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Olympic Dam an "excellent" nuke storage site, inquiry told

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Olympic Dam is an “excellent” geological prospect for a future nuclear waste dump, a parliamentary inquiry has been told.

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Geologist and academic Victor Gostin, an honorary visiting research fellow at Adelaide University, gave evidence yesterday to a parliamentary committee examining the findings of the Scarce Royal Commission, which recommended the swift establishment of a high-level nuclear waste repository.

Gostin noted it was a geological professional “consensus” that the Stuart Shelf region, including Olympic Dam, was an ideal place for such a facility to be based.

“When it comes to the deep geological site… [Olympic Dam is] the site that I would imagine would be an excellent site,” he said.

He said while the Flinders Ranges were “full of earthquakes”, the Stuart Shelf region adjacent Olympic Dam “is not in an earthquake area zone”.

“We are talking about west of Lake Torrens and we are talking about the area of the Olympic Dam,” he said.

He said a published summary of the geological cross-section of the area revealed “300 metres of overburden overlying the radioactive ore that’s underneath”.

“So, for a deep repository I would say that we have here an excellent site,” he said.

InDaily revealed in May that the area around the Olympic Dam site had been raised in informal discussions within Government as a prospective site for a future high-level nuclear waste dump, after the recommendations of the Scarce Royal Commission.

Gostin suggested a “special site” could be created “away from the ore deposits themselves… deep into the basement rock, a kilometre or whatever depth you wanted to do it, into the basement rock”.

He said the crust was “stable” as evidenced by the fact “it hasn’t been doing anything for 600 million years” and noted that the Lake Torrens area had remained above sea level for 20 million years.

He concurred there was “no reason” the site couldn’t be “ideally suited” to deep nuclear storage, arguing “you still have horizontal layers which are there for hundreds of millions of years undisturbed [and] it never had any inundation by the sea”.

Gostin noted he believed “BHP and other people involved with Roxby are not keen to see their area used as a waste repository, in case of further need for further mining in the area”.

Asked whether there was consensus within his profession on the suitability of the site, Gostin said: “I would think so — I would say yes.”

Further asked whether he had any environmental concerns about nuclear storage 
in the area, he replied: “No.”

Gostin said he was commenting purely on geological concerns about stability, and not on “the psychological or transport issues” involved with the nuclear debate.

He also said Radium Hill was already well-equipped to house a repository, and had already been used to store Davidite, “a radioactive, thorium-type mineral”.

“Davidite was stored there because it was deemed to be too radioactive to be stored in our crypt at the University of Adelaide,” he said.

“We had made quite a collection… and it was transferred there.”

Gostin said he was “surprised” that “the state went in the direction of saying, ‘We need a new nuclear waste dump,’ when in fact one had already been [effectively] designated” at Radium Hill.

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