Yesterday the Royal Commission into the nuclear fuel cycle released its tentative findings and the reports and modelling behind them and, quite frankly, they were spectacular.
The commission has found that it is a technically feasible project – in other words, that it is safe. The numbers for the storage of spent fuel were even better than I had hoped and, at first glance, appear to be conservative.
Unsurprisingly, I believe that we should proceed to store used fuel.
This is a long-term decision but seldom are societies presented with such an opportunity to change their communities so substantially in such a short space of time. Within 20 years of changing the laws and accepting spent fuel for permanent storage, we could radically transform the infrastructure of the state.
Normally as a society grows, infrastructure follows population so that there is always pressure on the government of the day to catch up with demand. It could be for a new school, a wider road, a bigger hospital, more public transport and so on.
The amount of cash available will be so large that the usual economic considerations can be discounted
If we choose to store spent fuel, we will be able to reverse that and get ahead of population so that we can plan well in advance of population growth and build infrastructure as we need it rather than when we can afford it.
The amount of cash available to the government of the day will be so large that the usual economic considerations can be discounted (but not dismissed).
We will be able to build a spectacular state. For instance, normally a city the size of Adelaide with its low population density would not be able to economically justify an underground railway but we could now seriously consider one. The net result would be that experienced all around the world when new public transport infrastructure goes in – people would move to an area where there is great public transport and housing density would increase.
Another example of the scale of changes we could make is to remake Port Lincoln.
Let’s face it, Port Lincoln is one of the most beautiful places to live in South Australia. Colonel Light actually considered putting Adelaide there but couldn’t, in part, because of the lack of water. Thanks to the wonders of desalination, the water problem is easily solved, and a 50 gigalitre plant would provide water for 250,000 people and associated industry.
If you know Port Lincoln, you will remember the hills at the back of the city that look out over the harbour and the gulf. Housing on the hills with San Francisco style streetcars would mean the city wouldn’t sprawl too much and trams could be used around the rest of the city.
It needs more power. No problem – we could build a better transmission line and the side benefit of that would be that it could be used to transmit the substantial wind power that could be generated on the west coast into the national grid. A better and bigger airport would mean tourists and business people could visit more easily and the tuna industry could airfreight directly to Japan and China. There is already an industry that can expand in the tuna, seafood and food processing and manufacturing industry. This could form the basis for an expanding local economy and other industries could follow on. I imagine the people of Port Lincoln will have a bit to say about my suggestion but it gives an idea of the sort of things that can be achieved when considering the financial resources that would be available.
Another project that the state could undertake would be the undergrounding of almost all the power lines in the state. It seems a bit mundane, until you think about the street trees that could be grown in our suburbs and towns without being hacked and butchered by the network company as it seeks to maintain reliable power supplies.
A side benefit would be the lowering of the city’s temperatures as urban areas would become more shady and the heat sink effect of urban environments would be reduced.
Interestingly, this would have significant health benefits, as it would reduce the number of people who are affected (or even killed) by the heat during heat waves. You could add fibre optic cable to the home into the project at the same time.
These are the sort of state-changing projects that we can consider if we are prepared to decide to store spent fuel.
We would be limited only by our imagination and there are not many places in this world that can say that.
There is an important point to remember here though. The wealth that can be generated by the storage of spent fuel is not a silver bullet in and of itself. It provides us with an amazing opportunity, similar to the transformative power of the Victorian gold rush, but if in 30 years time all we have to show for it is outstanding infrastructure and a bunch of companies sitting around waiting for the next government contract, we will have failed.
This state wealth fund and infrastructure program has to be a launching pad to attract people to move here to set up new companies and build new products and create new services to export to the rest of the world.
We will still need really well educated people doing amazing research, and we still need to get so much better at commercialising that research. We will still need to keep growing great food and wine and we will still need to get better at value-adding and exporting them at a premium price – something we still haven’t mastered.
Storing nuclear waste won’t magically make the fundamental problems of our economy disappear, but it will give us the opportunity and resources to solve them.
The Premier has had the courage to start the debate and the wisdom to set the factual basis for it, but it’s up to all of us to participate in it.
Let’s get to it.
Tom Kenyon is the Labor MP for the state seat of Newland.
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