Nuclear dump has unacceptable financial risks

Jay Weatherill’s plan for an international waste dump exposes South Australian taxpayers to unacceptable financial risks while they wait at least 40 years before knowing whether the project will proceed.

I have just been to Finland to look at how the Finns have dealt with this issue and their experience shows just how long these decisions can take. They have been considering a dump since the 1970s.

Advice to State Parliament shows it will cost taxpayers $600 million to continue the consultation and select a site. Even then, there will be no guarantee of South Australia eventually securing the project. Only this week, Parliament received further information raising serious doubts about the economic case for a dump, including that cost assumptions the government has relied upon are ‘optimistic’ and ‘appear based on a set of ‘most favourable’ assumptions’, while some issues have not been fully explored which could have ‘significant serious potential to adversely impact the project and its commercial outcomes’.

The Premier established a Citizens’ Jury in the hope of getting a ‘Yes’ vote. But the jury voted by a two-thirds majority not to pursue his proposal ‘under any circumstances.’ So the Premier has come up with an expensive referendum to get the answer he wants. But even if a referendum supports his plan, Mr Weatherill will put Aboriginal people in the position of being able to veto it. While I respect the rights of Aboriginal people to decide what happens on their land, the Premier has clearly not thought through what he now proposes. Even if his referendum did succeed, he has imposed a further condition likely to ultimately defeat it.

For the past two years, the Liberals have participated actively in parliamentary committees, we have carefully considered the Royal Commission report and the outcomes of community consultation. As well as my visit to Finland, my Shadow Treasurer, Rob Lucas, has also visited Europe and the United States to look at the financial and economic issues associated with high level waste management. These investigations have increased our concern about the costs and exposure of South Australian taxpayers.

The Premier said a long time ago that by the end of 2016 we should be in a position to decide what to do. The Liberals are united in our decision but the Weatherill Labor Government is not.

The overseas experience is that without community consensus, the investment needed for a waste facility will not be forthcoming. No organisation has done more than the Labor Party over the last 40 years to deny community consensus to the nuclear industry in Australia.

Labor opposed the Olympic Dam uranium mine. It was only through the determination of a Liberal Government that Olympic Dam proceeded.

The Premier was a member of a cabinet which authorised court action to prevent the establishment of a low level radioactive waste repository in South Australia. The waste that facility would store is currently located at hospitals, universities and many other sites around Australia and is much less radioactive than the material Mr Weatherill wants to import from other countries.

After originally opposing Olympic Dam, for many years Labor promised the mine’s open-pit expansion would cure all the State’s economic ills. But Labor failed to secure that project so now promises that at some undefined time in the distant future, the State could import nuclear waste to shore up its economy. We need to aim much higher. There are far more important, immediate and realistic opportunities to pursue than this one.

It is the role of government to unite its community around achievable goals, not divide people over something that is not supported, not affordable and not achievable.