Should Australia think about nuclear power

Nuclear waste underground in Australia? The country itself does not operate any nuclear power plants, but has been involved in the nuclear business for decades through uranium mining: a third of the world's uranium reserves are stored down under. Now politicians are thinking about building a repository for highly radioactive waste in the desert of the state of South Australia - in a region where Aborigines mainly live. This would destroy the livelihoods of indigenous people, says Dave Sweeney, anti-nuclear activist with the Australian conservation organization Australian Conservation Foundation.

Mr Sweeney, who in Australia is interested in a nuclear waste disposal facility?

Sweeney: The idea came from Jay Weatherill, the Prime Minister of the State of South Australia. He hired a so-called Royal Commission to examine the possibilities and to advance the nuclear industry in Australia.

From the outside it is difficult to understand why your country wants to put such a burden on itself, even though it does not operate a nuclear power plant itself.

Australia is the third largest supplier of uranium in the world. But because Japan has shut down almost all nuclear power plants since Fukushima, the uranium price is in the basement - and the mining companies are doing badly. According to calculations by the commission, the project should bring in 257 billion Australian dollars over the next 120 years, the equivalent of almost 180 billion euros.

That's a lot of money. Who would make money from it?

First the industry. A pension fund is also to be set up, as Norway has done with its oil income. The state of South Australia would get almost perpetual income as a result.

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  • nature 03/2017

    The text comes from the March issue of natur, the magazine for nature, the environment and sustainable living. He appears here in a cooperation. More current topics from the 03/2017 issue on ...

So far there is no repository in any country on earth. Why does Australia think it will make it?

First of all, we have no experience with highly radioactive waste and most Australians have no way of knowing what problems we are causing. Some only think about money, others believe that our country is big enough and that a repository would be far enough away if there were problems. Still others think that we Australians have a lot of mining experience and that it should therefore be easy for us to find any open pits in remote regions into which we can put the nuclear waste. But most of them ask exactly this question: If Germany and the USA with their financial strength and engineering skills are not in a position to solve the nuclear waste problem, why should we be able to?

In which geological formations should the nuclear waste be stored?

So far everything is very vague. No stakeholder or advocate has developed a detailed concept. If, as a critic, I ask for details, I am put off. Even so, those who are driving the project are very confident when they talk about the economic benefits.