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Groundwater a significant issue: nuclear royal commission

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The potential impact of a nuclear waste storage facility on South Australia’s groundwater systems is one of the “significant issues” that need to be addressed in any consideration of expanding the nuclear fuel cycle, according to the royal commission.

The second issues paper published by the royal commission says the siting and operation of a waste storage or disposal facility must take potential environmental impacts into account.

“Site selection for a storage or disposal facility would consider the type of facility and waste being stored (including its longevity), geological stability, generation of heat, geographical matters as well as operational issues such as amenity,” the paper says.

“In addition to the management of radiative exposure, a significant issue is the potential for the contamination of groundwater sources.

“Addressing that issue requires an understanding of the current frequency, flow and volume of surface and ground waters.

“Management of water resources from sourcing and storage will be required if such a facility were to be sited in South Australia.

“Also significant is the potential risk of land contamination at handling, storage and disposal sites.

“Aside from its ecological impact upon animals and plants, contamination of the environment has implications for the health and safety of humans who use those resources.”

The issues paper, entitled Management, Storage and Disposal of Nuclear and Radioactive Waste, was released last week and followed the royal commission’s first public forum in Mt Gambier. Similar forums will be held in Port Augusta today, Port Pirie tomorrow, and Berri on 5 May.

The paper contained extensive science and engineering background on the nuclear fuel cycle and posed a series of questions to which the public have been invited to respond.

While the State Government is allowing the royal commission to run its course without pre-empting its findings, the Treasurer and Minister for Minerals Resources and Energy, Tom Koutsantonis, did take the opportunity at a recent conference to point to the economic benefits being enjoyed from the nuclear sector in Canada.

“I am aware Canada’s nuclear industry contributes almost $7 billion to its annual GDP and directly employs 20,000 people,” Koutsantonis told the South Australian Resources and Energy Investment Conference.

“An industry of comparable size in South Australia would be a considerable expansion of our current capabilities,” he said.

“South Australians are now being asked to consider whether we simply remain a supplier of uranium, only exporting our commodities to the world, or whether like Canada, we capture further opportunities in the sector, which could generate considerable wealth at home.

“The findings of a royal commission will better equip South Australians to answer those questions through a robust examination of the facts.”

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