Nuclear waste disposal could create $257B nuclear bonanza

STORING and disposing nuclear fuel in South Australia would generate more than $257 billion for the state over 120 years, the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission said yesterday.

Lou Caruana

Taking the unusual step of handing down its tentative findings yesterday after five weeks of consultation ahead of a final report on May 6, the Royal Commission said SA could safely ramp up its participation in nuclear activities, but it would need to be bipartisan on both a state and federal level.

The Royal Commission said an integrated storage and disposal facility would be commercially viable, with the storage component potentially becoming operational in the late 2020s.

Such a facility could generate $257 billion of total revenue and 4145 costs over 120 years, which equates to more than $5 billion a year for SA over the facility’s first 30 years of operation and $2 billion a year over the next 40-plus years, at which point waste receipts would nominally wrap up.

It would also generate about 1500 full-time jobs – peaking at between 4000-5000 – during the 25-year construction process and 600 full-time jobs once operational.

That scenario is based on a 138,000 tonne storage capacity – 13% of the projected global used fuel inventory, though that’s based on a “very conservative” waste assumption that assumes no new currently unplanned light water reactors becoming operational after 2030.

The Royal Commission said a State Wealth Fund needed to be set up to accumulate and equitably share the profits.

“Using that proposition, if a portion of gross revenue (15%) and all profits from the operations were invested in a State Wealth Fund and 50% of resulting interest retained, this could generate more than $6 billion a year for over 70 years,” the Commission said.

About $445 billion would accumulate before notional waste deliveries are planned to stop.

“Provision has also been made within the cost base for a $32 billion Reserve Fund to cover whole-of-life maintenance, both for long-term monitoring and post-closure of the facility,” the Commission added.

While further processing and manufacturing benefits would dwarf the potential benefits of expanding uranium mining, the Commission said there would be no opportunity to commercialise uranium processing capabilities in SA in the next decade.

“However, fuel leasing, which links uranium processing with its eventual return for disposal, is more likely to be commercially attractive, creating additional employment and technology-transfer opportunities,” the Commission said.

It would also not be commercially viable to generate electricity from a nuclear power plant in SA at the moment or in the foreseeable future, the Commission said, given future demand and anticipated costs of nuclear power under the existing electricity market structure.

Apart from the economic benefits, the Commission used the climate change argument to bolster its message.

“A recent peer-reviewed meta-analysis of lifecycle modelling undertaken by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in the US, which was used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, concluded that nuclear power has greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to other low-emission technologies such as wind, solar photovoltaics and concentrated solar thermal,” the report said.

“Each of these technologies has greatly lower emissions than gas, and significantly lower again than coal. Other significant studies and reports undertaken on a full lifecycle basis also show that nuclear, wind and solar are low-carbon technologies.”

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