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Nuclear deadline: 'The world is waiting on SA's decision'

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Convinced that South Australia has an opportunity to harness a global coalition willing to invest in a safe storage solution for nuclear waste, a delegation of business and political leaders is winging its way back into Adelaide today after a whirlwind tour of sites in Europe – as Royal Commissioner Kevin Scarce prepares to hand his final report to the Weatherill Government tomorrow.

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Matt Clemow, general manager of the Committee for Adelaide, which organised the trip, told InDaily before leaving London overnight that meetings with facility operators in Finland, France, Sweden and the UK crystallized to the group that “there’s enormous international interest in the discussion that South Australia is putting forward”.

And he says, it’s not a question of SA seeking business investors, but of those potential clients waiting on the state’s decision.

“These are cities much larger than us, who have an understanding of what Australia could offer to the global market,” he said.

He emphasised that most international operators were partly-Government owned, so prospective investors were “not like an individual bus company saying ‘we would like to win your contract’… [but rather countries wanting] to essentially partner with each other to develop an international coalition to invest in SA”.

“They want to develop a global coalition for the safe storage of waste… I think that’s been very clear in every meeting we’ve had,” he said.

nukeClemow said he had taken soundings from “other participants from the trip” – a delegation that included Business SA CEO Nigel McBride and Liberal MP Adrian Pederick – and believed “those who came away [from Adelaide] with trepidation around safety, I think, are returning with assurances around safety”.

“It now comes down to a business case, and the impact on the state brand,” he said.

“There’s no doubt a facility can be built, which would provide a world-class opportunity… the question for the SA community is ‘are the benefits worth the possible brand cost?’ and ‘how much involvement is SA willing to take’?”

We were previously operating in a space where nuclear was ‘Homer Simpson’ dirty

Clemow says for him personally, the “compelling argument” is being “able to operate with international partners in a way that globally secures this kind of spent fuel, which in a very strong way assists the carbon-neutral/low-carbon world”.

“I think that’s where the compelling argument lies,” he said.

“Should [SA] take the choice to be involved in this space, the economic argument is very compelling, in terms of revenue stream for the state, but I think in a national sense there’s a global energy security role, which is as much a part of this as the economic benefit is.”

He said Australia’s political stability and unique topography makes it “highly attractive to a lot of countries who need to have a partnership to store their spent fuel until they have a long-term solution for it”.

“The compelling thing [we’ve learned] on this trip is that this isn’t SA doing a sell to the world; this is people being interested in the opportunity SA has,” he said.

“But that comes with challenges as well.”

Because countries such as Finland and Sweden had domestically only explored “a local solution for a local problem… SA needs to be able to articulate that we want to be part of the global solution, even though we’re only a very, very small part of it in an international sense”.

Clemow, a former adviser to the Rann Government which had earlier scuttled a prospective low-level federal nuclear waste dump at Woomera, said the “enormous difference between 2001-02 and now is the deep public sentiment around climate change”.

“[Previously] we were operating in a space where nuclear was ‘Homer Simpson’ dirty and coal was sustainable… now coal is dirty and unsustainable, and we need to look at other options,” he said.

“I think that’s a seismic shift in the space of 15 years in a public opinion sense.”

Former Governor Scarce will tomorrow hand his final report to his successor, Hieu Van Le, for the Government to respond. It is likely to maintain the conclusions of his tentative findings, which made an overwhelming business case for domestic nuclear storage.

It will also recommend a thorough public engagement program before moving ahead with any fundamental legislative changes.

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