginal land. A previous proposal was rejected by the Rann government after extensive aboriginal, green and community opposition.[123]

Renewable energy advocate Matthew Wright accused the Royal Commission of demonstrating a pro-nuclear bias in order to promote the interests of uranium exploration and mining companies and their shareholders. Wright has criticised the protracted construction times and cost overruns associated with the new nuclear power plant builds, and has encouraged investors to divest from nuclear industries and invest in clean-tech projects instead. He wrote in Climate Spectator:

"If you’re hearing another one of these countless stories such as those being hawked at the pro-nuclear Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission being held in South Australia, just remember there are people who want their uranium penny stocks to take them from rags to riches or riches to even more riches that are creating most of the hype."[124]

Dr Helen Caldicott
Dr Helen Caldicott

Long-term anti-nuclear campaigner and paediatrician Dr Helen Caldicott observed that UCL Australia and its staff had had "a profound impact on the nuclear debate in South Australia." She noted the appointment of Horizon Nuclear Power board member Tim Stone to the Royal Commission's Expert Advisory Panel, Stefaan Simons' advocacy for nuclear submarines and the reintroduction of James Voss to Australia, following his prior attempt to establish a nuclear waste dump in Australia in the 1990s (as then Managing Director of Pangea Resources). She also describes academic Barry Brook as having "vigorously promoted the whole nuclear fuel chain" from his position at the University of Adelaide. She challenged the environmental case put by Brook and others in support of nuclear power as a means to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change, writing:

"This ignores the huge expulsion of greenhouse gas that goes into producing nuclear power. The massive industrial process supporting a nuclear power plant is complex and energy intensive. It involves mining millions of tonnes of soil and ore. The uranium must then be separated, milled, enriched and converted into ceramic particles to be packed into zirconium fuel rods. Construction of the huge reactor complex adds substantially to global warming as it is largely made of concrete – a CO2-intensive product."

She also criticised the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission for not appointing a medical doctor to the Expert Advisory Committee, stating:

"This is a carcinogenic industry that must be halted immediately in the name of public health. The people advocating a nuclear South Australia have no comprehension of genetics, radiation biology, oncology and medicine. Or they are willing to ignore the risks."[125]

Expert Advisory Committee

Five people were appointed to the Royal Commission's Expert Advisory Committee and announced on 17 April 2015.[3] Three of the appointees are current or previous employees of, or have been external consultants to, the Government of South Australia. The Committee includes three known supporters of the nuclear industry- academic and scientist Barry Brook, non-executive director of Horizon Nuclear Power Timothy Stone and former Director General of Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office (ASNO) John Carlson.

In 2013, Carlson wrote of the possibility of establishing a multilateral uranium enrichment centre in regional Australia:

"One could imagine a future enrichment centre in Australia, based on URENCO or Tenex centrifuge technology supplied on a black box basis. In addition to the technology holder, there would be participation by regional countries with nuclear power programs— Japan, Republic of Korea and China, and looking ahead, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. The IAEA might also be involved in an oversight role (in addition to safeguards)."[126]

Professor Ian Lowe
Professor Ian Lowe

Ian Lowe is the only publicly known opponent of the nuclear industry on the Expert Advisory Committee, with the remaining position held by South Australia's Chief Scientist, Leanna Read.

Expert Advisor Current Position SA Government associations Other relevant associations
Barry Brook Professor of Environmental Sustainability, University of Tasmania Former Sir Hubert Wilkins Chair of Climate Change, former member of Premier's Climate Change Council Former Director of Climate Science at the Environment Institute, University of Adelaide
Ian Lowe Emeritus Professor (Science), Griffith University
Former President, Australian Conservation Foundation
John Carlson Non-resident Fellow at the Lowy Institute for International Policy
Former Director General of Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office (ASNO) 1989-2010
Leanna Read Chief Scientist, Government of South Australia Member of SA Economic Development Board Fellow of ATSE
Timothy Stone Non-executive director of Horizon Nuclear Power and University College London Former independent advisor to Deputy Premier Kevin Foley on infrastructure projects Former Expert Chair of the Office for Nuclear Development, Department of Energy and Climate Change, United Kingdom

Disclosure of pecuniary interests

In May 2015, a partial list of names of staff and their potentially relevant pecuniary interests was published on the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission's website. A number of the listed persons have links to the nuclear industry, its regulators, government agencies or representative bodies.[89]

Commissioner & Senior Staff

The list revealed that Commissioner Kevin Scarce is a shareholder in Rio Tinto Group – the owner and operator of Ranger and Rossing uranium mines in Australia and Namibia respectively and the owner of the Roughrider uranium prospect in Canada. Rio Tinto also funds waste management research at the Imperial College London, including the "Development of Novel Glass-Ceramics from Problematic UK Wastes using Borates and Borate Containing Wastes."[127]

The Commissioner and the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission's Chief of Staff, Greg Ward, share backgrounds in defence. Both men have served in the Royal Australian Navy and were involved with South Australia's Air Warfare Destroyer project. The project has been criticized by the Abbott Government for running two to three years behind schedule and $1.2 billion over budget.[128] The Commissioner played a leading role in securing the contract to build the three ships in South Australia,[129] and Ward is a former Director of the project for the Port Adelaide Maritime Corporation. Ward is also the director of two companies: Prism Defence (for which he is also CEO) and Protegic. The latter is a project management service provider with clients including the Rio Tinto Group, BHP Billiton and Endeavour Energy.[130]

The Commission's Senior Communications Officer, Adam Smith, was previously employed as a Federal Agent for the Australian Federal Police.[89]

Legal Team

All three named members of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission's legal team worked for the Crown Solicitor's Office, Attorney General's Department, Government of South Australia immediately prior to their appointment. Membership includes: Chad Jacobi (Counsel), Lucinda Byers (Solicitor Assisting) and Wesley Taylor (Solicitor).[89]

Technical Research Team

Four of the five members of the research team named on the NFCRC website have known prior or current associations with nuclear industrial entities.[89]

File:BHP Billiton.svg
File:ANSTO logo.gif

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